14 February 2013

I grabbed a handful of candy hearts today and was laughing at how they have evolved in the modern era: along with such standards as “Love Me,” “Call Me,” and “My Girl,”  there was also “Text Me” and “Tweet Me.”  How romantic.

But then I grabbed one that said “Heal” and had a little heart drawn on it. I certainly don’t remember that one growing up. 

I’ve been thinking about love a lot on Valentine’s Day, but not the kind the day and florists and Hallmark tell us we must have in order to feel whole.  What is love? How does it manifest itself? 

As I look back at the list of organizations I’ve donated to over the past 44 days, I realized that as different as they may seem on the face of it, all have two things in common: they are all about love and they are all about healing. Maybe the little candy heart had it right, after all. 

All of us feel broken at times, some more than others. Some of us are broken by external circumstance and others by internal ones, but we are all capable of and deserve healing, whether you believe it comes through God’s grace, some other higher power, your own soul, the love of friends and pets, nature or from an organization run by people that care about souls they’ve never met, but know they are called upon to help because we are all in this together.

In many ways I feel like my experiment is breaking my heart, but I mean that in the best possible way and in a way that is ultimately healing. When I read about Shirley Chambers, who lost all four of her children to gunfire or about Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year old girl who was murdered a week after taking part in President Obama’s inauguration —stories that I might have missed if I weren’t doing this blog (though I am a bit of a newshound) — I feel my heart break and what can only be described as suffocating despair over the pain that hangs in the air, invisible but omnipresent and heavy as a cloak. Then I find an organization that is fighting every day against seemingly insurmountable odds to make sure that those atrocities don’t happen again and I realize evil doesn’t get to permanently win — not as long as people continue to fight against it. I guess I inherently believed that already or I wouldn’t have started this blog.

I don’t know why one of those organizations, The Faith Community of St. Sabina, has stuck with me more than some of the others. It’s an African American Catholic church on Chicago’s South side that is on the forefront of fighting for social justice in the midst of a war zone.  On St. Sabina’s playground, there is a memorial honoring mothers in the area who have lost their children to gun violence.  There were too many pictures of murdered children on it for me to count.  

The priest there, Rev. Michael L. Pfleger, is relentless in his advocacy for his parishioners and the community at large. I had never heard of him, but after doing a little research, he is quite the rebel. Yes, he’s said some things that he shouldn’t have said in the heat of passion, but Pfleger has stayed at St. Sabina’s for 32 years--unheard of for a priest. He has adopted three children, over the protests of a Cardinal who threatened to fire him for doing so. One of his adopted sons was killed by gunfire, so he knows of what he speaks when he talks about loss. He also believes in the ordination of female priests and that priests should be allowed to marry. 

He’s also the only person who has sent me a handwritten note following my donation (or at least I think it’s from him... it’s on his letterhead, but the signature is a little hard to make out, so I’m not sure). The final words are “thank you for caring.” I’d give to St. Sabina’s again, but I vowed that I won’t repeat any charity twice over the year, so I’m giving to The Beloved Community, a non-denominational South Side non-profit that St. Sabina’s partners with (and was started by Pfleger). The Beloved Community focuses on development through education.

My heart breaks a little more every day as I write this blog when I see how much work there is to be done and what an uphill a battle it is. But then I think about one of my favorite lines from Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”: “Ring the bells that still can ring, forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” 

I wish you a broken heart on this Valentine’s Day.

Feb. 14: The Beloved Community: http://www.belovedcommunitychicago.org/home.html

45 down, 320 to go!

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