Bob’s Blog: Proximate

Some of you may be aware that I very recently lost my life partner, my rock, my bride, and my best friend, Robin, to breast cancer.  I am still grieving, processing, and the healing will take some time.

Her passage obviously came at an already challenging time.  On top of the health and economic tsunami that COVID-19 hath wrought, we also recently lost a talented, social justice-minded star at TCE in regional director Beatriz Solis – to cancer as well.

I’ve been bouncing across three types of reactions over the past 10 days.  The first, of course, is the sense of profound pain and loss – Robin and I have been friends since kindergarten (really), and in committed life partnership for 27 years.  The second is a sense of extraordinary gratitude – the fun, joyous, and loving times we spent together, and an appreciation of her spirit that resides within me.  The third, which I want to focus upon in these words I am sharing today, is the matter of being proximate.

The incredible Bryan Stevenson, visionary founder of The Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, speaks to the importance of being “proximate” in his writings and speeches.  It was his work as a young lawyer in service of inmates on death row that incubated his extraordinary career in social justice – he needed to be proximate to the pain and experience of the inmates for the light to turn on.  Webster’s Dictionary defines proximate as “close, closest in relationship, very near.”

COVID-19 has brought our globe and our nation a substantial amount of grief, hurt and pain.  Health-wise, we will see tens of millions of Americans sickened by the virus, and we are on track for more than 100,000 Americans to lose their lives.  Economically, we are on track to see depression-era economic hardship, strife, and loss.

I fall in the category of fortunate Americans – thus far, anyway — who is relatively buffered against the life-changing influence of COVID-19.  I have a well-paying executive position, health and life insurance, paid leave if I need it, and any and all manner of civic, community, and social supports.  Nonetheless, Robin’s loss has me feeling “close and very near” to the pain and loss that tens of millions of Americans are now experiencing.  And as is now well understood, communities of color generally – and the African-American community specifically – are disproportionately impacted.

This may all sound foreboding and even depressing – but, being proximate to the pain and the hurt serves as the portal to human and societal transformation.  Without the pain and injustice of death row, you don’t get Bryan Stevenson and The Equal Justice Initiative.  Without the savage inequities of apartheid in South Africa, you don’t get the transformational leadership of Nelson Mandela.  Without the pain and injustice of the racist Jim Crow South, you don’t get Martin Luther King, Jr.

Harriet Tubman, Gandhi, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta – and the movements and activism they led – are forged out of a crucible of being proximate to the pain, and the hurt, and the injustice.

My wife Robin was the one person I could depend upon to remind me that being an executive in philanthropy could run the risk of leaving me distant – rather than proximate – to the pain and hurt of injustice.  Through our shared journey of faith, she urged humility, grounded-ness, and centered-ness.  Don’t get too full of yourself, she would say – find ways to remain close to the pain and experience of community.

In closing, I ask you to join me in a quiet, thoughtful pledge – or maybe it is me who is joining you.  No need to sign a petition, or post to Facebook, or Instagram – just a quiet, meaningful oath between friends and colleagues:

  • I will not allow the pain of so many across our communities to go unheeded, unheard, unappreciated, or unperceived.
  • I will work and endeavor tirelessly to undo the forces and systems of structural inequality, structural racism, and injustice.
  • I agree to be a contributing member of a movement that will advance a new social contract in our state and our nation – one of inclusion, belonging, voice, equality, equity, wellness, and racial healing.

This, my friends, is the transformational power of being “proximate” to the pain and the hurt so many are experiencing now.  This is how social justice is incubated and unleashed.

In closing, I want to extend appreciation to so many of you who have reached out to offer words of consolation, condolence, and love.  I thank you.  You are in my heart as brothers and sisters in the struggle to reclaim humanity in our nation.

“The Wound is the Place Where the Light Enters You” ~ Rumi


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