On a recent morning, I was given the opportunity to lead my colleagues in prayer at the opening of the day’s Senate Session, setting the tone for the work we would do that day on behalf of our communities. I chose a message that would remind us all to consider the many different perspectives of those we represent, and the various impacts of our actions, Psalms 30:5.
“For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
The message applied not only to the actions we would take in the final weeks of Sessions, but to the major decisions that have caused such varied reactions across our nation in recent weeks. I would like to share that message with you today, in the hopes it will bring needed perspective to the trials and challenges we all face:
“The courts have recently figured into the lives of all Americans. The trial of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin touched all of us in different ways. The United States Supreme Court recently concluded their 2012/2013 session, and as usual they ruled on many issues. Today I would like to focus on two decisions and the Zimmerman case that form the context for this message — joy and pain.
One day the Supreme Court reduced some major provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and then on another they recognized the rights afforded same sex marriages. While I personally felt a sense of pain with the loss of portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, I know some felt joy, as they believed there was no need for a Voting Rights Act in the first place.
I remember President Johnson signing the act with Dr. Martin Luther King, Dr. Dorothy Height and the other civil rights leaders standing with him as he said in his Texas drawl, ‘and we shall overcome.’ I can’t forget the blood, sweat and tears it took to get the act passed, nor can I forget Medgar Evers and the many others who gave their very lives for a Voting Rights Act. On August 28, 1963, some 50 years ago, several hundred thousand people marched on Washington for a Voting Rights Act. For many the Zimmerman verdict also cuts both ways.
On the other hand, I appreciated the joy from the LGBT community on the recognition of their right to marry. Clearly, the elders in the American LGBT rights movement — pioneers like Henry Gerber of Chicago, founder of the Society for Human Rights in 1924, Harry Hay of Los Angeles, founder of the Mattachine Society in 1950, along with Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon of San Francisco who founded the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955, along with all those who stood up to police brutality at the Stonewall Inn in New York in 1969, and of course the late San Francisco County Supervisor, Harvey Milk — all felt joy with the decision.
Anita Bryant, Rev. Jerry Falwell and others felt pain because they believe the Supreme Court overreached with respect to same sex marriage. Their view is that their religious teachings and traditions should determine what marriage should be. Not the courts. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops was quoted as saying ‘it was a tragic day for marriage and our nation.’
One of my favorite songs is ‘Joy and Pain’ by the Bay Area R&B group Maze, featuring Frankie Beverly. The thesis of the song is that joy and pain are essentially the same emotion. ‘Joy and pain are like sunshine and rain.’ Depending on your world view, you could have been happy or sad with either decision of the court. Frankie Beverly derives his main idea from the book ‘The Prophet’ by the Lebanese philosopher Kahlil Gibran.
In a passage from the book, Gibran describes Joy and Sorrow:
Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.
Some of you say, ‘Joy is greater than sorrow,’ and others say, ‘Nay, sorrow is the greater.’ But I say unto you, they are inseparable.
Senators, every one of us had to win an election to earn the right to sit here. By definition someone lost. Your election brought simultaneous joy and pain; they are indeed, inseparable.
Frankie Beverly ends ‘Joy and Pain’ with this catchphrase:
Over and over you can be sure
There will be sorrow but you will endure
Where there’s a flower there’s the sun and the rain
Oh but it’s wonderful they are both one in the same.
Roderick D. Wright was elected to the California State Senate in 2008. He represents the 35th District and is Chair of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee and Vice Chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus.