When you pick up the garbage in the streets of Minoterie, there’s the sun burning up the back of your bare white neck.
And crumpled tin cans and sucked-dry water bags and an AIM toothpaste box and empty rum bottles.
And barefoot boys kicking a ball, and boys begging you for just one swallow water, and boys lacing their fingers around your sweaty hand.
You can bend down like this in the streets with your husband and with your sons and with your daughters, their long hair pulled back in the noonday heat, and you can gather all the refuse you want in your soft hands, but places like this refuses to let their girls see the sun.
There are no girls anywhere to be seen here in this Haitian port village.
Only ours, alive and unbound and unfurling.
And I feel the silent absence of all their unseen sisters, large and looming in the alleys, and the Farmer turns to me and the Farmer’s daughters turn to me and their hands are picking up garbage but their eyes tell me they want to be picking up God’s broken daughters, the one in four girls right here in these shanties were their freedom and one hallowed life is being drank dry.
Here where garbage is thrown into the light, but girls are used up in the dark until they shatter in the shadows like glass, here where we pick all these shards in the streets that cut with its invisible trafficked girls.
Our daughters have water.
And light and hope and choices and our girls sleep on mattresses with clean sheets and clean dreams, no one buying up pieces of them to deface, to crush with the hot weight of their gratification, and we have a pantry and spaghetti and meatballs and homemade bread on our plates and Anne of Green Gables on our shelves and we don’t step over sewage in the streets or drink our carried water out of filthy pails.
And I strikes me right then, what Gloria Steinem had said: “Fire in the belly doesn’t come from gratitude.”
But it’s in me right there in the back alley of Minoterie and there’s no denying it, and it’s like a match, like a sparking, like a full flame combusting, like an inferno, searing, branding me:
Fire in the belly can come from gratitude for the blessings.
Fire in the belly and fire in the bones and fire in the Body blazes because of gratitude for grace.
I get your point, Ms. Steinem, and I hear you: Revolutionary anger is what happens when people feel wild for change.
But hear me:
Revolutionary change is what happens when people feel such wild gratitude for what. they. have. that they share it.
But I want to sit eye to eye with Steinhem in a back alley in Minoterie and tell her what I feel hot and raging right in me:
Gratitude never fails to radicalize the radically grateful.
When you are radically grateful for what you have, you will go to radical lengths to share it.
When you are radically grateful for being blessed — you are radically generous to the oppressed.
When you are radically grateful, you live out of a place of radical abundance — there’s always more space for more to share the grace.
And don’t confuse the idea of personal pride with radical gratitude. You aren’t actually thankful for something if you think you actually earned it. That’s pride, not gratitude.
You are only actually grateful for something if you see it as actually a gift — as an unearned gift that was bestowed unexpectedly upon you. That you didn’t earn it, that you didn’t deserve it, that you didn’t create it yourself.
That’s a radical paradigm: that no one receives anything unless it is given him from heaven. No one receives anything — not by work, not by worth, no by wit — unless it is a gift. There is only one category for everything that exists: Gift. Self-made men don’t exist — only God-given gifts.
And that’s what I don’t know if Steinhem knows: When you’re overwhelmed with the goodness of God to you — you overflow with the goodness of God to others.
That’s what I feel burning me up: The radically grateful can never stand for injustice — because they are moved by radical grace. You can’t know grace and not be moved. Grace starts movements.
Grace is a catalyst.
You haven’t discovered fire until you’ve discovered grace. When grace touches you, it combusts you and you become one unstoppable flame.
Right there, I want to beat my chest like a drum, like a repentance, like a call: Real gratitude doesn’t make you apathetic — it makes you a real activist. Real gratitude isn’t an anesthetic — real gratitude makes you catalytic.
There’s sewage in the street and the air hangs hot with fumes and noon and urine, and there’s fire in my bones and grace is the catalyst that makes you an activist, that makes you an evangelist, that makes you a revivalist.
And I’m all turned around in just south of Port-au-Prince: When gratitude to God revolutionizes your life, God uses you to revolutionize the world. It’s why God said to give thanks in everything.
Don’t hear me, Ms. Steinem. Hear God: Radical Gratitude is the attitude of the revolutionaries.
And when we turn the last alley and the Farmer’s hauling a full garbage bag, one lone girl comes out of nowhere.
And she grabs my hand and the Farmer’s daughter reaches for the little girl’s other hand and there’s a grace that unchains us and links us and our shadows light like fire in my bones —
Us all holding hands like radical sisters around a table giving thanks.
Be someone who does something to end the trafficking of our sisters: Get involved with The A21 Campaign