“be our best selves,” and other wisdoms gleaned
in which we turn to the wisdom of others to find instruction for the way toward grace…
a precede before we begin: i was trained as a journalist to leave my politics off the table, to keep it out of my writing, and because i’ve worked for almost 10 years to make this a sacred place outside the cacophony of the cruel world that tries to knock us down, i want to put the politics aside here, and frame this as a conversation of all the things we believe in here at the table: looking across the abyss to find the glimmering shards of the divine, renouncing hate and hateful speech. finding courage even when we’re mired in doubt.
when we sat down to dinner the other night, the night after we’d stayed up till the wee hours watching votes roll in, we clasped hands as we always do, maybe a little tighter that night than we sometimes do, and we nodded toward the gentle man at the far end of the table, the man whose moral ballast, whose capacities to anchor my fevered flights, weighed deeply into why i married him. it was his turn to say the prayer. he spoke simply, two sentences perhaps. and the one that’s stuck with me all week, the one i’ve all but sewn to my backbone, to put muscle to my wobbly self, is this: “dear God, let us be our best selves.”
it’s as wise an instruction as any i’ve stumbled upon this week.
what it means, i think, is to double-down on our inclinations to be living-breathing beacons of all that’s good. and by “good” we mean those actions inscribed in every ancient and timeless holy text: love as you would be loved. turn the other cheek. be your brother’s or your sister’s keeper. to name a few (please, name a few that guide you).
when the world around you feels as if the ground’s been shaken, when you’re scared by all the words (and acts) of hate that swirl around, is there any hope in muscling on more deeply attuned to your own code of gentle kindness, in reaching across the darkness in search of the glimmering shard of holiness we’re sure is somewhere out there?
is there any other choice?
we can’t submit to the lowest, harshest impulses wired into the whole of we are.
is it enough to conduct our daily lives in a cone of grace, a willingness to listen, to speak in soft and measured tones, to sometimes muster all the courage in the world to step in and say, i’m sorry, that’s wrong and i will not stand silent?
or might we need, more emphatically than ever, to step beyond our well-worn zones of comfort, carry our best selves into the more public sphere?
i’m rich in questions this morning, short on answers. i’m guided, as always, by my simple code: make each encounter peace-filled, at a minimum. take it up a notch and sow an extra dash of goodness, of compassion. look the stranger in the eye, allow your eyes to sparkle. speak a word of shared communion. make someone laugh. wreak random acts of plain old kindness. shake someone out of complacency by your radical gesture of human decency. put breath to the voice of truth, of healing, of all the wisdom you can muster. don’t be afraid.
i’ve been turning all week for instruction from the wise souls who surround me. my dear friend katelynn carver is a friend i made in a virginia woolf class at harvard divinity school. she’s in scotland now, at st. andrews, writing herself toward a phD in wisdom. she wrote this brilliant essay this week, titled “the opposite of indifference.”
in part, she wrote:
We’re forgetting the most important thing. Because we think we’ve lost love to hate, today. We think we’ve lost kindness to wrath, today. We think we’ve lost the good in what we stand for as a country to violence and hate-mongering and xenophobia and all of the horrible -isms that plague our society and divide us ever further where we need to unite. And I won’t kid you: all those things have been dealt a mighty blow—mightier than many of us have ever seen.
But we’re wrong that we, as a country, lost to hate, today.
she went on to write:
We need to look beyond the superficial, and take nothing for granted, and create dialogue where we’ve long found it easier to turn a deaf-ear. We need to dig in with both hands and do the hard work.
We need to protect each other. We need to recognize what this division has done to our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens. We need to reach out and assist immediately with those who are grieving this morning, who are fearful, who are suffering or devoid of all hope, and remind them that they matter, and that there’s light left, and that we’re still here. We need to see the hate and the rage and the vitriol and sit with it a while, so that we can understand where it comes from, so as better to help heal where it stems from. We need to remember that at the end of the day we are all human—and if remembering that is a trial, or a seeming impossibility, we need to work harder. We need to work to figure out how to stop being being so scared that we’re defensive, that we’re ignorant, that we make enemies amongst ourselves and cut rifts that shake our cores. We need to figure out what went wrong that parts of our nation have ever felt that they need walls, physical and metaphorical.
But what we need most, is to remember. We are a nation of many nations. We are a people of many peoples. We are a generation being faced with a challenge, as every generation is, and we are being called to rise to it and shore this nation up at its fractures to be stronger, to be better. We are an experiment, and sometimes experiments don’t go the way we expect, but that’s what makes them groundbreaking—for better or worse.
Where this experiment leads is going to be in our hands, now. And if we remember only one thing as the first step, as the driving force, and the first niggling thought before we remember everything else ahead of us, expected of us, needed from us—we must remember this:
We are not indifferent.
And as long as that remains true, we have a path to forge onward.
no wonder i love katelynn. (please read her whole essay).
and on katelynn’s wisdom, i’ll sign off — with love, and faith that, together, we’ll find our way toward the shining light that cannot be extinguished.
david remnick, a voice i turn to in times of light or dark, wrote in the darkest hours of tuesday night, wednesday morning. he chose these words to end his essay: “…despair is no answer. to combat authoritarianism, to call out lies, to struggle honorably and fiercely in the name of American ideals—that is what is left to do. that is all there is to do.”
and my burning question: what instruction guides you? where are you finding hope? how do you define, “be our best selves”?
I have always tried to practice empathy, to treat others as I would like to be treated, to consider the feelings of others before my own. It is both my prayer and my hope that as time moves forward, this darkness will be lifted by the people who love their neighbors, love the others, and spread this love around. It’s wrong to allow darkness to rule our lives. As you said, BAM, we all need to kick it up a notch, be kind, patient, and thoughtful humans, reach out to everyone and leave a trail of joy every day. If the leaders of our country can’t be decent human beings, it’s up to the people to show how love will prevail. . . Loved this entry today! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
dear jack, i appreciate your kindness. this was a hard one to write. i must have started and deleted a few times. since i’m still so dazed, i found it hard to find the idea that might propel the conversation. what i love most about the chair is that i know we all share the common belief you so beautifully spell out above. “leave a trail of joy [hope/love/faith/kindness] every day.” and i suspect that not everyone who stops by the chair voted the same way. but beyond our vote is our hope, our prayer, that we live in kindness, and draw the best out of ourselves in hopes that it kindles the same in those we touch each and every day……
We are women. We go forth. We lead the way. And we share the light with all who follow.
Andrea Lavin Solow
beautiful. and amen. our marching orders from beloved ALS!!!
a friend i LOVE just sent along this video, Inspiring Acts of Everyday Kindness. here’s the text, in case you like me want to scribble it down. (sunday, nov. 13, is world kindness day. just saying…)
are those who give, without interest
who offer themselves, and expect nothing
are the places of small sacrifices
where the thankless work
are the acts of true adoration
reveal the heart
of the Divine
the givers in the crowd
earning praise for their generous deeds
For they have received their reward
But for those who give in secret,
more shall be given
They shall be called ‘blessed’
The true saints;
of streets to dwell in
Thanks dear bam. I am struggling like I have never in my life struggled to be be a listener and not close my ears and heart to those who have chosen to support a president elect that (to be honest) makes my skin crawl. I am struggling with moral decisions on when and how to include them in my life. I am struggling with how to keep their words, beliefs and actions from wearing me down to a tiny sliver of hope and faith, I am struggling with how I will keep the dialogue going so we do not live in separate worlds with no chance of building bridges.
I have no answers in this early morning moment of years to come. The sun is just creeping up over the horizon as I write. Maybe I don’t have to know yet. Perhaps for now I will rest in the space between reaction and action, not passively but with thoughtfulness and hope and without fear. Fear is the devil that will bring us all down.
sounds like a place to begin, sweet angel. “not passively but with thoughtfulness and hope and without fear.” i’m having trouble quelling the fear, as i hear stories closer and closer to home about acts of hate targeted on people i know and love whose skin is a shade darker than my irish tones…..
i think of my heroine dorothy day who insisted it’s “by little and by little” that we sow the seeds that might begin to shoot down roots and rise up stalks……
in the meantime, peace and light will always be home here at the chair…..
Love you, Joanie.
Bless Blair’s kind heart. You two are so perfect for each other. I have not known where to turn this week, or how to stop weeping. The culmination of the months and months of campaign rhetoric finally culminating threw me over the edge. Today I decided to just try to be kind to everyone I encountered. Like a boy walking along the seashore throwing starfish into the water, I can only touch one at a time, hoping it mattered to that one.
Thank you for always turning the light on at the table and inviting us in, providing a safe place for everyone. I love you like crazy. Take a look at the big super moon on Sunday and know that I am thinking of you and holding you close.
oh, my dear darling, i love the image — and the action — you conjure: the boy at the seashore throwing starfish into the water. i am SO with you. my first deep inclination is to dial up the kindness and the light i cast in my solitary small path through the every day, and then i chastise myself that it’s not enough, i need to step beyond, but then i think, in the end, that if we can stitch each encounter with human-to-human heart and soul connection, isn’t that the most emphatic way to begin to weave a stronger whole?
i can’t wait to drink in the super moon tonight. light much needed. the world is so parched.
if we can turn the tears of weeping into acts of love well then we’ve a big headstart on making change….i love you back, sweet angel. xoxoxo
Walls, physical and metaphorical. . . These words have an astonishing resonance, as they summarize what my quaking heart has witnessed in the months leading up to the election. (I’m trying not to think of November 8, 2016 as Black Tuesday.)
Going forward, when I am met with walls, physical or metaphorical, I’m going to keep the words of Leonard Cohen before me: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
What can any soul of good will do but look for the light? I’m reminded that when daylight fades, there are stars to travel by…
I am shell-shocked and shaken, but I’m not without hope. I’m going to walk in the light.
oh, dear amy, i love that wisdom: “when daylight fades, there are stars to travel by….”
and, oh, that leonard cohen is here, even in his departing to remind us of that essential truth: the crack is where the light comes in.
i love the circle of light here at the table…..xoxoxo thank you for being a beacon, always. or should i say a star shining in the dome of heaven……