“The question is how our own meanings are related to those of the universe as a whole. We could say that our action toward the whole universe is a result of what it means to be us.” ― David Bohm
All my life, I have tried to understand the underlying meaning in things–to answer the question, “What is the lesson?” Whether something went well or failed, my first inquiry has always been, “What was that all about?” Of course, this pursuit is the byproduct of years of studying philosophy and the deeper meanings in life. There is no need to prove that something had reason aside from the very fact that it happened.
There have been few times in my life that were more challenging to understand as my Congressional race. Serving in public office had been something in my heart for as long as I can remember, but I also feared going after that dream. I knew it would forever change me in a way never to be the same. I remember distinctly telling my husband that I knew I had to run, but I was afraid. Something in my inner being knew the tests I would encounter. Yet, I remembered a passage I had read in the Gospel of Thomas, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” With this in mind, I bravely entered the race.
Despite all the planning, trips to Washington, and blessings by leadership, my race went bad the minute it hit the local newspaper. I guess I had never put my political beliefs out there being in a corporate setting. There was bound to be a few raised eyebrows to know I stood for human rights and individual liberty to express ourselves in love and life. Unfortunately, it was met with disdain in certain challenging circles. I was on the wrong side of the aisle even though they had once loved me as a person. Those early challenges made it more difficult to raise the money required to meet the party’s benchmark, and soon I was disregarded as a viable candidate. Nevertheless, I persisted.
I had worked on enough campaigns over the years to understand it was a balance between raising money, meeting constituents, and getting the votes. I knew I could do it without raising crazy dollars and going to arbitration on what I stood for, so I continued. People loved that I was willing to meet them face to face and listen. They loved that I wasn’t scripted and spoke from my heart. In the end, it was all about timing. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania redrew the lines for the Congressional districts just before we were to collect signatures to get on the ballot, and like a bad game of musical chairs, I lost my chair.
Going home to look in the mirror after over a year of running and giving every dollar I could to this race was the worse moment I can remember. I was defeated before even getting on the ballot. Before even getting a chance. I just wanted to sleep forever. I had seen enough of the process to know this wasn’t what the Founders envisioned. My body gave way to fever, and I was sick in bed for days. Tears flowed, and I just wanted not to exist. Weeks went by, and in my numb state, I tried to get on with life. It was spring, and ewes were giving birth. One of our sheep, Bella, had a stillbirth. Sitting on a stool next to her, she bellowed, and I cried with her that day. We were both lost trying to understand where to go from here.
There came a time that I had to start back, and bit by bit, I found my way back to the working world. I took an online class on the “Art of Happiness” to literally remember the meaning of life. Through that process, I met the father of positive psychology who, upon hearing my story, encouraged me to find the treasure there. “Go be a trumpet for what is right in the world.” And so I began to write about what I saw.
I wrote the Civil Graces Project as a personal memoir that chronicles my experiences on the U.S. Congress’s campaign trail and also to help heal my spirit. Of the many things I witnessed, the most transformative was seeing the power in our communities. Every day people are working together to make great things happen. Even in the “bureaucracies,” dedicated people work every day to make America happen. However, that is not often the message we see depicted. We hear how we are a nation divided and on the brink of destroying one another.
We, the People, are the authors of our story in this country. I wanted to challenge the notion that the U.S. is a country divided and explore how changing our political discourse can bring people together rather than tear us apart. In The Civil Graces Project: The Pursuit for Common Ground, I hope to provide a compassionate approach to healing America’s dialogue that respects the country’s robust diversity of ideas and drills down to the root of our presently chaotic political climate.
As in my personal journey, we begin by examining our individual lives and the thoughts we think. We explore how making small changes in one’s life can lead to a collective shift in the world. The Civil Graces Project invites us to have the courage to discover the things we have in common to heal and create a community – and by extension, a world – that is more inclusive and just. It was a way for me to sort out what I witnessed and knew I had to share.
With the U.S. at a transformative juncture in human history, The Civil Graces Project highlights how the old system is no longer serving Americans and emphasizes the importance of redefining the common ground so that the nation can rearticulate what is essential and develop a partnership model of society. We have seen in so many ways how our people are hurting. When a nation is divided, it is much easier to overcome, but a united people are much harder to break, even if their ideas are diverse. If we are constantly told we are at odds, we begin to lose hope in one another. That is the real tragedy.
Ultimately, The Civil Graces Project is not necessarily a book full of answers, but rather an inner exploration of the questions that can shift from the concept of “a country divided” to that of a country with many gifts and opportunities to redesign the future together. We cannot do this work alone.
I designed the logo for Civil Graces to be two fingerprints that combine and form a heart. I believe that while we each have our unique identity, we can find space where we unite. By taking care of the space in between, we heal our communities, our nation, and our world. It also signifies that when we are on opposite sides of a debate, we have to have courage, which originally meant to “come with one’s heart” to find the third way…the middle path. The Civil Graces are those unifying, timeless beliefs that will guide us through the journey as we create that “more perfect union.”
Now, I sit in a vigil and wonder about our country. I wonder if there are people like me who care so deeply that they would sacrifice their lives, their fortunes, and sacred honor to ensure that this democracy continues to expand to meet our growing and diverse nation. I continue each day to imagine that beautiful place…where all will be treated equally at last.
Photo credit: Vince Moro, iron structure in Épernay, France