On the way home from church on Sunday, I had an encounter with the holiness that pervades our lives and which brings me to tears, no matter where I find it.
Driving on one of the main-est of main streets in Havana, Quinta Avenida, I saw a group of about fifty women walking in two lines, dressed in white and carrying pink flowers and black and white copies of photographs. My breath caught: the Damas de Blanco, or Ladies in White! This group of women peacefully protests treatment of their loved ones in the Black Spring of 2003, when 75 Cubans involved in working for human rights or freedom of the press were arrested, condemned, and sentenced to time in prison. Since then, the women silently march each Sunday, in Havana and in different cities around the country, to keep their loved ones’ work and jail sentence in the forefront of Cuban society’s minds. Depending on – well, I’m not sure what it depends on really – but depending (I think) on the prevailing political mood in Cuba, the Ladies are either allowed to march; may march but are harassed; or get arrested, abducted, beaten, or jailed.
So marching takes bravery, because they don’t know what will happen in that day’s march. These women are wives who now run a household alone; they are parents who can’t see their jailed child. They are sisters who worry about a beloved brother. They are cousins, aunts, grandmothers. They love their jailed relatives; they struggle to provide for their families; they dress in white on Sundays and walk out the door, not knowing if they’ll be home again that evening – or ever.
I pulled over and got out of the car. I watched these women march deliberately. Some turned to look at me; some smiled at me. I began to cry. Their silent march reminded me that waiting for results can be an active process; their gutsy choice to stick with it moved me deeply. I stood there, trying to put myself in the position of having no power in the face of a relative’s arrest and imprisonment by the government of our country. Impossible to imagine. Yet these women found themselves in just such a hopeless scenario, and they found a way to join together to exhibit a peaceful show of strength and remembrance. Not only that, but they keep their movement going, week after week, under intense scrutiny and opposition from their own government. I couldn’t stop the tears.
Why did I classify this as an encounter with holiness? On that sidewalk, there walked love that was willing to lay down its life for another. That can be easy to imagine, easy to profess. But when a person, a flesh and blood person who knows what kind of pain or death may be involved, acts on such a profession, I find that holy ground.
I don’t idealize these women as “holier than we.” They, like us, have faults, commit sins, see things through a skewed perspective. Some of them may come home from a quiet march and yell at their families. Maybe other imperfections show up: shading the truth, laziness at work, carrying a grudge.
But it is not in spite of their flaws that I glimpsed the sacredness of their protest; it is because of them. These women insist we see them, with their jailed relatives and wrinkled faces; with their personal flaws and commitment to justice and freedom; with their distinctive outfits and scuffed shoes. They will not easily release us to look away; in fact, they dare us to directly face what happens around us.
Waiting does not have to appear silent and weak. Yesterday, I saw women who have waited for their desired results for years, moving silently but with increasing power. Their bodies can be broken, but their spirits, their hopes, their ideals imbue them with a distinct lack of fear.
I want to live like that. So I’m doing my best to sit still, observe, and wait. Wait for a moment so that I can move from fear to no fear, from unprepared to fulfilled, from empty-handed to clasping hands with those I might have thought I would never affect.
Progress is often measured in minute fractions; sometimes it looks like defeat for awhile first. We need people who remain committed. We (I) need to be committed people, too.