Like most of you this evening I watched with humble and grateful tears the most felicitous and powerful speeches of both Kamala Harris and Joe Biden as their election became a reality. I actually thought Biden’s speech especially may be his speech of a lifetime in terms of assuaging our nation’s pent up anxiety, fear and vulnerability and then moving us forward. We have chosen worthy and strong leaders, and they spoke a message of hope on behalf of the whole nation, including the Trump voters, whether they realize it or not.
Recently I began telling myself I was living in a sort of purgatory. At first I thought this was kind of a clever and amusing analogy, but the more I thought about it, the more it became an apt description of my personal condition under the Trump administration and now under the Covid-19 virus, among other forms of discombobulation that holds us in such an unpleasant and uncertain time. I never used the term before, but I assumed purgatory is a kind of uncomfortable holding place between heaven and hell. I found out that formally it is defined as "the condition, process, or place of purification or temporary punishment in which, according to medieval Christian and Roman Catholic belief, the souls of those who die in a state of grace are made ready for heaven.” I’m not sure this completely describes me because I am not dead yet, but I concluded some of my days of late are defined by uncertainty about reality to the point of absurdity. And for the most part I had no real assurance that any particular end was in sight.
My deep relief this evening is because at least one aspect of my “purgatory" of anxiety and uncertainty has been addressed. The Trump era has an end date. And I want to be sure to appreciate and celebrate that, which I have done.
But as the evening went on, I was reminded that the actual termination of the Trump administration is still two months off, and his shadow of self-serving power will remain until then. The political and racial crises he has caused may well be made worse. And, of course, the pandemic and the other crises of climate, racism, and poverty, among others, will remain. We’re going to be in the process of escaping our “purgatory” of indeterminate confusion and hardship for much longer.
But the term “purgatory” has a second meaning it turns out. It can also be defined as “having the quality of cleansing and purifying,” like the word “purge,” I assume. Our nation, and perhaps more importantly, each of us, must purge ourselves from the toxicity of abuse of ourselves through addictions, abuse of each other through our various expressions of neglect and hatred, and abuse of the environment on which we depend for life itself. Before we can truly heal our nation and ourselves, we are going to need some truth and reconciliation, some purging, about what we have done and who we are. If Trump epitomized for many of us the extreme of these abuses as Americans, I want to believe this evening that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris represent a more noble and responsible leadership. We will all need the help of their administration to guide us through a reckoning and purging of the beliefs and practices that prevent our ability to sustain our environmental, economic and personal lives. But political leadership cannot do this for us. We must honor our highest values, our “better angels” as Biden noted, to be the incentive for our work.
Purgatory, or purging, are only temporary acts or conditions we must bear on our way to something better. I can imagine - can’t you? - a nation that purges ourselves from our addiction to exorbitant militarism and redirecting those billions of dollars to address alternative energy needs, health care for all, prioritizing child welfare and education, reducing poverty. I can imagine a national commitment to purge itself from racism by identifying its roots and implementing well-directed educational, economic and prison reforms that address it.
OK, I’m getting ahead of myself. But tonight I am allowed to dream a bit, to consider the election of Biden/Harris as a reprieve from an unacceptable four more years of a Trump purgatory. And I want us to remember that our reprieve is also a summons that we have work to do if we are rid ourselves of all that prevents us from creating the beloved community of justice and peace that Biden and Harris called us to this evening.
Blessings and peace,