Start Close In

Wednesday, November 23, 2016 - 5:30 am

Start Close In

The world is full of people better than I am, so you’re probably not feeling this way about yourself. But for the past two weeks, I’ve been getting sick and tired of myself for the tediously predictable way I’ve responded to the political news. I’ve put a lot of energy into becoming a terminally annoying person, and I have nothing of value to show for my efforts. Nada. Zippo. Squat.

How have I been responding, you ask? I don’t want to drag our public discourse deeper into the sewer, so I’m not going to name any names. But here’s the gist of my routine. When the latest news comes out that president-elect [name here] has appointed or nominated [name here] to serve as [title here] in his administration, I shake my head, then my fist. Then I utter one or more of the following epithets: “whited sepulcher,” “moral abomination,” “white nationalist,” “threat to our democracy,” “flaming sacrilege,” or [sulfuric expletive here].

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think these characterizations are unreasonable or inaccurate, and I’m not taking them back. “Whited sepulcher,” for example, is a Jesus-approved way of pointing to hypocrisy, as in claiming to be for the working poor while taking actions that will benefit only the rich.

White nationalists are easy to spot even when they are shaved, duded up in suits and ties, and sitting at desks in the White House. They do things like using a major media outlet to proclaim “Hoist It High and Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage” — two weeks after Dylann Roof gunned down nine African American churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. during a Bible study to which the pastor had welcomed him.

No, I’m not backing off my critique of [insert name or names here]. But by responding the same way time and again to the “breaking news” of the past two weeks, here’s the sum total of what I’ve accomplished: increased personal distress, a bone-deep desire to get bombed (and I don’t even drink), and a deepening sense of despair.

This is not a fit way for a grown-up to live. So in honor of Thanksgiving, I’m going cold turkey on my rant-and-rave addiction in favor of something that’s already proving a whole lot more life-giving for me. I’m looking for personal and practical ways to protect and support the people who’ve been left wounded, fearful, and vulnerable by the outcome of this election.

Let me be clear. I do not include in that group people like me who are just fine except for the fact that our candidate lost, our most cherished values got trashed, and we’re worried about the future of our children, grandchildren, some of our friends, and the whole of our planet. We campaigned, we voted, we lost, and it sucks. But at this moment, we are not at personal risk of being bullied, harassed, publicly maligned, physically threatened, denied opportunity, or deported.

If that description fits you as well as it fits me, doing what I’ve been doing might help — but only if you have an ironic sense of humor and can take some of these lyrics with a grain of salt. Listen to Don Henley sing “Get Over It,” and take extra time to meditate on the line,

“I’d like to find your inner child and kick its little ass.”

We need to get over it so we can get on with it — the never-ending work of embodying and enacting love, truth, and justice. There is real suffering out there among people who can’t get over it, and we need to stand and act with them.

For me, this begins with withdrawing energy from ranting and raving, and reinvesting that energy in face-to-face forms of solidarity with people such as:

  • Children who are being bullied at school because of their race, ethnicity, and/or religion.
  • Immigrants who came here seeking a new life and now are feeling as unsafe as they did back home because of their religion or national origins.
  • Undocumented workers who have long been exploited with sub-poverty wages and are now fearful about their families being split up.
  • African Americans who are now hearing emboldened white supremacists become more vocal about their vile views, while the president-elect says little more than “Stop it!” on national TV.
  • LGBTQ folks who are worried about losing some of their hard-won civil and human rights.Women who’ve suffered from sexual harassment and/or assault whose wounds have been reopened and now fear that misogyny has received official approval.

These are big and daunting problems. But as I move toward them, I’m inspired by David Whyte’s poem, “Start Close In,” which you’ll find below. It reminds me that when I try to start big, it’s probably because I’m seeking an excuse to get out of doing anything. The big stuff is beyond my reach, at least at the moment. But if I start close in, I’ll find things I can do right now, things that are a lot more productive than pumping up my blood pressure.

I’ve been spending time on Google, searching phrases like “immigrant services,” “bullying prevention,” “minority mentoring programs,” “Hispanic centers,” “Muslim or Islamic centers,” “Black Lives Matter,” “LGBTQ allies and support,” “reproductive rights,” and “men against violence to women” — all preceded by the name of the city where I live. I now have a lot of email addresses and phone numbers, and I’ve begun sending messages asking, “In addition to donating, how can I be of personal help?”

I won’t be able to pursue every possibility that comes my way. But I’m sure that I’ll find a few things that call to me, things that fit the limits of my life while stretching me in ways that will bring me deeper understanding. They’ll give me a chance to say to people who need to hear it, “Not in our America!” Eventually, they’ll take me back to working on the systemic changes so badly needed if this democracy is to survive and thrive.

I have no idea what will call to me or how risky it may be — not because of the people I’ll be standing with, but because of those who stand against them in our Brave New World. But by “getting over it so that I can get on with it,” I already feel the bracing breezes of new life.

In my post-election funk, I even began to feel down about Thanksgiving. I wondered what I could give thanks for this year, beyond a bundle of personal blessings that exceeds my needs and is in no way “deserved.” That was before I spent last week with some fifty remarkable and diverse young leaders and activists who are doing work that’s making a difference around the world. They helped a guy more than twice their age get clear on next steps.

While with them, I had a vision. These next-generation change agents face serious obstacles. But given their big minds, wide-open hearts, massive moral imaginations, and boundless energy for love, truth, and justice, these young leaders and activists — and kindred spirits of all ages — will overcome.

Now there’s a true cause for Thanksgiving!

“Start Close In”
by David Whyte

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way of starting
the conversation.

Start with your own
question,
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something
simple.

To find
another’s voice
follow
your own voice,
wait until
that voice
becomes a
private ear
listening
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
thing
close in,
the step you don’t want to take.

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Contributor

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

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