Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Fanatics and the sweetness of God

I was at the grocery store this afternoon when my phone rang. It was a woman from the local chapter of Planned Parenthood, calling to tell me the location of a meeting to organize activism and support for the organization. This meeting is open to anyone, and the date and time are publicly announced, but you have to register with your name and contact info before they tell you where it will be held. Security is a constant concern for Planned Parenthood. There's a cadre of people ever eager to harass them and their patients, and of course there's also the occasional lunatic ready to do much worse.

Driving home, it hit me hard, the way it does more and more lately, how bizarre and infuriating it is that the campaign is still going strong against a woman's right to simple autonomy. And it's becoming stronger. A couple of days ago I saw a screed from one of my neighbors on Facebook in which she called Planned Parenthood clinics "wholesale slaughterhouses." This is a woman who has likely never stepped foot in a PP clinic and never would, but in her mind the people who work and get care there (I've been one of those) are the embodiment of evil. We're not people who disagree with her or have different beliefs. We're not innocently misguided or unenlightened. We're cold-blooded murderers and accessories to murder. And I have to wonder — who really benefits from encouraging this woman to believe that? And why does she want to believe it?

Shortly after I got home, the news came on the radio that Dylann Roof has been sentenced to death. He claims he has no remorse, they said. He thinks he had to do it to save the white race. And again I have the same questions: Whose interests are served when he frames the world this way? Why does he choose this story as his own and not a different one? There are plenty of others to pick from.

While reading some online stories about Roof's sentence, I saw a reference to one of his victims, Ethel Lee Lance, that said she was a perfume enthusiast, and naturally I was intrigued. Google led me to a newspaper article that includes a lovely portrait of Ms. Lance and this sentence:

Her daughter, Sharon Risher, recalled that her mother loved fine perfumes. “After putting on the perfume she would always say, ‘God is sweet.’ ” 

I don't know why, but those words just went all over me, as my mom used to say. Lump in my throat. Tears. She was so alive to me in that moment, this woman I would never know existed if not for her terrible death. If not for Roof's inexplicable choice.


The evaluation of the mysteries by the sons of all
experience. All suffering, if we call the light a thing
all men should know. Or find. Where ever, in the dark folds
of the next second, there is some diminishing beauty we might
  one day
understand, and scream to, in some wild fit of acknowledged

~ Amiri Baraka, from "History as Process"

Allegory of the Sense of Smell, Circle of Bartolomeo Pasarotti (?), c.1620s. There's an interesting article about the painting here.

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