By Jessika Hepburn

Democracy is a Strong Seed

I'm with you, Fannie Lou Hamer

Democracy will not come

Today, this year

Nor ever

Through compromise and fear.

I have as much right

As the other fellow has

To stand

On my two feet

And own the land.

I tire so of hearing people say,

Let things take their course.

Tomorrow is another day.

I do not need my freedom

when I’m dead.

I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.

Freedom

Is a strong seed

Planted

In a great need.

I live here, too.

I want freedom

Just as you.

Langston Hughes, Democracy, from Selected Poems

If citizenship and democracy exist first as an act of imagination then we have the power to imagine ourselves anywhere. It is up to us to chart the way forward but what will we choose? The dark visions of distrust, fear, and militarism or the expansive dream of shared responsibility, unity, and freedom? Hope in human goodness is a compass we can use to navigate home to each other and away from despair.

Some days it all feels like too much, the news pours out a steady stream of tragedy and we just want to hide away from it all. That is when we need the poets to remind us of how our lives are seeds; freedom is the garden; democracy is the trellis we climb together to reach the light; the harvest is each other. Vote with your feet, with your hands, with confidence, become a citizen invested with the power of history. Imagine a future where oppression, intolerance, and despair are non-existent words.

We want leaders in our community. And what people will say, say, “Well, if we can get rid of Fannie Lou,” said, “we can get rid of the trouble.” But what they don’t know, freedom is like an eating cancer, if you kill me, it will break out all over the place. We want ours and we want ours now…we are determined that one day we’ll have the power of the ballot. And the sooner you go to the courthouse, the sooner we’ll have it…I don’t want to hear you say, “Honey, I’m behind you.” Well, move, I don’t want you back there. Because you could be 200 miles behind. I want you to say, “I’m with you.” And we’ll go up this freedom road together.

Fannie Lou Hamer, “We’re On Our Way”, delivered in Mississippi, 1964

Voting for leaders and holding them accountable is just one tiny part of being a citizen. Democracy will not come until we are able to say “I’m with you” and walk with each other side by side, then we can all go up this freedom road together.

Further Reading: 

Langston Hughes, Democracy, Selected Poems

“We’re On Our Way” delivered by Fannie Lou Hamer in Mississippi, 1964 

Outside of the Box

Do Not Stop In Box, Keep Moving

In today’s multicultural world, the truly reliable path to coexistence, to peaceful coexistence and creative cooperation, must start from what is at the root of all cultures and what lies infinitely deeper in human hearts and minds than political opinion, convictions, antipathies, or sympathies – it must be rooted in self-transcendence:

Transcendence as a hand reached out to those close to us, to foreigners, to the human community, to all living creatures, to nature, to the universe.

Transcendence as a deeply and joyously experienced need to be in harmony even with what we ourselves are not, what we do not understand, what seems distant from us in time and space, but with which we are nevertheless mysteriously linked because, together with us, all this constitutes a single world.

Vaclav Havel, The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World

Boxes are comfortable and dangerous, we can curl up inside them and shut out the world with all its ambiguous questions. Decorate the walls, arrange some knick-knacks, and you could almost forget your sweet little box is a prison. We could spend our lives tucked away in the illusion of safely but if we want a life of peaceful coexistence and creative cooperation we have to risk being part of the world.

Ed’s Egg is a kids book by David Bedford that pretty much sums it up – Ed is in his egg and quite happy about his snug little spot, then he starts to hatch and finds the cold, shivery, bigness of the world way too scary. He loves his egg, why would he leave it? He quickly puts his egg back together around him so that he can see the world but the world can’t see him. Things are going fine until the shell falls apart and leaves Ed exposed, after a shaky start he gets to playing and decides that overall, the world is better than his egg.

Inside our little boxes of fear, worry, and resentment there is so little room for growth, expansion, cooperation, or change while outside the world of possibility is calling out to us to look up – even if just for a second – and see the great bigness beyond us vs. them, where there is only us and room enough for everyone.

Yes, it is immense and uncomfortable out here where anything is possible. Bad things happen to all of us and it sucks but hiding won’t help. Pull whatever courage, wonder, and belief in goodness you can muster around you and dive in! All of creation is waiting for you.

Are you stuck in a box that keeps you from the glorious bigness of the outside?

Further Reading:

Vaclav Havel, The Need for Transcendence in the Postmodern World
Ed’s Egg by David Bedford

 

It’s not talent, it’s just work.

"It's not talent, it's just work" Annie Dillard, on work and talent

People often ask me if I discipline myself to write, if I work a certain number of hours a day on a schedule. They ask this question with envy in their voices and awe on their faces and a sense of alienation all over them, as if they were addressing an armored tank or a talking giraffe or Niagara Falls. We want to believe that other people are natural wonders; it gets us off the hook…People can lift cars when they want to. People can recite the Koran too, and run in marathons. These things aren’t ways of life; they are merely possibilities for everyone on certain occasions of life. You don’t lift cars around the clock or write books every year. But when you do, it’s not so hard. It’s not superhuman. It’s very human. You do it for love. You do it for love and respect for your own life; you do it for love and respect for the world; and you do it for love and respect for the task itself.

Annie Dillard, It’s Not Talent; It’s Just Work, Seventeen Magazine, 1979

Crafting a life worth respecting is hard work. There is not some kind of natural aptitude that blesses the worthy and talent isn’t gifted equally to everyone. What is it that sets apart the people we hold up as examples of brilliance, goodness, or grace? They are not somehow better or more than us, they just did the hard work. Maybe it makes us feel better to think our heroes and inspirations are supernaturally gifted so we can assure ourselves we are somehow less. Thinking we aren’t capable makes us easy targets for all the predators who want to sell us a shortcut, as if their product will magically erase years of effort and experience.

Every one of us has the capacity for greatness.  It does not take talent, an expensive class or degree, to be born under a lucky star, or anything at all but our own willingness to make something of our lives from the raw material we are given.

Do you ever confuse hard work for talent?