The youngest grandchild of Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, recalls Easter 13 years ago, when her mother Tamar lay dying, and the question her grandmother would ask whenever faced with seemingly intractable problems: ‘What can we do in the here and now?
This pandemic has been one long time of thirst. Isolated month by isolated month, I have dug deep in my reserves of what keeps me going and what has meaning for me. And when I think of thirst, I think of the thirst I, along with many others, have for some element of my grandmother, Dorothy Day. A thirst during which I have long held on to relics of her, such as her last driver’s licence or the woven Bolivian bag she had with her when she was arrested at the age of 75 while picketing for Californian farmworkers.
I admit that I imagine these relics will guide me rather than being guided by doing what needs to be done, as Dorothy would say. This leads me not to think of her faith in action but of her relationship with God, possibly because action during protracted lockdowns is a difficult thing to do, and contemplation comes more easily. Dorothy said that the way she most easily knew God was in the faces of the poor and destitute, in the littlest and least wanted of us. It was through this that she most felt God’s presence.
My mother, Tamar, didn’t speak of knowing God, but she believed in the innate goodness of people and that everyone is a child of God and infinitely valuable. She said: “The essential ingredient is loving-kindness. People do the healing themselves. You just have to stand aside and let it happen. Just by goodness, that’s what it is.”