September 28, 2020

A Plea for More Space, A Plea for More Grace

Greetings friends, colleagues, and as the late (great) Molly Ivins would say, Dearly Beloveds—

First, indulge me. I want to share a poem that I encountered in The New Republic years ago. I don’t know why it speaks to me, or even what it means, which of course is how poetry works, speaking to us in a language we don’t always understand yet reaching us, gripping us, enriching and enlivening us.

Here Summer Ends

Mourn earth, for summer ends.
An incomparable ripeness now bends
Towards death: ultimate rose, russet leaves
Enter that final passion life lends
Uncertain breath and fragrant air betrays.
Your summer's rich decrees
Green as the encircled earth, bright as its trees
With our uncertain fate contend.
Mourn, earth! the last stroke of my conquered pen.
The slow leaf burning the scarlet air.
Drift, assailable season, remote from all pain
Of short, unselfconscious days, and of being human.

—Dachine Rainer

This year, especially, feels bittersweet, almost piercingly poignant, as I savor the warmth of Indian summer sun on still-bare skin and reflect on days with less light and manifold losses.

Today is the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur, known as the Day of Atonement. This is when we are asked—no, compelled—to assess with searing honesty our actions over the past year. What have I done to others for which I must atone? When did I do or say things that were hurtful or mean, careless or selfish? For all those, I ask forgiveness.

But also, I now realize, we must account for our inactions. When have I been silent when I might have spoken up? When did I not step forward when I might have done so? What have I done to throw my weight on the arc of the moral universe so that it bends ever more towards justice? In sum, who was I in the past year, and who will I be in the next?

Credit: Eriko KojimaThis year feels tougher than most as I conduct an audit of my own moral behavior, and so I will offer a pledge and a plea. I pledge to spend my money in neighborhoods far from my own. I pledge to have conversations with people I do not know, people who don’t look like me or live near me. I pledge in every season to devote time and effort to healing the earth by restoring health to the rare remnant prairies and oak woods of our region. (Come join me; it’s good exercise and spiritually rewarding!) I pledge to build things, which takes time and effort, instead of tearing them down, which can be done in an instant.

And my plea for all of us is this: Let us give each other a bit more space. Let us give each other a bit more grace.