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“Swimmin’ to the Other Side” and the power of love

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In the midst of a week intense with activity and commitments, my head is swimming with rich possibilities for this column, so many that I would like to wrap them up quickly in my hand like balls of cookie dough and toss them out to you. However, this process is seldom quick, so I’d be tossing sound bites or writing for days, and you would quit reading long before the end. So, in the face of the deadline ticking inexorably closer, I remind myself to breathe and take the cogent advice of Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of Women Who Run With the Wolves, from a letter she recently sent out, urging people who want to see positive change not to lose heart even though concerned, astonished, bewildered and/or outraged by recent events. She said, “Please don’t spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. For we are made for these times.” She spoke of being discouraged and feeling despair many times, adding, “…but I do not keep a chair for it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate.” She recommended reaching out to the bits of the world within our reach, doing small, calm things to help one another. So I offer you my small bits of inspiration.

There is a common current in the streams of consciousness flooding my mind: the power of love and the importance of operating through love rather than fear. I was introduced to A Course in Miracles many years ago, and while I never immersed myself in the weekly discussions, I did carry with me the core message that made sense to me: there are only two emotions, love and fear, and all else flows from them.

This week the nation honored the life of Martin Luther King; over the weekend I saw the movie Hidden Figures; recently I read Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard. This Friday, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States while “Not-My-President” rallies congregate across the country. All of these events and works of art are imbued with human stories and the forces of love and fear operating through those humans.

Shakespeare Saved My Life is the story of author Laura Bates teaching Shakespeare to prisoners, with an in-depth focus on Larry Newton, incarcerated for life without parole. She gained permission to work with inmates in solitary confinement, overcoming the obstacles of other people’s fears and resistance. Many thought she was deluded to believe that “hardened” prisoners would ever be interested in Shakespeare, that she shouldn’t put herself personal risk, and did not hesitate to tell her she was wasting her time. Much to the surprise of those who scoffed, once her programs were established and the word spread, there were waiting lists to get into her classes. To her own surprise, she found the prisoners often were more insightful than her college students, and over the years she and Larry created materials to use in college classes.

Larry’s story is even more compelling. Incarcerated for murder in his late teens, he spent over ten years in segregation, as solitary confinement is called. He worked through his anger and suicidal despair to find purpose and meaning, leading study groups, encouraging other prisoners and aspiring to be the first prisoner to earn a PhD in prison. He credits working with Shakes-peare’s writings for giving him a different perspective and path in life, hence the title of the book. He endured conditions and treatment that most of us can’t imagine surviving for one day, much less for years with no end in sight. He does continue to ask for a hearing to appeal.

“Hidden Images” is one of the most powerful and moving films I’ve ever seen. Recounting the well-kept secret story about African American female mathematicians who worked for NASA as human computers starting in 1942 through the following tumultuous decades when racial barriers were being smashed. These women were on the front line. Katherine Johnson was a child prodigy who graduated from university at 18 and became one of three graduate students– and the only woman– to desegregate West Virginia’s state college.

Her first big NASA assignment was computing the trajectories for Alan Shepard’s historic flight in 1961. Two of her co-workers who worked on Friendship Seven overcame obstacles to also become “firsts” at NASA. Dorothy Vaughn became the first black supervisor and Fortran programmer. Mary Jackson became the first black female aeronautical engineer.

Katherine Johnson retired in 1986 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2015. Last year, a NASA computational research facility was named after her. She told the audience that she was just doing her job, that it was “just another day’s work.” Yet these women knew they were changing the world and that that’s how change occurs: in small bits through courage and persistence fueled by the love and passion they had for their children, for justice, and for the future they wanted to create.

Martin Luther King Jr. understood that the only way lasting change would happen would be to abandon the fear that engenders violence, the fear of the “other” that keeps people at war with each other. He understood it was essential not just for racial harmony but for the future of the human race. He wrote in Strength to Love: “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” 

Pat Humphries is another peaceful, loving, and sometimes angry advocate for peace, justice and wisdom. She has written some incredible songs including the one below which I have included with her very warm permission. There are many recordings of this online by Pat and others. Dan Heidt performs a lovely rendition at this link: https://www. youtubecom/watch?v=wCcQPDQfOL8.

Swimming to the Other Side, by Pat Humphries:

We are living ‘neath the great Big Dipper

We are washed by the very same rain

We are swimming in the stream together

Some in power and some in pain

We can worship this ground we walk on

Cherishing the beings that we live beside

Loving spirits will live forever

We’re all swimming to the other side

I am alone and I am searching

Hungering for answers in my time

I am balanced at the brink of wisdom

I’m impatient to receive a sign

I move forward with my senses open

Imperfection it be my crime

In humility I will listen

We’re all swimming to the other side

On this journey through thoughts and feelings

Binding intuition my head, my heart

I am gathering the tools together

I’m preparing to do my part

All of those who have come before me

Band together to be my guide

Loving lessons that I will follow

We’re all swimming to the other side

When we get there we’ll discover

All of the gifts we’ve been given to share

Have been with us since life’s beginning and

We never noticed they were there

We can balance at the brink of wisdom

Never recognizing that we’ve arrived

Loving spirits will live forever

We’re all swimming to the other side.

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