As they led Jesus away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”
- Luke 23:26-28
We gathered in silent prayer for several moments at the Ft. Benning fence, holding hands in a small circle. We had placed the crosses we had been given during the vigil and those we carried from Union in the fence. In many ways, it was finished.
We had responded with a sung “presente” – which translates from Spanish as “here” or “present” – to each of the hundred and hundred of names intoned. Each name was that of a person who had been a victim of violence perpetrated by graduates of the School of the Americas. Although it is often easier to connect to a story than a statistic, these names, by their sheer number, represented a conflation of the immensity that statistics abstractly represent and the weight of so many family members, friends, and strangers. The most difficult names to hear chanted were those of children whose ages were sung after their names. “…five-years old.” “…eight-months old.” “…sixteen-years old.” As we stood together in silence, the tears that had been welling in my eyes for several minutes began to fall more freely. I watched my tears, in tiny pools, darken the pavement of Ft. Benning Rd. I began to feel the immensity of so much suffering, combined with exhaustion, breaking into my body.
S’bu Zikode is the president of the Shackdwellers Movement, the largest militant poor people’s movement in South Africa. During his first US tour to the United States S’bu spoke at the Poverty Initiative’s seventh Strategic Dialogue, a gathering of 75 grassroots organizations and individuals committed to building a social movement to end poverty. He spoke on importance in organizing of creating a space where people can come together to cry. One of the major victories of the Shackdwellers Movement has been the creation and protection of an alternative space. This is a space where people come to laugh, love and cry. S’bu shared that if one’s tears fall “inside” oneself, they become poisonous and can cause great damage. But if they are allowed to fall “outside,” they can fall on the ground. When the ground is watered by our tears it becomes fertile soil for building a movement.
Women in wartime are often portrayed as those who receive the bodies of the dead, lost brothers, fathers, uncles, and sons. The iconic “Pieta” portrays Mary holding the lifeless body of her crucified son in her arms. As Jesus was being led by Roman soldiers to the place where he would be crucified, in Luke’s gospel, he turns to the women who are following him. They are already publically grieving, bearing witness to Jesus’ torture at the hands of Rome and his inevitable, imminent execution. Jesus turns to the women and says, “Do not weep for me, but for yourselves and your children.” Perhaps Jesus foreknew the women, men, and children of Latin America, a crucified people, that would also mourn their dead.
The SOA Vigil’s funeral procession is a protected space, a public act of mourning. In a culture that pathologizes and isolates the grieving, this communal witness is a powerful counter voice that attempt to sanitize spiritualize death and violence. To be present in that space, remembering those that have died, in solidarity with the grieving, we stared into the face of violence and death. In taking that grief into our bodies, in letting our tears fall, it is my hope and prayer that they will fall in the fertile soil of liberation.