It is Wednesday morning. I leave Sunday for my scheduled annual retreat in Connecticut. As I prepare breakfast, the top news story is Trump’s clamp-down on “illegals”; the separation of parents and children, migrants entering the United States, all being held in detention. I’m appalled: angry, at the latest bombastic bombardment from this bully, especially as it arrives on the heels of the 2018 G7 meeting, where he labelled Prime Minister Trudeau “weak and dishonest” – a slight projection, perhaps! Like many other Canadians I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the notion of a visit to the United States.
With a morning free of commitments, I start looking on-line for retreat centres in Ontario, and the rest of Canada. Calls and e-mails go to at least 6 requesting space for a silent retreat the next week. I e-mail my friend and former theological professor – an American, living in Canada for the past 35 years – asking where she goes in northern Ontario. Responses come in over the early afternoon hours. The retreat houses are full. My former professor and R. C. sister friend calls me. She is in Arizona leading a retreat for other sisters, several of whom are helping to care for the children who have been removed from their parents under this Trump initiative. She asks: “Can you hold the tension between these two ends of the spectrum?”
I decide I need my retreat more than I need to protest Trump. I am met at the airport by another retreatant.
“How are you?” she asks
“I almost didn’t come. The news has been so hard.”
“Yes, for us too. We are embarrassed, ashamed.”
Our conversation continues. I hear just how hard it is to deal with Trump supporters who only listen to distorted news feeds which say things like – it is actors rather than students protesting gun violence in schools. A chasm exists in this divided country. I hear about the “resistance” that stared immediately, and the work being done to encourage people to vote in the mid-terms. I feel kinship, humbled by the possibility that Ontario is heading into a similar future with its new conservative government.
I’ve been carrying much grief over climate change and justice. The trumpfords either deny, or don’t seem to care, about the world that we are leaving for our grandchildren and the generations to come. Don’t they see that all the money in the “taxpayer’s pocket”, or political power in the world (in the short term, as that is the apparent limit of consciousness of this subset of politicians) mean nothing if you can’t drink the water, breath the air, or grow nutritious food?
The first evening of the retreat I sit in a circle with six American women.
“I almost didn’t come.” I say, as I introduce myself. There is a heaviness in the room. One shares her grief at the political situation and one by one around the circle the anger and despair is acknowledged and felt. They too are suffering.
The week is spent mostly in silence. The beauty and fullness of mother nature surrounds me: The steady pulse of the ocean, the magnificent trees and flowers, the birds, bees, rabbits, groundhogs, dragonflies and other creatures draw me into silence within and without.
It is the final afternoon. I sit in the same circle of seven. “I’m glad I came,” I say, “It is good to be here and remember nothing is black and white.” I feel solidarity with their struggle and am humbled by their honesty. I leave them, and you, with the message of hope and video that came to me on my retreat:
The humble bumble bee
Will bring humanity to
We will only survive
If we realize
Our survival depends
How badly will we be
we wake up?
The mighty shall be brought low.
It has always been thus.
I can trust: life, death, re-birth
Same: yesterday, today, tomorrow.
Anne Simmonds, retreat 2018