Posted by: MC | February 22, 2010

American Dreams

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
Mary Oliver

During this week last year, a comment appeared on the EX:Change blog from <expatrick>:  “Asking people to put their dreams into words is asking a lot, but it also helps them get a step farther down their own path. These are people’s prayers you’re hearing.” 

The other thing I’m remembering from that time was hearing people say, “This trip is as much about you as it is about the people you’re talking with.”  Friends said that.  So did family.  And then people I met along the way, new friends, chimed in.  I would always agree in some passing and intentionally gracious sort of way, but I wasn’t sure I agreed.  After all, I was giving back.  EX:Change was about the American people in all their diversities.  It was about collecting and returning those voices especially as they related to the possibility, the power, the creativity and the idea we’d all taken on – the idea of change.

Yeah, of course it would be a cool story in my life.  But it wasn’t about me.  I mean, that would be way too self-centered, right?

Just a few minutes ago, I learned that my dear friend, Jenn – a lovely red-headed woman in her 40’s – a dancer and midwife and mom and partner – an artist of courage, of faith and of the most unique and dulcet whimsy in the midst her “one wild and precious life1” – had a stroke.  Surgery and the finest of medical attention mix with the prayers of hundreds, probably thousands, and today – right now, it is likely that too soon life will no longer move through her beautiful form.

I am sad beyond any words.  I am angry with the crushing cruelty of this circumstance.  I am praying.  I am crying.

A life is fleeting.  A friend says, “It is our instant.” 

That life will end is the guarantee, the only one, at the moment each of us is born.  We will die.  Birth and death.  Biggest of all changes.  Between the two there are dreams and there are prayers. 

It is quite possible to live most of a life in terror of the death change.  Likely, it’s that fear that serves so tenaciously to obscure the love I was writing about last week.  The obscuring looks like things as vastly various as gossip and road rage, bi-partisan obstinacy and war.

The fear is there, but so is the love – the hope, creativity, and courage.  Both motives are evident in the 100 voices of EX:Change, but the balance is decidedly tipped to the side of love and courage.  That’s why I am so committed to getting these voices back out to the American public.  We deserve to know how change anchors in something other than fear – something far more generative and lively.  We deserve to dream.

So, yes, EX:Change is about the people of this country – the wisdom and the infinite ingenuity available to us from among us.  And the trip, the process of nurturing the idea and its unfolding – well – if I get really honest, my friends are right – it’s absolutely affecting me. 

There’s a paradox in living boldly and close to the bone – it is life at its most vulnerable and it is life at its most lively.  Living boldly (and my guess is I’m only just tipping in a toe) may very well be possible only by turning toward death with gratitude – by welcoming the terror of its truth right into this moment as a companion, as the most generous of invitations.  Who knew that it is as much death as life that gives us this precious sense of love and the vitality of the possible?  Only a few sages and enlightened poets.  Now it’s here for the rest of us to learn.

So, my infinite thanks to you, dear Jenn, for the way you lived so boldly.  Thank you for the way you would guide us across the dance floor – listening to the prayers in our dance and dancing your own.  Thank you for helping babies to be born.  And thank you for the way your breathing transit of the landscape of a lifetime teaches me about being as much of a participant as an observer – receiving and giving, loving and changing here in the dream.

1From:  Mary Oliver – “The Summer Day”

“The Summer Day”
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

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