There have been two events in the last week that have brought deep calm and hope to me where I didn’t know hope was missing. I hadn’t realized how much the news had been weighing on me. I’ve felt a responsibility to watch it, read it, try to understand it– but I think that the current state of this country has been breaking me down from the inside out. Hard. And I now know I’m not alone.
For the most part, I keep my political orientation to myself, but I realized this week, that the breakdown I’ve been feeling transcends partisan opinions or beliefs. It is a deep wound of disorientation. Of assault on what I believe is the basic goodness of people in general and leaders in specific. And I see now that our collective is feeling it to the bone. Bone on bone. Late night TV isn’t even that funny. I watch it as a nightly relief, and yes I laugh…but lately, I sort of want to cry at the jokes too. I feel…despair.
I’m a bucker-upper. A glass-half-full kinda gal. A this-too-shall-pass person. So this despair thing is something new and I dearly and desperately don’t want it to become my new normal. In this last week of hope, I’ve realized that I want to/need to feel like I belong to something that is a firmament of integrity and goodness. I need to trust-fall into that firmament and know it will catch me and hold me and let me give it my faith.
That happened to me this week. Twice. I want to share a bit of it with you so that you know, in case you’ve forgotten, that it’s possible. But it doesn’t happen by accident.
Hope #1 (not in this order)
I spent the morning of December 5th like many of us did: watching the George H. W. Bush memorial service. Politics aside, the sum of its parts blind-sided me with overwhelming sobbing. Reverie. A deep internal bowing.
I couldn’t stop it. I didn’t want to stop it. There was a fierce intuitive understanding that I needed to cry those tears. Watching that grief-struck family in that hallowed American hall, with those old hymns and military overtures, those speeches and the appropriate laude and honor…it was clear to me that we were mourning a good man. The man that was being mourned and honored represents something that I hold dear, and that is the importance of a strong, good, leader who loved his wife, his family, his country, and who believed in kindness and even gentleness. Who came from an era of loyal patriots that didn’t whine or blame or boast or spew morass.
It brought me back to the rooting of my childhood when I stood in church next to my father and harmonized on hymns and held his liver-spotted hand and played with his soft blue veins and looked at his high white thumb moons and knew that he was the gentleman he was because of his hard work, his WW II pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps way of showing up, his values, his ethics, his common decency, his dedication to his family, his job, his community, his fellow human. I hear his “Shoulders back, Munson” every day, especially when I need courage.
I believed in those things because of him and the other class-act gentlemen I was raised with from that era. I cried because I miss them. They’re dying off. And in this daily incineration of our hearts by the nightly news…I just want to believe in our country and feel like I can trust-fall into it like I did even then, again, politics aside. Watching that funeral, I realized that I have never felt more vulnerable and heart- sick as an American, than I do right now. I long for unity. I have never seen such division and while I try not to focus on it, how can you not feel its corrosion of the collective? It’s everywhere. Remember Hands Across America? I want to link arms, whatever is your politics, and be good together. I believe in our central goodness. My father did too. He raised me to believe in it, to look for it, to be it.
As I watched those speeches and listened to the Episcopal liturgy of my youth, the bible verses and hymns, I wept. Sobbed. Smiled through tears. One of my very favorites: O God, our help in ages past. I sang/hummed along to every verse of it. I cried at the soprano descants. The altos grounding it. But mostly I cried because I saw a family there, grieving their legendary patriarch. And giving us our own grief to mourn as patriots. Not divided. For a few hours, I forgot who our president is, what crazed gun-slinging madman or natural disaster has just devastated a community. We were crying good tears. Together. And I believe that we were grieving not just a man, but our unity.
Tom Brokaw said it so well, holding back tears, just after the service:
“I’ve never seen one that had such an important message that was so far reaching. It was an Episcopalian ceremony with an ecumenical message. And the message was about faith and hope, but family and values. About dedication to, not just your family, but your country as well. And to know WHEN you have to cross the aisle and pull together.
…I think for a lot of people this was a distillation of a message that we all need to hear. …We ought to be thinking about the message that we heard here today.”
I also felt that trust-fall into hope in a home in Palm Springs, CA last week, in celebration of two wildly talented women: an author, and a musician, brought together by an Emmy award winning journalist. They were having dinner one night, and they decided to celebrate with an intentional gathering of kindreds. We came from all over—fifty women. We came with our hearts in our hands, and we came without wanting things from one another, other than community, inspiration, and loving connection.
We were welcomed with the invitation to put down our phones and connect with one another, have those conversations that we all need to be having, in person, looking into each others’ eyes. We were promised that each person was specially chosen to be at this celebration and that as a result, we were with kindred sisters.
I put any residual adolescent PTSD aside and spent the day trust-falling into each circle of women, and like-wise, holding them as they trust-fell into my circles. It was an Us Us. All day. Hiking through Indian Canyon, eating delicious food, hanging by the pool and hot tub, and all the way through to dress-up evening clothes, and Happy Birthday, and for some of us, late night shenanigans.
Every single one of these women felt like an immediate sister to me. We all knew that we are highly sensitive people, prone to high-octane empathy and sometimes overwhelm, and we did it anyway. We trusted each other and we told each other our stories and we tried to find meaning and hope in what feels so painful in our national collective– though we spoke less about that pain, and more about the hope. And we freaking laughed and played like fifty of the best playmates you may or may not have had as a child. Or in high school. Or college. Or even with your current friends. But we didn’t talk about what we didn’t have. We talked about how we wanted more of this!
At one point, I turned to a writer friend who has done my Haven Writing Retreat in Montana, our toes wiggling in the warm pool like little girls, and I said, “We are all fluent in this language. And yet we so rarely speak it.” She nodded, smiling, and said, “Write that down.” Which is what I am constantly saying at Haven. It was so nice to be told it! So I did, and here it is. Let’s memorize it. We are all fluent in this language of connection, and yet we so rarely speak it. It really is…our Mother tongue.
By the end of the evening, all of us sitting on the floor, eating, laughing, throwing out our arms or putting our palms together as we shared our truth, sometimes touching without meaning to and not apologizing for it, like one organism, moving our appendages in an alchemistic equilibrium, our hostess stood up and called out: “Shall we meet again next year?!” And we all hooted and hollered, “YES!”
I kept finding myself saying, “I’m so happy. I haven’t been happy like this in a long long time.” It was a surprise because I’m happily with groups of women all the time. But ‘tis true that we need to receive as much as we give, to make a whole, effective person, and a whole effective heart.
So there it is: we’re STARVED for connection. LOVING, supportive, raw and real…connection. I know this as the author of a memoir, and as the leader of retreats because I hear over and over again messages of gratitude for helping people know that they’re not alone. But I didn’t realize that I’ve forgotten this as a woman, away from a leadership position. Everyone in that room is in a leadership role in her life. And everyone in that room was happy to leave it for the day. I was so happy not to lead. To listen and take it all in, and say things in a way that doesn’t have to be quotable or learnable or teachable. Just to truly…let it all hang out. Let it all fall back. Not lean in. Fall back…in trust and true connection with no agenda except for the hope of feeling known and knowing with our empathy as our guide.
So what I know of hope right now, is the feeling of falling into it and trusting that there are people who can hold you, just as you promise to hold them. In total health and harmony, heart, and yes hope. A more kind and more gentle nation…indeed.
I want to thank the women for taking their dinner trio think tank/love-fest, fifty-fold. I want to thank the nation for stopping this week for a few hours to feel unified. I want to thank you for reading this and for picking up your lone hand and placing it in the palm of another’s. We can do this…together. We have to. No choice. We are the UNITED States of America, after all.
Now Booking Haven Writing Retreats 2019
You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and longs to find your unique voice. It’s here…in the stunning wilderness of Montana! Click for more info.
March 20-24 (only one spot left)
May 8-12 (ah, the sweet month of May in Montana…darling buds and all.)
June 12-16 (great time of year for teachers. Time to fill YOUR cup!)
June 26-30 (ditto)
Sept 18-22 (my favorite time of year. Still warm during the day. Fire in the fireplace at night.)
Sept 25-29 (ditto)
***Haven Wander: Morocco (February 2019) may have a spot. Email me for more info: firstname.lastname@example.org