Castlemaine Vigil in Solidarity with Refugees
Week 7 2013
There were quite a few people at the vigil over the past evenings. Some sat for a while. Some dropped in for quiet conversation and questions, others to sign the petition. One evening I talked about the importance of keeping the soul of the vigil alive. By this I mean that it is easy for this action to fragment. In order to sustain this vigil we need to maintain the focus on people, on care and connection. We must focus on the people behind the numbers given in detention centres; the people behind the un-named bodies who are found drowned at sea; the people behind the numbers reported on the news, the people who are suffering; and on ourselves, on our own personhood, our own humanity.
So I have been reminding people that the last half hour of the vigil will be a quiet time of remembering and contemplation; of bearing witness; of sending love.
The word VIGIL can be defined as ‘watchful attention’. Watchful attention has power. It brings attention, shines a light on that which people in power would like to deny, forget or dis-remember. It allows us to bear witness.
‘Bearing witness means listening deeply. Listening without judging. Listening to become one with another. Giving another human being absolute and total recognition’. Powerful in a time of dehumanization. Lawyer to Peacemaker website speaks of ‘listening another person into existence’. This is what the vigil is about. Truly listening for the humanity amongst the dehumanizing rhetoric, seeing the humanity amongst the dehumanising images. Listening. Listening in the silence, in the quiet of sitting on the steps as the sun goes down and people return to their homes. Listening to our own quiet voices. Listening til we can hear the sobs, til we can hear the unworded silences, til we can hear the sighs, cries, hopes of those suffering.
The Castlemaine Vigil in Solidarity with Refugees incorporates education, solidarity, and is a visible reminder of the horror of what is happening to people. And, importantly it grows compassion and love through watchful attention, quiet listening and bearing witness. With this, we step outside of the whirlpool of the for-and-against political rhetoric, reactive behaviours, loud words (all of which have their place) and find a place of quiet shared humanity, that will sustain our action, our vigil, throughout the long haul that is, and will be, needed.
I will share with you a quote from an article by Patrick Stokes in ‘The Conversation’ posted 26th July 2013 and titled:’ Drowning Mercy: Why We Fear the Boats’.
‘There’s a Latin word: misericordia.
It’s usually translated “mercy” or “pity”. Thomas Aquinas took misericordia to be a kind of grief at the suffering of others as if that suffering were our own. Alasdair MacIntyre, the leading modern exponent of Thomist virtue ethics, sees misericordia as a responsiveness to the distress of others that offers the same concern we would normally show to those in our own family, community or country to total strangers.
Misericordia in this sense is the virtue of the Good Samaritan; it’s the virtue the ancient Chinese sage Mencius describes in the way we would rush to help a child who has fallen down a well, not through hope of reward, but simply through concern for the child – any child’.
Throughout the vigil I have felt the distress of many. I began the vigil because I could no longer bear the distress I felt. This distress has led to a form of “misericordia” – a responsiveness to the distress of others that offers the same concern we would normally show to those in our own family, community or country, to total strangers’.
Our experiences of distress are often dulled by many forms of distancing and othering employed by politicians, much media and within our own communities. Such experiences of distress are often seen as ‘crazy’. I remember a psychiatrist saying to me once: ‘you are not crazy, your responses are normal within an abnormal, violent and crazy environment’.
I have been taking note of how powerless, and sometimes ‘crazy,’ many people feel at the moment. And I have taken note of those who have told me that I am crazy – responding in visceral emotional ways to the suffering and torture of others. What I want to say is that such responses are not crazy.
Such responses are human.
Such responses are the experience of profound grief at the suffering of others.
Such responses grow from experiences of profound shock at the inhumanity and cruelty of those who would purport to speak in our name.
They are normal responses to a violent and crazy situation.
If we are unable to feel empathy; to experience some form of misericordia it seems to me that we have lost our own humanity. Isn’t our inablitity to feel, to imagine, to recognise the humanity and suffering of others, a kind of madness!
To feel, though, to experience some level of misericordia enables us to grow our humanity and to regain some power. We are not powerless. We do not have to abide b,y and remain within, the racist, white supremacist, imperial framework and rhetoric that politicians and others tell us we exist within. Through misericordia the boundaries are expanded – we find another framework, other languages, we regain our own agency, our own voices, our power to say NO; our power to act, speak, experience in a loving way- and so, day after day model and demand that this – a politics of love – be that through which we define ourselves and our communities, our place within this continent and our responsibilities and relationships to others.
Come along to the market Building between 5pm and 6.30pm on a weekday evening. Come visit the vigil, exchange ideas and conversation – accept your power and act, sign the NEW petition – and spend some time sitting quietly in vigil, bearing witness, listening, remembering and sending love.