My teacher Avon Gillespie grew up as a black middle-class child in Los Angeles. He told me that during the Watts Riots, Bessie Smith and the Georgia Sea Island singers came out and sang on the streets the roots music of the Gullah people to help stabilize the community. Avon happened upon them and stood mesmerized, feeling like they sang to a deep black identity that had been hidden under middle class urban layers. He had come home.
I remember feeling a bit envious that such a clear sense of belonging and identity would never happen to me. My grandparents were dispossessed Jews who immigrated from Belaruse, my parents chose to raise me Unitarian, far from any Jewish identity and as an adult, I chose to follow a Buddhist practice. As a musician, I immersed myself in jazz and other music of the African diaspora, continued my childhood piano attempts to master Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, studied South Indian drumming, Balinese gamelan, Bulgarian bagpipe and yet more. In any given week, I may cook Japanese miso soup, Chinese stir fry, Vietnamese bun, Thai curry, Mexican tacos, Spanish gazpacho, Italian pasta. In short, I live at the crossroads of many cultures without wholly identifying with any one of them.
Perhaps the closest I’ve come to feeling I’ve found my people is weirdly, online with the second Collective Trauma Summit. Kudos to Thomas Hubl, the German organizer, for the wisdom and good sense to include a wide, wide variety of people. Not from any obligation to fulfill a diversity quota, but from the clear realization that if we’re going to make it through the multitude of crises facing us, we will need all hands on deck. We need all voices heard and all perspectives joined in sincere and courageous conversation. And so on any given day in this 8-day virtual gathering, you can spend time with indigenous healers from North and South America, African and African American people, European and Asian. The diversity continues well beyond continents and ethnic groups, gathering therapists, social workers, neuroscientists, poets, artists, doctors, shamans and yet more. All are in accord with four non-negotiable tenets (my words here):
1) We are living (have always lived) in a broken world in need of healing.
2) We are all ourselves —each and every one of us—broken and wounded and are responsible both for our own healing and co-participating in the healing of fellow sentient beings, human and non-human alike.
3) Healing requires conscious effort, drawing from our highest intelligence, deepest emotion, firmest determination, most courageous resilience.
4) All work begins with facing our own wounds and traumas, feeling the full grief and sorrow on the way to joy and redemption, with full understanding that, in the words of Leonard Cohen, There is a crack, a crack in everything, That's how the light gets in.
This last is perhaps one of the most moving part of spending time with many of the above people. I have suffered a modest amount of loss typical of anyone who has lived for seven decades, had a few minor health issues, felt mightily betrayed by people and communities I’ve loved— and done more than my share of whining and complaining about it. But as some of these beautiful, shining, loving people tell some of their stories of racial trauma, personal trauma, inherited trauma— things that would have brought me to my knees and left me there, never to walk easily again—I am astounded by the depth of their resilience and the height of their achievement in choosing love over hate, forgiveness over revenge.
That’s the ultimate choice that we all face and we need each other more than ever to help make it, to help each other stand again and begin to move forward. I believe it is the Hopis that had a prophecy for our time: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” None of these people in this gathering are proclaiming themselves as saviors, asking us to believe their words and follow their path and of course, don’t forget to donate lots of money! They are our next-door neighbor, our colleague at work, our distant cousin, who have made the choice to do the difficult, difficult, but necessary, necessary work of healing. They have chosen to serve life as the gift of a human incarnation suggests we do. They are here to remind us that “they” are “we,” the pronoun we all might choose to proclaim our identity.
Let’s get to work— together.