I was recently asked by my home congregation to offer some thoughts on the term “awake” as part of an Advent series.
To me, being awake involves the willingness to see ourselves and one another as we are. It means letting the scales be removed from our eyes, so we are able to be fully present with one another. It means looking at the parts of ourselves that shame (even other people’s shame) often tells us to hide.
Specifically, I think about this image – it was taken recently in our Trans Support Group on the evening we commemorated the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), which is a day set apart to memorialize Trans people who have been murdered in the last year due to Trans-motivated hatred and violence (you can see more here: http://www.avp.org/resources/avp-resources/562). So far in 2016, 23 Trans people are known to have been murdered, with 2 more cases that are likely murders. What is particularly overwhelming is the way in which many of these people were killed – the brutality of many stories is heart-wrenching, almost too hard to bear. I read recently that the life expectancy of a Black Trans woman is 35, and the disproportionate number of trans people on the list of those killed this year – every year – are Black Trans women.
Being awake means recognizing the fact that the violence against Black Trans women is evidence of systemic racism and sexism. It means looking at the ways in which I have been complicit in these systems – that my silence or unwillingness to speak and act against such systemic evils has a direct correlation to the continuation of death-dealing behaviors. It means being honest with ourselves about our fears and joys – owning up to the ways in which we’ve fallen short, or are scared, AND to the ways we feel connected to one another. It means recognizing how my humanity is tied to the humanity of the 25 Trans people murdered in the last year as much as it is to the people who murdered them. It means being willing to be uncomfortable, to be vulnerable, to have courage.
The curriculum we do every year for TDOR is pretty similar – each youth is given a white paper bag containing a slip of paper that includes information about one of the people killed in the last year – name, age, identity, and where they were killed. The youth spend time decorating the bags and then place a small light within each one. The bags of those killed in the current year then become the start of a spiral walk, with bags from years past added to it, along with messages of solidarity and love – messages youth wish they could have offered to those who were lost. Some youth write something they will do to ensure the deaths won’t be in vain. As the spiral is being set up, we gradually turn off lights in the space, so that we are eventually standing only in the light of the names of those lost and the messages of hope offered to them. Then we stand in silence.
In the midst of the silence, one youth took out their phone and read Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.” Another youth said he was resolved to live his life as out and proud as he could. Being awake means refusing to allow the systems which function to tear down anyone’s identity to have the last word.