Ways of Seeing: Johanna Nichols’ wild dream
As we gather around the table for Thanksgiving dinner, we are blessed to be Americans. But this year, the presidential contest and election results cracked us open and created a need for us to reimagine common life and common good. I ask myself, how have our relationships become so broken that we can’t communicate with each other in a country that seems so divided? We sing “America, America, God shed his grace on thee. And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.” Is this just a dream?
Do you recognize the name Norman Corwin? He was called the laureate of radio in the 1930s and 1940s — “One of the greatest creative minds that has ever floated through the airwaves.” This is a line from Corwin, “Post proofs that brotherhood is not so wild a dream that those who profit by postponing it pretend.” Says Dr. Eboo Patel, “That’s your job, right? Post that proof. Just do that. It is a religious act, however small it might be. Just post your proof that brotherhood, sisterhood, empathy, solidarity, is not so wild a dream that [some] think it might be.”
I am grieving that we did not make history by electing a woman president. Given my age, time is running out for me to see a woman in the White House. But then, Susan B. Anthony did not live to cast a vote. When I am in need of solace, I turn to favorite musicians for comfort. So, it was sad, though not unexpected, that Leonard Cohen, 82, died the day before the election. Joni Mitchell, fellow Canadian, and one time lover, called Leonard a “boudoir poet.” I can understand that. I often drift off to sleep listening to his songs.
The New Yorker published an article on Leonard Cohen in October, for which David Remnick interviewed Bob Dylan. “There’s always a direct sentiment, as if he’s holding a conversation and telling you something, him doing all the talking, but the listener keeps listening. His gift or genius is in his connection to the music of the spheres.”
Cohen himself said: “I know there’s a spiritual aspect to everybody’s life. It’s there, you can feel it in people — there’s some recognition that there is a reality that they cannot penetrate but which influences their mood and activity. That activity at certain points of your day or night insists on a certain kind of response.
“What I mean to say is that you hear this other deep reality singing to you all the time, and much of the time you can’t decipher it. Even when I was healthy, I was sensitive to the process. At this stage of the game, I hear it saying, ‘Leonard, just get on with the things you have to do.’ It’s very compassionate at this stage.”
We have just experienced a jolt to democracy as we know it, and, I believe that we, as a nation of people thirsting for something that seems beyond our reach, need a great deal of compassion for each other to move forward from here.
Advice about recovery from trauma comes from Clarissa Pinkola Estes, “One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. To display the lantern of your soul in stormy times — to be fierce and to show mercy toward others — both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.”
What can I do to prove that the brotherhood/sisterhood — the common good — is not just a wild dream? A deep reality sings within me to open my mind and heart. To listen to family and friends and others who are so fearful and resentful of change that they risked everything to stand up to an establishment deaf to supporting their needs. I want to prove to myself and to them that we are all in this together. We can mend our brokenness, together.
Johanna Nichols is a mother, grandmother and writer. As a former educator and retired minister, she always supported healthy families and communities for children. She currently serves on the Board of Hospice Volunteer Services.
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