In an Upside-down World, Getting by with a Little Help from Our Friends
By Patricia Smith
Founder, Peace X Peace
Editor, Sixty Years Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women
“… hold to your friends, seek them out, remind each other of each other’s highest qualities, eat well together, speak poetically at least once a day, thank each other, remind each other that humans have a huge capacity to survive…”
Warning: the below divides into the good and beautiful and the bad and ugly.
What does a chaotic world look like? Let’s name the devils. Let’s parse this out.
How about this: It looks like 13 million people on the edge of starvation in East Africa and food supplies lagging because of donor fatigue and concerns about Al-Qaeda linked militants? This catastrophe hardly hits the headlines because the stock market is plummeting because, among other things, the U.S. Congress is held hostage by people who claim the moral high ground of not taxing the wealthy? Juxtapose this with the massacre of thousands in Syria, the final isolation of The Mad Ex-Leader of Libya, an increase of attacks on girls’ schools in Afghanistan, and the emerging global awareness that rape in the Congo is not just used against women but is the rebels’ strategy to weaken and humiliate men.
Is there a need to also mention the depressing effects of Presidential candidates whose photogenic to wise ratio is 100 to one? Or that Glenn Beck is going to Jerusalem with hundreds of followers to support Israel’s rightists in policies of occupation and militancy? Or that we are seeing more and more photos of fewer and fewer polar bears on little ice floes looking for a way to survive?
And now the Georgetown University basketball team is pummeled by chairs and water bottles in Beijing on a “friendship mission.” Is nothing sacred?
Yes, something is sacred. Human contact of wisdom and compassion. This is the time, my friend, to hold tight to your friends.
And, yes, I realize that many readers will say God is sacred — or Mother Gaia is sacred — and I have no arguments here, but I’m talking about a little help from our friends.
We need to reassure each other of the good things in life — and that people have survived bad things since the beginning of time. Ask the little furry mammals about the ash that cloaked the earth, fouled the waters, and killed the dinosaurs.
Through the Eisenhower years we Baby Boomers were taught that life progressed along an ascending line labeled “better and better.” So to worry now about the future of our grandchildren, not to mention everyone else on the planet, has a particular poignancy. This isn’t what we prepared for.
Will my grandchildren have the option to be artists instead of anti-global-warming engineers or earth-clean-up agriculturalists? Will they have the luxury of choices that honor their most wildly creative selves, the delightful dancing part of being a human? I don’t know.
So hold to your friends, seek them out, remind each other of each other’s highest qualities, eat well together, speak poetically at least once a day, thank each other, remind each other that humans have a huge capacity to survive, not only because the alternative isn’t appealing but because we are creatures who by necessity have evolved to reflect, adapt, heal, and re-create.
You don’t need the clichés about caterpillars changing into butterflies or of broken-open hearts having larger capacities to love and share. We know that — and if we forget, there will be an email from a friend at least once a week to remind us through photos of eagles in flight, butterflies on flowers, and vistas of mountains.
What we need are hard core, in-the-trenches daily ways to inspire hope, strengthen optimism, and do the work required for a future — meditation, daily intake of art, exercise, dressing in ways that surprise and delight us, taking in the amount of news we need to be informed but not so much that it sinks us, honoring our needs to rest, giving to people (again and again) who are in need and are contributing their integrity to the world, finding our unique way to do work that helps our planet and fellow humans, laughing often and loud, taking extra time to look at a leaf or other miracle of nature as though we’ve never seen it before, and expressing ourselves so that our inner creator can live through dance, music, writing, or art. And, (re)connecting with those we love. Finding our tribe, large or small. Making the effort. Knowing the value of being and having friends.
In times such as these, when the world divides between people who value and need their personal integrity and those who sacrifice it for what they perceive as gain (money, pleasure, power), between those who are willing to ignore the needs of others and those who find not only their happiness but their very health in the well-being of others, between those of shallow thought and quick reward and those of holistic thought and inclusive vision — in these times, we need to nourish our friendships daily. If you are not in the habit, it’s time to learn the art. You should not isolate yourself and struggle on alone when the world is upside down.
We each must tend the pain of the world if we are, each, to manage the value of our own lives. It’s a big job, but, ultimately, it’s an honor. I believe it is a privilege to be a human. We are equipped with the skills for big work and a long fight if needed. Let’s take it on, knowing that to treat ourselves and our friends with integrity is primary and comes first. Then we can turn the world aright from a place that is solid.