I’ve been learning about a new face of love reading Valerie Kaur’s See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love. Her writing is glorious.
Who else could have successfully braided memoir with a manifesto? Memoir calls for personal vulnerability. Manifesto asks for a strong, sometimes fierce, stand. Valerie gives us both as she carries us on a journey between the deeply personal and the political.
She takes us back to 9-11 when the aftermath of tragedy devolved into a hate-fest. I cringe reading of the enormity of violence done to Sikhs, Muslims, and BIPOC peoples as the number of hate crimes exploded. Heartbreaking.
At the same time, she writes with a mother’s love and threads a hope for change throughout the book.
She has done what great authors and filmmakers sometimes are able to pull off: allow me to feel the sorrow of the world and still find its joy, blend together pathos and possibility, marry fierce reality with an even fiercer commitment to change.
I read the book with kleenex at my side, crying my way through. Yet my tears feel, in a strange way, uplifting.
Reading her words, I feel cleansed.
I can’t do the book justice, but I can speak to how it moves me.
I cry because of what she and other Sikhs have witnessed or endured:
- As a little brown girl, she was regularly harassed by white classmates.
- Her best childhood friend told Valerie that she was doomed to hell if she didn’t take Christ as her savior.
- She witnessed the explosion of hate crimes after 9-11 and documented many, while the press ignored the magnitude of the violence.
- A family friend was killed in a post-9-11 hate-crime. She saw Sikh turbans become targets.
- She was sexually molested by a family friend and traumatized, and thought she had to stay silent.
- While working as a journalist, she suffered police violence and physical injury.
- She was attacked by family members for wanting to marry a Muslim, not a Sikh.
Yet I also cry with joy because she found a way to live with hope. She:
- Took courage from the phrase “See no stranger” spoken five centuries ago by Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh faith.
- Continued to be guided by the Sikh values of truth and justice, and its commitment to defend all people’s in harm’s way.
- Developed a band of close friends and fellow activists who stood with her.
- Created a moving film documenting the hate crimes against Muslims and Sikhs.
- Found professors at Stanford and Yale who saw who she was and valued her gifts.
- Shaped her Yale Law experience into an opportunity to help communities protect their civil rights.
- Fell in love with a beautiful man who helped her heal and became her husband.
- Became a mom.
When I first learned about Valerie Kaur, I thought she was a superwoman: filmmaker, civil rights activist, religious studies scholar, lawyer, speaker, and mom. Now she feels more like a sister, a deeply human woman who faces down her dragons and learns to draw from the wise woman inside of her.
Many of her metaphors for change are female. She references the birthing process, which can be acutely painful and risky, but which women endure in order to give birth to something beautiful.
Are we, as a culture, she asks, moving through a difficult labor to give birth to a new world?
She coaches us: Breathe. Push.
As I melt into her words, I feel inspired to:
- Fill in the many gaps in my knowledge of marginalized peoples and understandings of different faiths.
- Be a witness for the disenfranchised and stand up to hate.
- Examine my white privilege and cultural blinders.
- Encourage others to tell their stories, particularly those whose stories have been silenced or not shared.
In a world full of hate, war, and violent insurrection, the word warrior, as in the Sikh sense of the warrior-sage, may be difficult to use. But wasn’t John Lewis a gentle warrior for civil rights?
Our inner warrior can help us speak out for truth, intervene against racist comments, stand up for the marginalized and children, and address the inner demons that would have us hurt another.
Valerie understands that raging against social injustice can be a part of how we love.
We can be loving warriors, truth-telling, just, and compassionate through these difficult times.
As we approach Valentine’s Day, let’s dump the sappy cards. Enjoy the chocolate (I’m still a sucker for the darkest dark chocolate), and make a commitment to fierce love, love that breaks your heart, love that finds the courage to hope.
Love that says, “It doesn’t have to be this way, but there is a way.”
“Joy is the gift of love. Grief is the price of love. Anger protects that which is loved. And when we think we have reached our limits, wonder is the act that returns us to love,”
Here’s to that love on V day.
And now, for Valerie Kaur speaking at the 2019 Bioneers conference.