dignity human dignity

My Own Hurricane

6:00:00 AMEvelyn Hildebrand

Last week, I read The Secret Life of Bees because one of my dear friends read it and loved it.  In the story, Lily Owens ran away from an abusive father and a painful past, and ended up at the home of her mother's childhood nurse, August.  In the 1950's, discrimination against blacks was still a heavy burden that blacks had to bear, but Lily ignored the frowns and stares and stayed with August and her two sisters on their bee farm.   
Lily described August as African royalty, a queen of the Sahara, beautiful, loving and wise.  August helped Lily understand herself.  Confused, scared and uncertain, Lily felt like a failure because she had run away from her father.  August helped Lily understand why she had run away. Ultimately, Lily's deepest pain was fear, fear that she did not deserve love, that she deserved to suffer and be hated and hurt for always.  August stood up for Lily.  But further, she showed Lily the face of another who would stand up for her too.

"You don't have to put your hand on Mary's heart to get strength and consolation and rescue and all the other things we need to get through life.  You can place it right here on your own heart. Your own heart." (1)

August's words struck me.  

She addressed Lily's hurt by the deepest possible route. Lily was not just scared. She needed to know why she had stood up to her father, why she had run away. She didn't need to know that she would be forgiven by her father. She needed to know that she had done the right thing and that she did not need to apologize in the first place.

"All those times your father treated you mean, Our Lady was the voice in you that said "No. I will not bow down to this. I am Lily Melissa Owens. I will not bow down." Whether you could hear this voice or not, she was in there saying it." (2)

I think this line struck me most deeply. Cut me to the quick, so they say.

It is hard to recognize our own value. In the same vein, it is hard for me to articulate how deeply I understand Lily's desire to defend her decision to run away. Without being able to put her feelings into words, Lily needed to know the source of her sudden courage, her rush of rebellion, the firm and hard place that refused point blank to put up with more mistreatment.

On it's own, my voice is not big enough to say to the world, "I am valuable and I deserve respect." It feels like a slap in the face, an imposition. It feels rude and almost arrogant. Presumptuous. Scary. Like a little chick struggling to break free of a confining egg, trying to assert its presence--wet feathers plastered to a frail little body--in the big world. A little voice on the streets of New York City screaming and struggling to be seen and heard over the roar of traffic and people who have better things to do than stop for two seconds and see me.

There is a deeper authority, however, which overrides our reluctance to assert our own value, precisely at those moments when we feel like we are in the way, when we feel like we deserve to be trampled on by those around us. This deeper authority speaks at those moments, reminding us of our value as people. This deeper authority acts as a megaphone when we fail to speak above a whisper, giving us a voice loud enough to be heard: "You are a person. You will not bow down. You deserve better than this."

These are fighting words.

Why? Why can I refuse to bow? Why must I refuse to bow? Put philosophically, the question comes down to value.

"…a human person does not exist just to provide an instance of the human kind, but exists as this unrepeatable person and so stands in a sense above the human kind, being always more than an instance of it. This personalism understands the "infinite abyss of existence" (Newman) in the interiority of each person, in virtue of which each always exceeds the finite qualities and properties that he or she displays." (3)

There is an infinity captured within every person.  An infinity that is unrepeatable.

"People are like stained glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within." (4)

People are like hurricanes. Hurricanes made of glass and ocean water, frozen mid-wave: something so beautiful and wild that it speaks, calling for reverence.

The depths of a person is something so beautiful and wild that it speaks: something like that.


Evelyn Hildebrand

I love people - it fascinates me that it's impossible to really completely know another person.  There's always uncharted territory.  I love the ocean - the power that pulls you into a rising wave, the clean, clear curve, the pounding crash when the bubbly crest of a wave hits you feet as you dive straight through.  I love paint - on canvas.  On mason jars. On newspaper.  On my hands.  


(1) The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd.
(2) The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd.
(3) The Personalist Papers, John Crosby.
(4) Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, quote.

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