Friday, November 11, 2016

Who we all are

Yeah, it stinks bad.  And we all covered up in it, too.
Ain’t nobody clean.  Be nice to get clean though.
from the Civil War film, “Glory”

Years ago, I heard a wonderful story about an anthropologist who worked with children in an African tribe.  He proposed a game in which he placed a basket of fruit near a tree and told the children that whoever got there first won the sweet reward.  Then, when he told them to run, the children joined hands and ran together so that they might reach the reward at the same time. 
While they sat in a circle, enjoying the fruit, the anthropologist asked them, “Why did you run like that when one of you could have had all of the fruit for yourself?”
They replied, “Ubuntu…it means I am what I am because of who we are.  How can one of us be happy when the other ones are sad?”
When I teach yoga classes to children, we sit in circle, partly because of what I’ve gleaned from this incredible story, but mostly because a circle has no beginning and no end.  No hierarchy.  No pecking order.  What our circle embodies is a sense of equality, a way for the children to see everyone’s place in the group as valuable and necessary; that without one person, the sphere would not be complete.  While every child is encouraged to speak, to voice an opinion, to contribute to the group from their own experience and perspective, I also encourage them to remember that we are stronger as a whole.
When I teach new groups of kids, we play the “spider web” game in which I hold a ball of yarn and ask the question of the day.  Sometimes it’s as simple as “What’s your name and how old are you?”  Other times I’ll ask, “What’s your favorite comfort food?” or “How do you spend time with your family on the weekends?”  As each child answers, the ball of yarn is rolled to him or her while the person who just spoke holds onto a part of the unwinding thread.  At the end of the game, our little circle has created a spider web, connecting us all through the cord of the question.
“Now, I’m going to gently pull on my string,” I’ll tell them.  “Who can feel that?”
The children more closely connected to me nod their heads. 
Then I invite other children to pull on their string and ask, “Who felt it that?”
Other children will nod.
“So what each one of us does affects other people,” I’ll say.  “What I do affects you and what you do affects me, too.  Now, let’s all relax our hands and see what happens.”
“The spider web gets loose!” someone always replies.
“Right,” I nod.  “Now, let’s all gently pull together.”
“Hey!” they smile.  “The web gets stronger!”
“That’s right,” I tell them.  “When we all work together, we’re stronger as a group.  We need everyone to make our little web because no one could make this on their own.”

People who embody Ubuntu know there exists a common bond in all humanity.  Desmond Tutu eloquently them as “open and available to others, affirming of others”.  They do not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a self-assurance that comes from knowing “he or she belongs to a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.”
On Tuesday night, I spent the evening with Satish and Danta, watching the election returns with their mother and older sister.  The boys could earn extra credit at school if they colored in a map of the electoral college, so we kept our eyes glued to the television for updates.  As Danta filled in state after state with the color red, he started to look anxious.
“I know this is hard,” I told him.  “But American elections teach us that every voice counts…even the ones that we don’t agree with.”
Danta dejectedly nodded.  Then an hour later, his eyes filled with tears when we all took in the grim reality of what was happening.
I gave him a sad smile, “Danta, don’t worry…the United States has been around for over two hundred years.  And in all that time, we’ve had some horrible presidents and some wonderful ones, too.  No matter what happens, time will move on.”
That night, like so many other Americans, I was unable to sleep, tossing and turning until four in the morning.  I thought about the year and a half I spent researching the Civil War and the Holocaust, grimly realizing that history is beginning to repeat itself in ways we won’t fully recognize until the future unfolds.  When I finally accepted the outcome of the election, I burst into tears, not because the candidate for whom I had voted was defeated, but because of the undeniable rift in our country’s soul. The hatred and anger that motivated people on either side to make their choices.  The endless rhetoric, hypocrisy, fearmongering, and “my way is the only way” mentality of the president-elect that will continue to echo in our culture for years to come. 
However, my grief is not from fear.
I’m deeply saddened in much the same way I felt on the morning of 9/11, for when the Twin Towers fell to the ground, I burst into tears for our country, knowing that our nation would never be the same.  Now I think about Lincoln's famous quote, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."  I’m concerned about Satish and Danta.  About their family and families of the people I love who come from different cultures and backgrounds.  My heart goes out to people in their extended circles who have been attacked, demeaned, and verbally abused because their skin is a different color or they worship differently.   I’m deeply concerned for women's rights, for my LGBTG friends, for international relations, for our fragile environment, for a host of other things that connect us as human beings. 
It’s not been easy to teach yoga this week when I’m in this state of heartache, but I’m doing the best I can to be a calming presence for my students.  I’m infinitely thankful for my meditation practice which allows me to connect to the peace that eternally resides deep within, a place that we all have, no matter our politics, our religion, our color or creed. 
At the end of class yesterday, I said to my students, “It’s good to be with people of like-heart.”
After they had left, a text message arrived from a dear friend who has differing political views.  I love you, Katie Belle Angie wrote.
Tears filled my eyes as sent back heart emojis and wrote You, too, for she and I know that love means we respect and embrace each other, even if we don’t see eye-to-eye. That we don’t have to agree to be kind.  That we can be of like-heart, even during the times when we may not be of like-mind. 
Now, more than ever, I know more fully I am what I am because of who we are in relationship to each other.

There have been many times in the past year when I’ve wanted to write commentary about the state of our political nation.  I’ve wanted to put my two cents in on a host of issues that have been talked to death.  Time and again I made the decision to remain quiet, not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because it wasn’t necessary. 
After 9/11, many of my friends went to New York City to march in funerals for the fallen, to work as massage therapists for the rescue workers, to serve with the Red Cross.  I sent donations and sent my prayers, knowing that my time to serve would be in the future when all the others had left and the healing process was still in progress.  In 2003 I flew to New York and stood at Ground Zero, feeling everything all at once…grief and sorrow and a tentative hope.  Since that time, I’ve worked for peace in all areas in my life, not that it’s always been well-received.  
Not that I’m at all surprised.
I was raised in close proximity to a man eerily similar to the president-elect.   I worked for people who echoed his arrogance and entitlement.  I’ve been assaulted by one who refused to be accountable for his actions.  What I’ve discovered is that bullies often get their way.  That money greases the palms of injustice.  That political napalm is often heralded as a fresh start. 
But the story is not over yet…for more will always be revealed.  As I grieve for the state of our nation, it’s not only for those who are mourning the loss of the candidate who won the popular vote.  I’m deeply saddened by the generations of frustration, of anger and fear that brought us to this time in history when many of us will soon make the choice between what is easy and what is right.
I only pray that there are enough people, no matter their color, creed, or religion, who are brave enough to join hands and work together, knowing that the fruits of compassion and human kindness can heal even the deepest wound.