#14: St. Lucy's Eyes and Witness

#14: St. Lucy’s Eyes and Witness


30 July, 2019

This is St. Lucy, patron saint of authors, cutlers, glaziers, laborers, martyrs, peasants, Perugia, Italy; saddlers, salesmen, stained glass workers, and the blind.

The story goes that her father wanted to marry her off to a pagan prince, and rather than submit to that, she plucked her own eyes out, horrifying the prince and making her a less-appealing candidate for marriage. She's usually portrayed not with eyes-as-flowers, as above, but rather with her eyes on a platter that she holds.

St. Lucy and her story are more about the patriarchy--and the drastic measures that taking control of your own fate within it requires--than about witness, but there is something about eyes, and wounding, and needing to carry your eyes outside your body to keep yourself safe from the world outside that resonates, especially right now. The woman who carries her eyes with her.

I've spent the last month working at an immigration non-profit, where the first thing I do every morning is scroll through every major news site and make a roundup of all the immigration news. In the last month, I've sent out links to articles about horrific treatment at ICE and DHS detention centers, ORR/HHS shelters, about the Facebook groups where ICE agents dehumanize and mock the same people they dehumanize and mock in person daily. I've sent out links to articles that hit so close to home even for me, the U.S. Citizen of another U.S. Citizen and a Legal Permanent Resident. I've spent the last month looking, not at the individual particulars but at the whole big machine, every day, ever churning gear of it. The policies are getting worse, the conditions worse too, and even though I'm in the middle of a job where I'm supposed to be helping, it doesn't ever feel like I am. Not really for individuals, not at all for the whole system. Which means that my job is exactly what I've been doing: to keep track, to look, to not look away, and to maybe live with the discomfort that it might not be during my time, either here at this job, or here on this earth, that we treat people with the sacredness inherent to them. My job right now is to build an archive: make a record of all the changes, keep people informed, make connections between different people with different abilities to fight this.

In grad school, I worked at a library, and for a while, especially when I felt demoralized in my own reading or writing, I'd send every book that passed through my hands out with a little intention, that whoever had requested it, or had or would pull it from a shelf would find what they needed in it. The work was rote, and it kind of felt like my brain was, too, but I was at least doing something.

I think a lot about St. Lucy carrying her eyes around outside her body, and I think of the way my own eyes are not outside my body and how that means I have to carry what I see with me all the time. Looking, bearing witness doesn't feel like enough right now, and there's a way in which my eyes feel like they're being carried around outside my body: they're unconnected to action. There are also times when I wish I could stop seeing, un-read an article, walk back to a time without a certain knowledge, when witness feels too embodied to bear. But who am I to say this when trans women held in Cibola are losing their eyesight because of acute cases of untreated syphilis?

It is my job to look, to keep looking, to not look away. It's my job to send out every email like I did a book in the library, with the hope that one of the lawyers here finds a key in one of them that unlocks a case, write each press release with the hope that it'll lead to an article that will finally, finally, finally get someone to care enough to do something about it. Living through this time is hard because it feels like it demands heroics at the very same time that the system feels resistant to heroics. It feels like no matter what you do it won't be enough.

One of the two scenes I've kept with me this week are the groups from Cosecha and Never Again Action shutting down ICE headquarters for a few hours the other day. They stilled one of the gears for a moment, got one tiny part of the machine to quiet. I don't know what, logistically that looks like, how or if it kept anyone safe, how or if there was a seed of doubt planted in an employee's mind, but it felt like something big. The other scene is these mothers, showing up, toddlers in tow, to their congresswoman's office, to ask her to DO something, to pay attention, and when that congresswoman pushed back on them, pushing back on her even harder. Again, I'm not sure they accomplished anything, or changed any minds, but they showed up, having done their homework, and did the work, did the thing in their limited capacity. Not heroes, but people who showed up, regardless of the outcome.

I think about this essay about "thoughts and prayers" from Stephanie Paulsell all the time, and especially the end quote, from another teacher, Terry Tempest Williams: “I choose not to look away,” she said. “For me, that is contemplative prayer. It is praying without ceasing.”

That then, is my job, in its entirety. To not look away. To remind myself that others are watching along with me, that communities are showing up and doing the work, that St. Lucy is the patron saint of those who attend to the details of the world, those who let the light through.