My kid is currently learning about Harriet Tubman.
This paragraph describes her succinctly but well:
She was five feet two inches (157 centimeters) tall, born a slave, had a debilitating illness, and was unable to read or write. Yet here was this tough woman who could take charge and lead men. Put all that together and you get Harriet Tubman. I got to like her pretty quickly because of her strength and her spirit,
Off hand, I can't think of a more "inadequate" person in American lore than Harriet Tubman.
What made her think she could be so amazing? There was no social measurement that would indicate she should be capable of being so important. Yet she was.
She escaped from slavery, rescued about 70 people through the Underground Railroad on 13 separate missions. But that was just the beginning:
During the American Civil War, she served as an armed scout and spy for the United States Army. In her later years, Tubman was an activist in the struggle for women's suffrage.
Frederick Douglass, who I now believe to be the greatest American to ever live, and was by any measurement FAR from inadequate, wrote this about Harriet Tubman:
Excepting John Brownâ€”of sacred memoryâ€”I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have.
And about John Brown...
That man was bat-shit crazy.
Both Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass were "busy" on the days he planned to raid Harper's Ferry, even though they helped him prepare for it. They knew full well the inadequacy of preparation and planning for what he was about to do.
We have the John Brown House in my home town:
There is some evidence that after Brown's bloody raid at Ossawatomie Creek in Kansas, citizens of Akron raised cash and contributed weapons to Brown when he returned to describe his passionate fight against slavery in the summer of 1856. Akron historian Karl Grismer believed that cases of arms stored in the Summit County Jail made their way into Brown's hands.
If ever there was a bad plan it was the raid on Harper's Ferry. Talk about being "inadequate."
Yet many believe it was John Brown that caused America to wake up to the ignorant, stupid cruelty of slavery and finally do something about it.
My own inadequacies crest above the water like a whale taking a breath time and time again. Like the whale, they are always there. They just are sometimes more visible than at other times.
This week I failed over and over.
This happened on Wednesday:
AKRON, Ohio - The Akron Board of Zoning Appeals on Wednesday denied a variance that would have enabled activist Sage Lewis to re-open a tent encampment for the homeless on property he owns in the Middlebury neighborhood.
No matter how hard I try. No matter what words I say. No matter how much I show the value of what we are doing: The only answer I get from the City of Akron is: NO!
This week I begged for anything.
The amount of failure I have encountered doing this work is endless.
I often say to myself, "I wish these people had someone better than me leading this work."
"Why do all they have is me?"
And I suspect you will soon see an article come out in a local paper talking about how I do nothing, while all the houseless people do all the work at the center and yet I take all the credit.
No one knows better than me what a useless piece of shit I am.
A big reason I'm doing this work is to somehow try to absolve myself from all the sins of my life.
While the work is fulfilling, I don't know if there is any amount of good I can do to make myself believe I will somehow end my life on earth with a net positive.
As I was leaving the center Friday night, a houseless guy was yelling at me: "I'm going to get this place shut down, Sage!"
"You let people steal, sell drugs and do what ever they want! I'm NEVER coming back here again, after tonight," he said.
"And when you drop that heater and propane tank off at my camp put it in the green tent, NOT THE BLUE ONE! And when I come back to my camp and find it stolen, IT IS YOUR FAULT, SAGE!"
I told him I understood. I think I put it in the right tent.
And supporters. I'm constantly failing supporters. They ask me to spend time with them on nights and weekends at the center. I am quite protective of those times so that I can be with my family. Yet I know I should be doing better by them.
We are all simultaneously failures and successes.
It's like SchrÃ¶dinger's cat.
"the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead not both alive and dead."
When you open the box and look at a human at any given moment you will see them either being a success or a failure at that point in time.
But the truth is they are both. They are spinning as both simultaneously.
At the end of a human's life you can count up how many successes and how many failures a person has had. But it ultimately becomes a subjective list. To objectively and accurately weigh the value a single person brought to Earth would be a massive undertaking.
I'm quite sure many people still think John Brown was a bad man. He certainly was regarded that way by the government and his jury when they hung him.
Look at the greatest people you could imagine: Jesus, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Oskar Schindler, Gandhi.
Sure. They were amazing.
But couldn't they have been more amazing?
I bet every single one of those people were disappointed in their performance.
They had more in them. They could have worked harder. They could have been smarter. They could have been better.
I wouldn't be surprised if each of those people gave themselves a "C" grade at best.
I once was at a church service, Lutheran I believe, where the minister said to the congregation, "I absolve you of all your sins."
I didn't know anyone was able to do that for me. But it felt nice. To be washed clean of all the wrongs in my life.
We, as conscious beings, have a terrible weight to bare.
We know what we are doing. We know we could go right or left at any time in our life.
And the fact of the matter is, going one way or another will have unintended consequences that will play out in ways we can't possibly imagine.
The only hope we have is to decide whether we come from a place of light or dark, of good or evil, of faith or fear.
And then we move forward.
We will fail. We will go in wrong directions. And most of all: we will be met with opposition at every turn.
"No good deed goes unpunished" appears to be a real thing.
The number of people I have angered and who straight up hate me are uncountable. Both housed and unhoused.
But it doesn't matter. None of it matters. All I can do is try.
I am trying to do the best I can do as a flawed, inadequate human being.
It will never be enough. I will die being unsatisfied with how little I accomplished. But I will do the work anyway.