Re Voting Plans, Tilt-a-Whirls, and Trust

I have voted in every election since 1962.

“VOTING PLAN”   The words fell oddly on my ears when I first heard them sometime in late summer. By September I took them seriously, and based on what I knew believed understood mis-understood at the time, I ordered an online ballot, which would require me to hand-deliver my completed, printed-out version to election headquarters. A uniquely-coded electronic ballot arrived with unexpected efficiency, along with a lengthy set of instructions for accessing it.

Several weeks later, the Sunday Post reported that each such ballot in Maryland would burden the vote count by adding five minutes to the processing time: before being counted, that ballot would have to be hand-glued to card stock in order to be fed into a vote-reading machine. Few pieces of news have thrown me into such emotional turmoil, a toxic mix of disbelief, rage, and helplessness.

Fortunately, I was able to change my plan: I ordered a mail-in ballot.

The ballot arrived in timely fashion, with a set of instructions that seriously challenged my reading and comprehension level. And a whole separate page for a local charter issue correcting errors in language on the printed ballot. I searched a few drawers before finding a pen with black ink that would render my ballot countable, as long as it didn’t stray outside the lines of the small oval. The ovals definitely looked smaller than I recall them on standardized tests. But, as I said, I’ve been voting since 1962, so: aging eyes?

My online record with the State Board of Elections does not yet register that they have received it.

If I live long enough to read a trustworthy history of this election, I hope it will shed light on the facts, fictions, and deceptions around the capacity of the U.S. Post Office to handle mail-in ballots.

Election jitters with a dash of pandemic entering its third season

The sensation is familiar. Taut. Stretched to the limit. Vibrating in response to atmospheric influences. Braced against too-muchness. This is election season 2020 overlaid on the fall seasonal changes of shortening daylight hours, overlaid on a seventh month of pandemic upheaval. The sensations of moving through a tilted landscape remain strange. I reach for words to describe how gravity and levity have both morphed. Some mornings I wake mildly nauseous, as if I have been riding for hours the Tilt-A-Whirl, my favorite amusement park ride when I was a kid.

These body sensations make even more sense as I read the manufacturer’s description of the ride as “a large segmented undulating spinning platform with 7 vehicles spread over the surface. Each vehicle spins on its own axis and depending on the weight location of each guest every thrilling ride is unique” which“can be themed…can even have custom themed characters for the vehicles.”

How much rooting, in what soil? How much dancing?

There are times when chaos sets my feet itching, rootlets emerging from my soles to burrow down into even the rockiest soil. Acorn aspiring to oak. And there are times, like now, when I am sustained by the mysterious movements of some internal gyroscope that helps me to keep righting myself as the earth heaves repeatedly and irregularly. Ever a dancer. 

What catches you when you fall?

What do you reach for when chaos turns your world-view, or your material circumstances inside out?

What do you know?

When you fall, have you practiced free fall? calling for help? getting up and moving on, scraped knees and all?

I grew up with a full-bodied conviction that whatever came across my path was mine to do, solely mine to do, and that was okay since I knew believed understood mis-understood at the time, that I could do it better than fill-in-the-blank. I might have been small, but my powers were Mighty.

Once again I have to effort to put my misunderstanding aside, and trust.

Trust that the emerging flood of shadow humanity – collective and personal – that inundates our world, is an invitation to heal. That the pervasive disruption and collapse of social institutions, structures, and norms – culturally and in the human personality – open possibilities for a new operating system. One that is rooted like an oak tree and resourced like a dancer, the natural and inevitable child of that Ongoing, Unbroken Continuity – the God that I cry out to in desperation and in thanks, or the Unshakeable call and response of cause and effect, or the Life-giving River of Compassion that flows through the human heart.

We may indeed appear to be a gathering of themed vehicles spread over the surface of creation, each undulating and spinning on our own axis.

Nevertheless this week, we can each:

Be kind.

Vote.

Act and replenish and veg out as needed.

Vote.

Call and respond.

Vote.

Listen for who your own deepest wisdom is instructing you to be, with all your warts. 

And did I say, Vote?


 

White women: Take the Privilege Challenge

The first in an occasional series that brings the skills and power of a life of practice to bear on healing and awakening deep cultural and tribal divides.

As white women, we know plenty about male privilege. And we can use that knowledge to take the mystery and invisibility out of White Privilege.  I turned to Peggy McIntosh’s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” for a list of prompts to begin to assemble my own.

While associate director of the Wellesley Collage Center for Research on Women, Macintosh came to understand white privilege through her work on male privilege. She recognized that she had been “taught to see racism only in individual acts of meanness, not in invisible systems” that favored her group.  She set out to work on herself by observing the daily effects of white privilege in her life. Her seminal and scholarly piece (dating to 1988) remains widely cited today: White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming To See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies.”

Take the Privilege Challenge – check out Macintosh’s Knapsack and then unpack your own. I promise you it will wake you up to our shared humanity in some surprising ways. Even if you think of yourself as awake and on to yourself in racial matters.

And if you are a white healer, coach, bodyworker or therapist who works with people of color, as you explore and deepen your embodied awareness of privilege, you will offer them a level of safety in the healing relationship of incalculable value.


On the white side of privilege

When I don’t feel normal I can be sure it’s not institutional racism, or even personal prejudice, at work, just some neurotic part of my personality that’s the culprit.

I can hang out with a bunch of white people almost anywhere, even a street-corner after dark, without being told to move along.

No one comes up to me and touches my hair, or even asks if they can touch my hair.

No one asks me to give them examples of micro-aggressions.

I can browse undisturbed for clothing or CDs or a gift for a friend: no one follows me around to make sure I’m not a shoplifter.

No one will be surprised and thus praise me for being “so articulate.”  The way I speak is considered proper and normal, aka “the norm.”

I do not put myself in danger or suffer any threat or penalty for remaining ignorant of the language, culture, and history of other races.  But I can cluelessly ask a person of color to remedy my ignorance by explaining things to me.

I can have a bad hair day, grocery shop in torn and dirty jeans, even raise my voice in public without anyone attributing my looks or behavior to the bad morals, poverty or illiteracy of my race.

If I get pulled over while driving, I’m going to drive away with a warning or a ticket. No search of my car or body cavities. If I need the police, I can call 911 without worrying that somehow I’ll end up suspect, roughed up, or dead.

I can get really angry, even act really angry without scaring every white person in view.

I have never been denied credit or a rental because I am white.

I never had to have The Talk with my children on how to stay physically safe because of their color. Nor did they go to school in the morning  after their sleep was disturbed by gunshots or their waking by news of another neighbor, cousin or friend shot. I never had trouble finding them books that tell their stories.

No one in my family has been denied bail, tried in a court of law or been imprisoned.

I am pretty free to choose to avoid people who have been taught to be afraid of me.  And if people of another race distrust me, I am likely to be oblivious to it.

Health statistics in my country are pretty much on the side of my race.

It’s easy to find “flesh-colored” crayons and band-aids that are close to the actual color of my skin.

I am never asked to speak for the entire white race.

No one crosses the street to avoid me.

No one freaks out if I wear a hoodie.

No one mistakes me for the janitor, the stock clerk, or the door-person because of my race.

I can come home at the end of a day in city, suburb, or small town without the weight of having felt unwelcome, unsafe, suspect, as if I did not belong. Without the exhaustion of constant vigilance.

 


Now you give the Privilege Challenge a try, and please – share  your findings below.

2017: the power to act weds healing and awakening

It’s 2017 and I’m determined to see that the power to act weds nondual healing and awakening in new ways – for my individual clients,  for the civic body, for the common good.

I was a reluctant student of power. And in my efforts to exercise power and speak truth to power, I burned out as a non-profit professional by the mid ’90s.

My life took a different turn. I learned about other kinds of power: the power of the body to heal itself, the powers of the plants, the transformative power of embodying the nondual. I grew into a healer and an herbalist. The social activist entered a long sleep even as other parts of me were awakening.  

Still, my years as a community organizer taught me to listen to my clients’ stories, to listen not only for the impact of their family life, but the impact of skin color, wealth, opportunity, gender, sexual identity, and the other societal constructs that shape us.

The Baltimore Uprising in April, 2015 woke up that sleeping seeker of justice. The November election energized me.

2017 promises me ample opportunities to explore the relationship between healing and empowerment, to marry the seeker of justice with the healer, to explore ways to heal our civic body.
What could that look like? How about we figure this out together?

 

Here’s my back story,  with a deep bow to remarkable teachers of mine.

I was a reluctant student of power.

Charm and subtle manipulation served me so effectively for so many years in the daughter-mother-wife-entrepreneur roles. And when my few strategies failed me, I had learned to simply withdraw. I was 36 and recently separated when I was hired by the Northeast Community Organization and underwent a week-end church-basement training in Alinsky-style organizing. Among other things, I learned that those who have not amassed wealth to spread their influence around had better learn to amass a lot of human bodies. Also that an opponent, aka enemy on one issue might well become a bedfellow on the next.

Over the next fifteen years, two black professionals tutored me in different aspects of power. I inherited Organizational Psychologist Michael F. Broom, Ph.D. as my mentor when I took over as Director of The Maryland Food Committee, a statewide anti-hunger organization where I’d been working for five years. He was the first person – yes, really – to talk with me about “use of self”: actual skills for becoming aware of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors and using intention to choose behaviors that would optimize getting desired results and minimize or at least manage difficulties along the way.

A few months into working with me, Michael cut through my foggy persona like a knife through butter with five words: You’re not helpless, you know.

I certainly had been helpless up to that moment, given how unconscious I was about my – um thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

I went on to learn an enormous amount from Michael and his colleagues Edie and Charlie Seashore, deans in the field of organizational development. How to participate in and then facilitate race and gender conversations in organization settings. How to run multi-day large-group consensus-building processes to address social problems.

But to learn play in the political arena, I needed more street smarts than my tidy upbringing could ever have imagined. My tutor and role-model was Reverend (now Bishop) Douglas Miles of Koinonia Baptist Church. Doug also headed Baltimore United in Leadership Development (BUILD), a church and neighborhood-based organization affiliated with Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF). He picked up with me where the church-based week-end had left off. No, I never set out to learn how to preach from this master of conscience, nor inspire crowds to action as he did.

Doug taught me about the importance of relationships built on trust, and the time, skill and heart needed to develop them.

He taught me about the courage and inner strength human beings draw from standing together, walking a street together, powering a meeting together. About the importance of everyone being crystal clear about the goal and the negotiating position.

Twenty years later

When I left social justice work, my colleagues and I had made some inroads in opening up what we thought of as the real conversation: the poverty that fostered hunger and birthed hundreds of food pantries and dozens of soup kitchens. The resistance to naming and delving into next level of reality, the institutional racism that drove poverty that drove hunger – that resistance was fierce.

Now racism, and all its kin are the stuff of daily conversation, from the raw to the scholarly. The lid is off and #this is our history, #this is who we are. What are we – together – going to do about it?

I am determined to figure out how you and I can each use our life of practice to see that we wed the power to act to nondual healing and awakening in new ways – for our individual clients,  for the civic body, for the common good.

How can we open up meaningful conversations across the divides in our families and communities, make life-changing strides for our hurting kin, all while being our wise and foolish human selves?

Here’s my invitation:  Join me via Zoom, Tuesday, January 17, 7:30-8:30 pm EST

in observing Martin Luther King’s Birthday.

Let’s mobilize our yearning and our practice to bend the long arc towards justice.

TO REGISTER: email me at alifeofpractice@gmail.com

Please make Subject line BEND THE ARC

At an intersection: But what do you love to do?

“But what do you love to do?”

JC has stopped me in my tracks with his question. We have been sharing our respective histories and current engagements with activism and social justice, and I am suddenly and unaccountably inarticulate.

Here I am a couple of hours later trying to understand why.

I met JC Faulk as a facilitator of conversation circle events several times over the summer months, and we had spoken before. Long enough to discover our shared admiration and debt to Edie and Charlie Seashore, who had trained both of us in group skills and diversity work, albeit a half generation apart from one another. An unexpected intersection, rich with a shared understanding of group process.

Red Emma’s, where we met over breakfast, sits at its own notable intersection. Charles Street runs north-south. It is typically described as “Baltimore’s Main Street,” “a historic cultural corridor,” ripe for development and redevelopment, and “a place where people want to live.” North Avenue, which crosses Charles Street just outside the door, runs east-west. It is “targeted for revitalization, improved safety, economic opportunity and access for residents.” This corridor gained notoriety for the Uprising that took place about two miles west of here in April 2015. These corridors can easily stand in for the city’s racial and economic fault lines. Red Emma’s sits at this intersection, drawing a mix of customers from both corridors, a stew rich with possibilities. A rarity in Baltimore.

I have just written myself to a new understanding. Now I see that I am pinned by his question at my own intersection:

Who I am and who I wish I was. Who I am and how I’d like to see myself: more skilled, more willing, more courageous, tougher and more empathic, grittier and more loving, ready to put not just my voice but my body on the line. The for-real Sara and the idealized Sara. The Sara who wants to make a difference in the world, be a difference in the world and thinks she has to be some other person to do this. The Sara who has just effectively devalued her life’s work.

And oh, my. The fact that I have crossed and recrossed this bridge with pretty much every single client I have worked with over the years does not save me from the same dilemma.

Now that I have named this problematic intersection, here’s my answer, JC:

I love to write. It helps me to see myself more clearly, to see myself whole. When I share my writing and hear back that it has helped some readers see themselves whole, I am nourished even more.

I love to explore life’s challenges with another person, to see the light come on in someone’s eyes. See a face soften, a body relax or straighten up as it needs to.  A flash of understanding. The “oh,” or the silence that says: I really get that, I get that in a way that restores me to something essential in myself, I get that in a way that I can make a different choice, I get that in a way that I see you in a fresh way. I love to travel with someone as she takes root in herself, breaks through hard soil, and unfolds towards the sky.

I love to play a role in a community that shares a clear focus and intention for a common good. Every such group is an intersection of differences rich with possibilities.

I love to work with people who are ready to talk, and want practice. Help design welcoming and safe but not bland or superficial group meeting spaces. Where strangers can build lasting and resilient relationships over time, become allies and friends. Where we human beings can show up with our strengths and limitations. Grant one another dignity. Listen to and tell stories. Learn and teach. Be together in “we don’t know.” Shed tears and shake with laughter. Drop through anger and fear and open to heartbreak. Stand together. Grow, grow up, grow in self-responsibility. Build the generosity, willingness, fortitude, trust to have one another’s backs.

And by nourishing connection in these ways, draw down grace. Because when we humans come into relationship, especially when that relationship is big enough to hold our differences, the world does respond and signal.

I love to work with practice groups, where we can practice being imperfect, genuine human beings together, and carry that out into our lives.

Thanks for asking, JC.

Now, friends – read more about JC’s work here.


 How about you? What do you love to do?

Anger, fear, a broken heart: healing self, healing society

Beneath the anger, fear. Beneath the threats, broken hearts. Start there and we might get somewhere.

Parker Palmer,  On Being, Nov 12*


IN PRACTICE: Beneath my anger, fear

Sometimes life comes at me as an arrow, pierces me. It cuts right through anger and fear. It cuts right through who I think I am, who I think the Other is. The wound is clean and oddly bloodless. The pain is sudden, sharp, grace-filled. Sorrow and tears arise soon after.  Then an actual or a virtual embrace, an ocean of tenderness, words offered and received. Intimacy with, or without, agreement on anything except one single essential: relationship.

 

IN PRACTICE: Beneath my threats, a broken heart

Someone fails to meet me, hear me, see me, even be willing to take the time to understand me. I feel erased in some fundamental way.

My first response is strongly physiological: heat rises. Then – depending on my relationship with my partner-of-the-moment – my fear will 1) push my anger up into my throat and out my mouth in words aimed at an enemy 2) go right to my kidneys, where I turn cold and uncommunicative or 3) turn me colder yet, so cold that I freeze altogether. Fight, flight, freeze.

It takes effort not to go the way of habit.

It takes effort to follow my broken heart, to let it break open further.

When I am awake and courageous enough to meet myself, hear myself, see myself, feel myself vividly and fully in my body, to study myself – sorrow, grief, anger, pride, remorse, self-righteousness, shame, wild joy, triumph, emptiness, confusion. Even numbness. And yes, numbness paradoxically is full of sensation.

When I know I am both armed to kill and the Great Reconciler, I trust I have opened to my own heartbreak.  I can begin to sort things out within myself. I am willing and able to withstand the alchemical heat of these questions, and when I take action it has a power beyond my puny ego:

– Am I in danger here? Physically? Emotionally or psychologically? Spiritually? What help do I need to call on?

– Are other people in danger? Who needs to be warned, and how?

– Did my partner-of-the-moment cross a boundary? Is my response in proportion? Or am I trying to correct for all the times anyone has ever crossed this boundary with me?

– Was I clear?  Was I hoping my partner-of-the-moment would accurately read my mind or between the lines? Was I acting out some other frustration that has nothing to do with this partner-of-the-moment? Have I withheld information, emotion, criticism only to have it leak out, as it does, into the interaction?

Wrestling with these moments, I let in a great deal more information, information I have been fending off or suppressing. I free myself to take action that is in relationship to, intimate with a bigger reality.  I can take action without certainty that it is the “correct” action to take, without certainty that it will bring about the result I desire. Yet my action is sane, even wise, because I am relationship with life.

 

A SOCIETY IN PRACTICE: Start with broken hearts and we might get somewhere.

Our nation is in great pain. It was built on even greater injury. Appropriation of land. Enslavement of fellow-humans. Two hundred and forty years of  legal precedents and not fully scrutinized beliefs, policies, institutions. Our history continues to unfold from these origins, played out in city streets, rural ghost towns, and edgy communities. In and out of view of mainstream news. In and out of view of social media. Much of the story has yet to be told, much has been forgotten, and much remains suppressed and bound in our national consciousness.

None of us are free agents until we walk this territory together.

Many of us have tasted the personal freedom that comes from diving courageously and deeply into our personal histories and imperfect humanity.

It is time now to figure out how to hack our considerable practical, psychological, and spiritual  skills and apply them for the healing of our country. To acknowledge and dive deep together into our shared difficult and violent history. 

What if we could help one another out, help one another to heal from the socially-inflicted wounds of a soup bowl of “isms” just as we help one another out, help one another to heal in our personal, family, workplace lives?

What if we could bring such whole-making skills to the civic body of our neighborhoods, cities, suburbs. rural areas?

What if we can become the arrow that pierces through anger and fear, cuts right through who we think we are, who we think the Other is, and lays bare our broken hearts?

What if we could collectively bear that sharp, sudden pain of recognition and sorrow, and cry together?

What if we could tenderly embrace without agreement on anything except one single essential: relationship, not more perfect, more human?

What do you need to become the arrow?

What breaks your heart open to an “Other”?

The grace and opportunity are with each of us,

and call us to this collective

and collaborative work.

Here. Now.


Parker Palmer,  On Being, Nov 12

Today I Show Up to Begin the Hard Work

Dear Tribe –

I am taking my own advice today: show up for the hard work.

I can see I wrote today’s 6 AM post as a letter to myself before Election Day, knowing what I would need to tell myself this morning, knowing I would reach for words and be unable to find them. To remind myself of what is possible. To feel the Universe still has humanity’s back.

There is something larger – call it Destiny, Reality, Human Evolution. Mystery, God, the Quantum Field – that does, in fact hold us together and urges us towards every last shred of personal and collective kindness. Urges us towards unfolding that kindness and bringing it all the way down into this world of structure and organization and government and business.

So here is one way I will show up: in the coming months A Life of Practice will devote itself to exploring identity in new and challenging ways, ways that include not only our personal and family histories, but our cultural and tribal lineages.

It is time to heal and awaken in our social, racial, ethnic, religious, economic contexts – the ones that play out in divisiveness, out-group exclusion, with life and death consequences for so many fellow-humans.

This is hard, painful  and rewarding work, and work I believe we must undertake to transform our perspective and understanding, reveal the obvious we cannot yet see, and guide new creative and collaborative ways for us to live, create, work, play, worship together.

The only motivation I can think of that is strong enough to pull us through this into our future is our yearning to be safe and happy. I mean, really safe and happy, down to the toes of our souls.

Thank you for your responses to this morning’s post, even those who expressed finding it unbearable.

I greatly value our traveling together.

The morning after: a 21st century creation story

As I write and post this week, election results are unknown. Regardless of outcome, many challenges and opportunities await us. We will feel them with differing senses of urgency.

We wonder: are we, individually and collectively, up to what is being asked of us? 

Here’s why my answer is, unequivocally, YES.

YES, even though we are tired and may wisely “unplug” to recuperate.

YES, even though the work to come is demanding, daunting, and unending, and I tremble in my bones.

BECAUSE from our deepest roots we are fashioned to create, and to create together.

We create as effortlessly as we breathe, as continuously as our hearts beat. We are forever engaged in materializing our feelings, thoughts, and ideas, our hopes, expectations, visions, and fears.

We shape the material world with our hands and with their extensions, tools and technologies of all kinds. We put foods and spices together and call it cooking. We put words together and call it story-telling, or news, or nonsense, or poetry. We put wood and stone and metal together and call it building. There is no end to this.

Sometimes just walking around my local super-market, I am overwhelmed at the number of products to choose from. In a kitchen store, I find a new gadget and wonder if someone woke up in the middle of the night seized with excitement about designing a cutting tool that turns a zucchini or a beet into lovely spirals with which to top a salad or frittata.

We filter what we see: we perceive selectively. We fill in blanks. Early in life we use the material that has been given to us – the gifts and limitations of our parents as caregivers, the security or the chaos of our circumstances – to create a story, a life, in which we have as much safety as we can construct. We include, we distort, we omit. We write in heroes and villains, friends, allies, and enemies.

As we grow up, we continue to elaborate on these stories. We live them. We project them more or less onto whatever landscapes, encounters, and personalities make up our days.

These are our personal creation stories: our family origins.

The smaller, the more fixed our stories, the more we live in a trance state, a default state defined by habit, the less freedom we have.

The same is true of our cultural stories, our group identities, our biases, our views of what is “normal” speech, body language, and behavior.

When we are lucky – we can join this kind of tribe: we begin to wake up and see how our stories have become unconscious and self-perpetuating mechanisms that drive our lives and our communities. We begin to question our habitual ways of responding to the world. We wake up to the ways our personal and cultural stories have become prisons. We break out (commonly with the help of others who live their lives outside of our story), and tell a new – and often bigger one, with previously unimagined possibilities. And then we can change the institutions and systems built on those old stories, and create together for the common good.

We listen attentively to one another’s stories. We take them in. Together we cry, together we laugh.

Can you catch the scent of freedom here? get hold of the thread of what it might mean to be a conscious creator of your own life, an artist of your soul? a collaborative architect of your community? an awakening builder of our world?

We are a growing tribe, on the move and gaining strength.

So take heart. Offer comfort and kind words. Receive solace. Share the Kleenex around if need be, in grief or in relief. Let us strengthen our personal resolve and our shared humanity.

Then: take one step. Start anywhere:

There is no better morning to wake up. Today: question just one perspective, break just one habit, open to just one new possibility.

No better morning to make something whole in yourself.  Today: pick just one limitation that bugs you. Take your first few steps down a path that embraces both self-acceptance and self-improvement, so that this limitation is no longer an obstacle, just something that shapes you in a particular way, like a tree shaped by wind.

No better morning to practice. Today: be willing. Persist. Move with the movement of life.

No better moment to claim your place in the human tribe.


Photo credit: Up in Arms, by Linda Carmel, at Hillsborough Gallery of Arts, Hillsborough, NC

Museum Opening: Seize this teachable moment

Reflections on the opening of 

The National Museum of African American History and Culture

Whenever I turn away from a feeling, an interpersonal challenge, a piece of bad news, I throw away a teachable moment. Fear, anxiety, or even strong physical sensations can overcome my curiosity, warn me against crossing some threshold, and keep me from learning something that could change my life.

The first time I landed in a therapist’s office, I was in my early twenties and alarmed. I was alarmed by an unfamiliar pattern – yelling at my young children from morning until night, and at the explosive anger that fueled my outbursts yet never diminished.  I was enormously relieved to hear this was “a situational depression.”  A response to months of supporting my husband through one more exacerbation of a chronic illness. Trying to keep the kids quiet so he could rest. Relieved I was not pushed to explore my early childhood, which I was sure was full of demons. Relieved I need not yet face my sequestered terror of extinction, of being blown out like a candle in a breeze. I got out of that therapist’s office within six months, my view of myself and life intact. Relieved and none the wiser.

I had thrown away a teachable moment. Several decades passed until the effects of an accumulation of unexamined, misperceived, and misunderstood choices physically and emotionally felled me. I was exhausted.

All I really had left was the moment. And the moment. And the moment. One teachable moment after another. Moments that changed – and continue to change my life by showing me in great detail the gaps between my idealized view of myself, humanity, God/Reality, and how things are.

This means I am more awake to, more able to stop myself from demanding that you see, think, feel, behave like me, so I can be comfortable and safe. I am not immune to the impulse, and I don’t succeed every single time.

And  each time I do wake up, someone else gets closer to being who they are and realizing what they came into this world to do.

So it is with both trepidation and excitement that I hold this time as a teachable moment for me, for my people, for my kin, for the American people.
photo 2In three days, President Barak Obama will dedicate The National Museum of African American History and Culture in the heart of America’s political and cultural capital. This Museum presences and invites each one of us into the stories of the people whose enslavement and back-breaking labor lies unacknowledged yet unextinguished at the center of our national story, and whose music inspires us even as we fail to acknowledge the human spirit and suffering that gave voice to it.

Cracks are showing in the American body politic and psyche, showing up the gaps between our idealized view of ourselves and how things are. It is time to give up our false relief and any illusions that we are – or should be – “post-racial.”

It is time to examine, to perceive, to understand. It is time to study, reflect on, and engage with our full family history. Until we do, each one of us is shackled, and we continue to apply the whip to one another in ever more creative, merciless, and unnecessary ways.

The opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture offers us a teachable moment like no other. Please join me in offering prayers that we will collectively seize this moment to reckon with our full history and reconcile with our kin.


 

The Museum has invited organizations around the nation to link local events to the opening. You can search the Lift Your Voice a directory to find local events celebrating African American History and Culture in your hometown: https://nmaahc.si.edu/lift-every-voice

The healing I needed, not the one I wanted!

I regret and am embarrassed to report that the socio-drama in which I participated did not give me the healing I wanted. It only took me deeper into my grief, and left me untouched by the empathy that opened up for more than one of my friends, who could simultaneously see the terrorist in themselves and summon compassion.

Our group had selected a headline about ISIS from among five story banners in the morning’s New York Times. Our highly skilled facilitator then had us establish a time and place: we settled on Grand Central Station, 2:00 on a Friday afternoon. Roles were assigned: a shopkeeper, a cop, a businessman, a little girl on her way to see her first Broadway show with her mom, a terrorist. I watched as the players got into role, the shifts in body language, facial expression, as they moved through the space. Every once in a while, the facilitator invited our questions for the characters.

The story played out: the cop confronted the terrorist, shot him, detonating his explosive vest, raining havoc and death, and drawing forth strength and compassion among the walking wounded.

Here is the cop’s story: I’d only been on the job a week, I didn’t want to move in on him too fast. I didn’t want to fall into profiling him and overreacting. And the terrorist’s: my people, they are getting killed, I have to do something.

Here’s (some of) my story:

I can’t solve suicide bombings.

I can’t solve evil. Even we can’t solve evil.

I hope I never get to the end of my grief.

I know my own rage can rise up with a killing strength and desire in the face of the most mundane challenge.

I struggle with helplessness, despite the true and simple guidance I was gifted with by mentor Michael Broom nearly 30 years ago: You’re not helpless, you know.

I struggle to answer the question periodically posed to me: what is worth dying for?

I can delve into the dark history of racism and engage in education, in protest, in community action and turn away from inquiring into my own tribe’s history of pogroms – one of which drove my grandfather from his Polish village and then to America at a young age. From inquiring into the Holocaust, though my husband fled Germany for England in his mother’s arms just before his first birthday. From inquiring into the rise of anti-Semitism.

Amazingly, wonderfully, I can still be true to a life of practice, true to my imperfect humanity:

I have permission to be a fool and a wise woman.

I have built up some muscle for turning directly toward what terrifies me, and a passel of teachers, friends, and fellow-travelers to encourage me.

I can keep engaging, keep listening, keep wrestling with myself about when and how to speak up in my life, in the life of my city, my country, my world.

I can even love the healing I got – the one I needed – which points me right at the inner work at hand.

FULL DISCLOSURE in the face of recent events

Version 2

The bumblebee I have been eyeing is having a hard time of it with the evening primroses, whose petals at high noon have mostly collapsed into soft mush. Every 3rd or 4th wilting bloom she lands on, she manages to work her way in to where the nectar is. Soon she gives up and goes for the easily accessible stalks of liatrus.

This morning, I am working at having a FULL DISCLOSURE heart and soul with myself. Because that collapsing evening primrose bloom is the body-mind of my country, spent, folding in on itself, and ready to fall to the ground. And I am the bee who insists: there is still nectar here, there is still something important to be gathered here. Don’t move on just yet.

To stay here, stay here, stay here long enough to weep, that is the challenge.

Last week I was full up with working against multiple deadlines. So when I came off an involuntary news fast the news from Baton Rouge was 3 days old, from Falcon Heights 2 days old, from Dallas, 18 hours old – an eternity in social media time. My heart rose to my throat and dropped to my feet all at once. My body went into its default state: dissociation.

Sorrow and determination, the same two words now rise in me again as they first did after the Freddie Gray Uprising in my home town, and then a few months later after the Charleston church shooting.

And something else, a fierce love for Baltimore.

A Mason-Dixon line city. A gritty city.

The-park-bench-with slogan-at-bus-stops-city: The City That Reads. Believe. Charm City.

Home of Shake and Bake Family Fun Center and HONfest.

The city of Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Lenny Moore, Thurgood Marshall, Henrietta Lacks, Eubie Blake, Billie Holiday. And the city of Francis Scott Key, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Enoch Pratt, Philip Berrigan, Wild Bill Hagy, Barry Levinson, John Waters.

The history of my city and the goodness of its people are both rising up.

Native Americans have lived in this area since the 10th Millennium BCE, but were probably not inhabiting the land when David Jones settled a claim in 1661 on what is now the East Side. Thomas Cole settled the West Side in 1665, then sold it to Jones 14 years later. East and West Bawlamer remain vital cultural distinctions to this day, with Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland “Health Systems” the respective dominant land-holders.

We became the Port of Baltimore in 1706 and Baltimore Town in 1729.  By the early 19th century we were a major port for the slave trade, attracting  slave dealers from Kentucky, Georgia, Virginia and Tennessee. They built slave pens – yes, pens – near Pratt Street, now the major east-west thoroughfare that passes the Inner Harbor, a commercial development and community event and gathering place with a modern history of being inhospitable to groups of black youth.

I get the feeling that most any place I might step in the city I am obliviously treading on history, even holy ground, ground sanctified by suffering.

As individuals, we heal when we come out of memory into the present moment. We do this when we remember. When we bring into awareness our forgotten, suppressed, and frozen griefs and rages. When we feel them in our bodies. When we permit them entry and integration into our psyches and lives instead of acting them out.

This is the journey we seem on the verge of beginning as a nation. Towards naming our disappeared, both owned and owner.  Towards feeling slavery and all its repercussions in the civic body. Towards FULL DISCLOSURE. 

How can safety, justice, freedom,  reconciliation, possibly be realized in its absence? 

And this is likely to be a rough road, given how difficult it is to agree on “facts.” Given how poor we adults are at listening. Given our tendency to make the world over in our preferred image. Given the ways our tribal bonds have taught us to see the “other” as suspect if not outright dangerous.

I sit here, watch the bumblebees, hope the sunshine will thaw me into weeping.

Meantime, in this thirst to know my city, I sip bittersweet nectar, begin to gather historical facts to dignify some few drops of the lifeblood of all those who have been erased from my city’s narrative and living memory.


A wealth of historical facts is available through The Maryland State Archives’ Legacy of Slavery in Maryland – case studies, interactive maps, and a searchable database: http://slavery.msa.maryland.gov