I’m writing this post in the pre-dawn hours of a day that I personally have looked forward to for over 4 years–the end of the Donald Trump presidency and the beginning of the Joe Biden presidency. But before I throw myself into the celebration of a new administration, with my new focus on the Beloved Community proposed by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King (see my post on that here), I want to acknowledge that this is a day of mourning for millions of my fellow Americans. So I thought I would start the day wishing them well, knowing the pain and sadness that may of them feel.
On this morning, I wanted to share a statement by somebody famous that, out of all that has been written and said about this difficult transition, has most inspired me to compassion. It goes:
I would implore everybody who’s celebrating a day to remember, it’s good to be a humble winner. Remember when I was here four years ago? Remember how bad that felt? Remember that half the country right now still feels that way. Please remember that. Remember that for the first time in the history of America, the life expectancy of white people is dropping. Because of heroin, because of suicide. All these white people out there that feel that anguish, that pain, they’re mad because they think nobody cares, and maybe they don’t. Let me tell you something. I know how that feels. I promise you, I know how that feels. If you’re a police officer, and every time you put your uniform on, you feel like you’ve got a target on your back, you’re appalled by the ingratitude that people have when you would risk your life to save them – Oh, man, believe me, believe me, I know how that feels. Everyone knows how that feels. But here’s the difference between me and you. You guys hate each other for that. And I don’t hate anybody. I just hate that feeling. That’s what I fight through. That’s what I suggest you fight through. You got to find a way to live your life. You got to find a way to forgive each other. You got to find a way to find joy in your existence in spite of that feeling. …
Who do you think said that?
It wasn’t any of the traditional gurus of love, like Marianne Williamson or Oprah or Ellen. It wasn’t from the King Center for Nonviolence, the organization that continues the work of the late Dr. King. It wasn’t any of the spiritual sources I usually follow, like Deepak Chopra or Eckhart Tolle or Michael Beckwith or Don Miguel Ruiz or Thich Naht Hahn or the Dalai Lama. It wasn’t any of my personal spiritual advisers or people from my center’s main office, Centers for Spiritual Living.
We often, or at least we used to, look to our political leaders for this kind of guidance and inspiration. But it wasn’t a politician, not even the newly-elected Senator from Georgie, Reverend Raphael Warnock, who is a minister at Dr. King’s former church, Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. You might think he might say something like that…but he didn’t.
The author of those words is actually an entertainer. But, to give you another clue, he won’t be appearing as part of the Inauguration ceremony, nor at the celebrity prime-time inaugural special, “Celebrating America,” that will be broadcast tonight, hosted by my ultimate Hollywood nice guy, Tom Hanks. But it wasn’t Tom Hanks who said that.
Actually, it was the opening monologue from the November 7, 2020 Saturday Night Live show, delivered by Dave Chappelle.
Now, most of us know Dave Chappelle as a black stand-up comedian whose work can be controversial and completely non-PC, particularly in regards to racism by white people. In the monologue, he is dressed in a plain gray suit and sits on a stool at the edge of the stage, smoking a cigarette. He skewers white people and white culture, making laughs out of uncomfortable truths. He has a whole segment about how white people need to go to N-word school, because it is black people, not white people, who know how to survive these difficult times. He suggests that white people participate in his new charity initiative “the kindness conspiracy” by doing some random act of kindness for a black person–but only someone completely undeserving, such as a local drug dealer.
But that was his concluding paragraph–and what a beautiful, compassionate, inspiring conclusion it was. It is not only that he brings up an important truth–that is, he reminds us that we need to understand that for so many of this country’s citizens, this is an occasion of pain and sorrow, and we should try to support them. It is also so inspiring from this outspoken social critic of white racism to assert his connection, his unity with the police, who are mostly white, that the black community have been protesting a lot this past year.
And in his way, he is saying the same thing that Dr. King does in his “Love Thy Enemies” speech (listen to an excerpt here): don’t hate the person, but instead work through your own anger, hurt, or hatred, which all drag you down from your highest potential. Dr. King reminds us that answering dark with dark doesn’t solve anything; only shining a light will dissipate the darkness. Dave Chappelle seems like an unlikely prophet of love, compassion, and forgiveness. And yet, he is the one who has most uplifted me right now.
So today, those of us who welcome the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris should celebrate. But if you have friends or family who you know are suffering today, maybe try reaching out to them with compassion and kindness, checking on their wellbeing. Maybe if we paid more attention to those feelings in personal and kind ways, so many people wouldn’t feel they have to break into the US Capitol to make their grievances known.
If nothing else, I encourage you to do what my wise, peaceful friend Kasey has been doing to help our country recover from the trauma of January 6. He has been doing what is known as the loving kindness meditation. There are many variations, but it usually starts is something like this version from the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society:
May I be free from inner and outer harm and danger. May I be safe and protected.
May I be free of mental suffering or distress.
May I be happy.
May I be free of physical pain and suffering.
May I be healthy and strong.
May I be able to live in this world happily, peacefully, joyfully, with ease.
After saying it for yourself, you repeat the phrases but say them on behalf of someone you love, substituting he or she or they for the I in the original version. Then you say them again on behalf of someone you feel kind of neutral about, but perhaps think they could use some support this day. Next, you say it on behalf of someone you disagree with or maybe even dislike (Dr. King reminds us that we don’t have to LIKE everyone, we just need to LOVE everyone). Finally, you say it for the entire world, using “all beings” instead of the earlier pronouns.
So before those of us who are happy this morning get to our celebrations, I encourage us all, in whatever way is right for you, to send some loving kindness out to those for whom this day is a sad one. As Dr. King and Dave Chappelle remind us, they are our brothers and sisters, regardless of our political differences.