This in from Molly:
I’ve lost track of the days. I don’t know the date or day of the week. I like how it feels.
August 5: I say farewell to Molly and Kevin Huff and head to Cincinnati. Today will be the longest drive day of the trip. The skies are cloudy and all along the route are indications that rain has come and gone. I ride the whole way with the top down…thunder clouds loom overhead.
I arrive at the home of Carly Simon. (Naw Silly. Not THAT Carly Simon.) Carly and her husband are hosting our Cincinnati Red Boot Coalition meeting. She and her husband are both widows. They’ve been married only two years. They talk of their deceased love ones openly and as if they are present in the room. There is a peace and openness about their home that is palpable. I am glad we are meeting here.
Peg Conway has organized the event. I’ve never met her but have communicated via Facebook and email. I know who she is when I arrive. Like other Red Booters there is a visible element of being that says, “I am Alive.” We joke that it feels as if we’ve known each other for our whole lives.
Peg is an elected official in their “village” community. She has invited an interesting mix of folks…including Natalie Wolf and her husband. Natalie is another elected leader and her husband is very active on non-profit boards throughout their community.
We begin. Everyone introduces themselves. I provide some context for how this whole thing started. We then toss into the room the “things” about the current climate we would like to change.
Money. Party-Agenda-Driven. Lack of Trust.
I am observing that at all of our gatherings we never speak of issues. We speak of ethos, energy, intention and what’s beneath the surface. How do we fix those non-things?
I observe the room…such passion, tenderness and willingness to listen. I think this is it. We are here now.
Mary and her husband are here. She is a poet…soft-spoken but don’t let that fool you. She is strong. Passionate. Powerful.
“We don’t know each other anymore. I think it’s as simple as this. You can’t hate people you know….really know. It’s a cup of coffee, a conversation, it’s gathering in living rooms like this…and clearing the space, feeling safe, building trust.”
Michael Conway is a strong, confident young man. He is Peg’s son and speaks up. “I don’t mean to be the cynic of the bunch….but the need for change is urgent. I don’t see how this can address the issue fast enough.”
I smile at him. I remember being 20. The impatience of youth. I tell him I love his impatience. That the world needs young people like him to stay impatient…to do…to do something.
I share with him that I am impatient too.
Several years ago I am attending a Girls on the Run 5k in Norfolk, VA. The 5k run is comprised of two 1.5 mile "laps. The event is taking place In an area outside of Norfolk that is absolutely breath-taking. I am standing at the point where the girls begin their second lap.
A young girl comes ‘round who is crying…crying that kind of sob cry that takes your breath away. I run to her and put my arm around her. She gives me that “don’t touch me” look and so I don’t. She doesn’t know that I am the Founder of GOTR...probably thinks I’m one of the local volunteers or organizers..
We walk a few steps together and she cries.
“I can’t do this,” she says between all those tears and deep breaths.
I listen. "I know it's tough isn't it?"
“I can’t do this.” She gives me a look like what part of I can’t do this don’t you understand.
We are jogging a little now and I keep listening…chime in every once in a while with a “Yes” or “I hear ya sister.”
This little dance of ours goes on for another ten or so minutes.
“I can’t do this.” At this point her declarations have now turned into angry rants…a kind of “fed-upness” has emerged through all those tears.
I stop. She stops.
I gently point out that while she’s been saying she can’t do this we have managed to make it half way around the second lap. We are almost at the finish line.
She looks around.
The rest of our run we talk about all sorts of things…her school, her family, her pets.
August 6: I wake up in my hotel. Head out on my morning run. I see it in a ditch…with some trash. There you are! Feather, there you are!
I arrive a few minutes late for my next Red Boot Stop. Tonight’s gathering is in Grand Rapids Michigan. Lori Burgess, a soulful, spiritual woman is hosting our small gathering at a beautiful state park outside of Grand Rapids. Everyone is eating dinner when I get there. I grab a plate and join them.
And then we begin.
Introductions, context, what we see in the current state of affairs and what we would like to see.
“So how do we get from where we are to what we wish to see?”
The conversation is rich with passion, concern…Lori has gathered together a group of people who are willing to really lay their hearts on the line…open, honest, real.
Jan, a woman in her 60’s exudes a peaceful energy that is infectious.
“I’ve been so frustrated and have felt so helpless. What can I do to bring about change? But I’m getting it.” She laughs out loud…as in out loud.” We are changing it right now. Can I take this with me? Can I impact one person? Can I smile at someone? What can I do within the life that I have?” She pauses. “When I was younger it was about changing the world from a big space…because I had my whole life ahead of me.” She smiles, sighs that kind of sigh that comes with wisdom. “Now it’s about changing my world…the one I can touch, see and experience.”
Katie, a young woman in her mid-20's, who works at an Interfaith Agency shares, “I think it’s about Joyful Belonging.”
She quotes an author she has read recently who speaks of this.
There is a stillness in the air. Sunsetting all around us. We like how that sounds.
We are wrapping up with a story from Lori Burgess. She was on a camping trip with her husband, Dan, she was collecting rocks when she came upon a field of beautiful wild flowers. “I wanted to carry home a bouquet of these…their grace and beauty to light up my home.”
She gently placed the rocks there beneath the miniature canopy of wild flowers and chose instead the purple, the pink and yellow.
I think every moment is like this. What will I choose to carry?
I wake up in New Buffalo, Michigan. I’ve had lots of days on and need to refuel my spirit. I take a drive over to the Indiana Dunes State Park.
I’ve never seen anything like this. The beach looks like it could be in my home state of North Carolina overlooking the Atlantic Ocean…Lake Michigan is so large I can’t see any land on the other side. Dunes, like mountains rise up from out of the ground. Children, running up and down the dunes, appear to be moving in slow motion...their footsteps sinking in all that powdery sand.
I put on my running shoes and begin. The air is crisp. The sun is bright. I find the Calumet Trail…miles and miles of trail...weaving its way through towns and farmlands. The plants rise so high on either side that I feel at times, as if I am in a maze. The butterflies are everywhere. I could run forever…discover I’ve been running for nearly an hour and should probably head back…the tattered feather is there tucked in to the small rocks and dirt under my feet.
I cry…and love that the butterflies dance their joyful blessing.
I am on the beach. There are two young brothers…15 or 16 years old…digging.
They were digging when I got there and are digging still. The sweat is glistening on their athletic bodies…sunburned shoulders.
Two young girls walk up.
“Why are you guys digging?” They, too are athletic, toned...full of life.
“We are hoping to meet people who live in China.”
The girls giggle…watch... and the guys keep digging.
Several minutes later, two more girls come up.
The girls are talking to each other now, in the third person about the boys. “They are digging their way to China…to meet people who live in China.”
More girls show up. Eventually there are 20 young girls gathered around, watching, flirting, laughing, talking with our two hard-working diggers.
Eventually all those girls sit down, with their feet dangling over the edge of the hole…a little community has gathered. People from all across the beach are walking by, looking, smiling.
I walk up to the two girls who gathered there first and smiled.
“Look what you guys started!!! You two, then a whole crowd!”
I told them I was traveling cross country and journaling some of what I experienced. Could I ask them a few questions.
"Sure," they responded.
“So...what about all this digging prompted you to walk over here?”
Sarai responds with an attitude that has that fabulous child-like-hand-raising-pick-me-pick-me feel to it. “I was curious and wanted to know why they were digging it. I mean here we are with a whole beach of things to do…swim…walk and they are digging and digging and digging and I wanted to know why. It didn't make sense to me, so I came over here and asked them.
She stands there…so alive with curious wonder.
That's Kaitlyn, Taylor, Abby, Sarah and Sarai. (Coincidentally they are cross country runners who were at the park training for their upcoming season.)
Our Beach Community is Building.
The Diggers...Twins Jake and Tyler.
I am driving back to my hotel.
I pass a Church, a Muslim gathering place, and Helen’s bar extravaganza, all within ½ mile of each other.
Tonight’s gathering was organized by Sue Beres and Blair Milo. Sue is a Girls on the Run coordinator and Blair is the Mayor of LaPorte, Indiana. I’ve known Sue for several years and am meeting Blair for the first time this evening.
I am nervous. Our gathering is the largest to date and is taking place in LaPorte’s Town Hall. A reporter with a local publication is there. The room is full of elected leaders, community members, non-profit leaders, two candidates, a representative from the district Congressional office and city/county employees.
We begin with introductions and then context. The meetings are now holding onto a kind of structure…structure that opens the space for uninhibited dialogue…rich with empathy and acceptance.
I think Blair’s words capture the evening best:
It’s difficult to summarize all of the amazing energy and momentum that was created in our discussion, but when I think of the power of this idea and the passion for transforming the political environment in the US I keep coming back to two words: What if…?
What if we talked about ideas instead of labels or parties or groups of people?
What if we encouraged people to share their ideas and focused on what we liked about their ideas instead of what we didn’t like about it, or often more accurately what we don’t like about them?
What if we set aside labels or party affiliations to get to know people for who they are?
What if we encouraged people to follow their passions and championed their accomplishments along the way?
There were so many amazing thoughts shared, but one that really stuck with me is that our political system is a reflection of who we are as a people, so if we want to change it then perhaps we need to ask ourselves what is it we can do to inspire a positive transformation.
…Coming away from our discussion I’m so excited to think, “What if the 30+ people gathered for La Porte’s gathering of the Red Boot Coalition decided to be the change they want to see in our political system and encouraged 5 people they came into contact with to do the same so that those 5 people would in turn talk to another 5 people and so on?” We just might make the kind of change that creates a world in which our political leaders choose to integrate love, compassion, humility, reflection, joy, unity, vulnerability, strength and courage into all facets of their lives.
Seems doable to me, but it starts with believing in the “what if…”
Sunshine, one of those in attendance, is someone you can’t help but love. She was a little late so I can’t be sure…but I swear the woman drives a motorcycle. (If she doesn’t I WANT to believe she drives a motorcycle!) Tough, gritty, no-nonsense and real to the core. Sunshine, in recovery for alcohol abuse, works with women who are transitioning from incarceration to life “on the outside.” Sunshine is raising money to upfit a home for these “women in transition.”
Sunshine does not show up as a warm and fuzzy kind of person…but the moment she speaks…her compassion, tenderness, humanness land all about her. Humble and, kind. I am not surprised her name is Sunshine.
She speaks from that place of knowing…experiences in her own life…learning to trust the path before you trust yourself.
“All I know is this. If you love them, they will follow.”
And all this from a discussion on American Politics. Go figure.