One month ago, the bitter cold and accumulating snow of a “bomb cyclone” enveloped the eight students and I who had traveled to New York City for a week-long immersion trip before the start of Xavier University’s spring semester. We had come to New York to understand better the life and work of Dorothy Day, and explore what her commitment to faith and justice might demand from us in this present day.
We spent our days with Catholic Workers and their guests—with other peacebuilders, activists, and justice seekers. Their fight and faith were inspiring, but not every stop was hopeful. We visited the site of Eric Garner’s death—where he told police officers “I can’t breathe” eleven times; we were standing at a small memorial for him just two days after Erica Garner, his 27-year-old daughter, died after a heart attack.
Erica wrote in 2016, “Even with my own heartbreak, when I demand justice, it’s never just for Eric Garner. It’s for my daughter; it’s for the next generation of African Americans.” There, on that bitter and bright January morning, the drudgery Job holds up weighed heavy on our small group. If we stand in solidarity with those who are marginalized, we lament like Job.
God, the psalmist reminds us, is for the brokenhearted. For Erica, who fought for more just policing after losing her father, and for us if we can allow the pain of the world to break our hearts, too.
Now that the holidays are behind us and the busyness of 2018 is pulling us forward, we must still take time to hold the pain of injustice. It is tempting to be tough, or numb, or to keep ourselves ignorant about this pain. It is tempting to glance at it, and wrap it up in a context that makes it seem the suffering will not last. It is hard to know what is holy about suffering—it shouldn’t be romanticized, nor should it be cleaned up—but God is still somewhere there, binding broken hearts.
Shannon Hughes is the Senior Assistant Director of the Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice at Xavier University in her hometown of Cincinnati, OH. Prior to her work at Xavier, Shannon managed education programs for NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby in Washington, DC, and has also worked in affordable housing and as a JV in the Marshall Islands.