Posted by: MC | January 22, 2011

Year Three Begins: Change in Everyday America

Two years ago, today I was interviewing Kate and Georgiana, #s 002 and 003 on the EX:Change.  They are both women in the middle of their careers.  They are both artists and teachers.  I was interviewing them about change, the word and the concept that had gained such notoriety in the 2008 presidential election.

Kate said this: “It’s really my strength and my weakness, this penchant for change.  I can get impatient with people who are resistant or unable to change.  That can be its own problem.”  Georgiana said this: “It’s really a new paradigm – not just the cool idea of one.  We need the values behind ‘we’re all in this together’ to become deeply established.”

Today the citizens and communities of the United States are two days into our third year with the Obama administration.  Responses to this fact are as variant as the citizenry itself.  In two years, a lot has changed.  A lot hasn’t.  My mom just sent me a quote over email.  Don’t know its author, but the words speak to constants, and they speak to change.

“This is America, where a white Catholic male Republican judge was murdered on his way to greet a Democratic Jewish woman member of Congress who was his friend. Her life was saved initially by a 20-year old Mexican-American gay college student, and eventually by a Korean-American combat surgeon; those that were murdered were all eulogized by our African-American President.”

The recipient list on the email included my mom’s brothers and sister, her daughters and a few friends.  None of us really differs much in ethnicity, but we do vary politically.

In the challenge to listen across difference so much depends on retaining the connection of relationship.   Each of the names my mom typed to follow “TO:” represents a long term and close relation.  Each of us loves her no matter what, as she loves each of us in the same way.  Given the invitation of EX:Change and the work I find myself engaging in response, this small communication from my mother holds six lessons.

  1. Never cease from nurturing relationships.
  2. That includes sharing ideas and experiences that really matter to you.
  3. Pay attention, however, to the way you share.
  4. Description always gets further than evaluation and judgment.
  5. Keep believing in the kindness implied in our shared humanity.
  6. Love endures everything.

I’m likely running the risk of sounding a lot like those viral messages that get sent around the internet with promises of delivery on your wildest dream if you forward within 3.7 seconds to your relatives and everyone you still know from high school.  That’s OK with me.  These seem powerful reminders to keep on hand here two years down the road from the peak of the excitement or indictment of “a change we can believe in.”

Here we are with an economy that feels to most of us like it’s continuing to melt, with heavy drag on the resolution of military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, with backtracking on health care reform and the circumstantial realities unique to each of our everyday lives.  As a public, we lean toward crankiness these days.  And too many of us know realities that leave us struggling or overwhelmed with despair.

All of this is so.  And still there are the strong points.  Last night I heard a couple nearing their 60th wedding anniversary tell the story of meeting in just post war Austria.  Both of them Americans in unlikely location at the same time.  In recent days they are, for the first time since, reading one another the love letters they wrote during the 3 month separation between their falling for one another in the warm autumn air of the Alps and marrying in Chicago.  They sit down and unfold the pages browned and fragile with age.  He reads his.  She reads hers.  Sixty years later – through all that change.

Then this morning, I rode in a car with a man who took an inconvenient detour to exit a two-lane highway through a small city in Wisconsin.  There seemed no logic to his turn down the snowy road that appeared to lead nowhere, no good sense in his K-turn to reverse directions and head back to the very same intersection he’d left.  Except for the man I had not seen standing at that intersection.  As we came near, the driver handed me a fist of small bills.  He pressed a button to electrically lower the window.  I reached my hand to pass its contents to the man in the sub-freezing air at the edge of the road.  Our eyes met.  I smiled.  “God bless you,” he said, looking down then looking up again.

The six bits of guidance in the sentence reporting on the Americans involved in the events in Tucson are hard enough to make real in our families and close relationships.  Crises can bring vivid focus to the necessity of their practice.  On our way to civic engagement as elected leaders or everyday citizens, the way we are in our closest relationships and with the people we encounter in the routine of our days makes a difference.

Change is everywhere.  There is no avoiding shifts in the weather, shifts in our circumstances.  We want change and it frightens us.  The fact of human connection may or may not require a new paradigm or shared way of seeing.  Whatever the case, attention and care for our relationships with each other likely will be what sees us through the inevitability of change.


  1. Mary, thank you so much for the wonderful exchange message. What you have said makes it clear to me that progress is happening in America even if it feels too slow and uncertain. I am old enough to remember the fountains in the South that said, “Whites Only”. We have certainly come a long way and we are learning to respect each others’ differences. I also agree that our “wars” are draining our economy and morale. A 4th grade student asked me why we have to fight wars. I had no answer for him. I look toward the day when our children can be proud of our foreign policy.

  2. Thank you for the reminder~
    Virtue is still present in our human web… a touch here, a smile there… I know a man at a bridge and we share in passing… I feel his blessing every time.

    I broke down, caved in and watched the entire series of “Lost”… moving through time and space (lost) the only constant in time was the deep loving relationships… they defined time! Everything else changed back and forth in time on an island. Main stream media…

    If I just shift perspective slightly, image something different in a moment, everything changes internally and I have become a much kinder person. That being said… I appreciate your list! I will try it on this month, put it into experiential practice!
    Love you Mary, thanks for getting me to think upon these things!

  3. OMG, Mary! I LOVE THIS! The e-mail from Mom moved me, too, and I started to write but got called away before I could develop the appropriate profundity. Thanks for your aMazing profundity here 🙂

    It’s dense. Felt like there was tons to read between the lines. Would love to see you develop this further.

    Oh, and by the way, “heavy drag” is a fabulous phrase.

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