During the final Senate vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, I was at a funeral. Apropos, you might say. And it was. The funeral service was at our Unitarian church and I was there for Kelly, a longtime friend whose father died.
It was fitting because, while I was aware that the vote was taking place, I was present to another reality. About 40 years ago, Kelly was an avid teenage activist on her way to Yale with a music scholarship when she came to live briefly in our peace community. She attended Yale for a bit, decided it wasn’t for her, and flew to Africa where she immersed herself in the music of the continent and fell in love with storytelling and oral tradition. She returned to Erie and became a much sought-after folk artist and storyteller, specializing in Appalachian, Celtic, maritime and East African music.
In 2003, Kelly became the Folk Art and Education Director at the Erie Art Museum and empowered Erie’s large refugee population by collecting and recording their traditional songs and organizing events and workshops where refugees, mostly women, performed and taught their cultures. As the Pennsylvania Art Education Association noted when naming Kelly Outstanding Museum Art Educator in 2017, “Her personal–professional persona transcends her job title because of the way she inspires those around her to work for equality, value diversity, and engage art for life….she brings people together through the arts.”
And this was a Kelly funeral. We had two of Erie’s finest Jazz musicians playing. We had an artist from West Guinea soulfully playing a musical instrument I’ve never seen. We had an elderly African-American Gospel contralto belting out, Because He Lives. We had the best Benedictine Sister musicians, one playing the piano and the other singing, “…we will fly like the eagle, we will rise again.” During the service, we had women dressed in traditional garb from African and Asian countries approaching Kelly and lovingly embracing her as they expressed their sympathy. We had a sermon on the beauty of friendship and the reminder that genuine relationships are life’s greatest blessing and we must tender them. And we had Kelly herself, who honored her father with an improvisation of the bass flute that plunged into the valley of death and yet reminded that
her “cup runneth over.”
So…Kavanaugh was being confirmed, many brave people, were being arrested to protest this travesty, and I sat in the circle of art and human possibility.
Trump is coming to Erie on Wednesday and I will join in the protests. As Elie Wiesel reminds,
“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
But while I’m marching and shouting slogans, I will also be thinking of the funeral I attended. I don’t know if Dostoyevsky is right and “beauty will save the world.” But I do know it is the only thing that can save me.
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A blog by Mary Lou Kownacki
A personal journal captures what’s in the heart. Most of my adult life I’ve recorded my notes, brief reflections, poems, reactions to daily events in a journal. It is an ongoing source of monastic formation; the rich and raw material of life that helps shape my Monastery of the Heart. About a year ago, Old Monk began to appear on my journal’s pages. Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, is the Monasteries of the Heart coordinator.
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