Like many of us, I’ve spent the last year plunged into icy dark waters I never saw coming. At first, it felt like drowning – a kind of emotional black hole with a vortex headed towards despair. Then, as time went on, story upon story upon story emerged of people rising up, finding their voices on crucial issues, often for the first time in their lives. And I glimpsed light sparkling out from that deep black hole.
Could it be that this new light could only be unleashed through last year’s darkness?
That hope always flares up from the most difficult times?
That pearls can only come from harsh abrasion?
In times like these I’m not sure about anything anymore. Pearls, hope, or light. Times like these, the likes of which I never thought I’d see. Times I still don’t know how to navigate as a mother. Or a woman. Or even, as a person.
Times that give me pause every single day, with every fresh new horror.
But… Do I have to “know how to navigate” these times to act? To speak? To rise?
Because I am sure of love. And love is the heart seed of pearls, hope, and light.
So the sense of drowning has morphed into something else. Something nuanced, and, I imagine, a collective experience unique to human beings treading massive social change or cultural collapse of one kind or another.
There is sometimes paralyzing grief, of course. The anguish of loss and the unprecedented attack against the democracy and the world we love. But there is also an awakening recognition of the constant, grinding, often traumatic abrasions of dirty, gritty interlopers into our most vulnerable fragile cores. Where hundreds of thousands of pearls are forming even now. Because it’s not just our democracy that we love. It’s our fellow citizens. Human and otherwise.
What the sand does not realize is that it is the caustic catalyst in making some of the most luminous jewels on Earth.
So many of us who are chafed and scraped and scratched and raped and molested and harassed—by this handful of violent little sand grains who’ve insinuated themselves in our soft loving hearts—feel this abrasion. And though it may wear us down it also does something else. It triggers profound empathic collective human response. Just as the rise of fascism eventually did in our grandparents and great grandparents in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor seventy-six years ago.
But today our response is much, much faster.
All of us hurting inside by abrasion are also asking ourselves and each other at the speed of Light: What can I do to help? To make it stop? To encircle these wounds with a pearlescent fortress to render the intruders null and void?
How do I love you now? How do I love myself? How do I love and protect you, my child, my friend, my lover, my neighbor, my fellow citizen? How do we rise together in this new tyrannical aftermath? Because even as we know the trauma of destructive intruders scouring our tender hearts, we grow ever more open to feeling others as we sense ourselves, to seeing their suffering as our own. To intervention.
To blocking the harm altogether.
And here, in this ferocious moment of collective empathy, come the stories. New stories. Story upon story upon story of people rising up, finding their voices, acting from this fierce new love. Even if that love means retreating from the world to tend the wounds. Even if that love means repelling forever the relationships that are not loving. Even if that love means adopting a whole new life. A whole new story of who we are. An entirely new response. Shepherding in—one bead at a time—a new kind of beauty.
The light sparkling out from that deep black hole is a string of thousands upon thousands of pearls… Fortified hearts turned to luminous gems that change the void of despair to the light of hope.
As every generation that has confronted radical change knows, it is the stories that heal. New stories arise of human actions driven by empathy, compassion, and love in response to oppression and hatred. Even science shows that reading novels inspires empathy, brain power, and social skills. New stories stabilize, secure, inspire, and make possible, healthy harmonious change. Since our own human dawn, storytelling of new responses to changing conditions defines our humanity. These tales access the higher order thinking of the human neo-cortex that is driven by empathy, love, and goodwill.
The neo-cortex knows We Are All Connected.
It is the stories of pearled human hearts that repel the dark. And it is new stories of new actions that will see us through; that will assure a stable world and climate. If we are to have them.
So, over the last year while I marched, called and wrote my MoCs, talked to friends and family, considered seriously running for public office, followed the brightest lights of investigative journalism and the fiercest empathic responses to the aftermath, that little voice inside kept asking, But what can I do?
How does love guide my pearled heart? How does it guide yours?
What do our hearts leap to do now, in these times?
We have a precious new solidarity, a new beaded web of luminous social empathy emerging in the world. An annealing of our hearts' most powerful sinews. It is a kind of unifying solace and shelter in each other that was not there before. Not like this. And it is evident everywhere in the rise of the stories.
Stories our children and grandchildren may get to tell... of how we created safe harbor in response to this new aftermath.
How does yours begin?
PS. Tomorrow I have a gift for you. My own vulnerable, hesitant, fledgling answer to this question. I’ll post it here. Maybe you’d like to share yours, too.