Thursday, July 4, 2013

Declaration of Interdependence

If I were really creative, I'd use the structure of Declaration of Independence to rewrite a Declaration of Interdependence. I'm not feeling it right now.

I am feeling a need to write about interdependence today, not independence. I find that when my own gravitation towards independence becomes too strong, I get lonely. It's a defense mechanism more than anything else.

In a month I leave to work with Christian Peacemaker Teams for three months. I have found that life gets busier as I near a departure like this. The people I've been meaning to see for far too long I finally make plans with. The tasks I've been putting off I (try to) do. Then there's fundraising, packing, finding a home for my cats. Mental preparation. Spiritual preparation.

It is during these times that I am especially aware of just how much I need other people. My fundraising efforts would fall flat without the generous support of friends. My mental and spiritual preparation would be disastrous without friends and family to listen and talk through the thoughts and feelings buzzing around. The notes and affirmations I receive, the "I am praying for you", "thank you for what you're doing" (that I never really feel I'm worthy of), the "good luck" comments: without these, I know I'd be lost, deflated, scared. With them, I move towards feeling centered, grounded, calm.

It is during these times that I become more convinced that it is just during these times that I need other people. It's all times.

Original photo here
One of the beautiful things about working at JustFaith Ministries this summer is our daily community prayer.  Recently, it seems many of our prayers have focused on interdependence. A few days ago, we heard a beautiful piece by Elaine Prevallet about our interwoven lives, not just human life with human life, but all life with all life. One image that I remember was that of redwood trees. I learned that a single redwood cannot survive on its own. Towering redwoods have shallow root systems that cannot support the majesty above.  However, in a forest of redwoods, the root systems intertwine and tangle, giving strength to one another through their tangling.

We, too, need to be intertwined and tangled to thrive. We are not meant to be independent, standing solo, with no one around to keep us grounded.

We all need support. We rely on it more than many of us recognize. A couple months ago, I was listening to an interview on NPR about favoritism in the work place. Nancy DiTomaso discussed how many of us rely heavily on the connections we have to get jobs. In fact, after interviewing hundreds of people, all but two people said they'd gotten 70% of their jobs through personal connections - friends, family members, others who had an inside track. However, those same people rarely cited the connections as major reasons for them living the life they lived. Instead, they talked about their hard work, motivation, and education. She didn't question whether they were, in fact, hard-working, motivated, or well-educated, but did note that other equally hard-working, motivated, well-educated people couldn't get a foot in the door, not because of lack of qualifications, but lack of connections. A point DiTomaso was making was that this favoritism is a factor in higher minority unemployment rates. But that is a story for another day.

Hearing the interview caused me to consider my own work history. All but one of my jobs - from summer jobs in high school and college to teaching jobs - have come to me through my connections. I hadn't ever thought about it before. It is startling. And I am grateful.

To be connected. To be interdependent. To, I hope, use the sustenance I have received through intertwining my roots with others' roots, to extend my own root system out further so that I reach and support someone who may need a few more tangles to stay upright.

Yesterday I was prayer leader at work and, as I prepared for my turn, I came across a This I Believe essay by Eve Birch. She writes about the Art of Being a Neighbor, and explains how her vision of the American Dream used to be "a job, a mortgage, cable, credit, warranties, success." Through her experiences of becoming homeless and living in a shack in a hollow of West Virginia for several years, her idea of the American Dream transformed to "a shared one.  It's not so much about what I can get for myself; it's about how we can all get by together."

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are - must be, thrive by being - interdependent. So on this day as we celebrate our country's independence, let us remember that the path to the making of our country, past, present, and future - and the path to making our own lives rich - is not a path of one person walking alone.  It is a path of interdependence, root tangling: messy, blessed, and beautiful.

Monday, July 1, 2013


I was sitting on some stairs near the entrance of Union Station in Chicago.  I had about 40 minutes before the Megabus was supposed to leave for Louisville and I didn't want to stand out on the street to wait yet. Some people were walking through the station.  Others had found their own spot on the steps to sit with their luggage.  My assumption was that they, too, would be boarding a Megabus sometime later, but who knows?

As I have neglected this blog, I have also neglected my personal journaling. "Now maybe I can get a little caught up."  I started writing.  The words were pouring out of me and the world around me became an indistinguishable blur and buzz.

After a few minutes of writing, out of the corner of my eye, I became vaguely aware of a man talking to a woman seated on the stairs a few steps down from me.  I noticed them enough to know that they didn't know each other and that he'd asked her for something.  I kept writing and hoped the intruder wouldn't approach me next.

"Hi, I see you're busy writing.  Can I interrupt you for a second?"

I don't know if my sigh was visible or audible, but I certainly felt it inside.  I braced myself for whatever request he was going to make, pretty sure I would turn him down, regardless of what he asked for.  I reluctantly stopped writing and looked at him.

"Hi, my name is W____. I was in jail (he told me for how long, I was still only partially tuned in) for retail theft and I'm trying to turn things around.  Could you help me get a bus pass for the week?" I think he said he wanted to go out and apply for jobs.

"No, sorry."  I was ready to resume writing.

"Are you a writer?  I can tell you're a writer because you were so intense in what you were doing there.  I'm a writer.  What are you writing?"

Another inward sigh.  "Yes, I'm a writer.  I was just journaling."

"What do you write?"

"I journal...and I have a blog."

"I'm a writer, too. I've never read a blog, but I'd like to.  I could read yours and give you some positive feedback. What do you write about?  Do you have followers?"

"I have a few followers.  Not many people are signed up as followers, but I know other people follow me without being signed up officially."

"What's your blog address? I want to read your blog.  What's it about?" He took a small booklet out of his pocket, though I couldn't tell what the booklet was, and a pen.  He opened up the cover. He was serious?

I really didn't want to answer his question.  Did I really have to tell this guy that I wanted to leave that my blog address is Truly Love Thy Neighbor? That it is about how I am trying to do just that ... when in this particular moment I was doing the exact opposite?

"Truly Love Thy Neighbor."

He wrote it down. "Oooh.  And then?   Dot com?"

"Yes," I admitted.  I waited for him to call me out on my clear breach of ... everything my blog title states I believe.

He didn't.

"What's your name?"

I told him.

"With a C or a K?"  And he wrote that down, too.  He closed the booklet.  It seemed to be in French.  Later he said he speaks French.  He continued to talk to me, asking me questions about my writing and about the blog. He told me about his own writing (by this point I had decided to ask a question or two also)- a novel and a "how to" guide for men in dealing with women; neither has been published. We talked a little about religion.  We clearly had different ideas, but we exchanged a few thoughts.  He told me I should read up more on other religions, so I could see how they're flawed.  I said I think we should self-examine first before condemning everybody else. This, of course, from the woman who'd been ready to write this man off without even looking up from my journal. It's probably more accurate to say I'd been ready to never write him in than that I was trying to write him off.  I wanted him to be nobody, to never appear in the story.

After about 10 minutes, he got up and maybe said, "Thank you" and "Nice to talk to you." He restated his name and reiterated that that he'd read my blog and give me some positive feedback.  Then I think he walked out the door.  I don't even know.

I can't tell you what he was wearing.  I can tell you he was African-American, though I don't know how old he was. I'd guess he was in his twenties.  Even though I semi-engaged with him, I never really noticed him.

But I knew I had to write about him.  To write about my utter failure, my strong resistance, to loving my neighbor.  And his persistence in not letting me ignore him, in not letting me never write him in.

After he left I jotted a few notes about him in my journal, closed it, and headed outside to stand and wait for the bus.  To stand where people were less likely to strike up a conversation, to break through the safety of aloneness or I'm-with-these-people-only-ness.  The bus arrived early.  I got on and guarded two seats, supposedly so that I could sleep more comfortably.  I shielded myself from other people by playing a game on my iPod until everyone had boarded, everyone was safely in their own don't-bother-me zone, and the lights were out.  It was so easy to go back to disengagement.

I am grateful that for the few minutes W____ pushed me out of my comfort zone as he pushed his way into my consciousness, prodded me to practice what I preach (without ever hinting that I don't do so), so that I can admit to you my own hypocrisy.  Maybe if enough people like W____ keep pushing through, I'll get it, get it not just intellectually, but in the marrow of my bones. Truly loving my neighbors means looking at them, talking to them, listening to them.  Noticing them.

I don't know if W____ will ever look up my blog.  I hope he does.  I hope he sees that I wrote him in, that he wrote himself into my story.  And that I am grateful.