“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the Change that we seek.” ― Barack Obama
One of my favorite things to do on a Saturday morning is to polish our silver. I have vintage pieces all over my house as decor because I love how they capture light. They probably aren’t of value in anyone else’s eyes, but they are my treasures that illuminate the space like carefully placed mirrors. The best ones have been discovered at tag sales discarded like junk–just a little extra care brought back their sparkle. Over time a bit of tarnish builds up, and I begin the ritual of bringing back the shine again. It is an act of meditation as I carefully polish each piece. Something within my spirit is renewed as I wipe away the din and restore the beauty.
Tarnish is an interesting term that has French origins, meaning “to darken or dull.” It is caused by a reaction to elements in the air and usually is most visible on pieces that are just sitting there. The ones that are employed daily get rubbed free of any buildup. I think people are the same. When we get too passive in our lives, our minds build up a coating that dulls our inner luster. We worry too much about what others think, what we have to lose, and build up a layer of protection. Sometimes we grow apathetic when we witness injustice and turn inward without having compassion for those affected. We begin to lose our shine.
There are all kinds of admonishments about reputations being tarnished by a single act of misjudgment, nevermind all the good one can do to try to repair it. Tarnish is often viewed as an everlasting stain, but it doesn’t have to be. We can expand to have a new understanding that within every challenge are the seeds of change.
I recently read an account by Elizabeth Lesser in her latest book, Cassandra Speaks, of the novel we read in high school–Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. A single woman found illegitimately pregnant had to wear a visible tarnish mark for not following societal norms. The message is clear…stay in line or endure the shame. To that society, her tarnish made her worthless. Interestingly, Lesser points out we seldom discuss how later she overcame her situation and became a comfort to others who endured similar fates. Despite her perceived failure, she became a leader. We could take a different message from all the stories–tarnish doesn’t have to define us forever, especially when outdated societal norms seek to silence or control us.
Our American story has been tarnished by injustice, discrimination, hatred, and violence against one another that continues today. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Civil rights leaders then and now invoke the power of grace to seek higher ground, to make a more perfect union, and genuinely fulfill the words of our Declaration that all may be equal. Likewise, the Civil Grace of Courage calls us to come together and work to resolve our hearts’ dulling in these times of upheaval. Every single one of us can play a part in changing the story. Rather than allow ourselves to remain in the dark, this moment is our time to engage in daily works to bring a world of illumination and love.
We each can play a part in restoring our communities and our country to a place where everyone may have the freedom and ability to shine those wondrous talents we all carry. It takes effort to wipe away the effects of the years of hostility and fear, but it is our time to do the work. We can invoke the sacred into the simple acts of everyday living. We can make the light shine on the path for all of us to move forward as a people with a common destiny and forever change the world.
Nothing is impossible if we are committed to making it happen. Behind all the anger and pain, something is waiting to come forth. Our differences can rub us, polish us, and reveal the wholeness that unites us. We are the ones we have been waiting for, and it isn’t dependent on anyone but our inner resolve to do the work. Shine on!