I’ve found that my heart can’t go into the freezer, then the oven, then the freezer again without cracking, splitting open, letting untold Love in and out, and finding a connection with humanity that’s too often walled off.

The past few days, I’ve had a sorrow-joy-sorrow sandwich, though I’ll admit that both the joy and sorrow were tinged with each other.  I seem to be finding spectrums in everything – but that’s another post.

This is Transgender Awareness and Remembrance Week, so both Thursday and Saturday evenings I attended and took part in remembering the victims of violence that took place because the victims were perceived to be gender-variant – or were associated with someone who was perceived that way – whether they would have called themselves transgender or not.  Friday, by huge contrast, was the Interfaith Thanksgiving  Prayer Service.

THURSDAY NIGHT I attended the first Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) vigil held in my city of Lowell.  18 of us, including a 2-year-old child, met in front of Lowell City Hall at 6:30pm.  We were greeted by the organizer, heard an invocation and prayed with my own church’s intern minister, Russ Menk, read the names of the 22 people who had been killed in the past year (based on the list this group found online), and then walked with lit candles and a few memorial signs through downtown to the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center.  There we heard from Rev. Laurie, a transgender UU minister, and from those of us who wanted to share what brought them to the vigil.  It was lovely to see a number of UMass Lowell students there, along with the core organizing group from the Center for Hope and Healing GLBT group, and our own 3-person contingent from First Parish UU of Chelmsford.

I must say, I was pleased to be a UU that night, even more than usual, as I stood on the side of love for all people of all gender identities – as we are all beloved children of God, created in God’s image, as he chooses for us to be.  Having the courage to live your own authentic self, especially when that goes against cultural norms, is an amazing act of faith and a tribute to the God that made us all.  Those of you who have received emails from me will recognize this quote:

“God did not create a universe of cookie-cutter homogeneity but rather a thriving web of complex and diverse ecosystems. This is true in the natural world and the human world as well. A radically loving God does not expect people to fit into narrow cultural norms of body size, sexual orientation, physical ability, marital status, or other modes of life. Rather, our Universalist faith tells us that being created in God’s image means being part of a vast, complex, imperfect interdependent system.”
~~ Reverend Meg A. Riley, www.uua.org

It was a night of the sorrow of senseless violence and the bittersweet hope brought by connections with new friends and the new, yet incomplete, state legislation to protect transgender people.  If you’re wondering what the ‘public accommodations’ clause that was left out of the bill really means: Transgender people can legally still be refused service or kicked out of bars and restaurants, kicked out of stores, kicked off busses, etc.

THE FOLLOWING NIGHT, Friday, was a complete switch in mood.  I was a little nervous going to the Interfaith Thanksgiving Prayer Service, if only because I didn’t know what to expect or whom, if anyone, I’d know.  It was amazing – joyous and festive.  We had 12 people there from First Parish UU of Chelmsford and three others that I knew from elsewhere.  And the people I knew were still the minority. 🙂  We started at Temple Emanuel, a Jewish Temple in Chelmsford.  The service included worship and prayer from Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Native American and Christian traditions.  I must say the Muslim call to worship, the adhan, just brought the Divine energy straight through my soul.  The muazzin who recited it (performed? sang? channelled?) was trained in Turkey, speaks no English, and seriously has a voice and talent and energy blessed by Allah.  We had a lovely service at the Temple, with a number of upbeat Jewish blessings and prayers in which we were required to sing and clap along – even if we didn’t know the words. 🙂 The feeling in the air – with approximately 100 people – was of warmth and love and coming together.  [Fun Interfaith fact:  Did you know that in the original language (Aramaic), the only difference between Elohim and Allah is a vowel (Elaha is the root of both) — and vowels aren’t printed?]

Leaving the temple en masse, the majority of us proceeded to the Islamic Society of Greater Lowell.  It was my first time in a mosque (masjid), and I must admit I was very conscious of not wanting to offend in any way.  But I found the people very warm and welcoming and genuinely pleased to have us there.  After depositing shoes and coat, and making sure (as women) our hair was covered (an almost-requirement in the prayer room, but at one’s discretion otherwise; as visitors we could cover if we wished, so I wore a scarf over my head), we proceeded to our side of the curtain in the prayer room.

We were blessed to have two very helpful sisters of the mosque explain to us a bit about the prayer (the last of the day) and the reasoning for the curtain.  I must admit that I was dubious about the need for modesty – until I saw the prostrations and gave half-a-thought to having men behind me as I bent over like that – yeah, I think I’d prefer to sit behind the men or off to the side, thank you very much.  Although I couldn’t see the imam leading the prayers, others on our side could, and it was by his audible direction that the prostrations of the prayers were done.  Not surprisingly, prayers are done facing Mecca; I found it ingenious that the carpet lines up in that orientation, as well, so one can just pick a line to stand on and be straight on.  The lines are even far enough apart to keep people from bumping into each other with prostrations.  I would guess many mosques have carpets like this, but I still found it a very strong sign of how important the details were and much they’d done to convert this part of an office complex into a place of worship.  All I can say about the prayers themselves is that the reverence and devotion to Allah were palpable.

After prayers, we went downstairs into the community room for dinner, prepared by members of the mosque. What a wonderful problem – they hadn’t expected so many people!  So we had plenty of food (amazing, wonderful food!), but some people were standing to mingle and eat, even after extra chairs had been brought in.   A blessing was given and more of the Quran was recited / brought forth through that awe-inspiring voice.  Then we ate, encouraged to sit and talk with people of different faiths and those we didn’t know.

What comraderie! What bonding! What food!  All of us there in love; we didn’t want to leave, and much contact information was exchanged.  (I now have two new best friends: one from the Temple, whom I actually met at the TDOR vigil the night before, and one from the mosque.)   I came home on such a high, I think I left my winter coat there, but didn’t notice until the following day!

BUT THEN SATURDAY EVENING… back into the freezer, as we hosted a TDOR vigil at church.  I arrived early to help set up, as our plans required a bit more set-up than Thursday’s vigil.  We probably had around 18-20 people present, and most of those ended up participating in one way or another.  Will played a beautiful and moving piano piece as our prelude.  I read the chalice lighting, then both Warren and Dee said some introductory words on the history of Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Then we read the names of the 221 people whom we know of from around the world who were killed just for being who they were, just within the past year.

  • Name (if known)
  • Age (if known)
  • Date of death
  • Place of death {often included both the town and the place within the town – her own apartment, a pharmacy, the street;  and often was difficult to pronounce, since none of us speak Portuguese or Spanish particularly well, and many were from South America}
  • Cause of death

I read 55 names, as did Carl, Edith and Warren.  We took turns by the page… after page… after page.  When we finished a page and sat down, Dee handed us another page.  They felt never-ending.

What many of the listeners didn’t know is that we were editing as we went.  Almost all of the listings had, in addition to the above information, a sentence or paragraph that further described the situation.  For example, the cause of death might be ‘stabbed.’  But the paragraph said, among other things, that she was stabbed 17 times in the face and neck.  Or strangled…. but they found the body partially decomposed in a sewer.  There was a beheading on a street.  A woman was shot – while in a hospital bed – by her own brother, so that he could cleanse his own name.  So, as readers, we read all the details of all the 55 names in front of us.  And, as we moved through the reading, we found it necessary to let some of that information slip into what we spoke out loud.

It was very difficult.  Hard enough to think of 221 people being killed in one year senselessly, just because they’re different.  Harder to hear the names, without your automatic defenses saying ‘that’s too much!’ and shutting you down – whether into daydreaming or apathy.  Yet harder still to read all that information on all those people, and have to stand up and share that terrible news aloud.  Stabbed 17 times.  Police were called at 5:40pm, but didn’t arrive until 9pm.  Wanting to say to the people listening, ‘Did you hear what I just said?’ Praying to God between my own pages, “Please, let them be at peace. Please let their tormentors and murderers recognize that they’ve done something horrible and repent.  Please let love prevail and the senseless killing stop.  Please let this be the last page I have to read.  Please.  Please….”  But the pages just kept coming one after another.  Willing myself to stay present, to not go numb, to feel the grief and the shock, to convey that throught my reading so my listeners would be jolted out of whatever ease they’d dug for themselves.  This was not an evening to be at ease.  It was an evening to mourn those we know of and the thousands we don’t know of.  It needed to be a hard evening.

We had to witness.  We had to hear their names and remember them.  Only by witnessing are we moved to action; only through action does the world change for the better.  To paraphrase, “They came for the transgendered people, but I wasn’t transgender, so I stayed quiet…”  But at some point, their safety is our safety, their body is our body, his soul is my soul.  How can I turn my back on myself?

A GOOD, HARD THREE EVENINGS.

We are always more alike than we imagine.

Treat everyone as you would want to be treated.  Why is there so much violence when this is such a simple and universally accepted rule?

THANKS TO THE FOLLOWING for sponsoring these amazing evenings:

  • Center for Hope and Healing GLBT Task Force
  • Greater Lowell Interfaith Alliance (GLIA)
  • Temple Emanuel
  • Islamic Society of Greater Lowell
  • Welcoming Congregation Committee at First Parish UU Church of Chelmsford — especially Dee who worked her butt off
  • International Transgender Awareness site — location of the list of 221

It’s good to crack open; it lets you see what’s inside.

🙂

  • Thoughts to discuss:
  • Has anything cracked you open recently – or not recently?
  • What stirs your heart and/or calls you to action?
  • Most of the TDOR victims had been killed through very personal violence – face-to-face, passionate, angry, scared.  Have you ever had that kind of visceral reaction to something or someone (not necessarily to that extent)? How did you deal with it?