S2 – Episode 2 – Friends for Life
What does friendship look like during times of grief and loss? How do we return to the friendships that ground us? How do we adequately grieve a friendship that has come to an end? Rev. Jen Bailey joins Lisa and Macky to explore these questions. We also explore mothering while grieving a mother, the grief in this pandemic moment, and making a commitment to the people in our community. Plus, shenanigans of the past! Follow our ‘Friends For Life: Songs Getting Us Through’ Playlist
Our Guest Today:
Named one of 15 Faith Leaders to Watch by the Center for American Progress, Reverend Jen Bailey is an ordained minister, public theologian, and a national leader in the multi-faith movement for justice. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Faith Matters Network, Co-Founder of the People’s Supper, and author of To My Beloveds: Letters on Faith, Race, Loss and Radical Hope. Rev. Bailey is ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Follow her at @revjenbailey.
Remember to subscribe, rate, and review wherever you get your podcasts!
LISA ANDERSON: Welcome to the Friends for Life podcast. My name is Lisa Anderson.
MACKY ALSTON: And I’m Macky Alston.
LA: We are beloved friends and co-conspirators interviewing other friends and co-conspirators.
MA: Thanks for being with us as we explore the ways in which friendship helps us create a world of love and justice.
LA: Hey everybody, I’m Lisa.
MA: I’m Macky.
LA: And this is the second of our conversations about friendship and we’re thinking about friendship right now in these days that we’re living in, friendship in the time of grief and loss, and also about what it means to lose and grieve friends, either because they die or because friendships enter a new season, a season of separation or ending. And on that note, it is our [00:01:00] extreme delight to welcome one of our dearest, nearest and dearest, the Reverend Jennifer Bailey, also known as Jen by all of us who know and love her well. Jen is an ordained AME minister. She is a public theologian. She is the founder and executive director of Faith Matters Network, and co-founder of the People’s Supper. She is also the author of To My Beloveds: Letters on Faith, Race, Loss, and Radical Hope. Hi there, Jen.
REV. JENNIFER BAILEY: Oh, I’m so glad to be with you. Thank you so much for having me, Macky and Lisa.
MA: Jen, what a beautiful book. My God, what a gorgeous thing you’ve given us.
JB: Thank you. It’s still not fully real for me that it’s out there in the world because it was very close for so long. And so, to hear people that I count as beloveds, [00:02:00] people who shaped me and formed me, Macky and Lisa, you’ve known me since I was like a wee babe in my vocational life. It’s really an honor to have folks I love, love it.
LA: When I was reading it, what was so wild is when I was reading the stories, and there was a timeline that was implicit in it. And I said, “Oh, I remember that. I remember that time. I remember that time.” And so, it’s profound to hear you reflect and what was going on in your mind at these times when, we know each other but we may not have had any conversation about those things that you were ruminating or reflecting on. So, you bless us and the world with what you’ve written.
JB: Oh, thank you so much.
MA: and Jen, Reverend Jen, you taught us how to tell stories in [00:03:00] the Auburn community and so many of the people with whom we’ve worked who I believe are tuned in today. And so, to be given the gift of your stories in this — how do I say this? We read a lot of books. And we read a lot of books that we love for all kinds of reasons but we wonder, did this need to be in a book? Could it have been a conversation, an interview? When I read your book, Jen, I thought, “She’s a writer. That Reverend Jen Bailey, she’s a poet, writer, in a tradition that she has always lifted up and celebrated, in which she belongs most fully.” So, I just got to say, [00:04:00] y’all, read this book. Read this book, To My Beloveds, because not only will it move you, break your heart and also heal it, but it’s also really gorgeous writing.
JB: Thank you. Thank you. It’s so interesting, we’re having a conversation today about grief and loss. And when I think about the writing process for this book, and different snippets of different letters were written at different times throughout my life. So, the first letter of the book is called “A Letter to a Motherless Child,” most of which actually wrote at my mom’s bedside while she was on hospice in 2016. And then, I found it again in my files. And when I think about where I was when I was writing the letter to Max, my son, when he was in my belly, I was finishing up that letter just as I had gotten news that one of my best friends from high school passed away [00:05:00] several weeks after Max was born. And so, it’s almost like this book not only documents my story, but the levels of different experiences with grief and how it’s shaped and formed, not just my heart, but my whole worldview, having lost a number of people close to me. I’m 34, which is crazy to say because I think I met you, Lisa, when I was 24, I think.
JB: It feels like out of this space of grief, the writing process — which I don’t do often. I actually don’t like writing because it forces me to tap into certain truths about myself and my experience in the world that feels too personal. And I think in a world where I now carry a number of identities out there, [00:06:00] the one that’s most personal to me now is Mama. I’m somebody’s Mama. I’m somebody’s parent, in addition to being somebody’s partner, and a leader of an organization, and a minister, and a daughter, writing is the space where I am most honest and I don’t like to be honest with myself very often. And I’m being transparent, I don’t know if that’s something that a minister is supposed to say. But the hardest work, I’ve found in my journey, is getting real and authentic with me and being honest about who I am, both my light and my shadow, and loving that shadow just as much as I love the light. So, thank you. Thank you for inviting me to just chat and talk about not just the book but this topic, which feels really tender to me in this season, and deeply personal to me, in this season.
LA: I resonate so much with how you describe the writing process and the struggle, [00:07:00] I think, that all humans have to go through to really touch their authentic selves, and to be in touch with it, not as performing a self, but actually being a self. And so, I resonate. We’re going to back up a little bit and ease into the conversation in the way that we like to by asking about delight as a way to start us into — you’ve already gotten us into the depths but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with going into delight as a way to go even deeper. So, our question, what flavor delights you?
JB: This is going to be funny. So, one of the things I’ve learned having a [00:08:00] now toddler in training, my son, Max, will be 16 months old soon, is that he often leaves over snacks. I’ve found that one of my greatest joys is cleaning up his snacks. And so, everyone who has toddlers and small children, there’s this thing called GoGos, which are little pouches of flavored applesauce, essentially, and pureed fruit. And so, a flavor that has been delighting me lately is the Boulder Berry GoGo. And when Max doesn’t finish his GoGo, I am delighted to finish it for him because it’s delicious. (laughter) It’s so, so tasty. And I don’t think we often give ourselves permission enough to go back to the foods of our childhood and those kid foods that still taste good. You know what still tastes good? Chicken nuggets to me. I’m [in it?], right? You know what still tastes good? String cheese. Goldfish [00:09:00] crackers. All of the things that make up Max’s snacks. I also feed him fruits and vegetables; I promise. But the flavor that has been delighting me most lately has been GoGos. Also, because, whenever I’m hangry, I typically have some hidden snack for me on me in my purse or in the diaper bag, for Max, and there’s always at least one more. And so, I know there’s always a GoGo when I’m on the go.
LA: I love it. So, Macky is a parent, too. Is it a universal parent thing that at some point in your life, you have a bag that has the go-to snack, the toy, the thing that keeps the kid quiet, all those things? It feels like that’s…
MA: You’ve got to. Otherwise, you’ve got hell to pay. And what’s wild is, my younger child who looks — we have that same poster that’s right over your shoulder, and we all think that’s Penelope, my younger daughter. And [00:10:00] the poster is from the Women’s March, and the child in the Women’s March. But anyway, she’s 15 now and there are times when she is so cantankerous, she looks in our cabinet and says that thing that I’m afraid I must have said when I was her age, too, is, “There’s nothing to eat in here.” And do you know what we do? We go to the back of one cabinet that’s hard to reach and pull out the GoGos. And she’ll eat them. (laughter) Still. And so, do we. Because they are delicious. When you were talking about writing, and the vulnerability, the pain of telling the truth, the liability of telling the truth to the people you love or in one’s community, I just am reminded — and Lisa, we’ve never really talked about this on this show — that in some ways the soil of this show was a writing project that Lisa and our mutual friend, [00:11:00] Caitlin Breedlove, and I embarked on when this framework of friendship, particularly queer friendship, as a space to think about what movements are born of, but also qualities that can heal our movement spaces that can be found, or at least reflected to relationship, or queer friendship, we started writing, side by side, with a bunch of prompts. And we would meet in coffee shops. We’d do a couple retreats, but Caitlin’s out in Southwest, but Lisa and I would meet in a coffee shop and we would write, side by side. And we would beam Caitlin in by Zoom or something before COVID made Zoom the default, and it somehow did something in regard to the difficulty of [00:12:00] living in the light of truth or writing truth. To write for a week and then to share with beloveds, and to get some real feedback, real, but also for it to be honored in that interim space before any decisions are made about whether to go public with it or not. And that just makes me move from that theme of grief and loss to the value of friendship, the necessity of friendship, the importance of friendship, the possibilities in friendship, during times of grief and loss. And of course, it’s almost as if every letter in your book is its own reflection on the relationship between friendship, and grief, and loss, whether you’re writing about the People Supper and how you and Lennon met as people who were both grieving mothers, [00:13:00] you who describe your mother as friend, among other things. Or the reflection on your friends who committed suicide. So, many of the chapters, the chapter about your mother, and in a sense, you’re also writing to us as friends, which is such a gift, Jen, because everybody wants to be your friend. (laughs) And it’s a gift. It really is a gift, your friendship. So, I just wonder, given that landscape, and when I say landscape then I immediately think of the landscapes that you so beautifully described, whether it’s prairie or deep South, or Nashville, but what does friendship look like to you today, during times of grief and loss? What surfaces today?
JB: You all caught [00:14:00] me in an interesting moment at the beginning of a new year after a year, 2021, where I find myself finally having a moment of pause to tend to what has been delayed grief in my life. So, over the past year I’ve seen the death of my grandmother who was my last living grandparent, my mom’s mom. So, grieved her loss, and along with it, the grief that accompanies, now both my grandparents and my mama are gone, and learning how to mother without the mothers who are most deeply formative in shaping me has been its own loss that has been delayed. Grieving the loss of friendships that I thought were going to last for a long time, but for a number of reasons and circumstances, are entering into a different phase. Just the [00:15:00] grief that I think accompanies this pandemic moment, and learning how to parent in a pandemic moment, and having so many beloveds who have found themselves wrestling deeply with their own mental health and well-being against the backdrop of pandemic. But to get to your question, Macky, I think friendship for me in this season has looked like returning to the friendships that have grounded me for a long time. I’m so blessed to still have an active group chat with my friends from high school who know me, who knew me even before I went by Jen, right? Who knew me as Jennifer, who know me at my core, and love me, and have loved me through the hardest times. People who showed up when my mom entered into hospice on my doorstep, the people who were there at her funeral, [00:16:00] the people who have seen me at my very best and accompanied me in the greatest joys of my life, who prayed, literally, when I was in labor with Max, who have picked me up and carried me on one too many nights out when I’ve imbibed too much, who have seen me at my messiest, and who love me not in spite of but because of, right? And what has been the great gift of my life is that I still love them and like them, right? I think so often — and this has been the case with some relationships and friendships in my life that I’ve grieved, you’ve grown apart because of time, or space, or distance, or in some cases, a real rupture has happened. But to be able to say that I can call on [Dion?] and [Taya?] and [Jennifer?] and [Jordan?] at any point, [00:17:00] and if I need them, they will drop everything and be there, not just for those moments of holding each other as we have for the past, gosh, decade-and-a-half, through those hard moments, but also like will pick up and be there if I’m like, “Girl, I just need to drink a glass of wine with somebody today.” And so, I feel grateful for those friendships that are deep, that are deep, deep, that are deeper than friendships, that are chosen family that have persisted. And the gift of being and accompanying and walking alongside those women into womanhood? It’s so much fun to grow into womanhood with people who knew you in your girlhood. And so, as I think about what this moment has required of all of us, the sacrifice, the loss, the grief, [00:18:00] being able to find moments of joy with those we call beloved, even if we can’t physically be together, has been such a tremendous gift to me in this season, even though I still really want to have a grown-up slumber party with my girls. (laughs) That is a thing I’m longing most for in this season, is a grown-up slumber party where we give the kids to partners and just get to be for a little while.
LA: When you say that, talk about those old friendships, those old, grounding friendships, it makes me wonder, because I have a lot of those as well. What makes them work? I think about, my heart used to ache a lot. My mom used to think that she didn’t know how to make friends. [00:19:00] And I remember at her funeral, the church was packed. But I don’t think she went to her grave, but close to the time before she died, believing that the church would be empty, and that the only people who would be there would be her children. And we had conversations when I was growing up like, “You make friends so easily. Why? And how?” And I was like, “Well, I don’t know that that’s really true and I don’t know that you don’t make friends,” but I’ve always been interested in, so what makes it work? For those ones that feel like you’re just old and with, can you say a little bit about how they’ve been sustained for you, or what makes them work?
JB: I think at [00:20:00] their core, and it’s so interesting that this is the word that emerges for me but is a commitment. And I know that commitment can sometimes feel like a difficult word, or a word that’s not popular to use, but I think embedded in each of those friendships that I was describing with my girls, my high school girls, is a commitment to one another, to one another’s thriving and flourishing, to one another’s mess, and messiness, because we’ve been through some messy times together. And so, I wonder about what it means. Because so often we think about commitment, mostly in our culture around romantic relationships or partnerships, but there’s something about making a commitment to friendship, [00:21:00] to making a commitment to a community of people that you are in relationship with, that you are invested in the mutual flourishing of that feels so powerful.
MA: Jen, you know when we did all that storytelling training together, we would encourage people to tell a single story, just a story that brings to life what you mean. Is there a story that surfaces about commitment in the mess, or early, middle, or late, in those long relationships that brings it to life?
JB: Yeah. Oh, not tell people’s business privately that I’ve not been given permission to tell. So, one of the things that binds three of the five women that I told you about, my friends Taya, Dion, and I, is that each of us lost our mother before we turned 30. And so, [00:22:00] Ms. Carmelita passed when we were in college. Taya’s mother passed my first year at Vanderbilt Divinity School. And then, my mom passed in 2016. And I can remember when we got the news that Taya’s mom passed. Dion, at the time, was living outside of Warner Robins, Georgia, on an Air Force Base. Her husband at the time was in the military. And Taya called and gave me the news. The next call I got from Dion is that, she said, “Are you ready? Pack a bag. I’ll be there at 4:00 a.m.” And that’s what happened. So, we got on the road. Dion came and scooped me up, her two small children at the time — I think they might have been four and two — in the back seat, and we just rode. We rode all night to Chicago to be present and with Taya in that season. And I can remember driving that drive — [00:23:00] for folks who don’t know, I-65 going from Nashville, Tennessee to Chicago, towards Chicago, it goes up the state of Indiana and through Kentucky, and it’s not a beautiful drive. It is the prairie lands of my childhood, the Midwest. It is flat. It is a lot of corn and soybeans and not much else that rolls. And I remember we reached a point where there’s a big windmill farm, and Dion’s daughter, Jasmine, who was like maybe three or four the time looked out, and she pointed, and she said, “Look, Auntie Jen. A windmill. A windmill.” And there was such awe in her voice. And I thought about, and think often, both of that desolate landscape of that moment of driving to be with a friend in grief, and the awe [00:24:00] that can still happen in the midst of it, the joy that can still happen in the midst of it, in the act of being together. And so, it was not a surprise to me that when I found out my mom was going to be coming home on hospice that Taya was one of the first people through the door, and that on the anniversary, on Mother’s Day — my mom died on Mother’s Day Eve — that first year that I got a delivery of flowers I wasn’t expecting with Carmelita, Christine, and Carol’s favorite flowers, because all of our moms names begin with C. And so, as I think about that connection, that sisterhood tie between especially the three of us, that’s the sweet story. I could also regale you of stories in high school of sneaking into liquor stores we knew we didn’t card in South Shore, and parties we had no business going to. Sorry, Dad, if you’re listening. And late nights spent out [00:25:00] and covering for one another as you do at 13, 14, 15. And I was the innocent church girl of the group, so I always got regaled into stuff I didn’t need to be pulled into. (laughter) But gratitude for friends who teach you how to cover each other, even though my friends would so tease me — oh, this is so embarrassing. I don’t know why this is emerging, but I’m going to share it with you guys, anyway. I used to be the type of girl who would go to a party, get messed up, and then go on a 30-day fast and prayer retreat right after. (laughter) My friends who were not that way would always give me so much shit, like, “Okay, we’ll see you in a month.” (laughter)
LA: If that’s what you need to do.
MA: Too bad for you.
JB: Right? Like, “Do that for you.”
LA: Yes, I will have your drinks.
MA: (laughs) Move over.
JB: Those are the friendships [00:26:00] as I think about it. It’s both those light stories from the ages of 14, 15, 16 to those deep moments of accompaniment, which means even when we get — we get on each other’s nerves to this day, and we’re still there.
LA: I think being willing to get on each other’s nerves, and that’s not a small thing, and to realize that you’ll survive it. I’m learning right now in this season I’m living with my brother, and remembering that we will get through, that this relationship can take it, and the commitment — I like the word “commitment” for the reasons that you said, because it’s just the showing up. It’s about the showing up. [00:27:00]
JB: Lisa, one of the things that you’re sharing just sparked in me is, and there can be a heartbreak that happens when you think that a relationship is strong enough to withstand those moments, and it’s proven not to be able to withstand those hard moments. And I think that there is not enough conversation about what it means to grieve friendships that have reached their end, whether that be because of extenuating circumstances, or a moment where folks were pushed just too far, or literal space and distance that has grown, a gap that has grown too wide. We have lots of rituals around death loss, and even the ending of relationships, when I think about people that I know who throw their divorce parties, [00:28:00] like we have ritualized so much. And particularly folks of color and queer folks, we know how to memorialize and ritualize well, but I don’t know that we actually have a lot of resources on what to do with the very specific and deep pain that accompanies the end of a friendship. And as I think about my own stretch work in this season, I want to think about what that feels like. Especially as somebody who is moving through that experience right now, I don’t know what to do with that love. With death loss, it becomes clear, right? There’s all these beautiful phrases about grief being love that has nowhere to go in relationship to the death of a loved one, but no, I know where that person is. They’re still down the street. Their phone number hasn’t changed. And there’s [00:29:00] still a death that has happened here, or a loss that has happened here. But we don’t talk about it. It’s not a part of our popular culture and how we support one another through it and moving through it feels like an area that I wish there were more resources, or at least more people speaking honestly about it.
LA: Oh my gosh, that’s so correct. And it makes me wonder if part of the reason for that is that we don’t really have a robust way of really seeing friendship itself. We have depth of our friendships, but I was reading Mia Birdsong’s book, How We Show Up, and it’s a beautiful book.
JB: Oh, such a good book.
LA: And she talked about that very thing, that inside of the notion of the American Dream, there is so much individualism [00:30:00] or the coupling that is simply the married couple, and you can have some friends in your little nuclear circle, but the friends’ friendship itself is not considered vital. It doesn’t have the vitality in the lexicon, even though people live and die by the depth of our connections that are beyond a nuclear family model that doesn’t even necessarily reflect most people’s reality. So, I think that’s part of it. But then, I think that there’s a dearth of ways in our society in general to talk about death, and grief, and loss, in general. But I’d love, as you bring that up, can you talk a little bit about what it means like when — [00:31:00] your phrase, “I don’t know where to put that love,” or, “Where does that love go?” Like, that’s the hard part about having friends, I think, is that you can lose them.
MA: This is so real. The things that are surfacing for me right now are the dreams I have of reconciliation with friends lost. That really is among the most haunting dreams that I have, recurrently, is that strange, small collection of lost beloved. And oddly, they’re not my old lovers. They’re my old ride or die friends. They’re the ones I actually feel like, “Oh, wait, did I leave somebody behind?” And then, I’ll remember upon waking, [00:32:00] what happened. And so, again I’m in need, Reverend Bailey. And what we know, as you talk about imagination in your book, if you can’t see it, you can’t have it. And we are imaginative, creative, spiritual beings. And so, I know that as we have this conversation, we’re cooking stuff up. And it also is a healing conversation for me because I think that one of the dangers of even having a podcast called Friends for Life is that their times when it feels like we don’t have any friends at all. There are times, whatever, in which loneliness is the best way to describe how we are. [00:33:00] And that is part of life. And friendships are hard. It’s not all, “Let’s get drinks,” and “Let’s have slumber parties,” while at the same time those are nutrients in my diet. And in COVID, all the harder. And so, I just am grateful for the conversation. And I think it’s worth our time to name — Lisa, we’ve been friends for so long and colleagues. It means I’ll come in the office and I remember one long friendship of yours that I remember you buried that one. That one was dead and gone. [00:34:00] And we all threw the dirt on. We were like, “Oh, and on top of that, I always hated that one because remember that time?” And then, suddenly you came in and you said, “You’re not going to believe it. But guess who’s back in my life.”
JB: And maybe this is where I can put on my reverend hat a little bit and think through this with us a little bit. I think out of death there is, in my tradition, always the possibility of resurrection, and if not resurrection, a resurrection hope. And so, I talk about this in the book in a different context, but as we think about our big religious traditions, there’s some stuff that we are leaving behind that is dying within our traditions, [00:35:00] that is death dealing that needs to stay dead. And there is some stuff that is nourishing, that has sustained us for a long time that we can carry forward, and compost, and use to fertilize what comes next. And I wonder, I’m just playing because Macky invited me to imagine, as he often does, if part of the death and dying process around friendship is also being able to creatively see the resurrection hope and the potential. It may not be about resurrecting that particular relationship, and certainly, if a friendship has died in that moment, that also tells me that there’s something that needs to stay dead there, but the resurrection hope might be that a different period of time, whether it be with that person, you come back as fully different people to [00:36:00] develop and seed a new relationship that meets you where you’re at, or if it is taking the compost of previous friendships that were meaningful, and allowing that to fertilize the new ground that gives possibility for new relationships to form, that maybe, just maybe, that is one lesson out of the death of friendships that we can carry forward. There is certainly, as I think about friendships of mine that have ended tragically over the past couple of years, there’s still always a longing, and I think an ache for those friendships that never die. And I hope that ache doesn’t ever go away because it reminds me that I’m human. It reminds me that I have the capacity to love. It reminds me that I have the capacity, like now in some cases, several years later, to reflect back and be like, “Oh. I ain’t ready to resurrect that particular relationship, [00:37:00] but the me that showed up then, I pray, Spirit, that I’m a different me now and that I’ve learned something in the process.” And where it is necessary for us to build the courageous skill to try to make amends and offer those amends, I think we do it when we’re ready, and where it is necessary for us to continue to have healthy boundaries, we love ourselves enough to have them. But I think maybe that is what I’m feeling inspired by in this conversation, is thinking about not just — in the book, I talk about composting religion — but what does it look like to compost friendships? Friendships that are gone, friendships that have passed, to fertilize that which is emerging within us, to fertilize our growth, the growth of our communities, to fertilize even those relationships that maintain that can [00:38:00] be strengthened, and the lessons that we learned about how to treat each other better. How does that then show up in other friendships and relationships that emerge? Is where my imagination is taking me now. And that’s not to say that that’s not hard work, and difficult work, and sometimes that loneliness is ever-present. I heard a poet say once that “Loneliness is practice for death.” And I think that’s right. I think that’s right. And in those dark, quiet moments when I’m familiarizing myself with death, and feeling lonely, it’s then that I realize that I have access to call on — for me, it’s Spirit, it’s God, it’s ancestors, to accompany me, not to pull me out of the depths of what I’m feeling necessarily, [00:39:00] because again, some of my self-work is to actually feel my feelings and not perform my feelings, or perform for other people, but sit in the depths of it, but call on their strength, less it overwhelm me. And so, I feel grateful for the friendships that transcend not just generations, but even spiritual realms. There’s a reason my grandmama used to hum “What a Friend We Have In Jesus.” There’s a reason why, when I think about my mother, even now, as I’m surrounded by her pictures in my office, I think of her as Mama-friend, who’s still Mama-friend even though she’s been gone on this Earth for over five-and-a-half years. Because there’s other times I call on different parts of my mom. Sometimes I call on Mommy, like, “I need my Mommy.” Sometimes I call on the badass Christine Bailey [00:40:00] that was a no-nonsense negotiator at work. But sometimes, I just need to call on Mama-friend to accompany me in my sadness in those moments. And so, I think that’s another dynamic of friendship. It’s not just amongst the living, there is a friendship that endures.
LA: That’s an amen. That’s an amen. You definitely put on the minister cap, right there. And it was a word for me because, and Macky, you were recalling when I had that friend breakup, that was two years, and we did reconcile. And I think that the point that you made it was so powerful, Jen, among the many points, was that we were also different people when we came back, that something had to die in the relationship, [00:41:00] and neither of us realized it until we came back and we realized, “Oh, okay. I needed some things that I wasn’t getting, and I was a person that I didn’t want to be.” And so, the death was necessary in order for there to be life.
MA: You all know I’m making this film about reparations right now. And it’s so funny. Of course, we all know that there has been a move to push aside the urge for reconciliation and insist upon repair before reconciliation as considered. And so, I am finding myself inspired by this conversation, at play with language, and thinking about in those times when we might come back different, grown, there’s still the work of repair. [00:42:00] And how that, too, Reverend Jen, is not — we don’t have enough tools.
JB: I think it’s so interesting, Macky, you mention that, because it’s tender for me in this season of my life as I think about notions of repair after harm. And it’s interesting to me and I feel like I have fallen victim to the same thing I used to accuse my baby mentees undergrads of is like, “Y’all have the fancy vocabulary you’re learning in school, but you ain’t had the experience yet.” And I feel like we are all babies when it comes to thinking about real patterns and practices and lived experience of repair after harm. And even though we might have some of the books, and some of the language and vocabulary, [00:43:00] and we want to whip out that language and vocabulary, and we want to say we’re abolitionists, we know the buzzwords, but many of us have not been in practice around it. We don’t have enough teachers to help us move through and show us what that looks like and feels like as a practice that’s not just an intellectual exercise, but as an embodied reality. And it sounds fresh and shiny, especially in movement spaces, but it’s hard. Nobody told me this is hard. It’s hard. And sometimes it’s not possible right? People, to a point you’re making, Lisa, sometimes I’m not healed enough to actually be able to move towards repair. Actually, the ruptures that have happened are so deep that [00:44:00] they have triggered something inside me that I’m discovering is unhealed. And it takes maturity even to say, “I’m actually not ready to move towards repair right now. I don’t have the tools in my toolkit to do that. I don’t have the ability to do that right now. I need to tarry in this healing a little bit longer so I can show up more fully in this repair process.” And that is a lesson that I am learning in real time, right now, in myself, and discovering the unhealed parts of me that show up in spaces even that are supposed to be oriented towards repair and being unpracticed in the discipline of repair feels real. And so, I want us to dispose of the notion that, if you just get the right facilitator or read the right books [00:45:00] or follow steps A, B, and C, that you’ll arrive at some grand conclusion that you can then — when I’m being shady, that you can then publicize on a blog that (inaudible) the movement, or use to amplify a platform. No, this is real life stuff, and the stuff of years of work. It’s the deep, deep work that can’t just be captured in a moment.
LA: That’s right. That’s so right. I’m with you, though, for the rituals. I’m with you with creating the rituals that we need that I think are critical to what you’re getting at, that will help us to be in our bodies about what we’re trying to do and not simply in our heads.
JB: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MA: Rituals for whatever location, or place, or stage, or truth we’re in, [00:46:00] whether it’s, “I’m going to tarry now for some more healing to happen,” and the maturity to say, “No,” or for the phase or the time when people do want to think about what it means to befriend, try again, repair, all the things. I made one film a long time ago, while I was a hospice chaplain, called “Questioning Faith,” that was in the wake of the loss of a dear friend to AIDS. And in the middle of it, I talked to his lover and just in the middle of a conversation, I said, “Andrew, why didn’t you invite me to Allen’s funeral?” Andrew turned to me, and he looked at me, [00:47:00] and locked eyes, and it was that look like, “You asked the question, which means you’re asking for the answer.” And he said, “Well, Macky, if you weren’t there for him in life, how come you think it’s okay to be there for him in death?” And in the last six months or so, I wasn’t there. And in that journey, in that particular journey, it was composting. It was composting that led to the healing. There are all kinds of different ways in which healing was at work, but the learning of the lesson of the power of presence in times of grief and suffering in a royal fuckup that I’ll regret for the rest of my life, I mean let’s get real, led to being present in a different kind of way after, for beloveds [00:48:00] now, and beloveds then, in ways that literally changed my life, taught me what love lived looks like. So, I’ll ask the question that we like to say bye-bye with. It’s not only a way of, again, leaning into dimensions of life that give us relief, and joy, healing, or some kind of pleasure, but also offer some suggestions for people who are tuning in for things that might help in good times, in bad times, in these times. And that last song is, Jen, what song is getting you through right now?
JB: It is a hymn by none other than the psalmist Stevie Wonder, “As,” [00:49:00] the album “Songs in the Key of Life,” which was my mom’s favorite album, which is an album that I played for her a lot when she was on hospice but was also the album I played during what’s called the golden hour. So, Max’s first hour of life in this world, I played that album. And so, whenever I feel myself despairing and wanting to connect to the interdimensional notions of friendship, and intergenerational friendships, either within my family line, I put on Stevie Wonder’s “As,” and remember that, “I’ll be loving you always.” And that has kept me. That has held me so deeply over the past several years and continue to play it on repeat in those dark moments.
LA: Oh, that’s [00:50:00] one of the greats. That is one of the greats, man. Oh, Jen. Are we going to do ours this week, Macky?
MA: Yeah, Lisa. What’s getting you through?
LA: Okay. Jen, when I was reading your book, the first chapter about your mom, of course it put me in mind of my mom. And it reminded me of the ringtone that I used to have for when she called. It was Etta James, “At Last.” And I’ve played it four or five times since I was reading, because I read some chapter before, and then I re-read right before our conversation, a couple days ago, and I’ve been playing “At Last.” It used to make me cry to listen to that song. And now, it points a warm memory to my heart. I can’t Etta James, it’s too [00:51:00] scary. But when it’s “At last, my love has come along,” and every time my phone rang and that came, I’d say, “That’s my mama. That’s my mama.” So, thank you for that chapter. Thank you for reminding me of that song.
MA: And my song, I was thinking about this day and which song it is, and I looked at my current getting me through playlist, and the song that just jumped out was a song called “This Joy,” by the Resistance Revival Choir, or Chorus. And I thought about Lives of Commitment, I thought when you were honored at Lives of Commitment, Jen Bailey, remember that?
JB: I do.
MA: But hold on —
JB: I love that song.
LA: Oh, yes. The world didn’t give it, the world can’t take it away. Wow. Thank you so much, beloved.
JB: Thank you all so much. What a joy this has been. What a joy to talk to you all. I miss you so much. I just love, love, love all around.
LA: Love, love, love. We’re doing the hearts. We’re doing the hearts. Okay. We have to do our closing. So, I’ve got to say this conversations continues the season, the second season of Friends for Life. And so, we invite you to listen each month as we continue to explore this topic, the themes of joy, laughter, grief, showing up, repair, and reparations, [00:53:00] in our friendship. That’s what we’re going to be talking about, so join us, join us, join us.
MA: Thank you all for being with us today. Reverend Jen Bailey, you are an inspiration. You are a beloved. And we are here for you and with you today, but not just today. And so, thank you for giving us your time. Thank you for spilling a little tea. It always makes us feel really close. And also, the wisdom. The wisdom, the prophetic and past role wisdom that you gave us on this day. Everybody, we can’t wait to be together again soon, please, please, please take care. And thanks for being with us.
LA: Smooches. Thanks for being with us today. [00:54:00] We’ll see you next month as we continue to explore the ways in which friendship helps us to create a world of love and justice.
MA: We want to send you out with the words of Winnie the Pooh.
LA: If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together.
MA: There’s something you must always remember.
LA: You are braver than you believe.
MA: Stronger than you seem.
LA: And smarter than you think.
MA: The most important thing is even if we’re apart.
LA: I’ll always be with you.
MA: I’ll always be with you.
LA: We’ll always be with you.
MA: We’ll always be together.
LA: (laughs) Something like that.