Thursday, November 19, 2015

Week Ten: On Remembering the Dead

By: J. D. Mechelke

Out-Right Namibia's Trans Day of Remembrance 2015
I’m glad I had Annie and Amanda with me. Do you know that feeling right before walking into a room of people who, because you are so different, could judge you so easily? Well, think of that coupled with a little bloating and you’ll know how I felt before we walked up to the gate of Out-Right Namibia during a Saturday night where we were going to memorialize the trans individuals that had died that year in Namibia.

Between the three of us, no one had planned, when we woke up today, to taxi to Windhoek North to be part of this event. At least Amanda and I had planned on going to see the new Hunger Games movie with the rest of the gang. But, as my mother would say, “You got a hair up your butt son! You’re just like your father.” My dad and I have a reputation for getting these big ideas that we follow at all costs. Although an idea to attend a Trans Day of Remembrance event shouldn’t seem like a “big idea,” I’d been struggling a lot recently with my mental health. Lately taking a shower seemed like a “big idea.” Maybe that was also a part of why I felt so intimidated by the group that evening (though I don’t think that can help explain the bloated part). Somehow, even in the heat of this country, my spirits had gone cold. My depression was keeping me in bed during the day while my anxiety was keeping me up at night.

As I stood intimidated before pushing the gate aside, I grabbed Annie and Amanda’s hands. Their palms warmed my cold fingers. We signed a check-in sheet. In addition to our name was our gender/sex and sexual orientation: mine as gay intersex male. We were the only white people in the complex. A situation that was surprisingly uncommon even in a capital city in an African state. I had introduced my two friends to some of the people in this community that had made me feel loved. Some of the bravest people I have ever met were all in eyeshot.

We stood, we sat. We sang, we cried. We ate, we drank. We talked, we observed in silence. We named the dead, and we dared to tell why the dead are dead. The time we spent together prompted my memories of a particular service in the liturgical calendar: All Saints Day. All Saints is a service, speaking from a Lutheran perspective, where we honor those who have died during the past year, and those in the more distant past who we had loved, naming them all as saints. In the services liturgy we hear, “Loved ones now resting in you, who guided us, nurtured and cared for us; ancestors who worked and traveled, lived and died that we might be who we are, where we are—your precious children in this community of believers.”1 How wonderful and how scandalous to remember trans people of color in Namibia who have died not just by name but by the title of saint.

Later that night I was crying on the porch of the CGEE house. I was overwhelmed by a lot of things, but mostly by the courage of the saints that we had named a few hours ago. Too often when we talk about social change and promoting social justice we’re really concerned about immediate action. Even if it’s social analysis, we feel we got to get to work now. While there are probably good reasons for this feeling, I think we sometimes miss something in pure secular work for social change that the religious world can help us with. That is, remembering the dead, and remembering why the dead are dead.

This statement of remembering “why the dead are dead,” is something that has still been ruminating in my mind since I heard it from Pastor Alan Storey a few months back in Cape Town. Storey talked about how we are so many times “addicted to hope!” We forget how important it is to mourn and memorialize. I agree with the Pastor’s thoughts. However, I’m not sure that much can happen when we are devoid of all hope.

Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist in the U.S. that was eventually assassinated, once said, “I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living.” Yes, mourning the dead and allowing ourselves to feel complete despair against the answers to why they are dead is required. But if we stay eloping in that state of mourning forever, life will no longer be worth living. We have to let ourselves stand and sit, sing and cry, eat and drink, speak and be silent. Though we can’t live on hope, we have to keep its flames alive if we are ever going to avenge the injustices that killed our friends. Never forget the dead. But even more important, never forget why you are living.

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