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Reverend Billy’s Revelations

Issue 223

Marriage. Catastrophe. Giving.

Reverend Billy Talen Mar 29, 2017

Dear Reverend Billy, 

I'm dating an undocumented person who is at risk of being deported. One way she'd be safe is if we got married. I want to help her but I'm not sure if we're ready for that kind of commitment. What should I do? 

— G., Newark 

Dear G.,

Lots of people get married not feeling ready and they spend a century together. Trump is a tragic jolt to our soul. That’s what 9/11 was. You know what we do with tragedies on that scale?  We get married. We get pregnant. We take our lives in new directions. This white nationalism is a tsunami: A drastic response is wise. Go ahead, change yourself radically. I myself am involved in a flourishing romance that became a marriage in the spring after 9/11. Don’t be afraid to let events speed you up. 

Marriage is the action of caring; of laughter, quiet moments and working together for years toward having a family. The everyday action of a marriage puts the preliminary fears in the rearview mirror pretty quickly. I’m no yenta, but my bet is that the practice of the marriage is what will help you both. (I'm no lawyer either but you should probably also consult an immigration attorney if you decide to tie the knot.) 

You say you want to help her like it’s a one-way street. Did you propose yet? If she says “Yes!” then I'm sure that she has plans to help you, too. 

•   •   •

The other day on the subway, a young woman got on and began singing the most beautiful aria. It seemed nearly everyone on the train gave her something from their pockets, including myself. Literally, at the next stop, she got off and a women with a baby in her arms got on. I felt like I was in a sociology experiment! The women with the baby started asking for money and hardly anyone gave her a thing, I guess since they'd just shared with someone else. I could hardly look the mother in the eye because I gave my last dollar to the singer. My question is this: When should I give? I'm on a fixed income. Normally I give when the impulse strikes me but maybe I should be more systematic. . . 

— Martha on the Upper West Side

Dear Martha,

It isn't possible to place a systematic moral policy on your personal giving down in the subway in New York City. I knew a lady once who had a policy of not giving money to white males. Well, okay, but — always? 

Lurching along to the bumps with 47 people in a train car under the East River, I don't find myself wanting to make generalizations about the people around me. Everyone is more than the snarky labels we give them. That person across from me isn’t just a yuppie, and that guy with the Mets cap isn’t just a Mets fan. This is where racism and all the killer isms begin.

What happens when strangers break through this, and start looking at each other, really inquisitively looking, wondering about each other?  Two human beings coming closer to each other — that experience is always unprecedented. So, if one has power and the other has none, like you and the panhandler — don't "type" her. Ask yourself, "How is this person original, like no-one else?" That's the one who will take your help and help you back.

Reverend Billy is an activist and political shouter, a post-religious preacher of the streets and bank lobbies. Got a question for Reverend Billy? Just email and unburden your soul.

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