Posted by: MC | September 9, 2010

When our Greatest Hope is Boring

There is a quickening in human consciousness.  Yep, right here in and among the species of which readers, bloggers, warriors and prophets are a part.  I saw this quickening on the road and still see it daily.  I heard it in American voices across the 100 days of the EX:Change interviews and daily I continue hearing it.

A quickening is an acceleration, a vitalizing, a coming or returning to life.  Ours is the expanding maturity – the kindness, wisdom and hope of humanity.  With all the bad news how can a quickening be so?  I don’t know the answer to that, but the evidence is in the people – the everyday we-the-people.

It’s quiet, this quickening.  It doesn’t tend to call or attract much attention.  If it gets any public attribution at all, the association is usually with the word boring.

And it’s hard to see or hear anywhere near those pretty relentless public flashes du jour – the contagion of “What’s hideously wrong now and who is most ridiculously misguided in their response it?”  If you pay any attention to public media – or, talk to pretty much anyone older than 6 during the day – you’re likely exposed and the content of public outrage is supremely seductive.

For adults in the U.S., it seems to feel good to get mad.  Getting mad feels like doing something in a social climate with wave after wave of circumstances that unfold into too many experiences of hopeless, helplessness.

And still, beneath and above and around the loud voices of dissent and argument are the deepest and most enduring qualities of human character.  They are unshakable and tireless and quietly contagious.  Even kids pick them up, often not even knowing they have.

Maybe hard times bring our most fundamental principles closer to the surface while paradoxically making them more likely to be overlooked.  They are easy to color invisible.  That leaves our very strongest of qualities most often rendered inaccessible to public discourse.

It’s way more exciting, for example, to read the latest slam Sarah Palin’s people make of the author who misidentified her child as he wrote about her in Vanity Faire ( than to look at the way a man in rags leans down to assist a fragile woman standing up from the thin blankets she wrapped herself in to try to get a few daylight hours of sleep on the shaded asphalt in a vacant lot.  The two are strangers except for being street people.  They don’t say much to each other, but the help is there.

I know this can sound like apples and oranges.  I mean, outside incessant media dust ups, there are matters of grave concern.  Wars ended, but not really.  Jobs nowhere to be found.  School starting.  Winter on the way.  Elections coming up.  The president is talking about third world America.  Our times are decidedly challenging.

Some years back Rebecca Solnit wrote a book entitled Hope in the Dark. In it she told stories of American people giving sustained attention and effort often with no public acclaim either during or after their creation of some huge solution to crushing matters in neighborhoods and communities.  Read Solnit’s book.  It’s inspiring for sure.  As are the stories and guidance in the voices of EX:Change.

In Kerrville, TX I talked with Laura Gamble, 86 year old mother of 11 who is now raising 4 of her pre-teen grandsons in the same house she raised her kids (EX:C blog, “So, where do we go from here?”, 2-10-2010).  Mrs. Gamble who grew up in a time of dirt roads and poverty and relatives who remembered and passed on stories from the family’s days in slavery.  Human resilience defines her and through her is freely available to her offspring.  Like her grandson, Andrae:

You’ve seen changes in your own life?

A:  Yes ma’am.

And in yourself?

A:  Yes ma’am.

How old are you now?

A:  I’m 10.

And how long have you been here?

A:  Six years.  When I came here I started going to a better school and studying harder.  Now I’m in G/T [gifted and talented] classes.

Do you like them?

A:  Yes.  But I’m challenged.  In G/T we have a lot more than just studying.  Like, for Christmas we would bring clothes and toothbrush and toothpaste for the K’Star1 children.  We just did that.

How does that make you feel?

A:  Happy because when I think about the K’Star people I know they probably feel like nobody thinks about them because they don’t live with their family.  When they get gifts from people they don’t really even know, that tells them that they’re important to somebody.

At a coffee shop in Portland, I talked with Lou Coleman.  Lou has been in a wheelchair since he was 30 and survived being hit by a train.  Today he is a tireless advocate for people with disabilities.

“Survival.  Actually being up close and personal with oppression.  I’ve seen too many people who have been held down and taken advantage of in nursing homes.  And I’ve survived being thrown into such a situation.  Finally, I couldn’t live with myself if I let these nursing home administrators continue to take advantage.  I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to get in the game.  I can’t live with this.’

“I was going through real challenges and I knew the 6th anniversary of the ADA had to be my project.  Within 6 months with hardly any assistance, I organized the whole event.  It was 1996.  In the end, we attracted about 200-300 people even though it was a 110 degree day.  And you think that was something, I didn’t have any back up.  I was up on the stage for 2 straight hours.  I’ve got pictures of it that I really cherish.  That was my – I don’t know what you would call it – It had to be the greatest challenge of my life.  I took a huge, huge risk to go right out there and say, ‘Alright Universe, here I am.  Let’s go with it.’  I look back on that and it went like clock work.  I marvel that I didn’t even have to use the restroom.  Can you imagine that for two straight hours?

“I lived through it.  I lived it.  And I touched a lot of lives.  It saved me.  It transformed me.”

These are only two of the 100 voices – every one speaking in some way the deep wisdom that is theirs and is finally ours together.  With it, we slow down, we pay attention and we help each another.  How is it that the valence of wisdom, like the value most of American culture places of old people, is so low?  Wisdom, like what old people have to say, is for most people in our country thought of as boring.  Oddly, it’s this that bores us that is most probably our salvation.


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