Step by step

Recently at a small group gathering, a friend asked how we were regulating our media intake. “Some days I can’t handle hearing more bad news, but I know it is a privilege to be uninformed,” she commented. We agreed:  we are weary with hearing what’s wrong with our world and weary with feeling powerless to change it.

Campaigns for social change take unbelievably long. About six years of demonstrations led to the passing and ratification of the amendment granting women the right to vote. (The Equal Rights Amendment is not yet passed.) The Indian independence movement led by Mahatma Gandhi took over 25 years. The U.S. civil rights movement took over 13 years until the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act passed. In each of these cases, people laid groundwork for decades before and work remains to be done. And just possibly, each of us assumes we’d have been helping with these campaigns if we had lived then.

About ten years ago two high school seniors shadowed me during a Mennonite-Church of the Brethren-Friends peace gathering. Part of their assignment was to interview some of the peace folks on the forefront of peace and justice work. A few days after the conference one mom called me. “What have you done to my son?” she asked. “He went to that conference expecting to major in peace and justice studies and came home completely disillusioned.” “What upset him?” I wondered. He had been gifted one-on-one time with some of the most dedicated people I knew. “He found out that peace work never gets done. He wants to see results.” Don’t we all.

Maybe the need to create encouragement for the long haul is why we have songs like “Blowin’ in the wind,” “Have you been to jail for justice?”  “Higher ground,” “We shall overcome,” “Step by step” and my recent favorite, “1000 Grandmothers.”  What are your favorites?

About the time I began this blog, several writers began lists of ways to survive the long haul. Here are the ideas on my list. Please add yours in the comment section.

Limit news exposure. Just because we have access to news 24/7 doesn’t mean we benefit from it. Select one or two times a day to catch up on the news. Live well the rest of the time.

Choose. Choose just one or two “issues” to concentrate on. Write letters, phone, read, become knowledgeable, protest, but concentrate on just immigration or just health care or just civil rights. Be an expert, not a dabbler and you’ll feel more empowered.

Meditate. Find yourself some time alone with God for weeping and rejoicing.

Get out. Take a walk in the woods. Work in your garden. Think about all the storms the trees have withstood. Note tiny insects and their determination. Breathe.

Care for yourself. When you can’t bear to hear more bad news, stop listening. It’s ok. When you have taken part in an action and are exhausted, rest. If you don’t, you’ll burn out.

Support workers. The people doing full-time peace and justice work need encouragement. Send a note, a batch of cookies, a bouquet. Express your appreciation. They have hard days also.

Name your joy. Every night before I go to sleep, I write down a list a friend taught me:

G What am I grateful for today?

L What did I learn?

A What did I accomplish?

D What delighted me?

This list helps me sink into sleep contented.

Years ago, I learned of Yvonne Dilling, a young volunteer who helped people fleeing from the war in El Salvador in the early 1980s.  At the Honduras-El Salvador river border, Yvonne swam back and forth, carrying children on her back, sometimes under helicopter gunfire. Eventually the United Nations established refugee camps and she worked in them for a couple years, most of the time in harsh conditions.

The refugees maintained hope and joy in spite of dire living conditions.  At one point they gently challenged her to lighten up.  When she asked them how they found the ability to laugh and play, they replied that she could afford to be intense because she could leave any time.  They knew they were in hard times for the long haul and a sense of humor, an ability to celebrate and laugh are tools for the long haul.

I began bringing monarch caterpillars inside a couple weeks ago after I noticed them disappearing–and not pupating–in great numbers. This was to be my project to feel better about the world and life.

It didn’t work as I expected. I’ve lost more than I want to remember to Tachinid flies. One horrible time I actually watched the larvae come out of a body, and bodies can have many. My stomach turned a bit. The last few days I’ve mostly been disposing of dead caterpillars and horrid little slugs. The whole project was reflecting Washington politics much more than I anticipated or could tolerate.

But this morning I was greeted by a gorgeous butterfly and another enclosed when I was unaware enough to turn my back and eat breakfast.

So here is a bit of hope to all of you who need it. I expect a few offspring of these monarchs to fly all the way to Mexico for the winter. We birth only a bit of justice, but when we do, it multiplies and flies far.

Susan Mark Landis is a member of the Volunteer Advocacy Coordinators Network (VACN)


1 Comment

  1. Carol Penner

    Thank you Susan, you are such an inspiration to me. I appreciate these tips, and will share them with students I teach….

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