• Hawthorne Smith, PhD

Director's Corner - July 2020



Mourning involves much more than sadness. 


Though negative emotions – such as remorse, regret, anxiety, anger, helplessness, and hopelessness – are deeply entwined reactions to the death of a loved one; there is also space (and opportunity) for reflection and communal appreciation, such that the mourning process may lead to healing and spiritual deepening.  This is the process the PSOT family is going through right now.


We have said goodbye to several beautiful spirits and close friends over these past tumultuous months, including three home-goings this past week alone. Our friends who departed this week represent more than 55 years of intimate contact with our program. As early and ongoing members of our community, they helped to build us and define who we are. 


All suffered horrendously in their home countries, but would not be defeated by the attempts to extinguish their humanity. All managed to overcome the unspeakable and write “second acts” to their lives that were compelling and inspirational. 


They taught. They shared their artistic gifts. One learned to read after never having the opportunity to go to school before. She, along with the others, navigated the asylum process, gained permanent residency and they all became U.S. citizens. Their children, along with nieces and nephews, have all graduated from college or are currently matriculating there. To say that we are proud of these survivors, these spiritual warriors, would be an understatement. 


All had spoken about, and exemplified, the notion of a “Crossroads Generation.” That is the generation that endures incredible hardship and makes immeasurable sacrifices so that the following generations have the opportunity for a better life. Every family has such heroes. Often we do not know their names. 


When I pray to my ancestors who not only endured slavery, but overcame and outlasted it, while helping place their children on a better path, I cannot call them by name. I wish I could, but those details are lost to history. So when I have the honor to meet someone in my day to day life who is making similar sacrifices for the subsequent generations of their own family, I am in awe. 


I am saddened by their departure, but I glorify and revel in their victories. They have earned their rest.


A very wise person once tried to explain to me why the deaths of cherished friends and family members are actually necessary for our growth. She explained that many of the positive qualities that they possess exist within us, but we would never recognize or utilize these skills while our predecessors are still with us. It may only be in their absence that we call up the strength that resides within us, as opposed to depending on them to be strong for us. When a sweet person dies, there is a gaping hole that can only be filled by expressing the sweetness that exists within us. 


In life, they show us the way. In death, they free us. 


They provide us the inspiration and tools to aspire beyond what we already are. They continue to shower us with gifts even when they no longer walk among us. Their love is not limited by trifling concepts like mortality.


I am also inspired by the reaction of the PSOT community. Already, the bereaved families have been supported emotionally and logistically. Financial support is being arranged by the program, and community members are asking about what they can contribute on their own – even during these challenging economic times.  


The purpose of this letter is to pay respects to our cherished friends. I don’t want to sully the sentiments by asking for money. Just know that any assistance is appreciated, whether to the specific families, the program itself, or others in the community who are dealing with health issues. 


COVID-19 is a killer, but it is not the only one. Providing healthcare for many other maladies and conditions has been complicated within the context of the pandemic and the associated stressors and barriers that it poses. We will continue to do everything we can to assist the incredible members of the “Crossroads Generation.” We rejoice in the opportunity to provide some small support that may go a long way to changing the entire trajectory of an extended family’s history.


We’ve been shown that such miracles are possible. It’s hard to see it sometimes when there are so many tears in our eyes. It’s hard to believe it when there is so much heartache. However, if we look way down deep in our souls, we may find and hold onto some of the beauty, tenacity, courage, and faith we thought was lost with the departure of our dear friends. 


Indeed, mourning is about much more than sadness. It’s about spiritual regeneration. It’s about hope for the future. It’s about saying thank you. It’s about looking in the mirror and seeing the myriad ways in which we have been touched, enriched, and blessed by our beloved family members. Ultimately, it’s about love.


We will continue striving to make a difference for a community that continues to battle for dignity and human rights. We vow to do all in our power to make our newest angels proud. They smile on us. They smile on you. 


Sleep has been scarce recently, and these words have come to me in the middle of the night, when the ancestors seem to have the most access to our souls. Perhaps when I return to bed, they will permit me the miracle of transformation. When I wake up tomorrow, maybe mourning will be gone and it will once again simply be morning. 


I pray we can all share the brand new day together.


One love,

Hawk


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