The Voice of a Handwritten Letter

This is not a poetry blog. This post is a different variety of declaration urging people to use their voices.

Recently, I gave the gift of the poem that follows to a 60-year friend for Mother’s Day. It began as a remembrance of the letters we wrote as kids leveraged with the delicious detail of handwriting terms, of my friend’s mother’s passing, and as poems do, evolved into a lament of the fact that our kids don’t experience the joy of a handwritten letter. 

IN OUR HANDWRITING

We

held hands

in pale vellum.

Confidences were

penned, licked, sealed, received.

Cursive lines of love disguised

as the details of summers in

Maine, in Florida, from the south rim

of the Grand Canyon when our objections

to separation went unheard. Teenage

upstrokes borne of ‘60s hope for a

world of love. Warm summers, easy

flourishes. Secrets of bad

boys we loved, descenders

too delicious to

cast aside. Young

skill sets, no

r e m o r s e.

x-

height,

practice

for restraint

neither of us

wanted. Unprepared

for the mother of love,

gentility, kindness, the

community’s baseline for

care, to show us how to live without

her. Allographs of wholeness descended

into stressors, curves of pain, disbelief.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps, love

sleeps in the next room, cancer

notwithstanding. The hand

of penmanship, in

hers now,

delicately,

one last

time.

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After a very challenging week, a co-worker penned a note of thanks to me for my patience, professionalism, support and counsel. Such a gesture of appreciation in a business environment is not often given. I can say that the note’s influence continues to resonate. I read it every day.

The importance of using our voices intimately, oratorically, conversationally, poetically and in prose cannot be overstated. Neither can the case for penning deeply personal thoughts and wishes to others. It’s the highest form of personal expression and tribute.

 

If You Have a Voice, Let’s Change the Narrative

“The United States has always been, and remains, what we make it.” the ACLU

If we scratch the surface of what causes us to act and are truthful with ourselves, we recognize that progressiveness has nothing to do with ‘us’ and everything to do with ‘us, all’.  We’ve then admitted to ourselves that our ‘why’ in moving a progressive society ahead has, as its origin, that empathetic impulse to improve all lives. It arises from seeing ourselves in others.

Nowhere is it written that progressiveness is not associated with broad planning and activism. It’s not about angry, separatist political thought. It’s about changing hearts and minds.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU, has a 50-state plan for what it calls People Power, founded only last year. The beauty of the movement is multi-faceted. It’s meant to be flexible to encourage activists to move on local issues while standing on the long-established structure and funding of the ACLU. “Local chapters [are] already in place, as well as funding for a long-haul effort”, says Marshall Ganz, who organized for the civil rights movement in Mississippi in 1964 and was the architect for Barack Obama’s grassroots campaign in 2007.  I canvassed for President Obama in Cincinnati, and the structure of the campaign was masterful. It was built in a way that got commitment, respectfully, from each and every potential voter as to that person’s candidate preference, no matter the number of contacts required to do so.

Ganz makes an important distinction between ‘mobilizing’ which is what we largely see today – reactive – and away from ‘organizing’ which is local, broad and powerful.

In an interview with The Nation, Ganz says the ACLU changed their motto to ‘We the People.’ “That’s a pretty significant reframing. If you think of yourself as, ‘We the lawyers who are defending rights’ versus ‘We the people who are fighting for our rights’ – that’s a very different idea.”

“If there is one thing I will give Donald Trump credit for, he has given birth to what may be a golden age of citizen activism.” — Anthony Romero, ACLU executive director. Faiz Shakir, ACLU national political director and architect of People Power, is “leveraging a movement… that builds out long-term infrastructure to prevent the next Trump.”

The ACLU says, “We’ll do the work in the courts. You do the work in the streets.”

Interested in changing hearts and minds?

 

 

Teaching Activism

Imagine publicly advocating for your chosen profession prior to actually joining it.

Two bright, eloquent about-to-be North Carolina State University graduates marched this week with future teaching colleagues at the state capitol demanding better pay and greater school funding.

Cristina Chase Lane and WinnieHope Mamboleo joined a collective voice of teachers who are rightfully asserting their demands for income aligned with the responsibility of teaching our children. Lane: “I know part of my philosophy of teaching is to teach students to have a voice… and to be activists for what they want. And I feel like I can’t teach them to do that if I don’t do it myself.”

Teaching epitomizes service. A recent NPR/Ipsos poll disclosed more than 9 in 10 teachers said they entered the profession to do good work. We each serve one another. Teachers exemplify service.

As a former mentor to a young teen through the Cincinnati Youth Collaborative, I was shocked to learn how deeply immersed in students’ lives teachers and administrative staff were. Inner-city teachers know students’ tenuous family situations. They know whether their kids had dinner the night before. Boxes of clothing, along with a washer and dryer, were stored in the vice-principal’s office for kids whose clothes were not clean. Staff actively looked for children who failed to show up for class.

Financial support for dedicated teachers in this country continues to be stale, as does appropriate school funding. Hope Mamboleo has $20,000 in student loans. Of teaching she says, “I can breathe and learn and be myself in this space. I just have to be humble and know that the main difference I’m making is going to be in the class. I’m just not going to have a lavish life.”

It’s time for us to stand beside them.

 

Having a Voice can Include Silence

Silence takes many forms. Recognition of inner stillness, the stillness we all share. A chosen absence of speech, which is often quite powerful in conversation or debate. A reaction to circumstance or event.

Silence, I was reminded by Gaston Bachelard, a French 20th Century non-conformist whose interests and education spanned from mathematics to philosophy to chemistry to physics to poetry to architecture, is also “the source of our first suffering… and lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak.”

The world is full of talk today, yes? Little of it, though, is other than superfluous banter at others and not genuine conversation with them. It’s often disparaging, disrespectful and even demeaning.

Frequently, our most important conversations lay dormant, remaining latent as a result of the fear of any number of things, including perceived lack of qualification or authority, or the risk of humiliation.

Herein lies Bachelard’s point. A voice suppressed or withdrawn or belittled is, indeed, a form of suffering. It’s a missed opportunity to connect with others in ways that promote growth, understanding and acceptance. It’s the most important vehicle of self-expression we have, and far more important that any superficial expression.

I have many interests, and I can even muster an opinion. But bigger topics, even risking areas of disagreement, are what intrigue me because there is no one right answer to any question.

I respect courage, self-reflection, equanimity and, yes, silence in its most powerful context. They’re all wonderful tools to build relationships and societies of fairness and diversity. One conversation at a time.

Welcome to SilentThingsWithinUs.