Voices, Connections, and Sacred Spaces

Over the last few days, a group of us at my hospital have been working on a project. Tasked with writing a statement regarding the murder of George Floyd and other racial violence and injustices against African American people, we quickly realize that one or two people crafting a statement was not adequate to express the systemic pain and unrest that exists. We desired to create a statement that included every voice that desired to be heard. We set up tables to encourage people to write their thoughts and feelings about the injustices that they have seen or experienced in their own lives in an effort to truly hear and capture the messages being shared. I was privileged to be able to sit at several of these tables and to discuss the project with many curious and interested participants. This turned into a very humbling and sacred experience for me. I was amazed at some of what I saw. Some of the employees that are usually disengaged came to the table to ask questions. Many of them wrote out their feelings and experiences on cards and placed them in the box. I saw faces light up with the opportunity to share their feelings and experiences. Several people thanked us for what we were doing. I initially didn’t understand why folks were thanking us, but it finally occurred to me that they were not thanking us for simply sitting at a table and giving out pizza. They were thanking me for listening. I got the sense that many of our participants (from several different racial backgrounds) had very few experiences of truly being listened to. Over the three days I manned a table, I had some amazing conversations. Those conversations were hopeful and vulnerable all at the same time. I was amazed at the courage of people to be vulnerable and to share their true feelings. I think that it is particularly difficult when you have had your voiced silenced for so long to have enough hope and strength to take a chance to be heard. It also takes a certain vulnerability being on the other side of the conversation as well. There was more than one occasion where I found myself being apologetic for not noticing the pain and struggle before now. I invited people to tell me their story to help me correct my assumptions and to help me see my blind spots. There was a true intimacy in some of these conversations. Most were not adversarial at all. The charge of hope in the air was palpable. We all sat in the midst of that hope with a sense of cautious optimism as though we may be on the precipice of change. While this was an amazing experience, it is not enough. Now we must take a critical look at what we discovered by doing this project and put energy into creating true systemic change. To do otherwise is to silence voices once again. I can imagine fewer things more cruel than that. At the end of the day, everything that we are seeing in the news and media about protests and other activity is simply a way for a historically marginalized people to try to get their stories heard. As a white male, my story has been told enough. It is my time to listen, affirm, and seek to understand. The plight of African Americans and other people of color is not something that I can fully understand because my skin is white. However, I can make an effort to understand by humbly realizing that everyone’s story is just as important as mine and that I have a responsibility to not only listen to the stories, but to also use my own position and voice to help the voice of others to be heard a little better. True understanding requires humility and vulnerability. Lately, the conflict displayed on the news and in the media has made me doubt the possibility of healing, but this project has renewed my hope in that possibility. Healing takes place within the same spaces that leave us open to harm. Openness and honesty move us closer to that space. It is a difficult space to stand in, but it is truly one of the most sacred spaces a person can occupy, and in it we will find the key to peace, justice, equality, and harmony.-

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