When I was 16, I marched in Washington the day after the inauguration. It was the first time I flaked on a job, the first time I thought of Thom from far away, and the place that I found Hannah. There I am, lifetimes away, staring out of a picture in black and white that was taken on film. I know the hair in my face is red, there’s a star around my neck, and I am smiling, but I think what I am doing is so serious. I am a stranger among these church camp kids – I know I’m not like them; and they know. But I do believe that I’m doing something important.. and I do know that if I throw my lot with them I can travel.
I cannot remember the name – from a book of saints. She went along with a pilgrimage, not caring for religion, but just because she wanted to travel. A force stopped her from approaching the altar, and she saw an image of Mary Magdelene, and suddenly she believed. She cried out to god to let her stand beside the other sinner.
“Let me stand beside that other sinful woman.”
The young me put her line in a song to Mary Magdalene. I didn’t want to be confirmed, but my Dad knew how to hit my heart to make me do it. But I wrote that song, about standing next to another liar. Magdalene got the song; Joan D’Arc gave me her name – I picked her because she was a heretic – I stood and promised to believe a lot of things, of which I only believed some.
Religion took me to D.C. and Arlington in the rain, and Our Lady of the Snows, and San Pedro Sula. It wasn’t that I didn’t have any faith or beliefs; it was just that I didn’t have quite the ones they wanted me to. It wasn’t the way my classmates treated me in religion class that made me turn undeniably; it wasn’t the instructor who said nothing when someone called me a whore in class; it was the classes where they told me that I felt a natural pull towards being led by a man, to support him and fulfill my destiny as a mother. Don’t tell me how I feel. Don’t ever tell me how to feel.
Hannah Senesh was 23 when she looked into the firing squad and the words of her youth were cut off.
I had slipped away from the Jesus kids in the museum, let myself get left. I fell in behind a Jewish man guiding a group of Jewish kids. He could read German, and by staying close I could overhear him read the captions and documents that went untranslated. I was overwhelmed by lack of sleep, the isolation of blending in to a crowd you can’t get away from, and then the smell of shoes. The family photos up and down a wall of all the families who were gone. My feet were blistered from the route of a Right to Life march that is hard to fix in my mind now when I turned the corner and saw her words.
“Blessed is the match.”
I had such conviction then, that is in some ways lost now – yet was still in a way so willing to trade on what I actually thought or was in order to see the world. I got there by not insisting people see me as I was, by letting them see what would be convenient. As far as I know, my friends from that walk are still religious. Me, I wouldn’t march that march anymore. Somewhere between seeing things and losing things, I lost the steadfast belief that it was exactly as I had thought it was; also I read more deeply about criminal investigations over miscarriages. (This isn’t the story that changes your mind though, not today.)
I lost some religion, forgot the name of some saints, but some religion I never had. I still believe in kindness, the treatment of people, and that its worthwhile to guard freedom – in politics, and even in our own minds and conversations. In taking the time to softly say that its up to her to choose clothes she feels good in, or that there’s a likely good reason why people do something we wouldn’t.
I was thinking about her today, thinking of posting her words somewhere when I remembered the strangeness of where I found her, and where I’ll be tomorrow.
Tomorrow I will be at the Women’s March in Dallas.
Its not about one certain issue to me, or one certain policy. Its about saying that I believe that we are people, and I’m done acquiescing to being treated like just a little less than fully that. I had hoped the world around me was ready to say that treating groups of people with disregard and disrespect was a deal breaker; it didn’t. So I’ll say it. This is me saying that I matter; and you matter; and I’m not going to wait for anyone else to say it for me.