concentric circles of care

Circles of Care in Traumatic Times

It has been a painful month here in Minneapolis. As forewarning, especially if you are deeper into the center of the Circles of Care than I am, you might not need or want to read this… And please know I am here to hear and see and do my best to support you. And I will take my own needs, my pain, anger, grief and confusion, to someone in a circle of care that’s even farther out than the circle I’m in….

In case this isn’t a familiar concept, Circles of Care work like this: Look at the trauma and harm and adversity that occurs. Do not look away until you must for your own self-preservation. Focus your love and support towards the center. Prayers, donations, respectful responses to what is being asked or invited. Full stop.

And do not erase yourself because we need all of us (as Lena Gardner has said). In the circles of care, you are included. Do not deny your own anguish. Just turn it away from those at the center of adversity. Vent your own discomfort, pain, grief, anxiety, rage, energetic striving for solutions, doubts and questions, fears and concerns, to loved ones and friends who this time are in the outer rings, who have capacity to listen and care for you.  You are permitted the release and privilege of expressing grief to those who will not be further hurt by hearing it. Indeed, find those people and talk to them because you need to be unburdened to be able to pick up whatever burdens you can from those at the center.

Hold the center sacred for the people most affected  –  just now, George Floyd’s immediate relatives and friends. The next circle is sacred to people closely related to those affected – such as the girl who filmed almost 9 minutes of pure horror. And the women who relive their own nightmares every time another woman’s husband is murdered by police.

Next, perhaps, is everyone else who has been pulled over, looked over, passed over, talked over, had their health, education, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and economic livelihood constantly questioned or threatened, merely for Breathing While Black. Some of them also are local owners of small salons, bookstores, clinics, and cafes, destroyed in the maelstrom.

Then there are those of us outside the circles targeted by racism, whose work, play, living and sleeping have centered upon the blocks in north and south Minneapolis, and central Saint Paul, where beloved landmarks and thriving small businesses burned. We grieve our city blocks and the reasons for their burning. We grieve Cub Foods where we bought the piecrusts for the Senior Higher’s Boston Trip fundraisers. We grieve SamSam’s culturally congruent mental health clinic. We remember Palak Paneer at Gandhi Mahal with the Climate Justice Circle and MNIPL. We are re-reading the copy of Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower” from Uncle Hugo’s 46-year-old bookstore. Where, at Farenheit 451, I guess, the paperbacks burned the bricks to a shattered hull. We grieve these lost places, and we know they are in the circles of pain but not the center.

And then there are people everywhere, of all hues and backgrounds and geographies, hurting because it hurts to live in a world where anyone ignores or relishes a cry that “I can’t breathe.” Every mother summoned by a dying man’s cry for his mother.

And then there are onlookers simply fascinated or discomfited by the spectacle of so much pain. And those who simply cannot bring themselves to look, who use their privilege to look away…

We are called by our faith not to look away. We are called by our faith to tolerate our own pain and others’. We are called to support with action, donation, prayer, those at the center. To see and acknowledge the long history of trauma, resistance, and “involuntary resilience” as Karen Hutt put it.

To acknowledge the many, many steps before this tipping point. Five years ago last week, a few months before police killed Jarmar Clark, organizers pressured the Minneapolis City Council to end “lurking” and “spitting” as offenses arbitrarily used to harrass people of color.  Two days ago, that history of action and the current spotlight led the Council to pledge to dismantle systems of policing that are more harmful than helpful to anyone.

 Another way is possible. Austin, Texas and Camden, New Jersey, have done it, and cut their crime rate, too. I am beginning to learn about defunding (so clearly defined when applied to schools and Planned Parenthood; why so muddy when applied to police?) and about alternatives to police as we know them. Some links to learn more are below.

The key question, I think, even while crying, is not why some business blocks in Minneapolis were burned — but rather, why, given the history and circumstances, more of Minneapolis wasn’t burned.  To my knowledge no more lives were lost – almost no occupied apartments or homes were burned —  despite what might have looked in a newsreel like total chaos. The most serious additional injury, after the death of Mr. Floyd, was the police blinding a journalist with a rubber bullet. It most certainly was not police who kept those houses and their inhabitants safe.  The stories of all the neighborhood people who guarded the houses, shops and blocks, have yet to be told. The story of the Minneapolis Sanctuary Hotel is one that I want to learn more about, and retell, as it is more than what has been told. Keep listening.

Mother Jones is said to have said, “Pray for the dead. And fight like hell for the living.”  Step One: Stop killing people. Step Two: Challenge LESS THAN talk and action, every time it happens, whether it’s Amy or Karen or any random police officer.

Farewell, Uncle Hugo’s… Thank you for selling me Octavia Butler’s books. I will cry every time I see your burnt shell. You burned for change, you burned so that people’s houses would not burn, your memory is worth preserving in its own way. You were not a human life. You were collateral damage. And I will fight like hell for Change “which is the only lasting truth”. Amen.

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