Straightening Out My Soul

Photo — Unsplash — Joel Muniz

I see signs of progress. The pandemic is winding down. More people have been vaccinated. Friends are planning to visit. Families separated by the virus for the past year are reuniting. It isn’t perfect, and it surely isn’t total. Look at Michigan! But I think we’re coming back.

Some members of our communities have been heroic during the past year: those who made deliveries, grocery store clerks, nurses and orderlies, gas station night managers, cops who care and firefighters who risk their lives. These folk may understandably be worn out by what was asked of them over the past year. They need our thanks, and they need a break.

Others, like me, spent most of the last year in a version of lock-down. I could wallpaper four rooms with all the needle-pointing I’ve finished since March 2020. I haven’t done the work of the heroes. I’m just one more survivor.

What I’ve sensed in the past few days is an overwhelming, maybe pent-up, passion to “do something.” Some of this is personal and trivial, like a trip to the grocery store. But some of it cuts deeper into who I am and what I need. I’ve had a year of mostly human hibernation while our nation endured massive social upheavals, a new awareness of racial and economic disparities, and calls for a different future (not just a return to “as it was”). I have this pulsating urge to stop discussing things and start making a difference. I have a renewed passion for action.

I’ve never been very comfortable just talking about problems. I want solutions, and I’m willing to invest in them. My role is rarely to lead and often to serve. I want to serve my family, my community, my friends. You. I don’t need parades and headlines. But I need to do something.

One of my favorite jobs ever was serving as an “advanceman” for President Gerald R. Ford. The gender-slant was a reflection of history: I was the first woman ever to fill the role. What I loved was that I could serve a man I admired, who was honorable to the bone. I didn’t sit around and talk about serving him; I served. And I loved it.

Coming out of the pandemic I realize that serving now will also mean doing something beyond talk. I need to get aligned with The Other. It isn’t about me. When I want to remember The Other, I’ve often recalled Viktor Frankl who walked the frozen mud of Hitler’s Buchenwald looking for those he could serve. In serving The Other — offering a blessing, a touch, a crust of bread — even in the hell of Buchenwald, Frankl found meaning.

I’m no Frankl. But my passion to do something, to make a difference, has taken me to places of great suffering around the world. I went because I felt called to serve. When communities dying under the weight of AIDS discovered that I, too, was infected, I was embraced. The Other and I became “we.” I may now have aged past 20-hour days in remote villages. But I have not outgrown the desire to act, to serve, to do something beyond talk. I still have passion.

It isn’t only Frankl I think about. What about Elie Wiesel who taught us that “the opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference.” If I see yet another police shooting of a Black man and merely shake my head and feel ashamed to be White, it’s not enough; that’s indifference. Seeing the hungry child and not feeding her? Indifference. I don’t need to start another nonprofit, or have my name in lights. I need to focus on The Other and make a damn difference.

So I want to get out of my house and take some small steps in service. I can pick my causes by talking to my heart. If something evokes real grief or surprising celebration, it’s likely a cause I can support with a check. It may be hunger, disease, injustice, racism, voting rights…it could help turn on the lights of Broadway. I can write a note of encouragement. Bring flowers to a hospitalized patient. Give money or time. Do anything that contributes to the world I’d like to see. Do anything, but do something. Let me show some passion for action.

You’re welcome to join me, if you wish, but this is really about me and The Other. I’m going to take some small steps to make a difference. Now. Today.

It’s been a rough stretch for many of us. So-called “leadership” was neither truthful nor noble. It was rotten to the core, and our souls were emaciated by the daily news. We have new leaders, and the pandemic is retreating. I’m holding my granddaughter, seeing my children, hearing my friends in the hallway. And I can remember the promise made by the great poet Langston Hughes, “When peoples care for you and cry for you, they can straighten out your soul.” Ah, yes…my soul. It’s what drives my passion for action, my need to serve in ways that make a difference.

Really, what could be better after enduring years of spiritual darkness than to know that someone cares, someone cries, and my soul is getting straightened out so I can serve? It’s good. It’s really good.

Speaker, artist and author. Activist calling for courage, compassion and integrity. Mom/Grandma. 1st Female White House Advanceman. Keynoted ’92 RNC.