By Cait De Mott Grady. Cait De Mott Grady grew up in the Ithaca Catholic Worker Community in Ithaca, NY and has been working as an organizer on political and environmental campaigns since graduating from college in 2012. Cait moved to Detroit this past June and is inspired and humbled by all the people who work to make the Beloved Community a reality.
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated to complete the work,
but neither are you free to abandon it.
– The Talmud
I woke up early this morning to darkness and I lay there listening to night sounds – a chorus of crickets and cicadas, punctuated by the occasional engine roar or dog bark. I lay there listening and thinking of my dear friend who is facing a terminal Leukemia diagnosis. I thought about how grateful I am for his life and our friendship and how I desperately want to know that he will be by my side in the coming years, questioning, organizing, marching, imagining, and loving.
This feeling of desperation scares me because I ultimately know that no amount of wishing or praying or bargaining will keep him alive. It’s a powerful feeling in me though and one that I think necessary to probe.
I experience the feeling on the interpersonal level, like with my dear friend, but also when I grapple with fucked up shit happening in the world. I felt it strongly yesterday as I sat in my car watching an employee of the private company Homrich carry out the bidding of empire, shutting off Detroiters’ water. At one house, I saw kids toys and colorful lawn chairs on the front porch, a bar-b-q grill in a yard of freshly cut grass, lace curtains hanging neatly in the window. With a few turns of the water key, this family’s access to a basic necessity of human survival was shut off. Knowing that what I was witnessing has happened to over 40,000 Detroit households, that it is part of a racist plan to reshape this city, how could I feel anything but desperation?
Desperation is powerful in that it comes from a raw place of deeply wanting things to be different, sometimes at any cost. The danger of it in my relationship with my friend is that I can get so caught up in wanting him not to be sick, that I’m not present to the reality he’s living. On the phone last week, he started talking about his death and about how the doctors say it might happen sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. He said he’d met with Hospice to learn about his options and that he’d learned about what happens to your body when you die. My initial impulse was to throw the phone across the room. I didn’t want to hear him say those words. I didn’t want to think about all that his words meant. I didn’t want to feel it.
Since losing my dad in an accident six years ago, I’ve felt challenged to embrace death: to taste it, touch it, see it, feel it, walk with it, to try to faithfully witness it as a fundamental part of each of our stories, and to allow that aching knowledge of mortality to propel me to live more fully in the world. This moment on the phone with my friend felt like an opportunity to witness and not let desperation stunt and limit me. I didn’t throw my phone. I continued to hold it to my ear, letting his voice, so full of its usual warmth and humor, even when talking about death, into my heart. I tried to listen to exactly what he was saying and not what I wanted to hear.
Desperation in the context of empire presents its own set of challenges. My impulse yesterday was first, to throw my engine into gear, drive straight out of Detroit and never look back. I didn’t want to see the inhumanity that was unfolding right before my eyes. I didn’t want to feel it. My second impulse was to blindly tear out of my car screaming for the Homrich employee to stop doing his job, to stop turning off a basic human necessity.
Instead of giving in to either, I sat in my car sweating, thinking about how desperation makes me unrooted in myself and in place. I so badly wanted to simultaneously leave and to act independent of community. But to act without rootedness in community is to deny the rich history of struggle, of resilience, of creativity, of those who never left.
Instead, I’m going to try to continue to listen, to learn history, to build relationships, to share food, to critically examine ways I benefit from white supremacy. In short, I’m going to try to witness. And then, and only from a place of rootedness in myself and in community, will I act.
4 thoughts on “Witnessing”
Your story reminds me of when I was diagnosed with cancer 3 years ago. I asked everyone to pray for me. But at a certain point, the question occurred to me, “am I going to pray for myself?” Wouldn’t it be easier to check out at this point, so I don’t have to stay around and watch global warming unfold, along with all the other crap? Eventually I decided that I would try to live (and possibly fail). One of the things that appears to me since then, is that love continues, and community continues, up, during, through, and beyond what we perceive as death.
Peace to you, and to all your comrades.
I had a close friend who was diagnosed with leukemia. I started visiting her in the hospital while she got a stem cell transplant and then, in my first year of seminary, I had no classes on Friday. So I started spending Friday afternoons with her. The treatments had damaged her eyes and she had difficulty reading or watching TV. So I read aloud to her — detective novels. Then we’d have a closing prayer and I’d leave. It was a gift to both of us and I learned a lot about facing that ultimate check-out. She rallied for a while and even went back to work. She got to hold her newborn grandson and see a romance develop between her younger son and one of the nurses who cared for her. She died three years after that semester that we spent Friday afternoons together. Witnessing, yes. Thank you for sharing.
Wow! Thanks for writing that, and allowing it to be read. I applaud your use of “curse words” because nothing else even comes close! Thanks also for your Work! With love