I like to think all things begin with chaos. It is order of the most profound nature. Order so precise, the slightest variation at the start can lead to endings worlds apart. I like to think, the further from this primordial chaos we become, the more distilled is the order around us. We begin to detect patterns. We begin to feel the rhythms of the world, the rise and fall of our breathing, the beating of our hearts. We gain the order upon which we can build our lives, upon which we can foster freedom for ourselves, moving forward toward the future.
Other times we get lost in that chaos. We lose ourselves.
This is not a story about that. Instead it’s a story about much more.
Tonight began Pesach, or Passover, the celebration of our Exodus from Egypt, a celebration of our freedom from slavery and the birth of our people. Tonight began one of the most sacred holidays of the Jewish year, and yet instead of enjoying a seder–the festive meal over which we recount this story–I spent my evening and the days bringing me to this point falling into a pattern of order so profound I hadn’t seen its wholeness until now.
Certainly it felt like chaos every step of the way.
Last Thursday my student cancelled our tutoring session so my evening opened up. I had been in the Brickyard fundraising for hunger relief when a friend of mine, tabling alongside us, told me about a documentary she was showing that evening with another group on campus. I took the time after we cleaned up to work some homework and then I walked into a documentary about slavery–not about the Jews, not about Africans, but about slavery today. Slavery that exists across the world and especially in the United States. There are currently 27 million people enslaved worldwide, and the only things sold more than people are drugs.
It makes our Exodus seem trivial.
Saturday morning my friend woke me up around seven-thirty telling me to join her doing Service Raleigh, an annual event in which groups from around the city–especially from the schools nearby–gather to do service projects to help in more ways than I know of. My friend and I ended up mulching around the Performance Arts Center downtown. It was hard, laborious work, labor of a higher kind that has kept my back aching every day since, my muscles tight, my bones crying. All for a good cause, and the sweat on my brow was as cathartic as could be. Friday had been a tough day for me, and being able to throw myself–my body–into raw action helped me to relieve the stress that had gathered on my brow and burrowed into my brain.
On Saturday I volunteered my time to serve. But centuries ago, I would have been forced to serve–to obey–and I would not have found healing in action, but instead felt oppression, pain, and terror.
Once I was a slave, and now in my freedom I am obliged to end slavery for others. I have worked my hands in the service of others; but others work their hands, their bodies, only to survive, to barely make it through the day. I have not been scarred by my service, but they are scarred repeatedly every day for theirs.
Today I was tabling again. The wind bombarded me and shook me and froze me. Once even hail pummeled us from the heavens. Afterward I met my with student again, to make up our missed session, and then I walked across campus to an annual event called Take Back the Night–an evening of sexual and domestic violence awareness.
As I listened to the stories, told by men and women alike, of how they have been abused, used, made to blame themselves as others raised their control over them, it wasn’t long before I was reminded of some of my dearest and closest friends who have all been victims of rape and abuse. It was easy to ignore it then, these stories, easy to say they’d happened before I knew them, there was nothing I could do now, but as I named them each in my head and counted each of them on my hands, I felt the tears filling my eyes, spilling down my cheeks.
I don’t want to need both hands to count my friends who’ve been victims.
I hardly want to count them on one hand alone.
One of my friends was there this evening, sharing his story. I was moved, touched, inspired. We walked with a woman back to her office so she wouldn’t need to walk there alone, and then I walked him to his car before we parted ways. On my own I felt choruses coursing through my veins. I felt anger and sadness, indignation and contempt.
I turned on my music and bellowed into the night. My throat raw from crying, my lungs sore from singing, I felt the chords rip through my heart and tear at my soul. And right there, the wind blowing through me, the trembling cold making my knees buckle, I felt free. Ropes that for days have intertwined themselves around me suddenly snapped and I felt able to stand upright again. I remembered our exile from Egypt and tasted that raw freedom once again.