July 2020

“If you see something that’s not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it. We may not have chosen the time, but the time has chosen us.”

— U.S. Representative John Lewis

Taking time to pause and smell the roses as I water them. Photo by my granddaughter Cooper.

Dear Friends,

I love you. I feel your love. For clarity, as well as solace, I turn to the words of the sage Lao Tzu, who gave the insight, “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

Your love gives me strength, and because I love you deeply, I am given courage. Thank you.

David Brooks wrote an op-ed column in the New York Times at the end of June outlining the challenges we are facing titled “America Is Facing 5 Epic Crises at Once.” In his words, “There are five gigantic changes happening in America right now. The first is that we are losing the fight against Covid-19. Our behavior doesn’t have anything to do with the reality around us. We just got tired so we’re giving up.

“Second, all Americans, but especially white Americans, are undergoing a rapid education on the burdens African-Americans carry every day.”

Brooks goes on to discuss the other three major crises, one being the reality that we could be on the verge of a prolonged economic depression. Poignantly, he reminds us, “This is our lives’ most important moment.”

Truly, I repeat, this is our lives’ most important moment.

In an earlier column, pre-Covid-19 and before all the challenges and changes we are facing now, Brooks wrote that we have reached a pivot point. Referring back to 1945, he noted that Americans had endured 16 years of hardship beginning with the Great Depression and ending at the end of World War II.

“What’s lost is the more balanced view, that we are splendidly endowed but also broken. And without that view, the whole logic of character-building falls apart.”

As we’re all living in the evolving, unknown stages of the worst health crisis the world has known in over a century, George Floyd’s killing hit such a powerful nerve that has awakened us to our core. We are experiencing a huge crisis, and it is hitting all at once. This is the backdrop for us to move forward to get this moment right.

We have to take personal responsibility for our own behavior as we admit our wrongdoings in the past that collectively have added to the problem of racial injustice. As we muster up all our inner resources and commit ourselves to become part of the solution, we have to give ourselves some grace as we address our deep pain and turmoil.

I am a human being. The whole of my life is who I am at my core. I am not a writer. I am someone who chooses to write because I feel I can best contribute, connect and participate with you in this way. My words will not be perfect. I’m struggling to best express what’s most urgently pressing on my mind and in my heart. I feel my awkwardness is an outward sign of my growing pains. Once we stretch ourselves to a deeper, more profound realization of just how far we’ve come in a little more than a month, think how exhilarating it will be to recognize that we will continue to evolve through the rest of our lives.

We must cross that bridge now. We must rebuild the bridge.

Real, Lasting Change

On Memorial Day, May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed by a police officer. While he was dying, he called out “Mama” and “I can’t breathe.” The officer’s knee was pressed against Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. Death followed.

I heard about how George Floyd’s second-grade teacher saved a drawing he made at eight years old, of himself as a grown man. He wanted to be a Supreme Court judge. When I learned about this, I wept over the tenderness of that story and the loss of his life.

One day before Mr. Floyd’s death, in the New York Times Sunday Review, a huge, bold, block-letter headline that took up more than a third of the page: “NO ONE KNOWS WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN.” This headline was not about systemic racism and the need for police reform, but about coronavirus.

Days later, people peacefully marched on the streets of St. Paul and Minneapolis—young people, black and white, old people, concerned citizens. This multicultural reaction to Mr. Floyd’s death was a spontaneous inner knowing that collaboration and solidarity to demonstrate peacefully was an essential path to create real, lasting changes to reform. We need coalition that will lead to legislation.

Real, actual change requires extremely complicated compromises. The balance has shifted from down to up. The golden mean Aristotle wrote about over 2,400 years ago addresses our most pressing problems today that require each one of us to reflect on how we can contribute to this essential realignment.

My one-flower meditation fills me with hope and reminds me that we are all connected. My summer writing desk bursts with flowers right now.

Happiness and Growth

When I write, I am writing from my subjective perspective. I write about what I feel, what I’m experiencing as well as what insights I have about happiness and our ability to rise above whatever outside circumstances are out of our control.

In an article about Covid-19, there was a report that happiness is not the subject for today. We are a gloomy bunch. Only 14 percent of Americans say they’re happy right now—the lowest number at any time since they started measuring happiness nearly 50 years ago.

I want to remind you that happiness is something we must have as our constant companion as we grow through some painful discoveries. Aristotle was a brilliant, disciplined thinker. He reminded us that the greatest, highest, most spiritual form of happiness is contemplation. Thinking. Happiness and the pursuit of human flourishing are built into the words of our Constitution.

In order for you and me to retain our inward freedom, we must will for others what we want for ourselves. If what I want for my own well-being enables others to expand their inner freedom, this increases my sense of joy.

June was dedicated to deep, serious reflection. When we look inward, we see our true essence. We can meditate, light a candle, and have a one-flower meditation as another gardenia blossom is bursting forth from its pale green bud. Our hearts open up at one little ray of hope. Gardenias are so gloriously scented and so pure white when the bud opens up. When we get in a trance in our one-flower meditation, there is no separation between ourselves and the sacred beauty of a growing, glowing, blossoming plant. It’s possible to take this same oneness with someone we love.

What about loving others unconditionally, as the Dalai Lama teaches us? If we want to be happy, be compassionate. If we want others to be happy, be compassionate. A Native American friend reminded me recently that her culture takes a broad view: “If you’re making a decision, you keep in mind the consequences it will have seven generations from now.”

Peter in his element on the Fourth of July, his favorite holiday.

A Pivot Point

I’m calling on all the visionary thinkers throughout history, as well as my own lineage, to help me address this moment of change. I’m reaching out to friends, readers, educators and mentors for guidance as I grapple with the complexity of our obligation to take personal responsibility and do more.

When I expressed my anguish to my friend Amy, who has read all my books and has archived what has been written about me as well as articles and columns I’ve written, she went the extra mile for me. As a law professor and with her organized, logical mind—in outline form—she addressed the issue of whiteness head-on. In addition to her thoughtful analysis on how to be part of real change, she excerpted relevant quotations from several of my books—You Are Your Choices, Making Choices, Gracious Living in a New World, and Things I Want My Daughters to Know. Touching me deeply, she quoted Martin Luther King Jr. on the same sheet of paper.

In November 1957, when I was 16, Dr. King gave a sermon, “Loving Your Enemies.” He said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

The other quote of Dr. King’s that Amy gave me is from a speech, “The American Dream,” on July 4, 1965. Fifty-five years ago. Let us now dwell on his prescient words: “[W]e will not only win freedom for ourselves, we will so appeal to your heart and your conscience that we will win you in the process. And our victory will be a double victory.”

Now, my friends, my good friends, Dr. King’s message is appealing to our hearts and our conscience. In good faith, and in my deepest yearnings, I hope this July Fourth, 2020, will be a real pivot point, a shift in our collective consciousness, where we have 20/20 vision. July Fourth was, and remains in spirit, Peter’s favorite American holiday, because he loves our country so dearly.

I’m so grateful to Amy. I intend to continue our conversations as we share our research, and I’m glad fate has brought us together.

The view of the harbor from Peter's writing desk.

Our Vulnerability Is Our Strength

When I spoke with my dear friend Anu recently, it felt like we were together, as we were in November and January, sharing our heartfelt thoughts about the meaning of life and how we bring real substance to the smallest gestures that are so deeply felt from the inner sanctity of our soul. I’m grateful for her tenderness as I cried out in this period of awakening. As you well know from reading my work and spending quality time together over many years, my vulnerability is my strength.

We’ve indeed opened the door. I’ve cried many tears about the heartless lack of empathy for all the deaths in the United States. I’m grateful to Anu for listening, for her empathy and for sharing with me that we are together in our struggles.

The Girl Scout motto “Be Prepared” applies to each one of us specifically. We will meet each new day as a reawakening as we rebuild from the inside out. Anu told me of the destruction and fires in St. Paul, where George Floyd died, but she balanced it with a description of all the healthy signs of hope.

The post office has a sign saying they will rebuild and be back and open again. There are real signs of resilience and reverence. Anu told me about a preacher who created a podcast about agape. I loved hearing that he believes white people have to tear down the barriers of their feeling entitled to liberties, freedom and justice at the expense of others.

The House on Fire

Peter spent half a century on the board of the Riot Relief Fund, an organization that helped support New York City police and firefighters. After September 11, it was the firefighters who went into the flames and died trying to save lives. That was a terrorist attack on our country, our city, New York.

Now, as Anu and I have discussed at length, we as a society have to save the house on fire, a house owned by black people and other people of color. All the other houses in the neighborhood matter and need help, but we have to concentrate on the house on fire.

White people have to tear down the standard that everything is judged by white people. When Anu came to America from India, she was four. She was drawing with Crayolas when she picked up a pale pink crayon that was labeled “Flesh.” She laughed when she held it up to her arm, saying, “This is not my flesh color!”

Writing at my outdoor desk. I feel your energy and your love always.

I’m reading about how this rude awakening is pulsating in every conceivable dimension of our lives. White people are waking up from a whitewashed dream. Racism is not acceptable. Advertisers are pulling their commercials off television. Companies are rebranding. Stereotypes are no longer popular. The unvarnished truth is on the march and we as a nation are marching on, headed in the right direction.

When I asked Anu and her precious husband Roger how they are handling this crisis, Anu’s indominable optimism showed in one word: “Well.” Then she added, “We’re helping people.”

We Must Be the Change

I ask all my friends to listen with a third ear to all the stories of the lives of people of color in our white-dominated culture. Listen with your whole heart. June 19th, or Juneteenth, showed crowds celebrating. Juneteenth is something many people didn’t know about until this year.

Jim Clyburn said, “I’m hopeful.” We are now talking with each other. Labels put people in a box, a tiny box, with no way to get out.

I’ve been reading about black people’s lives. I listen to their stories, to their words. I try to understand what it is like to be a human being who is living their lives under white domination. What I’m learning is that it is white people who have to correct our behavior. This will be the double victory. We must be the change. When we are willing to look into our own past, we now see more clearly how we can make ourselves better, stronger, more courageous.

We have the future in our hands. Take stock. Listening to each other, laughing when the laugh is in us. Smiling through our masks. We all feel each other’s energy. I don’t have to be with you to feel your love.

Peter and me among the hydrangeas, photographed by our neighbor Charlie.

Creating a Better World

You, dear friends, each one of you and collectively, have reached out to me throughout these past three-plus decades pouring out your love and support. We have literally held hands, hugged and shown each other how we truly are heart-mates. You and I will continue to be here for each other as we experience our growing pains together.

There are so many ways we can be useful to others as we create together a new, better world, uplift our spirits, and use our energy positively.

  • Wear a mask!
  • Breathe deeply, pause. Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth. Read this article by Jane E. Brody in the New York Times. 
  • Get plenty of sleep: early to bed, early to rise.
  • Ring a mindfulness bell to awaken your higher angels.
  • Stay focused on your commitment to make the best of every precious moment you are awake, aware and letting your conscience be your guide.
  • We can do better. Lao Tzu wrote, “The way to do is to be.” In order to do better, we need to be better. Be, become, evolve, aspire to live up to your core beliefs and values.
  • Be on the lookout for hypocrisy. In recognizing all the good, you have to say and do something when you see or hear harmful behavior.
  • Spend as much time as humanly possible out of doors, exploring the beauty of nature, admiring the flowers, the trees, what’s growing in your garden (or windowsill).
  • Be in the light. Look up!
  • Wear light-colored clothing to feel cool.

Finally, please consider keeping a July notebook. I keep a daily “Common Book.” When Peter proposed to me, he told me there would be a lot of surprises. He had no clue what they would be. I want to assure you that this month of July will be pregnant with zingers in all directions. I’m not knowledgeable about the future. The paperweight I treasure that keeps my written pages from flying out the window or over the white picket fence I share with my neighbor Charlie, in his glorious perfect pink house, is one I also bring to my retreats. It reads:

There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow. Today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live. —Dalai Lama

“You never know” was my spiritual mentor John Coburn’s motto. He was the late Episcopal bishop of Massachusetts. We don’t know what we don’t know. We have today. We have people to help. Let your July notebook be filled with you. Remember my Grace Note for June 26, a timeless truth: “The story’s about you. —Horace.” My dear friend Kerri gave me another paperweight with a Horace quote that says, “Seize the day.”

Whether you write, sketch, draw, Scotch tape or clip articles or pictures in your July book, make this a summer record of what’s in your heart, what you’re yearning for and what you’re learning.

A Common Cause

Because of our heartfelt bond of mutual love and respect, together we can concentrate on real change. What is required of each of us is solidarity of purpose, interest and sympathy. We are interdependent. We have a common cause, and we play our own unique role in the creation of a more just society for all people. We are now aware of our obligation. The challenges may seem daunting, but there is clarity and hope in the future.

Love has no opposite. Hate has no benefit. If you hate me, you snuff out my fragile flame. When you love me, you let me spread my wings and soar to new heights of expansive joy. This is all I want for you.

I’ll greet you all the first of August. Please know how much I’m looking forward to our next conversation.

Stay safe.

Stay well.

Stay centered.

Love & Live Happy,

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” –Nelson Mandela

“Bravery is not a quality of the body. It is a quality of the soul.” —Mahatma Gandhi

Grace Note

Dear friends—I choose to not recommend a book to you this month; I want to learn what you’re reading instead. Please let me hear what is helping you understand better the crises we are in. Thank you for your help! —Alexandra