Reasons for Hope
When I was ten, Omaha, where I was living with my family, was hit by a huge tornado. My brothers and I, home alone at our house, stood out on the second floor porch watching the clouds churn and the sky turn orange, then greenish yellow. We watched as everyone moved inside. Finally, when the weather reporter on the radio said the tornado had set down a couple of miles away, we went into the basement and made little blanket nests near the washing machine. We listened to the reporter and heard that the storm struck near the theater where our mother was directing a play. Later she called to tell us that the theater had been flattened, but she and the actors had been in the basement and were safe. The junior high across the street, where my brother went to school, was also demolished.
Driving down the streets where the tornado had done the most damage, I felt as though time had stopped—the faces of many of the houses were gone and some were left standing like doll houses, with most of the furniture intact. A medical dictionary was found miles away; the tornado hadn’t respected the inscription, “Please do not take this volume out of this room.” My mom had a friend who had recently moved to Omaha and didn’t know about tornados. He was driving when the tornado hit and was unknowingly in the eye of the storm. He looked to his right and the post office was razed; he looked to his left and the drugstore crumpled. He kept right on driving, until at last he reached home. His wife ran out of the house to ask if he was okay. When he opened his mouth, his voice was three octaves higher than usual. He squeaked, “What is going on?”
I thought about this calamity when the tornadoes hit recently in Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Iowa, and many other states, as well as Turkey, New Zealand, and Greece. I’ve seen pictures of the enormous damage, heard about the lives lost, and prayed for the victims. It’s easy to ask the question, “What is going on?”
I remember when a gardener friend told me years ago that climate change would manifest as chaos. Volatility seems to be discernible in lots of ways, beyond the weather. The world seems to be cracked open, manifesting change, churning and uprooting all we’ve known before. The softer capitalism instituted with the New Deal and the Great Society programs has been eroded, and the middle class is endangered. The public school system is threatened and underfunded. The economic collapse of 2008 has resulted in greater disparity between the rich and the poor. Our tenuous societal constructions, the ways we’ve disconnected from one another and the earth, are being revealed, uncovered, broken open. There are many reasons for grief and despair. And right beside that grief, in this chaos, I believe, there is the real possibility of transformation. I also see abundant reasons for hope.
I see hope in the neighborhood association around the corner from where my family lives, which decided, instead of focusing on crime, to work with neighbors to clean up the park, make more space for children to play, and host potlucks and movies in the park regularly. This is a working class neighborhood in which 14 distinct languages are spoken. The potlucks are amazing.
I see hope in the number of bikes teeming in the city, ever more, taking space from the cars.
I see hope in the work of the Quaker Institute for the Future which is hosting discernment sessions and considering solutions that address the roots of some of our problems at the level of the economy.
I see hope in the work of Niyonu Spann and Beyond Diversity 101, in which true human connection can be rediscovered, and in which learning to perceive the way we co-create the systems in which we live can help us to create new ways of seeing/being that more fully manifest a loving humanity.
I see hope in the message of George Lakey’s Quakers and Social Class workshops—demonstrating that the roles and skills we learn in our respective classes can be transformed into tools for societal change, if we work together.
I see hope in the work of Los Angeles Central High School peace gardens, in which American Friends Service Committee staffers have partnered with high school students to create an edible and sustainable school community garden.
I see hope in the recent research on neuroplasticity, finding both that the brain can recover more substantially from injury than previously thought and that neural pathways can be restructured, indicating that our capacity for remapping our minds, for learning, remains enormous even after childhood. I see hope in so many places.
Several years ago I read The Spell of the Sensuous: Language and Perception in a More Than Human World by David Abram. In it there is a seminal story which illuminates both the huge challenges and the potential for healing that exist. Abram spends quite a bit of time in the wilderness, wandering. On one occasion he passes the night in a cave and wakes to a spider weaving a web in the light of the rising sun in the cave’s entrance. He watches intently, unaware of time, feeling completely engaged and a part of the experience he is watching. He experiences himself as not separate from the spider, the web, the cave, or the air. Later he returns to Seattle with a commitment to retain his spiritual and natural awareness, but he finds that the human constructions against which he bumps—tall buildings, machines, roads—obstruct his sensorial experience; they literally get in the way of his capacity to retain his connection with the earth. The thesis of his book is that symbolic language has disrupted human experience and connection to the earth and animals, that the abstraction of language and our own inventions has disturbed our experience of ourselves as part of a more than human landscape. His solution is to practice a speech and language, a storytelling and spiritual presence, rooted in the land:
This, too, gives me hope. The chaos around us is an invitation to awaken, to find connection and grounding in the landscape and with our neighbors, to reconnect ourselves to the soil on which we walk, and to rediscover the practice of the presence of God in the glint of a stranger’s eye, in a hydrangea in the backyard, in the bee’s flight.
I hope this message finds you both shaken and awakened during this tumultuous time, ready to live as if our lives were prayers calling us to be fully human, to be tender and broken, eager for healing.
Lucy leaves FGC, takes a position at AFSC: 10% Off 'Good-bye' Sale
This is my last Book Musings. After more than twelve years, I have decided to move on to other work—I’m excited to say I will be working as the Friends Liaison at the American Friends Service Committee as of August 1st. I will miss FGC and the Friends with whom I’ve gotten to work, but you can find me soon blogging on AFSC’s website, and I will be traveling among Friends, and hope our paths will cross. I especially wish Barry Crossno, FGC's new General Secretary well in his tenure - he has many practical and spiritual gifts to give to FGC and I look forward to watching the organization thrive under his leadership. I leave the work I've carried in good hands: Chel Avery and Jerimy Pedersen will be writing Book Musings on alternate months, and other fine folks will be taking up my other work.
It’s been a wonderful twelve years, full of challenges and grace. Thank you for reading these occasional writings, and for being supportive of the bookstore. Without you, QuakerPress and QuakerBooks would not be possible. Please continue to support the bookstore and the ministry of the written word that offers a uniquely Quaker perspective.
As a way to say “good-bye,” all items at the QuakerBooks website are 10% off from today until next Tuesday, the 26th.
Plenary recordings from this year’s FGC Gathering available as mp3s
All three recordings from this year’s FGC Gathering plenary addresses are now available at QuakerBooks.org as downloadable mp3s for $5.00 each (10% off through July 26th at midnight). Hear samples of all the talks on FGC's SoundCloud page, or click one of these links to purchase from QuakerBooks:
To Go Where There Is No Light
A Human View Of Justice And Public Secrets