I got my first tattoo last year. I have this rule, a 6 month rule. If I’ve chosen the design and the placement and held those unchanged for 6 months, I’ll get the tattoo. This is the only one to survive so far.
“Awake.” I hand-wrote the word a few hundred times before I settled on the one I liked most. I brought the paper with me to the tattoo parlor. In ten minutes, I was scarred.
“Awake” was my Peace Corps word. Two years of loving that experience, fearing it, missing my family, missing home, digging in my heals, tripping over the language and the culture. I would find myself overwhelmed, and this word became my mantra, a spell I used to bring myself back to center.
“Awake,” I would command. “Awake,” and then calm and clarity. It was a call to stay awake, to stay present, to feel the physical presence of the world around me. This word was a guide, urging me not to miss my life while pondering the metaphysical reality, the eternal significance of every toss and turn I experienced.
Don’t miss it.
Over the past week, my mind has raced. I can’t get through a meal without talking about it or trying to find some news. I can’t get through a conversation without diving into the roots of our shared problems, digging to find the connections, praying to find solutions. I become overwhelmed with what I find, the piles of dirt and the paths of life giving roots all tangled together, living connections you cannot unravel.
I keep telling myself to stay awake, to be present. For me, this week, that has meant two things.
First, to take stock. I am surrounded by beauty, by kindness, by people anxious to find authentic pathways to truth and hope. I have a running list of the things I work for, the parts of my life I work to stay true to. My husband and our future kids. The grace and peace I experience from my Twin Cities neighbors and friends. My life-giving connection to my family, most of whom don’t always share my religious or political convictions. My work, which ties together thousands of people around the world who want to help people displaced by disaster. And the thousands of small precious parts of being alive – the quiet moment in the morning putting fresh water in the cats’ dish, the bouquet of zinnias from the garden, a set of quilted stockings I’m working on for our first family Christmas in our house.
I find myself taking stock of these things to remember. I need to remember what I love about being alive, and why it’s important to me to be active in my community, to create peace among people who, like me, have their own lists that make their lives so precious.
The second way I’m staying awake after this past week is to stay in touch. I am not a natural protestor. I am not a natural political gatherer. But this election woke us all up to the divide in our communities, our states, our country, and it has awoken a beast of rage and hate, not among everyone of us, but in so many of us. And to be clear, the rage and hate is not coming from the fringe, it is coming from all of us.
So, right now, I’m staying in touch with the people and places that I can find who are trying to get to work. We have so much work to do, but already I am waking up to the people I know and new people I’m meeting who are working to create hope and action.
Yesterday I met Caroline Yang. She photographs the Black Lives Matter movement in the Twin Cities. They are the first photographs that I have seen that not only show the movement as real, beautiful people, but also, she has shown through her work how sacred these souls are, how sacred their movement is, how sacred the ability to gather and protest truly is. And on top of her work, I found she’s a regular Twin Cities mom, just another member of this beloved community trying to make it to school drop-off on time and figure out healthy eating for her kids.
I have stayed tuned to On Being, the show that released a hope-sustaining interview with the late Vincent Harding who asks us, “Is America possible?” and answers with love.
I am staying close to my friends, asking them what they’re working on, what they’re seeing, how they need support.
And more than ever, I am letting myself be moved. On both sides of the vote, I find voices urging me to stay quiet, to wait. On one side I find people telling me not to do anything that would make them feel ‘looked down on’. I care about this, about how they feel, and this ask makes me pause. On the other side I read article after article telling me how safety pins are useless and small acts don’t matter; only well thought-out, ‘tangible’ acts matter. That also gives me pause.
But today, I know I just need to let myself be moved to act. There is no action that doesn’t matter. I love and respect people on both sides of the vote, and I have to trust myself to know I will do my best to show that love and respect. But the real struggle isn’t a problem of love and respect, it’s problem of fear to act. I have to let myself be moved.
So, I stay awake. I stay connected to people making a difference. I carry in my mind everything in my life worth fighting for. I let myself be moved.
That’s where I am a week after the election. I would love to know, where are you?