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Current events are troubling. Take your pick. Without even watching television I feel bombarded, hemmed in, powerless. I wring my hands.
Where can I go? I ask. Is it possible to live a peaceful, happy existence, free from the outrageous social / cultural / political bullshit that impacts me? I ask that, too. I throw my hands up.
This is not the first time we’ve felt divided, overpowered, outraged; it will not be the last. Some would say things don’t change. But I think that’s the grace we get—the fact that change is the only constant and we’ve got a hand in that.
I was born of a wildly creative mother. She taught me well how to make things by hand. I’ve sewn my own clothes and made ceramics, I’ve crocheted, knitted, and collaged my hands raw. I’ve even written up a nub on the first knuckle of the middle finger of my left hand. I make a mean meal at Thanksgiving, too. I also have this responsibility to help—again, on account of my mother, who tasked me with leaving life better than I found it—to share, or support in whatever ways I can, because so many have done the same for me.
I used to think I wasn’t big on confrontation, that I’m not the political type; I don’t like to fight. Yet I have friends who do. Every time the world goes crazy, you’ll find them on the front lines: they march, they represent, they rally. Not me, I thought, counting up the years since I’d marched on Washington with urgent demands for equality, fair housing, justice and peace, and added my voice to a chorus of protest. These days, you’re more likely to find me, not on the front lines, but somewhere off to the side or in the middle of it making art, mining for optimism, volunteering, talking, writing, pushing and pulling from the inside out. I never saw that as protesting or fighting, figuring I’d lost it somewhere in time. Then I realized that there can be no ‘front’ without sides, middle, and rear.
It seems random, the way I show up—giving the proceeds of music gigs to charity; contributing handmade crafts to a local benefit; volunteering time at the community radio station; by writing out the storm—it’s what works for me. It’s been my way of confronting the outer nonsense and facing down the overwhelm that creep in along with it.
Prying my heart open when the shit hits is among the toughest fights there is, especially given all of the invitations to lay blame and reinforce the walls around me. Struggling toward openness and connection is not the struggle of the faint-hearted, but it’s exactly what’s called for to get us through. We make light of language like kindness, love, forgiveness, openheartedness, faith and all that because they’ve been hollowed out through too much lip service, but the truth is they’re always the essence of everything we seek.
To be creative, to realize one’s vision is a fight in and of itself. So, too, is being happy, loving and up to the task of changing the world while we’re in it. This job is big. It is gargantuan, Sisyphean, Herculean, epic.
Anne Lamott once wrote: Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up. I had to use her words because I couldn’t have said it any better.
Headlines will fade and blaze again; the dead will be buried, and if we’re still standing, then we’ve got work to do.
Throwing hands up, pointing fingers, flipping birds, and twiddling thumbs while the world rages around us simply will not do. We are better than that.
Whether you are writing a song, painting a picture, lifting the blinds from your eyes, building a bridge, signing or writing a petition, planting flowers, pulling people together in protest, or holding your tongue while you listen to someone else’s story—whatever—get your hands busy making things better from where you are.
Don’t think one person can make a difference? What about that one person who picked up that gun? That one person who challenged the law? That one person who wrote the book that illumined the truth? That one person who planted a song of revolution in our minds? That one person who coaxed young minds to bloom? That one person who—
Find your work; put your hands to good use. And do not stop.
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