You don’t need me to tell you that it’s been a painful week. I’ve stayed locked in my head this week, trying to stay focused on life but when it’s quiet I hear a woman wailing and a little girl saying, “It’s okay, Mommy. I’m here.” When I close my eyes I see a white shirt soaked with red and a 15 year old boy weeping into a man’s arms. Yet, I can’t break down. Not yet. I’m putting away my grief for a rainy day and trying to keep my heart strong for the people in my life who need it right now: My Black friends and friends with Black children. But like many white persons, I want to help and don’t always know how. I take it one chance at a time. I marched through NYC on Thursday, blocking traffic and sitting-in at Times Square. I built the desire for justice into my talks today at Witchsfest NYC. I’ve tried to call out white friends on their blinders and unconscious racism. I don’t always succeed on that last one–I get mad and am not so eloquent. I’m not giving up, but I’m not there, yet.
Anyway. Saturday was Witchsfest, NYC. It was a time to support friends who are hurting right now. It was a time to inspire right action. It was a time for love, Magick and community.
And then these guys showed up:
I won’t call them Christians. I know too many wonderful Christians to lump them in with this crowd. These weren’t the quiet people passing out Bibles on the corner, or offering you hot chocolate with an invitation to their Church. These folks had big signs and were loud. We delayed the beginning of our workshops as their “REPENT, YOU GUYS! YOU’RE ALL GOING TO HELL!” rallies were too loud. The police let them stay. Some people tried to engage them in discussion. A group of young people played the banjo and led an oppositional singalong at their feet. For most of the day, I–like many others–took and encouraged the “Ignore ’em” approach.
It seemed the best option. Every time I, or others, ever engage with these sorts of people, it always gets worse. A woman with them who screamed and shouted about how each of us faced certain damnation on the other side. I led my Tarot class with a chorus of shouts about Jesus and redemption off to my left. They kept going and they stayed all day. We stayed, too. We kept going.
Growing up, I was taught to ignore bullies. The theory was that the bully feeds on reaction. No reaction means the bully gets bored. The bully goes away, presumably with the wind knocked out of them. In my experience, that rarely worked. The bully wasn’t looking for my reaction–but the reactions of their friends or the sound of their own voice against my firmly expressionless face. Ignoring them was offering myself as a blank canvas to throw some taunts. Ignoring the protestors didn’t work, either.
After the festival, my plan was to shop for a hat and sunglasses and go home to my husband, having never engaged the protestors, having successfully ignored adulthood bullies.
I don’t know why, but I changed my mind.
I would love them.
Why do people choose such hateful paths? Are they projecting? Do they hate themselves? Have they so long believed that they themselves are so putrid, so awful, that they have to summon a God to “save” them from being who they were meant to be? How many of these people were closeted LGBTQ? How many women among them had been so shamed for being beautiful and powerful and in control of themselves that they had to cling to an anti-reproductive choice rhetoric? How many of them were there, condemning us, for loving ourselves as the Divine made us? How many of them had never been truly loved.
I WOULD LOVE THE SHIT OUT OF THEM.
I approached a young woman, ranting about the “millions of babies aborted each year,” and how “our Goddess was a figment of our imaginations” and something about the Bible hating pretty much everyone I love. I shook her hand. I asked her if I could hug her. She let me. In her ear I whispered, “You are loved. You are perfect. I want you to be happy. I love you. I love you.” At first, she said thank you and that she loved me too, that she wanted me to repent because she loved me. Then, she pulled away. I kept going. “I love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.” She said, “Okay, I love you too.” I kept going. She said, “Are you casting a spell on me?” I said, “No. I just love you. I love you. I love you. I love you.”
In that moment, I did. I loved the little girl she’d been, the woman she was, the old woman she would be. I loved her because she existed. I loved her because she was of the Star Grandmother, just as I am, just as you are, just as the people behind me were. Through her, I loved all the people I couldn’t stand. I loved the “All lives matter” people. I loved the bullies from middle school. I loved my landlord. I probably loved Trump (I don’t remember).
I loved her. I loved her as deeply and truly as I could in that very moment.
She’d been there all day. Maybe she was finally tired. Maybe I did her in. But she took her sign and her dog and she started rallying her protesting friends. “Time to go home,” she said.
I went to the ringleader, and I loved him, too.
“I love you too,” he said. “In the name of Jesus, I love you. Yes. I love you too. I love you too. Thank you. I love you too. In the name of Jesus. With Christ’s love. I love you.”
But I kept going. “I love you. I love you. I love you.”
He held his hand up and started shouting an incantation, as though to strike the Devil out of me.
I got louder. “I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU! I LOVE YOU!”
He took his sign, and his chair, and he left. Soon after, the other protestors left, too.
I was shaking when it was all done.
A couple of Witches helped me ground and asked why I’d bothered. Didn’t they have the right to their opinion? They were only trying to help in their weird way. They really believed they were doing right. Why can’t we just leave them be? We’re no better than they are if we engage them at all.
But we can’t just leave them be. Yes, our country honors freedom of speech. Yes, we have freedom of religion. But that kind of rhetoric is causing young LGBTQ people to kill themselves….or encourage other people to attack or kill them. That kind of rhetoric caused teenage girls in my high school to induce their own miscarriages rather than face an abortion picket line. We can’t just ignore them. Their words go somewhere and do hurtful things.
I don’t know that my choice this time was the answer, but it was the right answer for me at that moment. In another situation, it might be dangerous. I certainly don’t think people should outright love all over those who are actively abusing them. But it was something I needed to do. I needed to love someone for them who didn’t love me for me. Had these people ever been loved unconditionally in their lives? Maybe not. Maybe they couldn’t handle it. Maybe I just creeped them out (which is fine, they creeped everyone else out all day long).
And here I am, a bit of a hypocrite.
My Goddess reminded me this morning how easy it is to love an asshole I don’t know. It’s much harder to find that kind of love for someone whom I carry a grudge. Or for someone who doesn’t dislike me because of what I do–they know me well enough to know they dislike me for who I am. Do I have love for those people? I can find love for the stranger who waves a sign at a festival where I teach. Can I find that same love for the relative who criticizes my wedding ceremony?
I don’t know what this means for me. I’ll never know what it meant for them. All I know is that I dug deep to find love for someone who didn’t love me. I wasn’t loving them to make them leave. I was loving them because it was the right thing to do. I pray I can find that in other areas of my life, but it’s going to take time. So accessible in some ways, so stodgy in others. I’ll keep trying. We all have to.