4 November 2015
I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap. ~Ani DeFranco
I’ve just returned from a trip to New York City where I was graciously welcomed by an intimate group of women who have been friends for decades. Their warmth enfolded me, nourished and supported me, making me instantly at home in an unfamiliar environment.
They showed me the sights, as only locals can. I soaked up stories of their years in the city, threaded behind them through thick crowds in subway tunnels, met their friends, felt the grace of their voices singing beside me in church.
In this secure, comfortable position, I was nonetheless an outsider. And so in a good place to notice the layers of community we create. Partners. Friends. Neighbors. Congregations. Those with whom we share a passion or a cause.
We are tribal by nature. The need to connect is innate to humans.
Tribalism had survival value in terms of providing food and protection. It continues to provide thrival value. Community expands my understanding of others, inspires me to work toward an objective, opens the door to a new city.
Yet, I’ve spent a lot of years resisting a place in the human community. The atrocities committed against ‘others’ crumpled my heart, buckled my knees, and locked parts of me into angry condemnations.
I wanted to belong. But not to this species.
My heart hardened in ways I didn’t think revocable. Hardened to caring what happens to our planet. To the persistent agony of atrocity.
But I want to be a part of. Not apart from.
At the 9/11 memorial and museum, I came face-to-face with agony and atrocity. I saw the faces of firemen climbing into the burning towers. I heard the voices of plane passengers calling loved ones they suspected they would never see again. The woman I was with had friends in one of the towers, and I walked beside a section of the stairs down which they narrowly escaped. I stood beside the building’s shrapnel, massive steel columns twisted and frayed.
I was torn apart by the horror of that day and then torn open further by the heroism and courage that exceeded even the magnitude of the terror. The actions of the few extremists were so clearly outnumbered by the groundswell of courage, compassion and heroism from the larger community.
I can’t make sense of such unfathomable acts. But, I do know how often I have despaired, feeling utterly powerless in my wish to shine some glint of light that could help guide the future toward clean air and a healthy place to live for every race and species. I wonder if it is this desire to belong to a community, a desperate yearning to be a part of something meaningful in a world that seems to be spinning off its axis, that is the basis of suicide bombings, genocide, terrorism. If so, I can relate to that much.
My acts of outward violence are small and personal, usually aimed inappropriately at my husband. Yet, without much provocation, I can be intolerant inwardly. I can judge and exclude, find the differences rather than the similarities, cherish a preconception rather than extend toward a broader understanding.
I can’t stop atrocities or agonies, but I can work to change my inner acts of intolerance and violence. I am working to be sensitive to the ways that I set myself apart from others. I want to let down the perimeters I’ve been defending. And open back up to caring, even if it hurts all the way down to the bottom of my heart.
I have a long way to go on practicing and living this.
New York City is an alive and vital mélange. A stewpot. In Queens, 170 different languages are spoken. I’m so glad to have been there with friends. Grateful for the opportunity to see life through a thousand different lenses. For the moments of opening wide to such a diversity of focus and filter and framework.
Standing proud in the harbor is the Statue of Liberty. She is gorgeous and strong, holding up her beacon that celebrates freedom for the oppressed and the inclusion of all.