“we must end this uncivil war…”
as soon as his breath propelled those words across his lips and out into the snow-flecked january cold, i inscribed them on my heart. i hadn’t quite framed it that way, in those four words, so profoundly, so poetically, so imploringly.
and then, as if that wasn’t enough, the wise old soul whose very fiber has been forged in the white-hot furnace of grief compounded by grief, he all but unbuttoned his coat, pulled back his ribs and showed us what burns in that cavity: “my whole soul is in it,” he said, as if speaking to each and every one of us, as if elbows were plopped on our very kitchen tables, eyeballs gazing at eyeballs, mugs of coffee just off to the side, instead of there in the sunlight and shadow of the nation’s capital. then he all but whispered it again: “my whole soul is in it.” and that’s when i whispered, “mine too.”
having just witnessed — from the edges of our seats — how close this fragile experiment in democracy came to crashing into splintered bits, having lived under a poisonous cloud of daily assaults on decency, straining to stay steady, to keep from being sucked under in the shifting quicksands of moral decay, of a nation under the false premise that license had been given to spew venom from the checkout line to the capitol steps, i am more certain than ever that this is not a one-person parade. if we stand a chance of shoving this moment in time toward the light we claim, toward the peaceable kingdom we believe is possible, well then every last one of us needs to get to work, to chip in, to put one foot before the other in a slow walk toward mercy and justice for all.
my inaugural promise is this:
i will cloak myself each and every day in humility and gentle spirit, the surest vestment for the hard and holy work ahead. for months now i’ve tiptoed in the darkness to my kitchen table where i’ve lit a candle and whispered the words of confession. “most merciful God…” i begin. “…we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. we are truly sorry and we humbly repent.”
i will not reflexively shut my ears, close my heart, turn my cheek the wrong way. i will hear them out, whoever it is. i will try, oh i will try, not to leap in with my insistent retort. not to interrupt. not to wield the sharp sword of assumed superiority, not think that my way is the right way, and all else is wrong. i will try, i will try, to step into the other guy’s shoes. to imagine the hurt, or the fear. to look for a gentle way in, to open just a little bit wider the doorway to some common ground. even if only fraction by fraction.
i will actively step into kindness. into imagining the unexpected waft of goodness that might just turn the tide of someone else’s dark day. i will model the thousands of kindnesses that have come my way — the sacks of apples left on my stoop, the tray brought to my hospital bedside, the steaming hot chicken pot pie once delivered on an arctic cold night, to name just a few.
i will carve out time even amid the whirlingest of days for whoever taps me on the shoulder, looks me in the eye, and whispers, do you have a minute?
i will — in some way, shape, or form — seek out foreign terrain, the realm of those who might be quick to dismiss me: too white, too old, too left-leaning. and begin with the light-seeking questions: what keeps you awake at night? what do you dream? what brings you joy? what makes you cry? where does it hurt? who do you consider to be the most heroic human you’ve ever known? and how so? what’s one act of kindness you’ve never forgotten?
because i realize my impotence for change-making at the structural level, i will pinpoint one not-for-profit effectively working toward solution — be it reuniting children separated from parents at the border, or ferreting out all vestiges of racism and bigotry from the nooks and crannies of america, or protecting wetlands from the ravages of greedy exploitation — and i will commit to shaving off a dollar here, a dollar there from my weekly spending and send off occasional bundles from my consciously set-aside sum.
but even more than dollar bills, the currency i commit to this campaign is the craft i ply each and every day: mine is a calling to words, words as instruments of peace, words as the silken thread that weaves together uncommon hearts, words that open doorways into long-locked corridors. as the beautiful and blessed national youth poet laureate amanda gorman so perfectly put it in the wake of her inaugural poem: “words matter. we’ve seen over the past few years the ways in which the power of words has been violated and misappropriated.” she sought, and i seek with her, to “reclaim poetry as that site in which we can repurify, resanctify the power of words. and to invest that in the highest office of the land.” to invest that in every office of the land, elected and otherwise. from the humblest foot soldier to the commander in chief. and to that, i say amen, amen.
we must end this uncivil war. and my whole soul is in it.
what’s your inaugural promise?
What could be a better inaugural promise? Your words convict me and cause me to turn. Thank you.
oh, yipes!@!!! not convicting anyone, sweetheart. only trying to step up to the holy plate. xoxoxoxoxoxoxxo (but i get your point, and love you for your mea culpa.)
I will ask those same light-seeking questions, seeking to listen and learn, not persuade or convince…
And “mine is a calling to words” – for me, both spoken and written.
Thank you bam, for this lovely piece, and thank the heavens for a safe and inspirational inauguration day Now roll up our sleeves, we’ve got God’s work to do!
amen, amen! oh, i prayed sooooooooooooooooo hard for safety wednesday. i was a wee bit terrified in the days before. never felt that way quite so piercingly, not in a long long time anyway.
Barbie thanks for making the message more real.
I feel mobilized and focused with the “The Chair app”downloaded.
The speech and the poem brought tears—but The Chair brings action — for me.
God help us!
sometimes those tears are the lubricant that gets the gears in action!!! xoxoxoxoxo
“Tears are good for the gears.”
Yes, words do indeed matter. Thank heavens for people like you who can find them and speak them, for I am often mute when overwhelmed.
My inaugural promise is to try my damndest to say what is needed to be said and to shut up otherwise! (Then again, I’ve been trying this all my life with rather less than stellar results …)
oh, beautiful monkheart. you make me break out in big ol’ friday night smile. i love your promise. far as i know, you ALWAYS find the words to fit the keyhole! xoxoxox
My inaugural promise is to move forward with hope under the banner of love and to make a concerted effort to educate myself, particularly in areas of American political history, civil rights, and all topics relating to antiracism. I intend to read everything I can get my hands on. How can I engage in meaningful conversations with family, friends or neighbors whose beliefs and actions are heart-rendingly opposed to my own unless I do some serious homework? xoxo
homework sounds like the way to go, to find our mind opened in places we hadn’t realized needed opening. to read from just the slightest new angle, to see as we’ve not quite seen before, in that fractional shift that might make all the difference, might illuminate whole new shadings. in the meantime, let us follow every word of the brilliant poet amanda, who is the joy story of the year to date. whether i am listening to her poetry — the minute she lifted those ballerina fingers, i was entranced — or her off-the-cuff postulating and being her astonished-at-all-this self, i am enchanted…..
if you come upon essential titles, please leave them here, so we can read along. xoxoxo
My innaugural promise is to keep leaning in toward the Light. I just read your piece this morning in The Stillness of Winter about teaching your then little guy to SEE, to truly see. And that’s a big part of my commitment in 2021 as well.
that is so funny, we were just talking about that boy and his binoculars at Shabbat dinner tonight! to see, we all need to see…..and to do whatever it takes to lean into the gloaming….
I am going to work hard at making the “space between us” an approachable threshold (thank you, John O’Donohue) that crackles with connective energy (thank you, Lyn Brakeman) and a sanctuary where conversation and connection can happen (thank you, Jan Richardson). I will try to keep it hospitable and safe so that words, gestures, glances, emotions, etc can be shared safely. I will commit myself to work hard at being an active listener (thank you to my children who have taught me to be the listener they need before the counselor they ask for) so that others feel respected and heard.
This is the work of a lifetime. If we are going to have meaningful discussions, the “space between us” must be free of hostile confrontations and safe for honest discussion. We have witnessed the complete collapse of this safe space in our politics where attack has become the norm, in our communal voices where shouts and taunts have replaced meaningful interchange, and even in our families where differences of opinions have turned into shouting matches and left huge fissures in the fabric of the family.
I am committing to nurture this space, to carefully place my words there and allow others the same chance, and to keep the space fertile, respectful, honest and safe. No doubt it will take great patience sometimes.
Thank you for your “Friday delight”, Barbara. I cherish your insight, thoughtfulness, kindness, intuition, and of course, questions. Blessings.
bless you. sounds like you are already deep into your understanding of and commitment to the space between. so so essential. if only we could move through our lives unencumbered by the detritus that sticks to us, that gets in the way, that can sometimes clog that between space, and keep us at unbridgeable distance….
Definitely an amazing blog 🙂
thank you for finding the chair!