Processing the death of an idol

Mo Juenger is a first-year Philosophy, Politics and the Public and Spanish double major. She is an intern for the Newswire from Mason, Ohio.

 John Conyers died on Oct. 27 at age 90, and it’s hard to know how to feel about it.

With impeachment inquiry details overwhelming almost every outlet, his passing seemed like a blip on the radar. He was a career politician, albeit not in office at the time of his death, and was the longest serving Black member of Congress. He made massive contributions to the civil rights movement. He co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus and sponsored the bill that established Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.

He was also accused of sexual harassment by six women who worked with him throughout his congressional tenure. He resigned after the sixth allegation in 2017.

This isn’t uncommon. The #MeToo movement has brought justice for countless women who suffered sexual harassment, especially those who work closely with politics. Transparency, confidence and empowerment are beautiful, and movements like this are designed to bring us closer to those ideals.

But it’s hard to see someone you love fall so far. Conyers was an icon for me; his policy reform inspired me to become involved, to learn about oppression and want to improve our government in every way I could. He influenced my college, career and life paths by creating a standard for me to strive for. And in 2017, I didn’t understand what to do.

I spent a lot of time asking myself if Conyers was a good person who did bad things, or a bad person who did good things. This was an omnipresent thought that slowly became less and less relevant after his resignation. I didn’t resolve it; I just stopped thinking about it until I looked down and saw the New York Times notification about his passing.

That little ping brought back a flood of memories. I remembered reading his book on my back porch, studying his reparations proposals and silently watching as he announced his resignation from Congress. I felt like there should have been some rush of emotion at the news of his death, but I couldn’t feel anything. I couldn’t process what I was supposed to do with myself.

I made a pros-and-cons list. It took me about two minutes to realize I was incredibly unqualified to weigh his damages against his achievements. But without closure, I wasn’t going to be able to stop putting myself in an emotional purgatory.

This is when I created a blank slate. Instead of processing him as a good person or a bad person, I decided not to consider him as a person at all.

He was no longer John Conyers, but only the achievements and controversies on that pros-and-cons list. He was “H.R. 40,” “United States National Health Care Act” and “accused by Deanna Maher, Maria Reddick, Melanie Sloan, Marion Brown, Elisa Grubbs and Courtney Morse.” It was not pros or cons but simply his actions, his influence and his ideas.

The separation of his being and his actions doesn’t diminish his personhood. It only helps those who cannot process him understand what happened. It’s not coping, only facts.

It’s not always correct to boil down a person’s life to only their actions, but it’s there when necessary. We can still think about people as good or bad, but it’s nice to know that something exists within that. Our transparency, our confidence and our empowerment are important, but we can’t allow them to become the whole of what we see. When we’re looking at our idols, we have to understand everything in order to retain our senses of self.