Making a way out of no way.

John Lewis was an American hero. His whole life was a testament to fighting the good fight and trying to make the world a better, more egalitarian place even in the most dire of circumstances. Today, he is laid to rest, but he left us words, every one ringing with truth, to give us light and help us find our way without him:

“While my time here has now come to an end, I want you to know that in the last days and hours of my life you inspired me. You filled me with hope about the next chapter of the great American story when you used your power to make a difference in our society. Millions of people motivated simply by human compassion laid down the burdens of division. Around the country and the world you set aside race, class, age, language and nationality to demand respect for human dignity.

“That is why I had to visit Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, though I was admitted to the hospital the following day. I just had to see and feel it for myself that, after many years of silent witness, the truth is still marching on.

“Emmett Till was my George Floyd. He was my Rayshard Brooks, Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor. He was 14 when he was killed, and I was only 15 years old at the time. I will never ever forget the moment when it became so clear that he could easily have been me. In those days, fear constrained us like an imaginary prison, and troubling thoughts of potential brutality committed for no understandable reason were the bars.

“Though I was surrounded by two loving parents, plenty of brothers, sisters and cousins, their love could not protect me from the unholy oppression waiting just outside that family circle. Unchecked, unrestrained violence and government-sanctioned terror had the power to turn a simple stroll to the store for some Skittles or an innocent morning jog down a lonesome country road into a nightmare. If we are to survive as one unified nation, we must discover what so readily takes root in our hearts that could rob Mother Emanuel Church in South Carolina of her brightest and best, shoot unwitting concertgoers in Las Vegas and choke to death the hopes and dreams of a gifted violinist like Elijah McClain.

“Like so many young people today, I was searching for a way out, or some might say a way in, and then I heard the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on an old radio. He was talking about the philosophy and discipline of nonviolence. He said we are all complicit when we tolerate injustice. He said it is not enough to say it will get better by and by. He said each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to help build what we called the Beloved Community, a nation and world society at peace with itself.

“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

“You must also study and learn the lessons of history because humanity has been involved in this soul-wrenching, existential struggle for a very long time. People on every continent have stood in your shoes, though decades and centuries before you. The truth does not change, and that is why the answers worked out long ago can help you find solutions to the challenges of our time. Continue to build union between movements stretching across the globe because we must put away our willingness to profit from the exploitation of others.

“Though I may not be here with you, I urge you to answer the highest calling of your heart and stand up for what you truly believe. In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.

“When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”

May his words hold true in our hearts, and let us live up to the example he set. Let us go forward in the spirit of peace with everlasting love as our guide. Let this be our solemn vow. Now is the time.

Shelter in the storm.

Of all the compliments you could receive, perhaps the best is that you feel like shelter. That, in all the storms and chaos that swirl around us, talking to you feels like safety. Not in the sense of being a yes man or echo chamber, or even in the sense of being able to do anything to stop the storm, but in the sense of home.

“I find it shelter when I speak to you,” says Emily Dickinson. What might we do and say to make someone feel that way? Shelter implies that the storm is still swirling, the elements are still fierce, but talking to you is a respite from that and an entry into something welcoming and safe. A place where you are known, and heard, and cared for. A place of comfort.

Certainly there are plenty of people making themselves someone’s storm. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be someone’s shelter instead?

What can you do in this increasingly chaotic and exhausting world for someone to find it shelter when they talk with you?

Brave and afraid at the same time

In this interview, Brené Brown discusses the complexity of emotions we are experiencing as a result of the pandemic and social isolation. Her words bring comfort and solace to all of us, but particularly those of us raised to believe that only positive emotions should be felt or expressed.

These are tough times. And it’s particularly difficult because this is not an emergency you have to gear up for and get through; it’s a slow burn. As she says:

“Normally, in order to get through a crisis, you know, our bodies are built to respond with a lot of adrenaline, a lot of energy, a lot of super coping surge. And then the waters recede or the fires are out or, you know, the crisis ends and we slog our way through kind of cleanup and trying to find our new normal. But we are not going to be able to depend on the adrenaline surge for this, because it’s going to out- it’s going to outpace us. And I think we are hitting that moment where we are weary in our bones. We are physically tired. We, you know, anxiety, uncertainty take a lot out of us physically. I think, you know, we’re on Zoom calls. I don’t know what happened. Like, I work a lot to begin with, but I feel like I’m on Zoom calls from 6:00 in the morning until midnight. You know, and then we’ve got toddlers crawling up our backs and partners trying to, you know, tell us to be quiet. They’re also are being called. And we’re tired. And I’ll tell you, the other thing that’s exhausting; that we are not acknowledging – again as a collective – is grief.”

And the grief is perhaps more extensive than any we’ve felt before. It’s grieving a loss of everything that was normal to us. Brown explains, “Well, I think it’s a very difficult position we’re in right now because I think we are both grieving the loss of normal and grieving the ordinary moments that make the touchstones for our lives. We’re grieving the loss of those at the very same time we’re having to find and settle into a new normal. And those two things are very difficult to do. At the same time, not mutually exclusive, but as close as it gets without being mutually exclusive. So there’s grief, I think. Grief is the loss of normal.”

And it is ok to experience that grief and mourn those losses. We are vulnerable, and there is no shame in acknowledging that:

“To be alive is to be vulnerable, to be in this pandemic, is to be vulnerable every second of every minute of every day. And the thing about vulnerability is it is difficult, but it’s not weakness. It’s the foundation and the birthplace of courage. There is no courage without risk, uncertainty and exposure. And so, you know, I’ve asked 10000 people that this question, starting with special forces military: give me an example of courage in your life that did not require uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. And in probably 15 thousand people at this point, not one person has been able to give me an example of courage that did not require vulnerability. So we need to dispel that mess and we need to acknowledge we are in a lot of vulnerability right now. That means we can be our best, bravest selves or we can be our worst selves, and I think the thing about choosing to be our most courageous selves is having to understand this is another method to style that most of us know we’re taught growing up that we’re either brave or afraid, that the truth is we can be brave and afraid at the exact same time. Most of us are in these moments today.”

We can be brave and afraid at the exact same time. We can be strong in our vulnerability. And, even though we are living a new normal, we can choose how we show up there.

Choosing joy.

Sometimes joy is a matter of perspective. It’s reaching down and being grateful for it all, the mess, the euphoria, the triumphs, and the tragedies. Grateful to be here, to have a voice, to have people to care about, to have a chance to make a difference. Joy in it all is a choice.

In Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen unpacks this further:

Joy is what makes life worth living, but for many joy seems hard to find. They complain that their lives are sorrowful and depressing. What then brings the joy we so much desire? Are some people just lucky, while others have run out of luck? Strange as it may sound, we can choose joy. Two people can be part of the same event, but one may choose to live it quite differently from the other. One may choose to trust that what happened, painful as it may be, holds a promise. The other may choose despair and be destroyed by it.  What makes us human is precisely this freedom of choice.

What is the promise behind the circumstances that threaten to steal your joy? Is there something hopeful there? Seeing that promise may just be the key you are looking for.

Talk softly.

There is no one right way to get through a pandemic. Perhaps you’ve seen social posts suggesting you write a book, paint your house, or finish some other huge project. And some people do respond to stress by throwing themselves into activity. (And, apparently, love to post about it.) But others don’t. And that’s ok. We are each unique and need to listen to our own hearts and bodies to figure out what self-care looks like right now. Perhaps it’s enjoying tea, watching the sunset, reading a good book, or cleaning out a closet. Perhaps it is being still. Perhaps it is taking a break from social media to enjoy some introspective time. There are as many answers as there are people asking the question, ‘How can I best care for myself right now?’ Listen to yourself, and be gentle with yourself. This is tough.

Stay brave

There are so many ways to be brave. Doing something that needs to be done even though you’re scared. And not doing something everyone else is doing when it feels wrong. Standing up for yourself or others. Speaking out against injustice when it would be so much easier to stay quiet. Facing a tough diagnosis with hope and patience. Being there for someone when they are hurting. Each of these experiences is the right thing to do in a less than wonderful situation.

What is your idea of being brave?

Sending love and encouragement to anyone going through a less than wonderful time right now.

Savor the little things.

For better or worse, we have pushed a collective pause button. Our world just got narrower on the outside. Perhaps this is the time to broaden it on the inside. Enjoy the moments. Reach out to people to check in and tell them you care. Savor the little things. Pause and reflect.

Struggle.

struggle

Love isn’t a feeling we fall in and out of. It’s an action we choose to take even when it may be challenging. Sometimes it brings pain. When we think of love as an active verb, like, as Mr. Rogers suggests above, ‘struggle’, rather than as an emotion, it opens our eyes to the fact that we must work at it. It’s a struggle, a constant readjustment and tinkering, constantly expanding our own understanding and empathy. Love is not molding someone to our vision of what they should be, but accepting who they are and supporting them as they blossom. Thinking of love as something more akin to struggle encourages us to keep looking for new and better ways to show up for the people in our lives, to view the relationships as evolving rather than static, and to appreciate all the little successes and breakthroughs in those relationships along the way.

Struggle.

struggle

Love isn’t a feeling we fall in and out of. It’s an action we choose to take even when it may be challenging. Sometimes it brings pain. When we think of love as an active verb, like, as Mr. Rogers suggests above, ‘struggle’, rather than as an emotion, it opens our eyes to the fact that we must work at it. It’s a struggle, a constant readjustment and tinkering, constantly expanding our own understanding and empathy. Love is not molding someone to our vision of what they should be, but accepting who they are and supporting them as they blossom. Thinking of love as something more akin to struggle encourages us to keep looking for new and better ways to show up for the people in our lives, to view the relationships as evolving rather than static, and to appreciate all the little successes and breakthroughs in those relationships along the way.

Struggling toward freedom

coretta

Freedom and justice are not won and done. Often the road toward freedom, justice, and equality twists and turns, full of progress and steps forward, but pitted with set-backs as well. We have made progress since Martin Luther King, Jr. led a movement for civil rights, but  his work is not done. We cannot relax. Indeed, we need to preserve and build on those gains in every generation. We need to be shocked but not surprised to encounter those who have no desire for equality but would rather return to an era of overt discrimination. Theirs is not the right path forward for any of us, including them, and they must be defeated because as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”