…you know? Our experience, no matter the times — but maybe especially during times such as these. I liken it to a spiral; perhaps on an angle. We go up, and we go down. We feel ready to meet the day, and we feel like pulling the covers off of us in the morning is the last thing we want. It cycles month-to-month, week-to-week, etcetera. You know the drill.
I’ve been lucky to be in an intimate space with some new (as well as a couple of old) friends during this time. They are men who showed up for the men’s group I’m offering. We meet once a week in the morning. We connect. We support each other. The cycle is apparent here. And there can be a synchronicity to it. We’re traveling together, it turns out.
Personally, the last couple of days were rough. Not horrible, but rough. I had some stories pop up that made it a bit harder to be present than I’d like. I’ve had worse, but you know, I’d prefer the easeful days. Today was more easeful.
It cycles, you know?
Here’s the thing, wherever any of us is at any given point is okay. We can be angry or afraid or sad or disappointed or dispondant or bereaved or dejected or cynical or joyful or eccstatic or on and on and on. It’s all what it is, and that has to do. I’d say we’ll get through this together, but that’s not entirely true. We are all going to get through this in ways that we get through it. We’ll all have the experience we have. If we can make room for each of us to do that, I suspect we’ll have come a long way.
Let’s see if we can make that happen.
And the cycle goes on.
I had this thought while walking outside with the dog: what would I say if I was asked to give a commencement address? Of course, it’s a silly proposition. I’m certainly not on anyone’s list for such a thing. That said, something popped into my mind. I thought I’d sketch it out here.
You have been lied to. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but someone has to rip off the band-aid. To let you in on a little truth. Without any further delay, here it is: you cannot be whatever you want to be. Take a moment, and let that sink in.
I’ll say it one more time, just for clarity’s sake. You. Cannot. Be. Whatever. You. Want. To. Be.
[hold for silence]
There are lots of reasons for this, but I’m not here to get into that. I’m simply here to tear down the lie, and to reveal the truth behind it. Because, while this might seem like bad news, it’s not. In fact, it’s great news. It’s maybe the best news there is. Why? Because knowing this allows you to begin to sift through all of the cruft and detritus floating around your mind and heart and sort out what is yours to be.
We get fed a lot of things over the course of our lives, some of which we end up believing is ours. Much of it — most of it? — isn’t. It belongs to someone else. This can be fine, and we can live a fine life by swimming along the grooves left for us by others. But what we can’t do in the midst of that is the most fundamental thing. It’s the thing that comes to us as a gift when we see it on the other side of the truth that I just laid out.
I’ll say it once more: you cannot be whatever you want to be.
The gift on the other side of that is this: all you can be is…get ready for it…you. Fully you.
The trick is the want part. That lies in the stories that our culture tells. It lies in the things that our friends and families, our teachers, and our marketers have been telling us our entire lives. That want part tells us that we are striving toward something. Let go of it, and the path will open up.
Now, this is about where I get hung up. There’s something in this tale that feels right. But there’s something else that doesn’t. Namely, it doesn’t take into account the systemic oppression that many folks live with. Is this, at the end of the day, just a veiled form of white supremacy? I think there’s a way to say what I’m trying to get at that breaks past white supremacy, but maybe not. Anyway. This is what came to me. Outside. With the dog. Just gonna leave it here.
What do you mean by…
I could go on I’m sure. This should be enough to chew on. What do you mean when you say these things? What informs your understanding of them? What gets left out? What is intentionally excluded? What do we make up about those who see things differently?
What if we slowed ourselves down enough to interrogate ourselves at this level? I suspect we might see some change.
What does it mean to be helpful? How wide of a reach do we need to have in order to have the largest possible impact?
It’s interesting — there is this desire for a broad reach. To get to as many folks as possible. I saw a post on LinkedIn that said something like, “I wasn’t getting the reach I wanted until I started commenting on people’s posts and writing my own posts. Then I went from a few hundred connections to 2 million. That’s how you do it!” I suppose if we have an audience of 2 million, a lot of folks can hear our message. But does trying to get to that audience size allow us to have the biggest impact we can really have?
I’m beginning to feel like the place for the most impact is in the small group. The intimate space. Over time. It doesn’t necessarily scale — but it might be more long lasting. Depth over span.
Quality. Not quantity.
A wee bit more on hope
Will we have a vaccine? When?
When will we feel safe enough to go back into a restaurant?
When will we feel safe enough to go to a concert? To get our hair cut? To hug a friend?
What about the schools. Surely they must reopen in the fall.
These are all real — and reasonable — questions.
Thing is, we don’t know the answers to them. We don’t. No one does.
This brings me back to hope. Is what we need to hope for these things? Hope the kids can go back to school. Hope we get that vaccine in a year or less. Hope we can hug a friend before having a meal at a restaurant. We can, but what does that do for us?
Nadia Bolz-Weber does a beautiful job of summarizing some of what I’ve been thinking about, which has influenced the last post.
We don’t know the answers to the above questions. We do have a future to move toward. But we need courage to get there.
And sometimes that means the courage to stand in our fear and anger of the situation.
Some super incomplete thoughts on hope
- …[A]lmost no one…is hankering after an evening of lament and trouble, of grief and mystery. There’s too much of that during business hours. Without “hope” on the marquee there aren’t many takers.
- Stephen Jenkinson, Come of Age p. 20
I’ve been thinking about hope. The above quote, as well as the book it’s from (as well as some of other words uttered by its author) are partly why. Also partly why is because I’ve been noticing more and more how easy it is to slip into the future. It seems that in today’s reality, longing for the future is kind of a collective hobby.
The future is a way out. The future is where we will get our ‘finally’. The future, of course, is something that never really arrives.
Now, I’m not saying that there won’t be a ‘next week’, or that if we put a dentist appointment on our calendar for the 20th of next month it never happens. Of course not. What I am saying is that projecting change out into the future — as hope does — we set ourselves up for something. I think we set ourselves up for some significant disappointment. As I’m writing this, something else comes up for me: hope is passive. It’s something that happens in the imagination, which makes it, well, not very useful.
I think about the communities among us that have been living in major struggle — struggle those of us in the white middle class know little about. Food and housing insecurity. Fear that leaving the house will mean not coming home in the evening. Fear of the prison and ‘justice’ system. What of these communities? What do they have to hope for? What would hope get them? Not much.
So what can we learn from those folks? What can we learn as we sit back and watch them persevere year after year? Well before the COVID-19 pandemic. What replaces hope? They replace, I think, a one syllable word for a two syllable one: hope for courage. It takes courage to get up every day and live and work in a world that doesn’t seem to care if you live or die. It takes courage to live in a world where you have to, on the regular, fight for your rights.
I remember a colleague of mine telling myself and some other colleagues about a group he was starting to work with. He was struck by how hopeless they seemed. They didn’t want to go on. They saw no reason to; to them, every path led to the same old outcome. He said that his job was to bring them hope. I bristled. I couldn’t think of why. I had no idea what it was in my system that rejected what he was saying, but something did. I think I get it now.
What if, instead of trying to bring them hope, he went to them and said, ’Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps all is lost. Really, though, there’s only one way to find out. And that’s by taking some steps, together, toward something.” I can see them sitting there, looking at each other, and then looking at him. “How the hell do we do that?” they might ask. Fair question, right?
“Well,” he would say. “You just have to do it. But you need to have the courage to do it. And you need, right now, as you get ready to do it, to commit to giving it your all. You have to have the courage to take the steps — together — and fully live with the outcomes. There’s one other thing, though.”
They stare at him. One of them says, “Ok, I’ll bite. What is it?”
“You have to have the courage to be changed by your experience.”
This is the crux. Hope doesn’t give us the power to change. Courage does.
Sure, it might end up a shit show. It might end up with the same results. But something else might happen as well — a real shift. There’s really only to find out.