Amy and I attended the Jubilee Women's Center's 10th Annual Benefit Breakfast on Wednesday, which had the inspiring title "Celebrating the Future Within" ... and a correspondingly inspiring program that included several women recounting their challenges, and now the Jubilee Women's Center helped them rise to meet those challenges. Our good friend, Mary, is on the Board of Directors for the organization, which is why we were there.
Jubilee is a transitional housing facility that offers homeless single women from ages 21 thru 60 a safe place in which to live and renew themselves. Women pay $250 / month for rent - the rest of which is subsidized through donations (such as those that are made during the annual breakfast) - and are offered a variety of training classes to help them become more self-reliant, both personally and professionally ... as Meeghan Black, of KING 5 TV, the MC for the event noted: these training classes sound like something everyone could use.
Deacon Steve Wodzanowski from St. Joseph Parish led the invocation, which was - synchronistically (for me) - based largely on a poem, The Journey, from Mary Oliver, a portion of which I'd referenced in my last post (on Blessed Unrest (which was based largely on Paul Hawken's book of the same name)), though he recited the full version, which I'm going to include here:
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began
though the voices around you
their bad advice -
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles. "Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do -
determined to save
the only life you could save.
This, in turn, reminded of some of my earlier ruminations on Ralph Waldo Emerson's writings, which brought into focus my conflicting views on self-reliance vs. interdependence, inherence, adherence and coherence - essentially, the self vs. society. There does seem to be a conflict, or at least tension, between teaching self-reliance (independence) and yet preparing women to re-enter society (which is, by definition, highly interdependent). One of Emerson's observations closely aligns with Mary Oliver's poem (and the overall theme of the event):
Trust thyself: every heart every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events.
Getting back to the event, it turns out that the average age of the women residents of Jubilee is 45. That fact, together with the unexpected events along their unanticipated path toward homelessness - for which I kept thinking "there, but for the grace of
God the flying spaghetti monster, go I" (leaving aside, for the moment, the gender issue) - got me thinking about Dante, and his observation at the outset of The Divine Comedy:
In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in the dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.
Susan Fox, the Executive Director of the organization, noted the stigma often associated with women who are victims of domestic violence and/or homelessness, and stressed the importance of the positivism that pervades all aspects of Jubilee's programs. She encouraged us - and everyone - to look for (and celebrate?) the essential goodness within each of these women, a perspective I try to adhere to ... and, yet (as with so many things), often feel conflicted about.
I suspect that Susan would extend this suspension of negative judgment and appreciation of essential goodness to all women, not just those whose paths happen to lead to / through Jubilee. Returning to the gender thread I suspended earlier, this got me to thinking about whether we draw the line at women, or whether we ought to suspend negative judgments and appreciate the goodness in all people, men and women alike.
Pushing further along this edge, I wondered whether / how we can offer the same graciousness to the men who perpetrated violence on the women residents of Jubilee (not that I mean tot imply that all residents there are victims of domestic violence). Can we - ought we to - celebrate the future within every person (not just every woman)?
I find this to be an immensely challenging proposition. Philosophically, I cannot justify the drawing of lines of demarcation - this person is essentially good, that person is essentially evil. However, in practice, I do this all the time (I've noted several times before my personal challenges with seeing the essential goodness in George W. Bush, who, in my judgment, is one of the biggest perpetrators of violence - scaling back social programs, reducing protections for our environment, supporting capital punishment, war and [other forms of] torture - on the face of the planet). Who knows, maybe more obvious expressions of goodness lie in his future ...
As usual, I don't have any good answers ... just good questions ... or, at least, questions about goodness.