Any national election has the potential to redefine how a country understands its identity. So it’s no surprise that the recent presidential election in the U.S. has reverberated so deeply in the core of our fears and vulnerabilities. Since the elections this week, many people are stunned, angry, grieving and fearful about the future. What does it mean that the world’s largest democracy has just elected a leader who is explicitly and unapologetically misogynist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic and fear-mongering? What does this say about who we, in the U.S., are collectively and personally and how we relate to one another and the world we share?
A friend and colleague of humble spirit says when she leaves the house on Sunday mornings with a vulnerable heart to lead worship with her congregation, her husband often speaks four grounding words of encouragement, saying simply, “Remember who you are.” One day as she headed toward the door, she heard her young daughter calling out from the other room, “Remember who you are, Mama.”
These words, spoken in a child’s voice like a small bell ringing, seem helpful now, calling us all back to who we really are – clumsy, caring, complicated human beings, so prideful of our ability to stand upright, so capable of creativity, of community and caring for one another, of making and appreciating beauty. And – also – so capable of inflicting insult and injury, of judgment and violence, of greed and abuse of power. We humans are all of that, and more.
And how does this help right now, you wonder?
Remember who you are. We are all earthlings. We come from the earth and belong to it. To remember this is to remember our place in the living, changing, dying, growing and resilient world we share, not only in caring for it, but also drawing from it the strength, solace, peace and wisdom that nature offers us. Ancient Taoist teachings say we humans serve as a linkage between earth and sky, restoring wholeness and energy as we honor that connection. Judeo-Christian teachings tell us we are made from dust and dirt, instilled with sacred breath and entrusted as stewards of the earthly garden we call home. Scientific teachings note that we are made of star dust and gifted by water and oxygen, by sunlight and soil with everything we need to thrive and to grow in understanding from one generation to the next. Remembering we are earthlings connects us to our roots and also to our better possibilities.
Remember who you are. We human beings need each other. Biologically, we are born into an infancy of such great dependency, we require years of care and protection. Why do we think this ends with adulthood? The American myths of exceptionalism and self-reliance falsely tell us that we can make a go of it alone. That we have a right to defend our individualism so fiercely we can ignore the needs of others, disregard the impact of our lives on theirs, and deny the way that every life depends on others both visibly and invisibly. No one needs us to remember this more than our children, who depend on us not only for nourishment and shelter but also for example and education. Remembering who we are calls on us to model for them the give and take of healthy interdependence and community, our concern and care for one another’s needs and our willingness to speak up for our own. We need each other – and this is a very good thing.
Remember who you are. What makes us human beings is our ability not only to experience the world, to explore it, study it and change it, but also to reflect on what it means and what our role in it should and might be. This double gift, of external and internal awareness, is critical now. We need outward practices that cultivate and draw us into healthy relationships and community, and practices that engage us in honest and civil conversation across the differences that currently divide us. Inwardly, we need practices that keep love alive. Only love can counter the fear that has brought us to where we are today, and love begins with an open heart. Whatever your preferred practices are – meditation or exercise, prayer or song, yoga or tai chi, walking or sitting – remember them and recommit to them as habits that will keep your heart open.
Remember who and how you wish to be. Do not discount the power of the human imagination. Remembering who we are also reminds us of our capacity to imagine who we might become. When paired with fear, this can be paralyzing – imagining the worst of times that could be near. But, when paired with love, the imagination is a powerful tool for hope and change. “What if?” is a quick-footed question with the agility and moving balance we need when facing aggression and oppression and the fear these incite. It is also a healing question, a bridge from where we stand today to where we want to be, a doorway into something new. When we remember to ask “what if?” and then live our way, day by day, into a beautiful, life-giving answer, we will be remembering our best possibilities and participating in the creation of a promising future.
What if … we all remembered who we are like this?