“If you don’t recount your family history, it will be lost. Honor your own stories and tell them too. The tales may not seem very important, but they are what binds families and makes each of us who we are.”-Madeleine L’Engle
When I speak of my dad, I refer to him as one of my giants. My earliest memories are of my dad sitting up with me late at night, peeling an orange, and helping me through another coughing match with my tonsils. He believed in the healing power of good nutrition. When I was in high school and over my head in quadratic equations, he would calmly offer, “why don’t you take a break and have a sandwich?” My dad always called me back to tangible and honest things in a world that often was challenging and unjust. He offered what he could give. I miss him so much my heart stings at the sound of “Father’s Day,” and the fact that tomorrow is also the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, I think if he were here, he would be calling me to look to the light instead of the overwhelming dark headlines of anger and hate.
My dad became a soldier before he was yet a man. His bags were packed for basic training as soon as he received his high school diploma. Uncle Sam needed him, and he went leaving his sweetheart who was counting the days for his return. When that day finally came, and they could marry, they built a small house for themselves and started a family…there was one, two, three…and then twelve of us. They hoped that things were cheaper by the dozen, and their love was for each other and us whether or not this was true. They worked hard, expected the best of life and from every one of us under their care.
When I think of my dad, I remember so many things. One thing especially, when we stepped out of line, he would ask, “Who do you think you are?” This admonishing statement would level any of us, but it is an essential question if you really hold it. “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?” rather than “WHO ARE YOU?” He knew who we were, but maybe our heads got too big and our britches too big that we needed to be called back to our center.
As I work in public service and customer service, I am so tempted to say that line to unruly customers who think they can boss people around just because they have money. “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?” Do you think you have more rights than someone else or have suffered more? Please be careful because most of the time, we have no idea who we are interacting with or the burdens others carry. We are all in this together, and no one is more powerful than the person who is willing to stop for a moment and offer a sandwich or love to someone who is going through challenges.
I wish my dad were here today to talk about what is happening in the world. He might be as frustrated as me, but I am pretty sure he would ask me to remember who I was at my core and to follow my truth. He would ask me to lighten up just a little bit and to remember to take time out for self-care. He would remind me that no matter the conflict, love is waiting to begin something new.
“That we find freedom, aliveness, and power not from what contains, locates, or protects us but from what dissolves, reveals, and expands us.”― Eve Ensler, Insecure at Last
I’ve started to dream about the posts I will write. Words come to me as I sleep, and I have to quickly scribble the thoughts so they don’t escape my memory. It’s like the Universe knows my Wednesday writing day is coming, and there is an open door to push an idea through. Recently, two words emerged like partners into my lexicon–Resolute and Embodiment. Going into the deeper meaning of the words as I do, I discovered a whole world of words–constant, faithful, loyal, staunch, steadfast, embody, incarnation, manifestation…all these words connected by the strands of how we come into contact with our being-ness and how we show up to the world. Our resolution is our commitment to being better each year, each day, each moment. How are we doing?
As I write this, the world is hurting on so many levels but feels buoyed by the hope that maybe we still have a chance to get it right. We have a growing resolve that we might just be heading in the right direction. Holding us back are our fears and willingness to go deeper and let go of the ideologies that no longer serve us. The shoulds, the oughts, the prejudices we all carry. People are dying inside and out from all the social ills we haven’t addressed in decades and even centuries. We are missing each other and yet don’t exactly know how or when to engage again. We are in a body but do we actually embody what it is to be a human being…connected to other beings who are human?
The conversations that dominate so much of the air space are about holding onto control, whether it be a vote, global responsibility, a gun, sex, lies, getting a vaccine, wearing a mask, or most sadly people of color suffering from those actions of white people. What does that dialogue reveal?
Maybe it reveals that we cannot move forward with our talking heads. We have to have the courage and resolve to come back into our bodies and hearts and be willing to re-member the heartbeat of life that connects and maintains us. In meditation, one begins with centering on our breath—the flow of air in and out is something that has taken on a whole new meaning. The very act of sustaining our life has the key to making all of life work. Inhale. Exhale. Like the rhythm of ocean waves, we are called to be fully present to the life within us to experience what is visible and invisible underneath it all. When you concentrate on your breath, it stills the mind and relaxes the body. With practice, all separation dissipates, and you can become one with everything. Letting go leads us to atonement (at-one-ment) with each other.
Why do we hold onto those things that divide us? What is the point of being first if you shoved or hurt everyone else to get there? What is it about our culture that we value things of money only to realize in the end that it is all about love? We all post those great thoughtful memes about making a difference and being kind on our social media, but are we resolute to embody them every day?
The work of finding wholeness can get exhausting if we feel we are alone in the efforts. I write this weekly post to remind you that you are in good company with those of us who care. The word becoming flesh is dwelling in each of us. Our endeavors to become fully human through the resolutions we make in our hearts and the steps we take can lead us to a better future. It is time for us to let go and expand into our fullness.
Photo credit: Vince Moro capturing the light and shadows on the big pond at Chadds Peak Farm
“The way to find your own North Star is not to think or feel your way
forward but to dissolve the thoughts and feelings that make you miserable. You don’t have to learn your destiny–you already know it; you just have to unlearn the thoughts that blind you to what you know.”
When my son, Jack, was four years old, he became my teacher. We were getting ice cream, and I said to him, “Say thank you, Jack.” His little face looked straight at mine and said four little words. “I’m not your parrot.” While some would see this as hugely disrespectful, I have always had a sense of humor around the remarkable things kids say, but more importantly, he was letting me know his truth. He knew who he was and had his own voice. He didn’t need my input. There is a saying I once heard, “as in the beginning, so as in the middle, as in the end.” In other words, children show us who they are from the start, and my son has always had a firm sense of his inner being. We still laugh about this line as he is a teenager confronting big decisions. He knows he doesn’t need to live his life to meet what other’s say but follows his inner compass. He loves deeply and has compassion for life, but he also knows his destiny doesn’t rely on others’ thoughts and words.
Finding our truth can be challenging in our world today with the inundation of information and misinformation. Often what makes us fearful and miserable at the state of the world are words we hear from sources outside. They are taken for the truth when maybe it is an opinion or, even worse, a lie. We become parrots repeating stuff like “the country is divided” when there are plenty of real examples of how this is not so. We start to fall into group-think and pick sides based on false ideas. The most dangerous thing about repeating the division lie is that it creates separation and judgment. It lets us off the hook of reaching out to each other because why bother?
If we are honest, we will recognize we have been through major challenges before without this feeling of “never before so divided.” However, with all the social media “parrots” repeating this idea of division, again and again, it almost starts to feel true even though it is not. Some of my most respected friends have shared this idea, and yet I know these are people who are wise enough to know we have lived through the outrageous only to become stronger by coming together. Why is today different? It depends on where we point our inner compass.
As a child, I was taught to respect authority, but as I saw behind the curtain that sometimes leaders do the wrong things, I had to challenge that idea. When we put our power outside of our inner truth, we can feel lost and like the world is falling apart. Maybe sometimes it needs to fall apart in places so we wake up from that trance. We need to realign and get our bearings individually as well as collectively. Stepping out when it goes against the mainstream takes courage, but we aren’t here to live someone else’s story. We aren’t here to repeat what we are told but to explore our own path. This is not an invitation to drive home some egoic sense of power but to remind us of our connection to all of life and the importance of living from our core.
What is your truth? How do you discover that sense of inner knowing? I find that when I get close to the source and rhythm of life, the answers are readily available. I take a walk in nature or get my hands in the mud doing my gardening. Another way is through meditation or yoga when I silence the chatter in my mind and body to seek my connection to the wholeness that exists. Spring is a fabulous time to ask these big questions. All around us, as the seasons change to create anew, we are a part of that cycle of undivided wholeness. Like a seed destined to grow into something larger, we are called to manifest what is within us so that it may bless the world. Individually and collectively, our gifts will transform the world. The tension we are feeling now is the push that is trying to make that happen despite all resistance to stay small.
Becoming like a child and realizing your innate connection to the whole of life is the answer. When we recalibrate our compass, we recognize that we have all we need to get started. We don’t need another book, lecture, or someone else to give us the words. As in the beginning, we are love, in the middle, we are love, and in the end, we are love. The beliefs in division, scarcity, and separateness are what pulls apart today. Will we risk letting go of the judgment and over-consumption of what everyone else says so we can stay open to that mystery? Don’t be a parrot of someone else’s ideas. Find your truth. The world is waiting for your gifts.
Photo credit: My little Jackie boy so many years ago–love from the very start!
“I know for sure that we each contribute to the whole of what it means to be a human on earth. The fullness of our humanity can be expressed only when we are true to ourselves. Your real job on earth is to become more of who you really are. To live to the highest degree what is pure, what is honest, what is natural, what feels like the real you.”-Oprah Winfrey
When I was a kid, I used to love setting the table for dinner each night. There usually were fourteen people (12 kids and my parents) at our table, give or take a few neighbor kids or girlfriends. It drove my mom crazy because I had to use the real napkins and make sure we had all the pieces in line for each place setting. Someone would have to do all those dishes because she didn’t believe in having a dishwasher. “Why would I need a dishwasher?” she would say. “I’ve got twelve.”
I knew intuitively at a very early age that there was power at the table and bringing people together. It was so much more fun if it felt like a celebration–who cared what we were serving! It was about creating a space for the spirit and the eyes for a beautiful vision. Flowers in the center and food on the table, I don’t know if anyone enjoyed it as much as I did. Even today, it is what I do for “fun.”
Fast forward about twenty years, and I was quickly picking up the vibe that all that “fussy stuff” was not necessary and a waste of time. Why not just buy everything prepared? Check the box. Yet making the world beautiful was how my spirit soared. Even as a working mom, I wanted to set these moments each night because it was the one time in the day away from the noise and the screens where I could share my love. Yet, I really struggled with this piece of myself. It seemed too weak and too traditional, so I often downplayed it.
The roads I have explored in search of creating “powerful change” outside of what I know to be true have been such lonely roads. There is this dominating vision of what has value in our society, and it often loses sight of the subtle ways we give and receive love. Somehow we trick ourselves into believing the battle and struggle is what it takes to get to the top and to have worth. When these moments are over, it is easy to feel like we hardly know ourselves. We wander and wonder, searching deep in our souls for purpose and reason to be. Yet, the answer is usually waiting there for us to re-discover it. It is something we have known all along but maybe forgot. It is what brings us joy and connection to life.
It is the little things that make a cherished life like making a simple dinner because it gives us joy to bring something meaningful to the table. The things we do that are easy sometimes seem like nothing when in actuality, they are everything. When find what comes natural to us, we find our inner nature–our fingerprint on life. I thought a lot about what was missing in the world that I had seen, and it was that sense of joy in coming together to share in something wonderful. It was what I knew as a kid to be important.
In exploring my thoughts over the past few years, I wrote about all that in The Civil Graces Project, but this week I have been thinking a lot about the word authentic and discovered I hadn’t included it in the list of the civil graces. When I was running, I knew I had to speak from my heart if I would ever be able to look myself in the eyes again. People were constantly saying I was authentic, but what were they seeing? It was so obvious I didn’t see it–it was the call to bring everyone to the table, and I had been doing that my whole life.
Looking to the origins of authentic, it is a combination of words, as most words are: autos “self” + hentes “doer, being, to accomplish, achieve.” Being authentic is when we accomplish being the self that we were meant to be. When we show up as the real deal and not some knock off listening outside for what is essential. I love reading when Oprah Winfrey decided to do her show in alignment with her authenticity, she totally transformed her life and business. She made more money and became more influential than ever before. While that wasn’t her main goal, changing lives was, and her ability to be authentic has allowed her to open doors for others. That wouldn’t have been possible had she gone any other way or listened to what others were telling her to do.
I love making a contribution to the world, and I love the idea of making a lasting impact to help the human race. That desire is what led me to leave my security and run for something I had a minimal guarantee of winning. But going into that process revealed my authentic love and taught me something that is shaping my life as I move forward today. We have to remember who we are at our core and not discount anything based on other’s impressions of its value. We never know how our lives touch another. It’s okay to reach beyond, take what you love, and bring meaning to it.
That little girl who used to set the table each night is now a woman seeking a way to set the table that the world might come together. Why the table? It is where we can be nourished and healed. It is a place I know that is filled with magic and invitation. It is the place where we can fully be ourselves and bring our authentic gifts together. We need a space of healing and a home where we make that more perfect union for all. I have been practicing all this time to make that a reality, and I hope you will join me at the table!
Photo credit: Vince Moro of our gathering with the Gesu School at Chadds Peak Farm–one of my favorite memories at the table.
“Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden
If you have read any of my posts or my book, you know I am intrigued by the deeper meaning behind the words that we use every day. Looking at the etymology or origins of words often takes a concept we thought we knew and gives it new life. It comes closer to us.
One word I have been thinking about lately is incarnation–the act of being made flesh, to embody (to be in a body). It comes from the Latin word caro, which means flesh. We are made–which suggests we have little choice in the matter. We come to be, and here’s the twist…it is up to us how we will come into our being-ness. We are given the gift to live this life in these bodies, but what we experience and how we move through life is the gift we give back.
There is a constant motion toward something throughout life yet not always recognizing our interconnection with one another and our natural world. Do we take moments to embody what our lives mean and what we express? Are we awake to the grace that sustains us? It is as Ralph Waldo Emerson poetically stated, “The squirrel hoards nuts and the bee gathers honey without knowing what they do, and they are thus provided for without selfishness or disgrace.” We may not hoard nuts or honey, but we race about trying to accomplish, provide for what we cherish, and gather what is important to us. At the same time, the sun rises, air flows, and resources run in various degrees all over the world. We have a new day that is ours to live no matter what our situation may be. The work of our lives is never finished…we are always on the dawn of a new incarnation.
Now, if this is happening to each of us, it is happening collectively for all of us. That means our communities, societies, and world are at the break of a new dawn every day. We are never finished. While that may seem exhausting, I hope it inspires you to look forward to the possibilities of what we can be. I also wish this message was the one offered in the main-stream instead of the myth of division. Wouldn’t it be incredible instead of talking of civil war, we saw the power of our words and instead embraced civil grace?
Here is a piece of homework that I want you to do–in the next week, pay attention to how many times you hear the word “divided” or “divide.” It is time that we become aware and awake to the subtle message of division we hear and challenge it. We are not a nation or world divided, and those who spread that message have something to gain from it. It is time we embody wholeness and understand that life is a spectrum of experiences. What we pay attention to incarnates and comes into being. Why would we want to spend any focus on division when we can create something better? Why not embody that creative process that seeks solutions instead of watching for every disaster? We begin to collect that which sustains us, and we become a gift for each other. Living mindfully, we can transform not only ourselves at a personal level in our body, mind, and spirit, but we also can manifest something more significant for our world that makes space for it all.
A new day is dawning. Your ideas and your being are essential to this journey; otherwise, you wouldn’t be here. Imagine life as a potluck party where we all bring something to share. What is the gift that you incarnate? What is the gift you will share? The morning star will be here again and again to remind us that our presence is needed each day. Let’s build a bigger table so there is space for all.
Photo credit: Edwin Williams Photography at Chadds Peak Farm for one of our dinner parties before the pandemic. We hope to gather soon! We miss being with all of you!
“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” -Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address
We are a nation whose origin was in revolution, and maybe that is why we continue to wrestle with each other on the journey. What we are engaged in is something fragile and ever-evolving. We have always had heated debates over the various issues and injustices confronting us. We usually find our way through them and resolve to move forward, often imperfectly together. However, of late, it seems like there are too many who are in it to win it for themselves. Being someone who deeply respects our democratic process, I cringe when I see representatives taking their oath lightly or worse, becoming obstructionists to score a few points on social media or toward political ambition. Rather than speak truth to power, some believe in taking petty potshots or carelessly endangering their constituents to make a point. It can be easy to lose interest or hope in our system when it gets bogged down with such partisan rancor. Even more concerning are those who think we should abandon the process altogether and resign the people’s sovereign power to just one person. Those of us who believe in our democracy cannot sit on the sidelines, hoping this will work itself out.
Underneath it all, I believe we, the people, have a crucial role that we cannot ignore. With so much on the line, what can any of us do to preserve, protect and defend our democracy? As I have written in this blog and in my book, one of the most important things we can do is recognize our shared humanity and take action to foster better relationships in our communities. We need to realize what is lost by silencing each other, invalidating truth, and grasping at sides. It is a challenge to engage in compassionate dialogue about our experiences with one another, let alone when there is tension. We each have unique vantage points, and politics has been on hyper-drive to create divisions. Yet, we each can take steps to heal our communities, and that collective work can truly change our country for the better.
For example, each time I speak to a particular family member who has different political views, it at first can seem so unreal–how is it that we grew up in the same household? Yet, why start on politics at all? As I seek to learn more about them and their interests, I open the door for a deeper conversation. When controversial topics arise, gently I have asked, “where did you hear that?” or “how did you come to know that?” Sometimes we can unwind the web of misinformation that arises many times from fear. We don’t have to have malice or put them down or even get a change of mind, but we can begin to understand where this energy is coming from and move to a more hospitable place. We can talk about hard things with love. Sometimes the most demanding work is with those who are closest to us because they know our buttons.
How can we move the needle from being accusatory to inquiring to learn more? For starters, this work is more productive when we don’t see each other as enemies. While there are definitely some bad actors out there looking for reasons for war, they cannot stand up to the power of communities who are united to work things out. The central ideas that held us together from the start, what I call the civil graces, are guides that can bring us back to this generation’s core work. We can also do our inner work to learn what gets us worked up and understand what is behind that–Am I worried about how I will look? Maybe I will be rejected or yelled at for what I believe. What if they stop loving me and things get worse? Perhaps I don’t know everything. What if this will never get better? How can I love someone who believes in these things? By seeing our vulnerabilities in the situation, we can reconnect to our human link with each other.
What does it mean to be a citizen of this nation? What is our obligation to one another? How do we hold the legacy of those who gave their lives defending this country and the principles we profess? I just finished reading Dan Rather’s book, What Unites Us, and I highly recommend it. His perspective as a journalist for over six decades in times of intense American debate is one of deep wisdom. The book’s last line is our central challenge. “If we stand firm in our better values, do not shy away from challenging injustice, and can talk to one another rather than past one another, I am confident we can find the common ground that unites us.” These lines remind me of what Lincoln was summoning of us in his Second Inaugural Address.
We have to decide what we stand for and be willing to tackle those issues that have plagued our nation, like discrimination, xenophobia, and income inequality, but we can do it with love. We need to make space for everyone at the table by supporting fair voting rights and ending the practice of gerrymandering. If, as a candidate, your message doesn’t resound with most people, maybe it’s time to understand why because fixing the election is not the answer. We need a representative government and not one in which a minority holds the nation back from doing what is essential for the betterment of all Americans. We battle the same battle year after year if you stand back and look at it–whether or not we recognize that every citizen has a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The inequality in our nation has brought us once again to a boiling point, and we have to ask, “What are we afraid of that would make us hold anyone back from manifesting their full positive potential?”
We landed on the moon and are continuing to explore outer space in our recent voyage to Mars. To move beyond this time of uncertainty in our nation, we also have to explore the inner space–in ourselves and in between people. By opening our hearts to the adventure of learning from each other, I believe we will discover the steps that will lead us closer to that more perfect union.
Photo credit: Outside our barn at Chadds Peak Farm by Edwin Williams Photography, LLC
“Be as a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, still she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings.” -Victor Hugo
One of the most essential efforts today is to rebuild and heal our human infrastructure and find our way back to one another. Despite all that is happening around us, to realize our shared humanity is to discover a whole new level of freedom in our world. Imagine being in a place of mutual respect and love regardless of one’s origins, politics, or status. Our diversity and differing views, so long as we aren’t hurting each other, are gifts. Shouldn’t that be exciting that we are different? What bothers us about one another? Why do we give this myth of division so much power and tiptoe around the things that matter?
As I get older, I realize the way people respond to things tells very little about what they are confronting and more about their character and what they are carrying inside themselves. On a personal level, the people and situations that get me tied up in knots usually relate to something that I need to forgive and let go. It usually is a pain point…ouch!…hitting a nerve I had forgotten about or maybe want to forget about.
Looking around the world right now, so many people in the headlines are being offended and offensive. What is it about being an obstructionist that creates a sense of power? I shared with a friend that it reminds me of when I was a small child riding the school bus and seeing the attention another child got from the others by swearing. Everyone was at the same time awed and in disbelief by this bold use of vocabulary. Wow! He must be cool, I thought, to have that much attention! I decided maybe I would give it a try at home, and unfortunately, I received quick discipline instead of my hoped-for reaction! I see that little cursing child in these modern-day characters in a charade of lies and vulgarities calling, begging to quench the never-ending appetite for attention and power. Maybe if they had my mom, they would have gotten the lesson early on!
Yet, society and the media often give artificial and temporary power to those who create news. Seldom does anyone going about leading with love and intention get the attention. How many times in the past four years did we grab our phones, looking to see, “what happened while we slept?” People doing what is expected of them does not get attention. Kindness is usually only reported when it is in such contrast to someone else not doing their job. We hold on to this sense that all the world is going crazy when it is only a few bad players.
We do a similar thing by empowering our emotions when we hold onto hurt feelings and anger. We shut down, keep a grudge, and mark that person as “on my list!” It may seem like we are in power of the situation, having the other person “hostage” in our rage. It gives us a story to tell and the importance of being wronged by another. Yet, that myth keeps us from experiencing the healing that leads to our freedom which is not contingent upon the other person’s remorse. It is about letting go, moving on, and realizing we have wings to take us higher. Author and activist Marianne Williamson expressed it beautifully, “The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world…We are not held back by the love we didn’t receive in the past, but by the love we’re not extending in the present.” I’m not talking about those who commit crimes–they have to be held accountable for their actions. I am talking about the rest of us and what is needed to heal our country instead of letting some tear it apart.
In a time when we really need to see each other, staying in the place of outrage and shock pushes us away from one another. I’m not the first to say social media is part of the blame–the algorithms feed what they think we need and want to see. But are we brave enough to ask someone who thinks differently how they came upon their ideas in an empathetic way? Are we willing to risk the discomfort by asking questions to understand and diffuse the tensions between us? Reading books about building community and union helps me find the words to say. Educating myself on where some of the conspiracies arise gives me compassion for those who fell into that rabbit hole and, if they are willing, to have the courage to talk with them. Often, it is fear that we won’t have enough, be enough, or get enough. I get that. Growing up in a huge family, I struggle with that myth all the time. It causes me to stare at the ceiling late at night wondering if I’m enough and to get upset when I hear someone challenging what I believe is true.
We are all on a frail branch right now that feels like it could snap at any minute. Some would like to bounce on that branch until it breaks, but most of us are not that. Most of us just want to sing our song and find our place in the world. Right now, I think so many of us miss being with each other, and it hurts in unexpected ways. Our whole world, at times, feels unexpected and unsure. This can bottle up inside us. We all need attention by paying attention to the spaces that connect. The fact is, we all have wings to get off this shakey branch to find our freedom and reconnection with one another at a higher level. What are we waiting for?
Photo credit–My backyard at Rebel Hall had the most amazing 200+ year old trees. I loved to watch the sunrise with them reaching their branches to greet the dawn!
I started thinking a lot about leadership and how too many are in the news for shirking their responsibilities or making outright lies. It is easy to believe that “that’s just the way it is,” but I would have to disagree. There are way, way more of us doing the work that needs to be done each day. Though we don’t make the headlines much, our love and commitment make the world go round. I remember today a dear community leader who passed yesterday–she lost her battle to cancer, but the effect of her love remains on all the lives she touched. She was someone who would look at you with her eyes and say more than words could convey. She was there to serve and offer her life to wherever she could be of use. My son called her his second grandma because even in her later years, she was active in his boy scout troop, and I admired not only the care she gave to these young scouts but also her willingness to remind them who they were and not to let mischief get in the way. I also think of the visionaries who look forward to creating a more beautiful world for all. They usually are quietly pressing along, but they leave signs of inspiration and wonder if we are open to recognizing it.
To those who are struggling in this time, there are so many of us who care. Just raise a hand and call for help—we are here for you. 💗
I want to share this beautiful poem by Marge Piercy that calls us all to embrace the heart of service by doing the work that is front of us.
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
Marge Piercy, “To be of use” from Circles on the Water. Copyright © 1982 by Marge Piercy.
Photo credit: Edwin Williams Photography LLC
“The nation is not divided. You go out there and take a look and talk to people; you have fringes on both ends. But it’s not nearly as divided as we make it out to be, and we have to bring it together.” -President Joe Biden
It has been a challenging couple of years to write about “not being a divided nation” because there was so much evidence that I was either crazy or insensitive to the world’s realities. I assure you that I questioned myself so often, especially being socially isolated due to the pandemic, seeing civil unrest grow over racial inequality, and finally witnessing an insurrection at the Capitol this past month. The news that we witness each day definitely shows proof of division. Yet, I kept coming back to the conversations I have had over the years, especially during my political campaign where people from all walks and beliefs shared their dreams and hopes of a better world for themselves and their communities.
Last night I heard something I wasn’t expecting. During a televised national town hall, a participant questioned President Biden about how we can deal with our divided nation. Without hesitation, he said that we have to stop looking at our country as divided. “The nation is not divided. You go out there and take a look and talk to people; you have fringes on both ends. But it’s not nearly as divided as we make it out to be, and we have to bring it together.” In that instant, as I heard those words, I jumped up and said, “YES!! Absolutely right on!”
It was like getting a hefty dose of affirmation, and it is the first time I have heard it spoken by any of our leaders. What he articulated is big news because it has the possibility to open the conversation on a national level and change the narrative we continue to tell. Division and belief in separation are myths that cause us to act against one another, but if we can rekindle the hope that we are all working together on our part, we can create the change that is needed. America has done this again and again. I am so grateful that he shared this insight.
We have to keep that dialogue alive by reaching out to each other and talking from our experience. Regardless of party affiliation, these small conversations around the table have always shaped our national discourse. Over history, having a debate over drinks or dinner is how issues got hammered out. It wasn’t by getting the most likes on your tweets. We have been doing this from the very beginning, and our challenge is to find ways back to each other.
One question I have wondered is, do we really understand what a democracy is? Do we know the basic tenets of our government? Many of the things said by politicians these past few weeks make me wonder. Perhaps getting more acquainted with the process will reveal that our government doesn’t just rely on our leaders, but it counts on every one of us doing our part and becoming educated on the various sides of the issues. Unfortunately, it seems like online media, network talk shows, and conspiracies overrun facts. Propaganda is not new–there have always been outlandish statements floating into our discourse. What I believe has changed so much is how we air out these ideas and who we choose as authorities of information. As we expand and debate, we need all the voices to join in and not let any one voice bully or speak to silence others. That is why it is not only important to vote but to voice your ideas and be aware of their impact. Just think about any time in America when things were out of balance, we needed people of courage and integrity to right the ship and remind us of our collective well-being.
Underneath it all, for our democracy to work, we have to continue to develop a strong sense of principles or, as I term them, Civil Graces to guide us in navigating a way forward. These timeless ideals remind us of what Abraham Lincoln phrased as “the better angels of our nature.” They reconnect us in a shared sense of what can unite us and are more powerful than what tries to divide us. I believe we are starting to move in that direction, and those who try to continue inciting violence may be surprised when they meet a renewed sense of purpose in our nation. Only we can decide if that is true. Our job is to do the work to make this change happen within ourselves and to encourage it in others. Take time to write, read, and speak about our democratic principles. Help dispel the myths you hear with empathy and compassion, for as we have discussed, many people lose their way because of fear. Invite them back by listening to their story, and get to the heart of how they came to see things in a particular way. It can be challenging, but start small and don’t focus on changing minds, but connect as human beings, heart to heart, one conversation at a time.
We have a saying in our house, “you are what you think about all day long.” It is time to foster ideas that bring people together and work for our shared future. When we start to think with a different awareness, the world around us will open doors and reignite our imaginations for the better world that we know is possible. Let’s reconnect with one another and if you need some ideas on how to get started, I got a book that is full of them!
Photo credit: Vince Moro. During my campaign we were at an air balloon festival, and one of the balloon owners needed help bringing the balloon down. Everyone jumped in to help and it created a beautiful image of strangers working together for a common purpose.
“We cannot expect to change what’s in the world unless we first awaken what lies deeply within.” -Dr. Tererai Trent
“Is this America?” That is the question that has been posed to us in the impeachment trial this week, and it is an essential question. As much as it falls on the shoulders of our elected leaders, it lands upon each of us to answer that question. What does it mean to be an American, to live in America…what does our country stand for today? Are we willing to stand up to live what we answer?
I am grateful to have been born in a space and time where change is possible. Along with working on my dreams and goals, I carry a quote my dad often said: “to whom much is given, much is required in return.” There was always a sense that we needed to give back and serve the larger whole. There are too many examples that would make one hang their head low today. We have definitely witnessed our shadow side in the last few years. It is easy to look outside to what is happening around us and shake our heads. It is easy to blame our pain on someone or something else. In a culture of lies and soundbites, it is easy to pass the buck. We have significant challenges in this nation, but I believe it is time to look in the mirror and decide that the “buck stops here.”
From the beginning, The Civil Graces Project challenged that division is a choice, not a given in America. We can disagree and have diverse ways to see the world, but the minute we claim the excuse of a divided nation, it takes us off the hook. America is not a nation for people who want to sit on the sidelines, and it isn’t a place where anything is a given. We are a massive collection of diversity in ideas, experiences, and visions. We each fall on different points of that spectrum, and the beauty is realizing that we are always reinventing ourselves. That is what America is–it is the people. We, the People are who come together every day to establish a more perfect union.
But the work of the people is up to the people. It is time for once and all for us to recognize and explore the beauty of who we are. We are not one race, creed, sex, orientation, religion, age or ability. We have different interests, work in different ways, have different experiences that have brought us this way. The image of America being this homogenous place has mostly been a lie. We are diverse, and that is our strength. Our diversity has been used to single us out and divide all too often. But in reality, if we see our diversity as the gift that it is, our options are endless. It is time we dedicate our purpose and our mission as a nation to living up to the ideals we hold self-evident.
That work starts with every one of us doing the work on ourselves to explore the opportunities, dream big dreams, and do the job to lift ourselves and our communities forward. That is America. We have been engaged in an ongoing struggle to redefine what it means to be a citizen, and those who want to push us back are wasting their time. They are missing an opportunity to be involved in the most remarkable expansion of human innovation and ideas. They allow fear to hold them in a world that is a myth. They try to hold back the sheer energy of this country, and in the end, they lose. America’s strength comes from our willingness to become all that we can to create a life of contribution, meaning, and purpose. Our lives are woven into each other by the fact that we share in building and telling the story.
We see the damage that happens when fear and hatred rear up and the scars they leave behind. We have to hold those who threaten our rule of law accountable because for democracy to survive, all are equal before the law. We have to recognize again that the tremendous advances we have made in this country came from people of all walks of life. It was by pushing through boundaries and limitations that we move forward.
As I write this, I know many people are scared and suffering. This has been a tough time in so many ways: the images and things we see and hear cause such distrust. The idea of division makes us pick a side and find the other side wrong, outrageous, and evil. While there are definitely actions of danger and destruction, most of us work to create a life of meaning, prosperity, and freedom. I still believe in what we can create together. It starts with getting into the core of who we each are and asking, “how may I serve?” But the bigger question is…are we willing?
If you are willing, The Civil Graces Project offers thoughts on how to bring this to life every day: Hospitality, Courage, Confidence, Generosity, Freedom, Humility, Equality, Attitude, Awareness, Respect, Gratitude, Responsibility, Justice, Forgiveness, Inspiration, Compassion, Integrity, Vulnerability, Patience, and Perseverance. Pick one or a few, and get started. Connect with your heart to explore what your purpose could be right where you are, and then go connect with others in that space. We have such an incredible moment. Are we willing?
Photo credit: Vince Moro window by the Brandywine River
“And so to love this country and to love humanity is to push humanity constructively to be a better form of itself, and there’s no way we’re going to be a better form, there’s no way we can build a better humanity, while we still have on the shackles of racism.” –Ibram X. Kendi
Today Officer Brian Sicknick lies in state at the United States Capitol, where he was slain by an angry mob less than four weeks ago. This violent crowd was motivated to attack the very democracy that gives them the freedom to protest and assemble as they had that day for a rally. Why? Because they believed in a lie. It was a lie repeated so often that it started to become their truth. But it still remains a lie, and several people are dead, traumatized or seriously injured.
Big lies have killed many people, and one lie in particular. Because of that lie, many people have been unjustly murdered and discriminated against throughout our history, and it is time that we confront it. Some want just to move on and forget the insurrection, but the stories must be told. There must be an accounting and a return to reality and facts. For the truth to set us free and our democracy to survive, we must get to the heart of it all.
One of the reasons I believe we have lost our way is because we haven’t been honest about our past. This month, when we remember Black History, we celebrate notable Black citizens’ achievements and heroic examples. Only recently have we as a nation begun to dig into the truth of our past, one built on slavery and other human beings’ oppression. Marches and calls to justice continue decade after decade. It is time to answer the call. We cannot heal as a nation until we can bring equality to all people and make atonement for our past. We do this by reading, listening, learning, and willing to see through anothers’ eyes. However we also have to get active, change policy, and do the work of transformation. We have to see the insurrection for what it was–the uprising of the biggest lie ever told–that skin tone determines superiority.
Recently I heard a TED Talk presented by journalist and documentarian John Biewen, who explains where this lie originated and why. In his talk, he shares a conversation he had with Dr. Ibram Kendi, one of America’s foremost historians, leading anti-racist scholars and author of the just published, Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019. Through all Dr. Kendi’s research, he traced the lie back to the writings of one man. These written words literally invented the difference between blackness and whiteness to justify the sale of a group of people for profit. It was a tool meant to divide and disadvantage some people to the advantage of others. Even though scientific evidence proves that we are 99.9% the same, this lie has lived on and has allowed the oppression and subjugation of people of color. That lie got turned into laws and policies that allowed one to have more power and possessions based on skin color.
It all started with a lie.
So here is where it gets intertwined into the attack that we all witnessed at the Capitol. Anytime you have power over another, there needs to be a way to continue that, and the best way to do that is to create separation and blame. Creating false narratives about people who don’t deserve to be here are stealing your job, taking more than their fair share, and causing crime is the way to create fear and distrust. Continue the lie saying people voted who should not have and that there was fraud because of it. Create the threatening emergency that you need to fight for what’s yours. It was a lie that fueled empowered white supremacy that attacked the very foundations of our democracy for all the world to see.
So what has been genuinely stolen from us by believing in a lie? It wasn’t the election–every state election authority and judicial ruling has proved our election was fair and accurate. What has been lost because we continue as a nation to believe the big lie of white supremacy is our very soul. Our democracy is suffering and continues to be threatened.
It doesn’t have to be this way. As Dr. Kendi explains, what if we consider making all things equitable; wouldn’t we all have more? We only have to look to other democracies to see better healthcare and better safety-nets for their people. As he continues, a life of equality and justice is in all our best interests. We just have to commit ourselves to become anti-racists and work for policies that end the lie. A country that recognizes our common humanity and every human being’s value truly becomes one of great wealth and strength. It comes down to embracing the Civil Graces of humility and vulnerability to end the lie.
What happened at the Capitol building is a symptom of a growing infection in the heart of our democracy. It will not immediately be resolved but will take the willingness of each of us to engage in the work. First, we must confront the lie and hold those who perpetrate it accountable. Secondly, we must move to change policy in the direction of justice for all people. That is the collective work. Individually and simultaneously, we must root out the lies we carry and replace them with the truth. It is time we live up to the reality that all are created equal.
I want to close with something Dr. Kendi shared in his talk that he wrote regarding a picture of his four-year old daughter:
“I love, and because I love, I resist. There have been many theories on what’s fueling the growing demonstrations against racism in public and private. Let me offer another one: love. We love. We know the lives of our loved ones, especially our black loved ones, are in danger under the violence of racism. People ask me all the time what fuels me. It is the same: love, love of this little girl, love of all the little and big people who I want to live full lives in the fullness of their humanity, not barred by racist policies, not degraded by racist ideas, not terrorized by racist violence. Let us be anti-racist. Let us defend life. Let us defend our human rights to live and live fully, because we love… At the heart of being anti-racist is love, is loving one’s country, loving one’s humanity, loving one’s relatives and family and friends, and certainly loving oneself. And I consider love to be a verb. I consider love to be, I’m helping another, and even myself, to constantly grow into a better form of myself, of themselves, that they’ve expressed who they want to be. And so to love this country and to love humanity is to push humanity constructively to be a better form of itself, and there’s no way we’re going to be a better form, there’s no way we can build a better humanity, while we still have on the shackles of racism.”
We must find the truth in love and in seeking justice. All those lives lost to the big lies told call us to take on the hard work of making reparations with one another and our past. It can begin when we commit in our heart to ending the separation and the racism in ourselves and our communities and make a choice of the heart…a choice to love.
Photo credit: Vince Moro during a peace rally following the violence in Charlottesville in 2017.
“But dignity is also corroded by poverty no matter how poetically we invest the humble with simple graces and charm. No worker can maintain his morale or sustain his spirit if in the market place his capacities are declared to be worthless to society.” ― Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?
“Do you feel depressed? Am I the only one?” I hear this conversation in many circles, and it is happening enough that it is time to write about it and expand the dialogue. Humans weren’t designed always to deal with the essential questions alone. A year has passed. About this time last year, we started to discover that our lives and those of our loved ones would be forever altered by an impartial and relentless pandemic. We are struggling with the loss of loved ones, staying-in-place, wrestling with jobs, paying the bills, school schedules, restless kids, civil unrest, and nowhere to run. And at times…it feels like things are getting meaner than ever.
While many of us are grateful at the dawn of new leadership in Washington, we are watching the scene of political leaders who are so disconnected from our situation and hell-bent on their own survival, they forget about ours. We read about billionaires quibbling over frivolous lawsuits throwing out millions that could be used in ten thousand other ways to ease someone’s pain. Wanting so dearly to help move the country forward only to find friends caught up in conspiracies, and they think we are delusional and too trusting. How do we find a starting point to begin to fix this? How can we have dialogues about the things that matter when we continuously have to agree to disagree? Where do we go from here?
When confronted with current challenges, I often look back and ask, have we been here before? If so, are there keys to help us find a path or way forward out of the storm? What can we do to heal our country when the foes are some of our own citizens? What is at the heart of their unrest? Why do some look to false narratives, and how do we know the truth? How do we hold them accountable and at the same time address the issues involved? Is this the new normal?
One big area I think we as a nation have to address is the growing economic disparity. More people are out of work today, and many small businesses struggle to stay afloat due to the pandemic. Did you know that small businesses make up over 44% of U.S. economic activity and create more new hires, innovation, and competition than any other business sector?* Their survival is tied with our own. They need support beyond lip service.
It is also time for a liveable wage so that an honest day’s work equates to a fair day’s wages. I know there are arguments that try to say this will kill business, but is that the truth or just what we keep telling ourselves? We have to address the tax code and the system that allows the wealth to be concentrated at the top. That is not what makes a great nation. It is what makes an oligarchy and an autocracy. Early on in politics, I was told “follow the money,” and I think it’s the case for this as well. We have to follow the money and make sure it’s giving everyone an equal opportunity to live a life and take care of those they love. That’s not called socialism. It’s called the American middle class, and we used to have one. It is about the Civil Grace of Integrity and realizing there has to be a reconciling on where we spend our money and how we help people build a better life in this nation.
Creating a civil society means being aware of the needs of all the members. We can’t continue to expect people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps if they don’t have boots or if the system isn’t equal. While not all our issues are solved by economics, many of them will be. I looked into the situations of some of the people who rioted the Capitol earlier this month and found out while some of them had more than enough money, many more are struggling. They have bought into lies and conspiracies, trying to make sense of their own problems. They hear someone promising to take away their pain, and he became their savior so much that they risked their lives attacking the very democracy that gives them their freedoms. They felt they had nothing to lose. This is a sad reality, but it doesn’t have to stay this way. We have been here before.
In Joe Scarborough’s book on Harry Truman, Saving Freedom, there is a quote from Truman’s address to Congress in 1947 that feels relevant to this situation. In post-war Europe and the Middle East, many nation-states were on the brink of disaster. They had been beaten up and had no way to dig themselves out. The Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine were strategies that America implemented to help our allies. We eased their financial burdens by giving support through many ways so they could rebuild. These were Truman’s words:
“The seeds of totalitarian regimes are nurtured by misery and want. They spread and grow in the evil soil of poverty and strife. They reach their full growth when the hope of a people for a better life has died. We must keep that hope alive.“
People want to control their destiny and live a life to provide for themselves and their loved ones. That is the core of the American Dream. We want a place to live and a decent income for our labors. Imagine if we could redirect the money we spend on creating chaos, cronyism, and war and used it to educate, build infrastructure, invest in our communities, promote equality, and improve healthcare for everyone. These aren’t radical ideas, they are human ideals, and we need to remember them.
And here is a note to our elected leaders: While we have long been told not to ask what America can do for us but what we can do, America is tired of the fighting, and guess what? We showed up in record numbers to stand up for our democracy. Isn’t it time for both parties to set aside their differences and strive to be an example? Isn’t it about is time to let go of personal ambition, to start working together, and to begin again to rebuild our nation? It is time to stop worrying about who gets the credit and just do the work, knowing when the water rises, all boats float up. A movement like that would change the world and the lives of all of us. There will always be a few dissenters, but let’s get started with those who are tired of the games and gridlock.
We have to get our country back on track. Back to school and work, back to exploring our opportunities, and back to each other. The depression comes when we lose hope. It is up to every one of us, including those sent to represent us, to take our roles seriously. Words don’t help when they fall on deaf ears, so I hope these words ring true. America’s shadow side is crushing our spirits and creating despair. It’s time to stop bickering, turn on the lights, and get to work. Together.
*According to the U.S. Small Business Administration
Photo credit: Vince Moro, a Reading 100 Machine we found in France–it was sent from Reading, PA to help rebuild the economy after World War II in France.