I’ve got something on the horizon that scares me. It’s unavoidable, so the only way out is through. But sometimes to keep from spinning out of control, I find a song that grounds me in the moment. Feet firm, breath in and out, listening to the music and reengaging with the beat of life. For me, right now, this song comforts me. I hope it brings you comfort, too.
Standing up to fear changes a person. It helps you to put matters in perspective. Where once fear loomed over you, insurmountable, now you can honor the courage it took to move past it into unfamiliar territory.
Eleanor Roosevelt was a courageous woman. Despite her husband’s attempts to placate the South, she regularly bucked segregation and was a vocal proponent of civil rights. She was able to call out racism and force others to see it for what it was:
By 1939, ER decided to attack the hypocritical way in which the nation dealt with racial injustice. She wanted her fellow citizens to understand how their guilt in “writing and speaking about democracy and the American way without consideration of the imperfections within our system with regard to its treatment . . . of the Negro” encouraged racism. Americans, she told Ralph Bunche in an interview for Gunnar Myrdal’s American Dilemma, wanted to talk “only about the good features of American life and to hide our problems like skeletons in the closet.” Such withdrawal only fueled violent responses; Americans must therefore recognize “the real intensity of feeling” and “the amount of intimidation and terrorization” racism promotes and act against such “ridiculous” behavior.
You can’t clearly see a problem before you if you are too scared to look at it and call it out for what it is. Where are the injustices in your immediate orbit? Are there people being treated unfairly? How can you add your voice to help identify the problem and move toward healing? These problems are right here, close to home.
As Eleanor Roosevelt said:
Where after do human rights begin? In small places, close to home– so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: The neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.
Fear is a crippler. It keeps you rooted in a course of action you know to be wrong. Focusing on the fear helps it to loom even larger before you. Instead, focus on the better world you are trying to help build. Spreading love and justice is exciting and uplifting. Being part of something bigger than yourself, working for a common goal, in an effort to improve people’s circumstance is rewarding.
You don’t have to see the whole path in front of you. Take, and keep taking, that next step forward.
In The Adventure of Tom Sawyer, Tom and Huck attend their own funeral, overhearing all the nice things the town members had to say about them, the kinds of things they rarely heard in life.
As the service proceeded, the clergyman drew such pictures of the graces, the winning ways, and the rare promise of the lost lads that every soul there, thinking he recognized these pictures, felt a pang in remembering that he had persistently blinded himself to them always before, and had as persistently seen only faults and flaws in the poor boys. The minister related many a touching incident in the lives of the departed, too, which illustrated their sweet, generous natures, and the people could easily see, now, how noble and beautiful those episodes were, and remembered with grief that at the time they occurred they had seemed rank rascalities, well deserving of the cowhide. The congregation became more and more moved, as the pathetic tale went on, till at last the whole company broke down and joined the weeping mourners in a chorus of anguished sobs, the preacher himself giving way to his feelings, and crying in the pulpit.
There was a rustle in the gallery, which nobody noticed; a moment later the church door creaked; the minister raised his streaming eyes above his handkerchief, and stood transfixed! First one and then another pair of eyes followed the minister’s, and then almost with one impulse the congregation rose and stared while the three dead boys came marching up the aisle, Tom in the lead, Joe next, and Huck, a ruin of drooping rags, sneaking sheepishly in the rear! They had been hid in the unused gallery listening to their own funeral sermon!
Aunt Polly, Mary, and the Harpers threw themselves upon their restored ones, smothered them with kisses and poured out thanksgivings, while poor Huck stood abashed and uncomfortable, not knowing exactly what to do or where to hide from so many unwelcoming eyes. He wavered, and started to slink away, but Tom seized him and said:
“Aunt Polly, it ain’t fair. Somebody’s got to be glad to see Huck.”
“And so they shall. I’m glad to see him, poor motherless thing!” And the loving attentions Aunt Polly lavished upon him were the one thing capable of making him more uncomfortable than he was before.
Suddenly the minister shouted at the top of his voice: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow — Sing! — and put your hearts in it!”
And they did. Old Hundred swelled up with a triumphant burst, and while it shook the rafters Tom Sawyer the Pirate looked around upon the envying juveniles about him and confessed in his heart that this was the proudest moment of his life.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
I wonder why we save the kind words for funerals. Eulogies, literally translated ‘good words’, are maybe needed even more before our loved ones pass, at a time when relationships can be mended and people thanked. Before opportunities are lost. When the ripple effects from the kindness can travel far and wide.
What kinds of things get in the way of saying the kind words now? Fear, stubbornness, pride, anger? What if we could lay these all down now, before our opportunity to be heard is gone?
Have you ever stopped to consider how many of your decisions are controlled by fear? Or how others may attempt to control you by exploiting those fears?
Fear is a useful emotion. It can help us avoid danger and give us a boost of adrenaline to combat foes. But bathing in it, day in and day out, as some news sources would have us do, is a recipe for disease. Our bodies simply aren’t equipped to be in a constant state of fight or flight.
One of the answers must be to consider the reality of what makes you afraid. Is someone telling you stories to whip up your emotions? Is it true? If someone is manipulating you, you must find a way to step back and give yourself some perspective. Consider other sources. Evaluate the data. Analyze what will happen if the dreaded event comes true. Find physical ways to give your body comfort.
Ask yourself, what is this person trying to make me fear, and what are they trying to get me to do. What’s in it for them? That analysis will help give us the tools to determine if the fear is real or if someone is manipulating us.
We can buck up and deal with real threats. But imagined threats, particularly when someone is trying to keep you afraid to manipulate your actions, requires your own intervention.
Many of us have been afraid, and fear can naturally lead us to withdraw and retreat from the world. And this makes sense.
But sometimes the things that made us afraid continue and become our new normal, and then we must learn how to continue to do what needs to be done despite the fear.
This is courage.
We each have hidden wells of courage to draw from in trying times. We each have within us a voice that calls us to act, whether it is in caring for one another or speaking out against injustice.
In these times of disorder and distress, we confront new normals at every turn. And part of these new normals necessarily involves confronting and accepting your new reality and learning how to continue to make a positive difference in the world despite the challenges.
It’s ok to be afraid. Do what needs to be done anyway.
We tend to think of peace as the absence of violence as quiet is the absence of noise, but is it more? Perhaps peace is active. It exists in the kind word offered, the refusal to meet hate with hate, the comfort of following higher principles, the strength of the outstretched hand. It is so easy to lose, to slip into mirroring the hate and violence we see around us, to sit silent in front of a bully, to trade barbs, to slide down. Peace is active. We maintain it in our hearts and mind. We breathe deeply to draw us back to that peaceful place. We remember truth, honor, decency, compassion. We breathe in all that is good, we exhale the bad.
Author Shauna Niequist talks about the anxiety we are all experiencing now and suggests breath prayer:
“Christians have been practicing breath prayer since at least the sixth century & there are lots of ways to do it. One way that’s been helping me lately: choose one word to pray as you inhale–what you’re asking God to bring into your life/body/spirit/world, and one word to exhale–what you’re asking God to carry for you, so that you can release it as you breathe out.
Inhale healing/exhale fear.
Inhale peace/exhale anxiety.
Inhale hope/exhale despair.
Inhale hope/exhale chaos.”
As you move forward into your day, remember to take deep breaths, center yourself, and carry on.
Please take a moment to watch Father Ray Kelly sing Everybody Hurts and remember that we need to reach out to each other. We are each other’s comfort and hope.
When your day is long And the night The night is yours alone When you’re sure you’ve had enough Of this life Well hang on Don’t let yourself go ‘Cause everybody cries And everybody hurts sometimes
Sometimes everything is wrong Now it’s time to sing along When your day is night alone (hold on) (Hold on) if you feel like letting go (hold on) If you think you’ve had too much Of this life Well, hang on
Cause everybody hurts Take comfort in your friends Everybody hurts Don’t throw your hand Oh, no Don’t throw your hand If you feel like you’re alone No, no, no, you’re not alone
If you’re on your own In this life The days and nights are long When you think you’ve had too much Of this life To hang on
Well, everybody hurts sometimes Everybody cries And everybody hurts sometimes And everybody hurts sometimes So, hold on, hold on Hold on, hold on Hold on, hold on Hold on, hold on
Sometimes it is hard to know what to pray for. Things are uncertain, feelings so complex, emotions so raw. Words may fail you. But yet you yearn to reach out to God and ask for help. For you, for those you love, for the world. Please help.
It is in times like these when we don’t need words. God will hear the longing in our heart.
“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Romans 8:26.
You don’t need words. You don’t need to figure out if you’re feeling anger, grief, frustration, desperation. You just want God to keep you safe. Open your heart. God will hear its groanings.
For an inspiring prayer sung by a father-daughter duo, take a moment to savor this.
Amid a country-wide quarantine in Italy, a beautiful voice sings out into the empty streets, only to be joined by more voices, until their chorus warms the entire world. Enjoy this reminder that, even as we struggle. we belong to each other.
A Siena, città alla quale sono molto legato, si sta in casa ma si canta insieme come se si fosse per la strada. Mi sono commosso pic.twitter.com/IDPqNEj3h3
In every darkness, a bit of light will shine to light your way. It may be in the acts of kindness and generosity you see, in words of wisdom you remember and hold close to your heart, or memories of past struggles that you have gotten through to the other side. We draw strength and courage from each other, working together. That community will sustain us.
In his book, Healing the Divide, editor James Crews collects poem of kindness and compassion. Here is one by Danusha Laméris for you to carry with you today:
“I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs to let you by. Or how strangers still say ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes, a leftover from the Bubonic plague. ‘Don’t die,’ we are saying. And sometimes, when you spill lemons from your grocery bag, someone else will help you pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other. We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot, and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder, and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass. We have so little of each other, now. So far from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange. What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these fleeting temples we make together when we say, ‘Here have my seat,’ ‘Go ahead—you first,’ ‘I like your hat.’”
We will get through this present darkness. Hold tight to the little kindnesses, savor them, and spread them where you can to light the way for those behind you.
For more, a reminder that we were made for times like these.