I never in a million years thought it possible that my small, academic hometown–where I have lived most of my life, where I raised my kids and got two degrees, where most of my family still lives and I live 30 miles away from–would become shorthand for political controversy.
But it happened. And it happened on my birthday.
I can’t change what happened, then or after.
Sometimes my work as a writer and a book coach seems so irrelevant. When there is so much controversy, so much anxiety, fear, distraction, high language and high feelings–why should anyone, myself included, write a book about their life or their vision?
I spent some time this weekend with a client of mine who is now as much friend as client who has written two beautiful books. They are both about terrible things–the tragic deaths far too young of both his mother and his sister. Their lives were difficult and the writer’s connection with them full of pain and loneliness and fear.
And yet he is one of the most positive, generous people I know. And he has written so beautifully about these lost women. His books about them are about his love for them and their love for him, about the triumph of human connection over the most awful circumstances, even ones that end in terrible, young loss. The writing is beautiful and the spirit at work in the books no less than magical.
I talked to another client this morning who is writing too with the utmost vulnerability and depth about terrible things–things that happened to her, things that she did. And yet she owns them, takes them on, finds voice to express them–she is telling the truth.
Here is what I know.
In Charlottesville on my birthday very highly organized, white supremacists and heavily armed militia brought their fear and hatred and their semiautomatic weapons to my hometown. I’m an academic at heart and inclined toward the philosophical. I’ve been an activist all my life. I believe that there are very few things about which there is only one side. But sometimes things ARE simple.
I haven’t seen or heard about anything like this in America before. My uncles on both sides were in the military, landing at D-Day, fighting in the Pacific. My father chose nonviolence and spent years in Europe after WWII rebuilding roads in Poland and helping displaced people all over the continent find homes. One of his best friends was among the first people who freed Bergen-Belsen after the armistice. My forefathers would all be stunned. They might have thought it was World War Z. Hadn’t they risked their lives to at least make those things hide in shame?
Hannah Arendt tells us in The Banality of Evil that evil is spread through equivocation, through not going deep with the truth.
The opposite of what the white supremacists brought to my hometown is what my clients are bringing to the world: deep connection through the truth. The truth is very often complicated and sometimes it is painful and not pretty. But it is a thing worth having, protecting, preserving. It is worth having the courage to stand up for it and to dive deep for it.
Stephen Covey talks about the difference between influence and concern. Concern is everything we could be worried about–should be worried about. Influence is that part within that large circle of concern where we can do something.
I can have concern about everything. I do have concern. I can influence this: I can write the truth and I can help my clients and friends tell stories with deep connection and truth.