When you have a crisis, you either have a greater sense of yourself or you become a smaller person. When you’re facing a big obstacle, there’s really only two outcomes; you either become a bigger person and meet it head on with the full force of your imagination or you become a smaller person. If you go through the crisis and come out the same, it really wasn’t a crisis. A real crisis will change you and it will make you either bigger or smaller. It’s an opportunity.
-Michael Meade: Finding Genius in Your Life
Is America in crisis? Hmm. 400 government posts left unfilled, weekly turnover in the White House, a pathological narcissist with his finger near the nuclear button, a Secretary of Education confused that her 60 Minutes interviewer suggested she actually visit schools, an entire political party excusing something as serious as Russians tampering with our election, the next Me Too story, the next school shooting, the end of facts as viable parts of a discussion, the NRA now standing for Not Responsible A-holes. For starters. I’d say that qualifies as a crisis.
“In a dark time, the eye begins to see” wrote poet Kenneth Rexroth and indeed, I am inspired by all those who are choosing to leave complacency and do the hard work of enlarging themselves—enlarging their point of view, their understanding, their knowledge, their capacity to care and feel deeply even though it hurts, their courage to speak out. And equally depressed by those who grow smaller, keep parroting their comforting clichés fed to them by Fox News and right-wing radio, hide behind some fantasy of “making America great again,” sell their capacity for independent thought and their soul to the Devil of party allegiance.
In the face of what’s going down, America will never be the same. Nor should it be. If we take the enlarging path, we will move closer to the promises of the founding vision—true life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all of us, not just the privileged white male rich. We will enlarge the community of people we’re willing to accept, to talk to, to work with, to play with, to love. We will make larger the definition of economics and factor in the spiritual cost, the environmental cost, the amount we’re willing to borrow against our grandchildren’s future. We will enlarge the definition of education to include both the arts and an artful approach to teaching that keeps children’s curiosity lit, welcomes their questions and imaginative responses, helps reveal their unique character and blesses them in their own way of thinking and makes it all equally available to all as public education. We will enlarge our understanding of religion as different names and paths to the same end, the revelation and celebration of a divine Spirit that lives equally in all. The only down side to the response to enlarge? It takes work. It takes thought. It takes effort. It takes self-doubt. It requires awakening even when we’d rather burrow under the covers and stay hidden in bed.
The smaller path? Mouth the party line, meet no uncomfortable truths head-on, narrow the mind, close down the heart and send the spirit back to slumbering while shopping in the mall, playing video games, watching too much TV, going to the church of no questions, stockpiling money and weapons, dismissing anything you don’t like with “fake news,” denying your own actions (“can’t recall”), spinning everything for your convenience, rejecting all who don’t look, dress and un-think like you. Staying asleep and refusing to awaken.
Then I suppose there’s the middle path of ignoring it all, hoping it will go away, sidestepping the opportunity in some naïve faith that nobody and nothing will have to change. Hint: That’s not going to work. In a crisis, neutral is not an option.
The students at Parkland and indeed, students all over the country, have had their lives torn open and turned upside-down. At a time when they should be worrying about pimples and studying for the math test, they find themselves on the national stage battling with calloused politicians and speaking truth to power. We have failed to protect them and keep them in their proper realm of wondering what to wear to prom. But in the end, it’s a good thing that they have been thrust into a battle that calls forth their idealism and engages their thought and emboldens their hope. They are meeting the challenge to enlarge themselves far beyond the norm to meet the world head on. I, for one, offer them all my support, encouragement, admiration and love.
And I hope the rest of us follow suit. With the unraveling of life as we’ve known it comes the invitation to re-weave the fabric of our collective lives. None of us know the design or pattern that will lead us to a brighter future, but there is no other choice than get to work and start weaving. Remember there is no neutral. We are either weaving or unraveling. “Bang, bang” goes my loom.