For all the 24-year-olds in 2020, we your parents bleed in the paradox of apologising for this relentless year of sorrows, and resting in the hope you represent.
Like most of the years since she turned 17, we are missing Julia's birthday. Her milestones like 18 and 21 were spent with kind community, but no shared continent with us. Today she has a brother whose break in the tortuous special forces training program for two days miraculously aligns. This is where the cross scratches our shoulders and weighs our hearts most. But in 2020, I suspect this is true of SO MANY. Grandparents unable to travel, parents unwilling to risk exposure, kids unable to have school friends, venues shut down, it's a year of wishing and yearning. This Oct 4 finds our Julia in a country beset by pandemic, with the president hospitalised and the future shaky. She's in a world where relentless exploitation of resources for wealth has damaged the environment, and where injustice has been subtly and sometimes blatantly encoded in the very fabric of society. Like many in her cohort, she's working two part-time minimum-wage jobs that don't give her health insurance, studying on the side for grad school admissions, sharing a modest house in a modest neighbourhood to make ends meet.
But: she IS working, studying, communing. And here is where hope comes in. Because amongst the 24-year-olds are growing proportions of people who value a job for its meaning more than its benefits, who invest in causes that increase equality and justice even if their own power or wealth are not established, who hold onto the importance of community and faith. Who are asking hard questions and not accepting the easy answers.
Julia gives us hope. Her first job is at New Garden Park Farm (link for recent newspaper article), a church-based community agriculture project that combines many of her passions: food for the hungry, working alongside East African immigrants, creating a healing God-filled space with the beauty of nature, encouraging parishioners to care for creation, experimenting with sustainability. Her second job is at Maxie B's, a bakery-coffee shop that provides connection and celebration. She's thinking about how to be part of the goodness of God to real people in real time. She embraces friendships across a diversity of colour, age, belief, identity. Her fridge is full of homemade concoctions, her porch is blooming, and her brother helped her rehabilitate an amazing hand-me-down espresso maker for her barista side-hobby. Her rescue-dog Chance and her fuel-efficient Prius and her broad rimmed hat go with her everywhere. She's intentional and prayerful and free-spirited and organised and deliberate and reliable and openminded. In all the best, sunny, ways. Growing up as an outsider and growing up in the faith informs who she is, but she has taken all those crazy experiences and become her own person. One of my life-long prayers for her was based on the end of Luke 2, that she would grow in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and men. She's smart and insightful, healthy and strong, and I know God and humanity keep finding more new things about her to love. We certainly do.
moving day, pc ??, she's a strong woman!
So on this October 4th, we celebrate her once again from afar. And this being 2020, let me end with two quotes from reading the papers this weekend. The first is from Viola Davis, whose movie about the blues singer Ma Rainey is coming out soon. She reflected on how the character's joy, her comfortableness in who she was, rubbed off on her as she acted, and said:
"I have to remember that I don't have to barter for my worth. I was just born with it."
That is about as clear a statement of grace as I have read, and it reminded me of Julia. She was born with worth, and we could not love her more. The second is from an article about the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, where the author reflects that the two things she learned from reflecting on the justice's life were gratitude and good work. Being thankful re-sets our focus in this year of so many losses. Writing this blog post is an act of choosing to be more thankful for MY daughter than I am sorry for myself that I'm far away. A life of gratitude to God and good work for others is a fair summary of our aspirations:
Justice Ginsburg was a human being, an incredible woman of valor. And her passing can remind us that while there are no political saviors, we all can work to save the world. God alone saves. Yet, we, fragile humans that we are, do the work we are given to do - whether as lawyers or politicians or preachers or teachers or doctors or florists or writers or waiters or clerks. And we do our part for the common good. When we do what we are called to do well, wherever we are called to do it, with courage and grace, we contribute to the healing, the salvus (the word salvation comes from the Latin word “to heal”) of the world, what the Jewish tradition refers to as “repairing” the universe. God is the Savior, the Healer, the Great Physician, the Comforter. But we help save - as repairers of the breach, the bringers of peace and grace, the seekers of a more just world.
So here's to Julia, and all the 24-year-old women out there who are working for the common good, repairing the breach, bringing grace, breathing peace, and seeking justice. 2020 shall pass, and the road ahead is yours.
Julia in Bundibugyo 1996 (same tree, same chair, same yard still here but no Julia)
with brothers, 1997
Julia with Bear, and Jack, 1998 or 9
Bear in 2020 after Chance got hold of him
When they got to wear the birthday button for breakfast on the special day
Here are the two photos I have taped to the wall over my desk: