Photo courtesy of Nigel Howe/Flickr
So, I don't know if you've stopped by the internet recently, but man. It's not pretty.
And it's not so pretty, it seems, outside the confines of pixels and bytes. The real world feels as if it's caught on fire. Or maybe it's that the embers of old aches have been stirred and stoked into a growing inferno.
It's been a rough week for black Americans (you know, relatively speaking). And a rough week for law enforcement (also relatively speaking). A rough week all around for America.
I've felt this pall of hopelessness blanketing my shoulders. In conversations with friends and family, there's this sense of paralysis. Like we hate what's happening, we yearn for change. But we have no idea where to begin.
Where do we begin with this mess?
I circle around this question multiple times a day. Every time I read the next piece of commentary. Hear the next piece of bad news.
How can I help clean up this mess?
I come back to the idea of healing the world that touches me.
And I come back to love.
The problems feel massive. And the solutions. What are the solutions? There seem too many or too few to count.
In order to avoid getting poisoned by the venom of despair and lulled into depression and inaction. I cling to this idea that what I can do doesn't have to be huge. It doesn't have to change the world in one sitting.
Healing the world is like raising children. It's ongoing. It's unending. It's all the time.
You invest your heart and energy tackling these menial, sometimes infuriating tasks day in and day out. Repeating the same lessons and the same lines over and over again for years and years "We must be kind to one another." "We must treat people who we want to be treated." "
We must be kind."
"We must be kind."
And the fruits of your labor come in the smallest of moments. When your daughter insists we pick up an extra cookie for her sister at home or when your kids start picking up trash in the park unbidden, acting as if they're on the world's greatest treasure hunt.
It's not as if I don't have designs for grander gestures, for making bigger impacts. I look at changing the world as building muscle mass. Right now is about strength training. How many times can I connect with people – friends, neighbors or strangers – in a meaningful, genuine way?
Even if it's just eye contact and a smile at the checkout.
Even if it's just making sure to say hi (or at least smile) to everyone (and I do mean everyone) I pass in a day.
Even if it's finding more opportunities for silliness in the world – letting the girls ride the cursed car cart at the Home Depot and racing it through the parking lot making engine noises, dancing and singing at the top of my lungs while we're stuck in traffic on the Baltimore beltway.
It's not much. Not really. But I've always appreciated public displays of goofiness. It reminds me of the lightness of life. The joys of being a living, sentient being on this beautiful Earth. It reminds me to be lighter. To be light. When I witness this in other people it helps my soul float. And it makes me want to be more glow-y in turn. To spread the light.
I know how all this sounds. It's a little, let's be honest, hokey. A little Kumbaya. I don't mean to make trivialize anything.
I know just being nice and a little weirder than normal, won't be the thing that solves the issues plaguing us today. I'm not naive.
But it's something I can do now in the life I'm living. And by doing it I don't feel so powerless. By doing it I feel as if I'm becoming stronger.
In "Big Magic," Elizabeth Gilbert shares this story:
"I have a friend who's a nun who has spent her entire life working to help the homeless of Philadelphia. She is something close to a living saint. She is a tireless advocate for the poor and the suffering and the lost and the abandoned. And do you know why her charitable outreach is so effective? Because she likes doing it. Because it's enjoyable for her. Otherwise it wouldn't work. Otherwise it would just be hard duty and grim martyrdom. But Sister Mary Scullion is no martyr. She's a cheerful soul who's having a wonderful time living out the existence that best suits her nature and most brings her to life. It just so happens she takes care of a lot of other people in the process – but everyone can see her genuine enjoyment behind the mission, which is ultimately why her presence is so healing."
So what is it that you enjoy doing? And how can you share that light without feeling like a martyr to your cause. Without feeling overwhelmed by what you haven't done?
A month or so ago I was taking a walk with the girls down my street.
One of my neighbors drove passed, turned around in their driveway and came back to us.
They told me there was a shady looking man wandering around on the next block. They wanted to give me a heads up in case I wanted to change direction.
We'd never really interacted with these neighbors other than to wave or say, "Trick or treat."
They live on the opposite side of the street from us, a few doors down.
I was so touched by their gesture.
How they looked out for the girls and me. Strangers, really.
I thought I'd bake cookies for them to say thank you. But then I thought it might be weird.
This weekend I thought about my neighbors again. They're one of the only black families living on my block. Which feels like a funny thing to type ... because, well, we're supposed to be colorblind or something? I guess that isn't really working out for us anyway ... but there you have it.
They have a son, Harold, who's 17. I met him one day while he was walking to his job at the grocery store near our house. I offered him a ride because I was heading over there. He was soft spoken (or maybe he just thought I was weird ... and too chatty. Both of which are true).
I thought about how terrifying it must be to be Harold's parents – Harold's mother – with the siege of headlines today.
I decided to bake some cookies. I told Brad I was going to drop them off at the neighbors with a thank you note. And he gave me this knowing smile.
I pressed him on it. And he gently suggested that I keep the interaction simple.
See, because he could sense the monologue I would've delivered to this family about how sorry I was about the past week. About how, while I couldn't understand what it was like to be black in America today, I did understand what it was like to be a parent and worry about the safety of your children. How I wanted to help things get better.
It would've been too much. My nice neighbors didn't need to be burdened by my guilt, my worry I think.
So I just wrote a simple note thanking them for their kindness ... apologizing for the delay ... and dropped it off with their daughter. Chocolate chip cookies probably taste better with gratitude than with awkward interactions with that weird neighbor down the street.
I hope, anyway, that the door was opened for more conversations down the road.
***Finally, this week, I kind of felt like I wanted to add some silliness to the internet.
First, the funniest book I've read in a long time, "The day The Crayons Came Home," by Drew Dawalt and Oliver Jeffers.
For those of you who don't know, I hate peas. It's not just that I hate them, they make me vomit if I eat too many. So I try not to eat too many. It felt like a major victory when I read this part and found that I'm not alone:
Embrace your weird, goofy selves. The world will be better for it.