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On Finding Center in a Divided World

Updated: Nov 10, 2020

On a characteristically snowy morning earlier this month, I went for a walk alone just before dawn, in the nearby park that has been both a refuge and a place of play for myself and my family this tumultuous year. It has a mixed use path and grassy trails that follow the river. I had bundled up in extra layers, rightly anticipating my body's resistance to the truth: the cold dark season is here.

This was the day after the US election, and my nervous system had been in a state of high-alert since Halloween (and probably much, much earlier).

How will it go? Who will 'win'?

I recognized that, due to record voter turnout, both absentee and in-person, we would not know for some time what the projected outcome would be, I made a conscious decision to wait until Friday to check in with the results. It would be theater and guessing until at least then. My nervous system, I knew, would not be able to handle the informed-guessing of pundits, the back-and-forth of states and numbers and probabilities.

So, on this particular walk, I ventured out into the cold to find some quiet away from the influx of information, to greet the dawn.

I walked along the paths along the river, newly white with the fresh covering of snow, noting the achingly adorable tracks of little animals who had been there overnight, and meandered my way to the spot where the river widens, and the wilder woods across are in full view. I stood at the edge of the river, took measured breaths, let my heart rate slow, and allowed thoughts of outcomes and data and decisions to float by without grabbing too tight a hold. I watched the water as it burbled and ambled. I looked to the moon, as it slid in imperceptible increments toward the western horizon. I longed for the same inevitable, relaxed pace of both in my own life.

One question circled, and declined to drift past: How will we bridge this divide?

I did not have answers, or rather, I had too many answers, none of which felt sufficient to the task. It is too big a divide, with too many factors, and too many people disagreeing on fundamental things. How to find reconciliation in such a situation?

As I tried to work through this uncertainty, the sun popped up *boop* on the eastern horizon. The trees, previously in the shadow of pre-dawn, eased into their late-fall daytime colors of gold and brown. With a slight turn of the head, I could see both the rising sun and the setting moon through the same blue domed lens.

I thought, The sky is able to hold both the day and the night in the same space.

A single season can bring green grass and snow and ice.

Can we let these competing yet complementary states inform how we view each other?

I've seen a great deal of conversation lately that centers around one group diametrically opposed to another, with irreconcilable differences. Yet I do not feel that those differences themselves are actually irreconcilable.

People choose to reconcile them, or not.

We often choose to view individual people as final representations of the groups with which they identify. But this picture is incomplete, at best. I hold inside myself many competing truths, and this is not simply with regard to political views. The same must be true for others.

I recently had a conversation with my mother about books - in this park, actually - and I mused that while I'm enjoying the books I'm currently reading, the heroes are 'too' good, the villains 'too' evil. There is no space for the complexity of Being, in those stories of light and dark.

I thought, We are not one thing, but many.

We are a messy and haphazard combination of our genetics and the circumstances in which we are raised, and the groups with which we later choose to align ourselves.

In order to find center, for me, at this moment, I choose the lens of compassion, understanding the complexity of individuals, rather than overarching associations with the groups they self-designate or I designate. When someone has a certain sign on their lawn, or speaks a certain way on social media, or has stickers or flags on their vehicles, it tells me very little about the complexities of their character. It tells me what they choose to tell the world, about themselves. It tells me they want to belong, to be included in certain groups, to see themselves and be seen as part of something.

We all want to belong, and we all want to be part of a community.

This does not ignore the very real harm that comes from out-grouping, from dehumanizing others in order to belong to a group. It does not ignore harm caused from groups that promote power over others.

What it does is create space to see the humanity in others, beyond the guises and masks of group identity.

It makes space for kind conversations with my loved ones who I disagree with in almost every way.

It makes space for conversations with my neighbors who put up lawn signs that I would happily put in my burn pile.

It makes space for my own complexity, my own seemingly irreconcilable differences that live within me. Where I am kind, and where I am harmful. Where I am the light, and where I am the dark. It makes space for all the grey in between.

That space is the eye of the tornado, the center of the whirlpool, the heartbeat between the in and out breath.

As the sage poet Walt Whitman aptly identified:

"Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."

To find center is to be the sky, to hold both the sun and the moon within the same space, the known and the unknown, the material and the numinous.

And so it is with this lens through which to view ourselves and each other, we can find center, and a middle way forward.

With Love, Hope, and Peace -

Rachel V.

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