Last year, my good friend Suzanne died after living with cancer for nearly a decade.
Many words could be used to describe Suzanne… welcoming, boisterous, joy-filled, passionate, compassionate, feisty, devoted, heartfelt, hilarious, loyal, and free-spirited. And in many ways, the words keep on coming. . . After Suzanne died, people began to speak and write about her. In a celebration of her life, Suzanne’s large, loving community gathered to honor her, not at a traditional funeral or memorial service, but at a party. Her eulogy was collective; some were invited ahead of time to speak, and others were given the occasion to join them. Before, during, and after that party, people have shared stories of Suzanne’s love and influence in their lives. Her impact was both personal and expansive. She touched each person individually and a lot of people collectively.
Before she died, Suzanne traveled to Chicago in the hopes of participating in a medical trial. It was all about to move forward until some of the measurements of the cells in her blood fell outside of the parameters of the study. She stayed in and out of the hospital in Chicago for more than a month, waiting and hoping to get those numbers in the right range. That was a challenging waiting period, especially knowing that beyond this, her treatment options were becoming limited.
While she waited in Chicago, a large number of people cared for her. Some drove her there and back; many visited and stayed with her in the hospital. Some opened their homes to her. It was touching to see this happen. I always felt that Suzanne was an example of someone who loved deeply and a model of a person who allowed herself to receive love deeply. People don’t always know how to do this. It can be a rare gift.
In one my most memorable moments with Suzanne, I called her during her time in Chicago. The occasion for this call was painful. Suzanne had just learned with finality that she was not going to be able to participate in the study. That was devastating news.
Over the phone, Suzanne expressed her sadness. But then, she began to talk about the many people who were caring for her through visits, meals, phone calls, emails, texts, and above all, presence. People truly gathered around Suzanne and for Suzanne. She invited this collective giving and receiving of care.
In recognition of that, here is what was most memorable to me in that phone call:
With love for all these people, with tears of gratitude, Suzanne said, “It makes you feel like you did something right.”
In response, it was so easy for me to affirm that statement because it was abundantly true. She had done this right. Suzanne cultivated so many relationships, each particularly valued, and all, collectively cherished. She invited all of this with her living.
Suzanne is deeply missed, and she will be missed as long as these beloved people in her life keep on living. Yet in the midst of this, after the painful loss of Suzanne, she continues to do something right, and we join her in it. These relationships keep on living. Her memory is honored. Her love is remembered and re-experienced, not only in memory, but in all the ways her many people now also care for each other. We get to turn that care toward each other as well.
And with our own living, both in the ways we remember her, and in the ways we cultivate and deepen additional relationships in our lives, we can affirm,
You did something right, Suze! And we’re going to keep on joining you.
Yesterday, I filled up my car with gas for the first time since early March.
I am, of course, disheartened and sad about so many impacts of this pandemic. I wish it weren’t happening. I’m angry that it’s being mishandled. I look forward to it shifting. But in the midst of it, there is one piece I have appreciated for this window of time in my life. I’ve had more simplicity.
Don’t hear me wrong: Life is plenty complex, and my schedule is often full. But my daily rhythms mostly involve my house, my neighborhood, and places I walk.
It won’t be this sweeping forever. But I’ve embraced this part. For this period of time, I like this aspect of simplicity. In the midst of what I wouldn’t choose, I do choose this.
Of course, our DNA articulates the building blocks of how our bodies grow — a type of narrative, so to speak — but beyond that, our DNA carries stories of our ancestors too. Researchers have discovered that our DNA carries imprints of our grandparents’ life experiences, and perhaps, further back as well.
Sadly, this was initially discovered by looking at the impacts of trauma. When ancestors have endured trying experiences, descendants carry some imprints of those experiences. See this:
But we are not stuck in these stories. The same discovery tells us that we are writing our DNA even as our DNA writes some aspects of our lives.
So. . .
All the work we do to heal, to grow, to connect, to create space, to write new stories in our lives, and in the lives of our communities, shapes the physical building blocks of ourselves and generations that follow us.
If the leaders in the White House weren’t so ableist in their beliefs that masks make a person look sick, and therefore, “weak,” “bad,” “shameful,” and “to be ridiculed,” we might not be in this cascading mess of a contagion.
I hope for everyone involved and wish for recovery and wellness. I am dismayed and angry that leaders are needlessly exposing people to this virus, especially when they have immediate, high level access to experts and best practices to protect public health. There are a lot of people whose names are not going end up in the news cycle, but whose lives are going to be impacted and disrupted by this spread.
I really appreciate the book, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne marie brown. I find it to be a remarkably refreshing, empowering paradigm shift in how we understand our relationships, our connection to the earth, our activism, our organizing, and our processes for affecting change.
There is so much I could share, as this has opened up reflections for me in many directions. But today, I want to share a piece of the book that has been sitting personally for a long time.
adrienne marie brown says,
“We need each other. I love the idea of shifting from ‘mile wide inch deep’ movements to ‘inch wide mile deep’ movements that schism the existing paradigm.” (page 20)
Inch wide, mile deep… I absolutely love that.
She is encouraging us to move away from a paradigm we might recognize very well (do you?) — that is, plunging into task-oriented work in a huge array of areas based on the urgency of the many needs around us. Those needs are very real, and when we experience burnout, we might find ourselves driven more by ‘shoulds’ than feelings of relational care. In the midst of this, she encourages to move toward a paradigm that is based on relationships — going deep with them, going deep with the care of them — because that is how transformation really happens.
It’s also much more sustainable. Whether it’s in our employment, our vocation, our neighborhood vision, or in larger scale movement work, mile wide, inch deep rhythms often lead to high burnout and low impact.
But inch wide, mile deep… That’s refreshing, transformative work.
And lately, I’ve found myself desiring this. To plant myself/ourselves particularly — not widely, but deeply — to be all-in on a few things, very specific inches,
trusting that those roots go deep, trusting that those roots find nourishing soil, trusting that those roots intertwine with other roots,
finding connection to the people planted in other inches. (and intersecting) (and providing collective nourishment).
I find the Social Change Ecosystem framework by Deepa Iyer to be very helpful. You can engage it in the images below.
For a long time in movement work, I kept putting myself in the roles I thought I should be in — with an extremely narrow of view of what roles were needed/necessary. These roles didn’t jive with my body or my skillsets, so my continual effort to put myself there not only flattened me but also canceled my ability to be and do the roles I was skilled and called to do.
What I’m saying is this —
Support all of these roles. They’re all needed. And sometimes, yes, we need to share the load of the most challenging ones. But we can hunker down in the primary one where we best fit, and be all-in there.
You can do movement work *as you.*
We partner our skills, talents, and roles so that they build something bigger than any one of us alone.
Also, I’m a few of these things, but primarily, a Caregiver and a Weaver. How about you?