The Black Dress

I stand in my closet looking at all the clothes I have not worn for more than a year. I am not going anywhere, and I don’t need to look for an outfit because I am wearing the same yoga leggings and workout t-shirt I have worn for days. I have a faint awareness that it is Good Friday, but the thought rises without connection to the day: “What would I wear to a crucifixion?”

It is a macabre thought, not one that I ever remember thinking. Macabre is more in line with my husband’s thought process, not mine. For some reason, I don’t banish the revulsion I feel with the thought; instead, I look at and then touch one of my black dresses.

These days I feel like I am living in a season of death. I watch the news of the trial of the policeman who killed George Floyd, and I cry. Six Asian women are slaughtered, and the police representative says the killer had a “bad day.” The rise in Asian-American and Pacific Islander violence is unrelenting.

Our neighbor across the street died from MS complications after decades of suffering and full-time nursing care. My father and Dan’s mother died in March years ago. Spring feels clotted with allergies, rising COVID-variant deaths, hatred, and violence. I am exhausted with Lent, and I long for the resurrection. But, today is Good Friday, and I ponder again, what would I wear to a crucifixion?

It is odd that the only dress that seems right to wear to a crucifixion is the black dress that I wear to weddings, funerals, and retirement parties! I haphazardly bought this Donna Ricco dress on sale at Nordstrom more than fifteen years ago. I wasn’t even shopping for a dress, but it seemed a sensible purchase to be made on a seemingly unsuccessful shopping day in Seattle.

I stand still and wonder what did Jesus’s mother wear, and Mary, his mother’s sister, and Mary, called Magdalene, to Jesus’ crucifixion? Did they have a choice? Did they even give it a thought? Was it black?

I leave my closet and sit by a sunlit window holding my black dress; my thoughts turn to what Resmaa Menakem, author of My Grandmother’s Hands, wrote about the heightened state of trauma that white people carried after living through untold beheadings and lynchings in Europe for centuries. He says that racism began as “white-on-white violence” in the 1500s and 1600s. The English government used torture as their official way to treat criminals. During much of the Dark Middle Ages in England, torture was a spectator sport.

When white people arrived in North America, they often received kindness from Native Americans. Indigenous tribes befriended many white people and taught them farming techniques for survival. Then, when explorers began moving further west, they depended upon the knowledge of various tribes that guided them across rivers and mountains on their ancient routes. Historians point out that as we took over their land, countless treaties were broken and our military slaughtered tens of thousands of Native Americans.

My grief, black as my dress, takes in the rage of injustice while also noting the contempt of friends who would rather blame the so-called left or right rather than extract the log in their own eye. Sitting in this patch of sunlight, I declare, “Hell, no!” I can’t escape death or the heritage of my country, both beautiful and heartbreaking, but I can refuse to minimize suffering or deny that in two days the resurrection will break into reality and wrest from death its victory.

I glance at the dress in my hands and note that there is no color to wear to observe suffering and death other than black. The color black absorbs light. It consumes all other colors and takes their energy into itself. What that seems to say is that death wins.

How odd that the little black dress that weeps at my friend’s funeral also dances at my daughter’s fortieth birthday party.

It isn’t just a versatile piece of clothing, but it is a defiant color that can weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who celebrate.

Easter as a holiday is over, but not suffering or death. Easter may be over, but the promise of full, complete, glorious restoration of all that has been lost and harmed is about to burst from the ground like the wildness of spring. This year—even without anywhere to go—I determine that it is time to put on my little black dress, heralding both my grief and my defiant hope.

Originally published on Red Tent Living May 2021.