by Neal Lemery
We live in a complicated and interconnected world, a world where a volcanic eruption in the South Pacific creates sound we can hear, alters our air pressure, and sends tsunami waves up our beaches and rivers. Natural and political forces from other places affect our lives, requiring us to respond and alter our lives. We can search data bases and communicate effortlessly with people all over the world. The enormity of all of that is often overwhelming. It is easy to feel insignificant, ineffective, the problems of our lives too big to handle.
Yet, it is the small things in our lives that are often the most important and the most transformative.
I’m joining others this week in donating blood. Being part of the Red Cross blood drive in my town has been something new for me, part of my efforts during the pandemic to do something meaningful for others in need. I’ve learned it is good for me, too, helping me to feel part of something bigger, making a difference, even saving lives. I feel involved and I feel I’m acting for the common good.
Recently, I couldn’t help but overhear part of a conversation between good friends who were digging deep into sobriety and personal accountability. There was a sharing of experiences and the giving of heartfelt advice and encouragement. I tried to give them their privacy, yet I felt the energy of their friendship, their mutual respect for each other and their friendship, and their passion for improving lives and building a community based on knowledge and mutual positive regard. Those golden conversations occur a lot, I think, the sharing of experience and wisdom, the love for a friend, building up rather than condemnation and rejoicing in the misfortunes of others.
That experience reminded me of the deep conversations on addiction I had with a son, one on one, digging in deep to the heart of the dilemmas and questions we both had. We loved each other, we trusted each other, and we both wanted to move on with our lives and deal with the elephant in the living room: addiction. We were both tired of feeling angry and not finding resolution, both wanting to be loved and to give love. I cherished those hard conversations with him.
When he invited me to his AA meeting, proudly introducing me to the group, I experienced the trust everyone there had with each other, and their passion for changing their lives. I felt my relationship with my son change then, and I grew. Part of that growth was painful, and included recognizing some uncomfortable, hard truths about me. That recognition, I have come to realize, is part of my own growing and changing.
Such work may seem like small talk, small work that doesn’t make much of a difference in the world. Yet it does. Such conversations, such truth telling and empowering changes lives. A changed life changes other lives and changes our communities. Hope and faith find their voices and people find the strength to change.
The storms in our lives often give us renewed faith and strength to endure and to change. Dolly Parton reminds us “storms make trees take deeper roots.” By believing in ourselves and our own and collective goodness, we gain strength, we become the healthier giant trees in the forest that is our community.
We live now in the midst of many storms, the pandemic, drug addictions, violence and thievery, houselessness, depression, and other situations that often seem to defy solutions and relief. Yet, we endure, we cope, and we often move into solutions and remedies that we may not have previously imagined. The pandemic is teaching us that there is much work to be done to realize our dreams and to heal the wounds that now need our attention.
The work that needs to be done is often silent. Confucius reminds us, “a seed grows with no sound, but a tree falls with huge noise. Destruction has noise but creation is quiet. This is the power of silence … grow silently.”
We are a resourceful community, and our successes in coping and managing often go uncelebrated. Yet, like the quiet conversations one has chanced to overhear, that work goes on and changes lives.