Yesterday, not even 24 hours after Senator John McCain passed, I posted the following on Facebook:
So, here’s my dilemma:
The queer politics nerd in me agrees with all the folks posting about John McCain’s horrid politics of recent years (including inflicting Sarah Palin on national politics and healthcare).
However, the priest in me, who has worked with the dying and with grieving families is like: “Fucking hell people, the guy hasn’t even been dead 24 hours!”
I have always been a heretic….
There were some comments to this post that made me think that some people might be misunderstanding me, or possibly not understanding what I meant by this post. I do forget that not everyone understands my vocation around death, dying, and grieving, and that it can seem antithetical to my politics sometimes.
My vocation is to minister to the dying and for the dead, regardless of who they are or were. It is my firm belief, even conviction, that every human being deserves to have someone there during their last hours, and that in the first day of death, they are still treated in a compassionate way.
But don’t get me wrong: being compassionate is definitely not the same as being nice.
Let me put this another way:
My former coven leader, Michael, was an asshole to me. He was abusive, manipulating, and misogynistic. I wouldn’t consciously want to be near him, or hang out with him unless it was part of a massive apology, confession, and acknowledgement of what he had done to me.
If somehow I got the call and was told he was dying, and that one of his final wishes was to see and talk to me, then I would go. I would go, and listen, and hear him out. I might even stay and hold vigil, letting the Gods come through and tell him about himself. I would probably even minister to his family until, and after, he passed. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have the hard conversations with him while he was still lucid, or tell him about himself and how he hurt me. It doesn’t mean that it would have to be nice for him, or that it wouldn’t be one of the hardest things I’d ever done.
I would do it because I’m a priest and it’s my vocation to midwife the dying. I couldn’t not do it.
And yes, I would do the same for Donald Trump. (Although, I have no doubts that if this somehow happened, that the Gods would come through hard while I was in the room and really tell him about himself.)
There is always a measure of compassion that I believe must be held regardless of who the dying or dead person is. And that is the reason for the dilemma: I completely detested McCain’s politics while he was alive, and I totally agree that his legacy, both good and bad, needs to be examined. But it felt, to me, like a lack of compassion for the dead to start ripping into his record not even 24 hours, after he’d passed. Those of us left behind have lifetimes to do that, and it is only right that we do so.
Please note, however, that I said “compassion” not “respect”. Compassion, at least the way I define it, is acknowledging the human-ness of a person, regardless of who they are. No one needs to be a saint in order to deserve my compassion, especially in the process of dying. Showing compassion in those times also respects the Spirits helping the person cross over, since they are the ones that the person who is dying needs to answer to (regardless of who that Spirit is for the dying person).
Unfortunately, compassion and forgiveness are often conflated, when in reality, they are not the same thing, nor should they be. In the example above, I can show compassion to my former coven leader, but I in no way have to forgive him, if I don’t want to, or can’t. Also, showing compassion to someone doesn’t magically erase the bad they’ve done, and in my mind, can be an act of defiance to the evil that the person has done.
I don’t know if this clarifies the post I made. Most likely, I probably made it more complicated. That’s not a bad thing, in my mind, because the process of death, and the process of grieving, is not black and white. It is grey and complicated. It is messy with emotion and experience. All the emotions around a person’s death are real and valid and I get that. I am in no way asking people to forgive McCain, or to ignore what he’s done in life, but to acknowledge that a life has passed. To stop and reflect and give the moment of death at least some amount of gravitas, no matter what you thought of him. Because, remember, compassion can be a last act of defiance.