A prayer…

September 6, 2015

The picture of the dead baby on the beach in Turkey brought me to my knees.  We already knew that there was a nasty war going on in Syria, that the hopeful spirit that permeated the so-called “Arab Spring” triggered a vicious crackdown, followed by an armed rebellion that turned into a godawful mess of a war.  I honestly haven’t followed it closely…just filed it away in my brain under “Heartbreaking situations far away:  nothing much I can do.”

But that picture- which was everywhere this week- online, on the front page of the paper, on television- demanded that I open the embarrassingly thin file, and dig a little deeper into the heartbreaking situation.  I learned that almost a quarter of a million people, half of whom are civilians, have been killed so far.  I learned that the international bodies that I trust to work on my behalf- the US government and the United Nations- have not been terribly effective, hampered by the danger and the complexity of the situation.  Sure, sanctions have been imposed- by the US, the UN, and even, in a historic first, by the Arab League- but they haven’t been successful.  11 million people have fled the country.  An estimated 7.6 million are internally displaced.  Consider that Syria’s pre-war population was only 23 million- 18.6 out of 23 million are displaced.  Over 80 %.  Those are huge numbers.  It’s hard to wrap our heads around them.

But we can wrap our hearts around a dead baby on a beach- a dead baby who could be our baby…child, grandchild, niece, nephew.  It breaks us open.

All of us are powerless in the face of huge numbers.  What moves us, what changes the world, are personal connections.  Stories.  Relationships.  Images that break our hearts forge bonds between us.  If we let it in, the compassion and empathy we feel for that one small human and his family transforms us, and we, in turn, help to transform the world.

But only if we ask ourselves, “what can we do?”  What can we do that is real? And helpful?  Only if we learn.

It may be that we’ll see more compassion toward undocumented immigrants here in the US as a result of this one photo.  It may be that people’s natural compassion for this family will cause them to reconsider their stand on immigration reform; to soften it if they are hard liners, to firm it up if they are in favor of compassionate reform.  (Even Trump knows better than to rant and rave about those ‘furiners’ who are ‘trying to steal our jobs’ right now.)

Maybe, just maybe, this is a moment of evolution for our species, as we all come to consensus that standing by while refugees drown trying to get to safety is completely unacceptable, and collectively find the will to do something about it.

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Broken Hearts are Messy

August 10, 2015

I’ve said before that change and progress on Big Complex Issues require letting our hearts break.  This is true of stopping climate change; to find our way forward, we need to feel and learn from the heartbreak of looking at our beautiful planet and acknowledging all the damage that has been done.  It’s also true of eradicating racism.  The reality of our history- that this country was built on the bodies of Native Americans and African slaves- is beyond heartbreaking.  The reality of our present is equally difficult to swallow. Yet we must take it in, must be present to this heart-breaking reality, if we are to have a hope of finding our way to wholeness.

Taking it in breaks our hearts, and broken hearts hurt.  Our reluctance to feel pain all too often keeps us from facing reality.  We numb ourselves.  We build homes in denial instead of just using it as it is meant to be used- a way station on our way to deeper acceptance and greater wisdom.

This week, though, we’re being reminded that not only does that necessary heartbreak hurt, it makes a godawful mess.  When we are feeling those difficult feelings, we can’t always access our best and most graceful communication techniques.  We can’t always maintain open minds and hearts when our hearts are in pieces on the ground at our feet.  We can’t always avoid trampling on or rolling over pieces of other people’s hearts when they’re all over the place, like legos after a kindergarten play date.

This is why we need to try to be gentle, kind, and forgiving with friends who are having a hard time on this heartbreak-and-healing journey.  Like the people who are responding with anger and defensiveness to the action at Bernie Sander’s rally in Seattle last week.  Like the people who committed acts of violence in Ferguson last night.  Like me.  Like all of us.

At the same time, we need to hold ourselves and one another accountable; it’s not fair to ask other people to clean up our broken-heart messes.  We need to be patient; if we tidy everything up too quickly, we compromise our ability to learn from the mess.  We need to be aware of privilege, need to remember that the ability to live in denial is a privilege in and of itself.  People who are living in black or brown skin can’t take even short breaks in the imaginary land of “we are a post-racial society.”

No one said it would be easy.  Progress has never been a smooth, straight path.  Can we let the bumps in the road be just bumps- and not turn them into mountains?  Can we let the unexpected twists and turns be part of the adventure, not proof that we don’t know where we’re going?  Can we let the mess be…messy?

The other thing I like to say is that when we let our hearts break, and then heal, they will be bigger and stronger and more resilient.  This has been my experience.  When I’m brave enough to feel the fullness of the grief, despair, and pain, on the other side of the feelings I’ve found peace, acceptance, and a willingness to change.  While my ego longs for tidiness and control, my soul longs for justice, and the only way to get there is to embrace the pain and the messiness of my broken heart.

March for Survival

September 19, 2014

Each of us can take steps to reduce our carbon footprint.  However, without changes made on the level of national and international policy, the level of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere will continue to rise to the point where less and less of the earth’s surface are hospitable to life- human, plant and animal.  No one wants this to happen.

Yet many of us feel immobilized by the scope and complexity of the problem.  We feel disempowered by a political system where key players on all sides are in bed with big oil.  It’s sort of like being on an out of control train, heading toward a deep ravine with no bridge.  We know disaster is coming.  We don’t know what to do to stop it.

Or at least…we didn’t know.  Next week, world leaders are meeting at the United Nations for a Climate Summit.  These are the folks who have the power to put on the brakes! In advance of the summit, there will be massive demonstration involving over 1400 different organizations and over 100,000 people in the streets of NYC.  Simultaneous demonstrations are planned around the world- including here in the Palouse, where the Palouse Environmental Sustainability Coalition (PESC) is planning a peaceful “March for Survival” on Sunday, September 21st.  (See www.sustainablepalouse.org for details.)

This is the moment when our bodies, our participation in these events, can make a difference.  Show up at the Quality Inn in Pullman at 2 pm and walk.  Show up at Friendship Square in Moscow at 6pm for a potluck, drumming, and speakers.  Help get the message across:  we want to stop this train, so that our children and our children’s children can have a future.