Hasn’t that line come into your head in the past? You notice something in a bad state, needing attention or intervention, and you think, “Why has this been neglected? Clearly, someone is falling down on the job.” It’s quite a bit harder to move on from there and think, “I want to be part of the solution.”
Of course, we don’t have permission to fix all the things we see that need fixing. I want children not to be taken from their parents at the border between the US and Mexico, but the mechanisms I have at my command (writing to my congress person, joining a protest) are uncertain and potentially slow to take effect. Yet making a shift from thinking, “somebody ought to get to work on this problem” to “Is there something I can do here?” is an important early step. Until I make that shift, too much of my energy gets burned up in irritation and judgment rather than in action.
My good friend John Leavitt wrote a poem* recently that illustrates for me what it looks like when a person leaves off grousing and instead steps forward. It’s a great example to me. (The art is by Paula Bast–notice how the title is included in the drawing.)
Give me, Lady Liberty, those brazen words on which you stand,
The words she painted on your lips – you facing out to sea, not in!
Stoop to me, a single soul,
who’s tugging on your copper skirts,
And copy them onto my heart, preserving them to living skin.
For Lazarus’ words are fading! Every day another gravecloth wrap
Is silencing their faithful mouths, entombing them as ancient script.
But I shall loose and let them go, and in me shall they rise again.
So pass them to my heart now lest they’re swept away to dusty crypt.
I oil my own humble lamp,
for yours, I fear, is fading out.
Imprisoned lightning seems no more a distant thunder in our ears,
And selfish hands are pushing shut the golden door you stand beside,
So my door will give world-wide welcome,
Though it warped and worn appears.
Send them, lady liberty – the tired, poor,
And huddled masses,
Homeless and the tempest-tost, and all who’re yearning to breathe free.
If selfish hands will bar the way, that air-bridge harbour you command,
Then send them, lady liberty, divert them rather all to me.
I’ve watched you long enough stand all alone
Out on that stormy isle,
And so I take my place out by your side upon the teeming shore,
It’s time that I become the land of freedom we all sing about,
And wear my crown and lift my torch, beside thee at my open door.
JCL 22 Nov. 2018
Irritation is much easier to conjure than resolve is, but we can do hard things, I’m sure. Thank you, John Leavitt, for giving a voice to this critical need.
*His poem makes some references to the poem at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. If it’s been a while since you read it, you can find it here.
[Images: Miguel Medina, Paula Bast]