I count it as a blessing to have reconnected with Tasha Morris, who took a Social Justice class with me in spring 2007. Now finishing her Master’s in Nursing, Tasha sent me the following reflection on her experience of reading The Book of Mev.
To put it simply, The Book of Mev expanded my worldview… But it wasn’t really that simple at all. When I came to St. Louis University, one might rightly say that I did not have a worldview at all. I did not know the world beyond my front door, and St. Louis (though only a little more than an hour from where I grew up) and the nuances of city life felt about as “normal” to me as a lumberjack in a beauty pageant.
And yet, even in my ignorance, I felt the vague calling to develop myself beyond…myself. It was this undefined but nagging awareness of a greater global community that landed me in Dr. Chmiel’s Social Justice class. I was, at least I think, the only freshman there. I didn’t speak much, but I listened intently–and read, and wrote. And read. And wrote. And then I read about Mev.
And although I never met her, I felt like I knew her immediately. I get the feeling she had this effect on people. For Mev, there was no “vague calling” or “undefined but nagging awareness.”
Mev was a war cry among whispers, and yet her message was one of compassion and mercy. She was wonderfully armed with a strong moral compass, a deep understanding of human suffering, and a fundamental and exceedingly rare ability to transition effortlessly from awareness to action.
Mev, through her work and her very way of existing, implored the Church to open their eyes to the injustices of the world, and challenged our society at large to answer the call of the needy. I am reminded of a favorite quote from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment: “I did not bow down to you, I bowed down to all the suffering of humanity.” And this is my understanding of how Mev existed in the world. And how we all should.
A tall order in a consumer-driven, Western culture. The Book of Mev evoked the full spectrum of human emotions within me, from laughter to tears. Her passion, vision, and wise-beyond-her-years efforts to fulfill the prevailing social voids in terms of human justice are cause for awe and reverence.
Through coming to “know” her, I was better able to understand the truer purpose of life– to live as a person for others. To plant seeds of faith and reap harvests of equality. To take time for and devote energy to the purpose of creating a better world and revive the lost traditions of community.
I have read The Book of Mev seven times now. I have yet to have the same experience. Always, I am inspired and reenergized in my beliefs and my work. I am reminded that God is there waiting to be found in everything. In everyone.
Sometimes, it seems that love and human suffering are not only separate but opposite. And yet, Dr. Chmiel uses this work to demonstrate that this is not so. In his work Mountain Windsong: A Novel of the Trail of Tears, Cherokee author Robert J. Conley states, “somewhere in the heart of this madness, this chaos of insanity, cruelty, insufferable inhumanity, there was love.”
Mark and Mev lived in a way that exposed this kind of love. Love among the suffering. Love beyond the reach of physical hardships. Love growing wild in the cracked sidewalks of corporate jungles and religious red tape. Like weeds in the garden of the traditional, yet somehow more exotic and capturing than anything intentionally planted.
To read the story of Mark and Mev is to accept a challenge. To become fully human by further embodying the calling of the divine. To embrace, and work on behalf of, the transcendent soul common to all. To liberate the masses. To dance and celebrate. To cry and suffer in solidarity. To bring awareness in a distracted world.
To, as crazy as it may sound, save that very world.