Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Compassion, reconciliation can help with healing

Editor’s note: This letter to the editor was written before Election Day and unfortunately wasn’t published sooner. Given the uncertainty sown by the president since the election, it is still very much relevant now.
Over 20 years ago, I worshipped with the Middlebury Quaker Friends Meeting. Someone was moved to speak out of the silence. The lesson I received then, I carry in my mind, to this day. Here is what I remember: When a human being is in a powerful position and is considered to have acted with selfish intent, and has allowed others to be harmed — when that human being is called on his/her behavior, it is helpful to allow that misled “leader” to step down with grace. That human being wants the chance to save face.
Stepping down from a powerful position is a difficult transition. No one likes to be laughed at, found fault with, humiliated, when they are emotionally distressed. As human beings, we each carry a wounded child within us. When the wounded child is helped to heal, then the human being gets to grow into an adult who has the ability to care for others in their family, community and country. 
We shall see how our presidential election unfolds. My hope is that compassion and reconciliation can become a healing force. I vow to bear witness to social problems being solved, by nonviolent means. That is the least I can do to honor John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Fannie Lou Hamer.  
John Lewis’s last essay was published in The New York Times on the day of his funeral, July 30, 2020. It was entitled “Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation.” He wrote, “You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.”
On Feb. 15, 1965, Reverend C.T. Vivian led 40 African Americans to register to vote, to the courthouse in Selma, Ala. Vivian addressed Sheriff Clark on the courthouse steps. “You can’t keep anyone in the United States from voting, without hurting the rights of all other citizens. Democracy is built on this… This courthouse does not belong to Sheriff Clark. It belongs to the people of Dallas County and they have come to register (to vote) and you know this within your own heart, Sheriff Clark. You are not as evil or bad as you act. You know in your heart what is right… What you are really trying to do is intimidate these people by making them stand in the rain, keep them from registering to vote, and this is a kind of violation of the constitution, a violation of the court order, the violation of decent citizenship. You can turn your back on me, but you cannot turn your back on the idea of justice. You can turn your back now and you can keep the club in your hand but you cannot beat down justice.”
In June 1963, after Fannie Lou Hamer was severely beaten in jail, she told her friend Unita Blackwell, “You can’t have that kind of hate in you. It will destroy you. So we are going to have to find a way to love them. We are going to register to vote. We’re going to love them enough to get them out of these offices. And we’re going to send them home.”
Fannie Lou Hamer would want us all to sing with her, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” And Quakers would want you to “Hold our country in the Light.” And may we heal as a nation. 
Thank you.
Patricia Heather-Lea
Bristol 

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