Storms. Floods. War. Mad men with guns. The headlines tear at our national emotional quilt. Never Before In The US, blared one.
I enjoy an expansive vocabulary. But some days, I don’t have words. And the spiral I take toward mental exhaustion isn’t fun.
It’s as if I wake up at the mercy of the Queen of Hearts. “Where in the world am I?” asks the White Rabbit, “that’s the great puzzle.”
“Oh, you can’t help that, we’re all mad here,” says the Cheshire Cat.
The Queen of Hearts rules the kingdom. “Why,” she says, “sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
So here’s my confession. If I give in to the mental exhaustion, I begin to believe (and internalize) that empathy can be overwhelmed, compassion can seem helpless, suffering can be too much to comprehend, and the level of public quarrel too much to absorb. Mercy.
But here’s the deal: While I may have no magic to heal the pain and loss of others, or power to erase suffering from the world, I can stay grounded, and do what I can to help one person at a time (even myself), with small acts of great kindness. And who knows, maybe small acts of kindness will make heroes of us all.
No doubt we could use some heroes. Or at least a dose of wisdom, to keep our hope alive. For me, that means re-watching X-Men: Days of Future Past. True, it begins with a very bleak look into our future, wondering, ‘Are we destined to destroy ourselves?’ But it is a movie about free will, and ultimately about the possibility of redemption.
The turning point in the film (major spoilers ahead—you have been warned) comes when young Charles comes face-to-face with his older self.
Young Charles: So, this what becomes of us. Eric was right. Humanity does this to us.
Old Charles: Not if we show them a better past.
Young Charles: You still believe?
Old Charles: Just because someone stumbles and loses their way, it doesn’t mean they’re lost forever. Sometimes we need a little help.
Young Charles: I’m not the man I was. I open my mind and it almost overwhelms me.
Old Charles: You’re afraid, and Cerebro knows it.
Young Charles: In all those voices…so much pain.
Old Charles: It’s not their pain you’re afraid of—it’s yours. And frightening, as it can be their pain will make you stronger if you allow yourself to feel it. Embrace it. It will make you more powerful than you ever imagined. It’s the greatest gift we have that we can bear pain without breaking, and it’s born from the most human power: Hope. Please Charles, we need you to hope again.
Yes. We all need to hope again.
Sign me up. Where do I begin?
It seems easy to lose hope, doesn’t it? Or easy to assume that hope is depleted, and cannot be replenished.
This is important: hope is not something we acquire or even learn, or add to our life. Why? Because the good news is that hope is already in our DNA. It may be buried, true, but it is still there.
So hope is something we honor. There is power in this awareness. Even (and especially) in the muddle. This means that we can be present, and sit with, sorrow, pain or unknowing, and not be undone by them. They are big. But not bigger than hope.
“Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention,” L.R. Knost reminds us. “So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.”
Some night soon, make some popcorn and watch the movie, Whale Rider. It is set in a small New Zealand coastal village, where the Maori claim descent from Paikea, the Whale Rider. In every generation for more than 1000 years, a male heir born to the Chief succeeds to the title. Tragedy envelops the village when the Chief’s eldest son, Porourangi, fathers twins (a boy and a girl) and the boy and his mother die in childbirth. The surviving girl is named Paikea, nicknamed Pai.
Grief-stricken, her father leaves the country. And Pai is raised by her grandparents. Koro, her grandfather (who is the Chief), refuses to acknowledge Pai as the inheritor of the tradition and claims she is of “no use” to him. In his world, girls cannot be chief. But her grandmother, Flowers, sees more than a broken line. She sees a child full of strength and dignity and light, and in desperate need of love.
Today, we need more people like Flowers.
Koro is blinded by prejudice, and even Flowers cannot convince him that Pai is the natural heir. Prejudice is born of and fueled by fear. We see only what we want to see, and are unable to sort through what is real. With our blinders on, we can never see how blessed we truly are.
At the mercy of this fear, the old Chief is convinced that the tribe’s misfortunes began at Pai’s birth and calls for his people to bring their firstborn boys to him for training. He is certain that through a grueling ritual of ancient chants, tribal lore and warrior techniques, the future leader of their tribe will be revealed to him.
Meanwhile, deep within the ocean, a massive herd of whales is responding, drawn towards Pai and their twin destinies. When the whales become stranded on the beach, Koro is sure this signals an apocalyptic end to his tribe. Until one person prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the people: the Whale Rider.
Alerted to this activity, the entire village is witness to this incredible event. Koro sinks to his knees in humiliation as he finally realizes just how blind he has been to have missed the only person in the village who is truly deserving to be the new chieftain, and she has been living right under his nose all these years.
The whale swims out to sea with Pai still riding on top, sometimes above the surface, sometimes beneath the surface of the ocean. And though Pai believes that she is to ride the whale to her eventual death, after a while she slips off, and floats away. It is some time before the villagers know that Pai has been rescued and is recuperating in a nearby hospital. Filled with love, pride and joy, Koro visits his granddaughter to anoint her the new chieftain of her Maori village.
Who knows… maybe in our way we can all be whale riders. It is, after all, in our DNA to bring hope.
Last night I was with a group of good people in Pomona. We talked about living without fear, and embracing our authentic self to keep hope alive.
Today, I walked the beach in Laguna, California. I looked out onto the Pacific Ocean. I needed the waves today and the breeze from the ocean. It is what the doctor ordered. The rhythm of the waves and wind washes over and soothes and replenishes my spirit. And yes, it feels like an anointing. I can vouch for that. I breathe in and breathe out. It keeps my hope alive.
Quote for your week…
Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud. Maya Angelou
(Thanks to John Katz for insights, and imdb for Whale Rider)
POEMS AND PRAYERS
If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.
Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.
So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in Gods heart;
they have never left him.
That is what the things can teach us:
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.
God of autumn, the trees are saying goodbye to their green, letting go of what has been. We, too have our moments of surrender, with all their insecurities and risk. Help us to let go when we need to do so.
God of fallen leaves, lying in coloured patterns on the ground, our lives have their own patterns. As we see the patterns on the ground, our lives have their own patterns. As we see the patterns of our own growth, may we learn from them.
God of misty days and harvest moon nights, there is always the dimension of mystery and wonder in our lives. We always need to recognize your power filled presence. May we gain strength from this.