I don’t have time to make you feel good.
That phrase has been in my head over and over again these past several days.
Let’s be clear: I’m not the one most harmed or most burdened by this state-created water emergency. All of Flint is affected – “traumatized” is the word used by Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, and I think that’s right. Some people are burdened by the daily trek to get water; some are burdened by the inordinate time now involved in normal daily tasks; some are
burdened by the fear and worry for their kids or what symptoms may appear in their own lives; some are burdened by the additional costs. Many, many people have added to their own daily burden the work of telling neighbors, looking for gaps in the immediate distribution of water and info, trying to organize a community response to the obscenity and unrighteousness that has been inflicted on us.
This is no small thing. Ninety thousand people have something new to worry about.
And people outside Flint want to help. Maybe they are painfully aware of how this is an American failing. (Flint is only the first or most extreme victim of a politics that has been insidiously taking over our country for decades.) Maybe they are people of faith or they’re paying something forward. Whatever the reason, people want to help.
Great. Help. But that phrase runs through my mind: I don’t have time to make you feel good.
If you need your photo taken with a truck of water bottles you delivered, please don’t ask me. If you need some evidence of the nice thing you’ve done, please don’t ask me. If you have some notion that I’m keeping a list somewhere of every thoughtful gesture and you’ll shortly see your name in print, please let that go. And for God’s sake, if you think you “get it” though you live hundreds of miles away in a completely different reality, please don’t come here and judge us. I don’t have time to make you feel good. And there’s every possibility that you’re pissing me off.
I know. It’s not my best side. But in all fairness, it isn’t yours either. Christianity all too often lives out just enough generosity to let itself off a moral hook of some kind, and then goes back to business as usual, without ever considering how to make generosity less necessary. Liberal Christianity is often the worst, assuming it knows best, that it has all the answers, that it can “fix” whatever is wrong. You’re not helping. In fact, you’re as bad as the state legislature that took away our meaningful vote by its emergency manager law. You’re as bad as the Christians over the centuries who colonized so many countries and forced assimilation. We don’t need you trying to take over right now; we don’t need you telling us how to be Flint. We do need you asking questions, offering to join in what we’re doing, listening to folks on the ground here who have been living with this for way longer than you’ve been hearing it on the news. Help, yes. But first, please pay attention.
There is a lot that can come out of this mess. Maybe in a city of 25 percent unemployment, people will get paid to work in recovery-associated work, based on the meetings I'm sitting in, I'm not hopeful; maybe schools will get nurses once again; maybe Senator Stabenow will somehow fulfill her pledge to get a grocery store back in the city; maybe democracy will be restored and the people of Flint will once again govern ourselves. Maybe we’ll even reconsider a deadly national agenda that allowed this to happen.
Maybe. But that all takes time, so I don’t have time to make you feel good.
Dr. Hanna-Attisha said last night during Rachel Maddow's town hall here that we can work on turning lemons into lemonade. Perhaps that’s true. But to make lemonade, you need more than lemons.
You need water.