On Feb. 5th, just before the pandemic took over life as we knew it then, my friend Susie gave me a button that looks like this (Noli Timere is “Be Not Afraid” in Latin). I left it on the console of my parked car during the lockdown months. When I discovered it again a few weeks ago, its message took a deeper hold, amidst this summer of confusion, infection, and political craziness.
I decided it was just the message I needed to share in my world and made it my campaign button for the duration. And so I put it on my jacket last Sunday as we headed over to the mountains for a 51st anniversary trip to our summer home in Oregon’s old-growth forest. That evening as we sat in the deep greenness over the creek with some neighbors up the canyon, I shared my new campaign button. We talked about fear, mostly focused on Portland and the election. We slept the deep sleep of the forest. Twenty hours later, we were ordered to evacuate our cabin. I slipped on my jacket, along with my campaign button.
Noli Timere. Be Not Afraid.
We drove the two hours back to our year-round home, chased closely by gusty yellow, hurricane-level winds. Calvin, our dog, began trembling and hiding before we even left the cabin or smelled the smoke, and he shook all the way home. That night the firestorm burned the entire summer home community of about 70 cabins. This morning I slipped on my jacket once more, and there it was: my campaign badge, Noli Timere. Be Not Afraid.
These words come from the highly acclaimed 2019 epic novel Overstory, which encompasses the sacredness of all trees, all families, all beings. Much of the story is based on the timber battles of the 80’s here in the Pacific Northwest. I was here to witness that battle, that cry for the life of trees. I have since come to see the ongoing devastation of our forests and delicate climate caused by greed, ignorance, and selfishness, even as I savor my time at our little refuge in the forest.
Noli Timere. Be Not Afraid. A Battle Cry for Life. Today I glance at the message as I slip on my jacket. We receive the news that most everything is gone. I look at the images of all the fires and furies attacking this land that I love.
We are safely sheltering from the heavy smoke in our year-round community now, unlike the thousands of my neighbors who lost everything a few days ago. Evacuees are everywhere here in this valley, and they are met with a truly astounding generosity. This outpouring has little to do with fear. I’m moved by the simple offering of human comfort, people to people, masks on and distanced socially, delivering blankets and food, knowing that our hearts know no distance.
P.S. Let me know if you’d like a Noli Timere button and I’ll let my friend know.
Last Friday I found myself dangling above the current of a local river, on the advice of a boat-patrolling sheriff, who was busy catching up with my husband, somewhere downstream with the overturned canoe.
Earlier, in the instant that we were tipping over, I had grabbed my dry bag and a huge, funky, double-sized beach/picnic towel. I’ve never felt more one-pointed in my focus than I did once I got his directions. No matter what, I was to hold on to that branch (and my pack and towel). Ten minutes later, the rescue boat returned for me. After we made it back to the dock the sheriff handed back my items. The towel must’ve weighed fifteen or twenty pounds. But still I had clung to it. I had saved it.
He said people often do that. Hold on to whatever they’ve got, whether it helps or not. There’s a big lesson there. It reminds me of the way I’m holding on to my Sense of Myself as a Master of most anything, when there’s a sturdier branch, a kind of surrender to what actually supports me and always has. I’d like to drop the soggy towel now, please. A wish and a prayer.
It’s Vacation Time, not the easiest assignment for the control freak that jumps into my body when the pandemic of stresses we call 2020 reaches a new level. My alarm system doesn’t even seem to know that it’s summer, some days. It just seems to go off without any provocation whatsoever. My days go most smoothly when I can truly stay present with what’s in front of me and handle essential decisions without getting caught in the grip of anxiety. Not an easy task, given the vigilance required to outsmart this virus. But vigilance fed by fear so easily tips into hypervigilance. Have you noticed?
So much of the future is completely unknowable right now. And yet plans do need to be made. It’s a highly complicated form of gambling involving hope, best guesses, prayer, and a toss of a lucky coin. Even those of us who aren’t in the direct path of the pandemic are taking calculated risks while attempting to live the lives that we have. And then along comes August. A time to let go. And the problem-solving mind, so helpful for daily vigilance has a few problems with that.
Hands off the steering wheel, my Wise Self reminds. It’s the only thing that makes sense right now, I calmly notice. And then the scared creature-child inside pops out with one whiff of the news. See all the good reasons to steer? Really hard? She trots out all her proof, and I move from social-distancing-and-face-covering-hand-washing caution to trying to control everyone around me, in ways subtle and not-so subtle. And the cycle continues, from fear to letting go of what I can’t control (most of it), and then reverting to all the Life Controlling Skills that seemed to work so well before, back when I believed that life could be controlled.
It’s a tricky business…
The other day I heard someone talk about “sitting at God’s Bus Stop.” This reminded me of some of my best memories of traveling, when all I could do was just that: wait at a bus stop or a train station or airport until I knew what to do next. Often this was the time when I could truly observe and experience my surroundings. For me, that’s about as close as one can get to the Mystery of life we sometimes call God.
So that’s how I’m spending my summer from now on. Giving my mind a vacation. For me God’s Bus Stop looks like this: hanging out in nature, listening for what is true and good and holy. I’m lucky to be able to go “off grid” at our rustic mountain cabin for days at a time, without phone or news. When I realize the world keeps turning without me, I come back with a calmer perspective. There’s more clarity about what to do about this world and when (or how) to do it, I’m better able to live in easy and light vigilance without the “hyper” part. To take the action that is mine, the one that truly matters. This has great relevance during this time in history.
So that’s where I’ll be the rest of the month. Waiting at God’s Bus Stop. May you also surrender to the pure pleasure of the summer that remains, even as you prepare for all that fall may bring. Because this season of abundance is too good to waste. And who knows what might show up while you’re waiting?
Since I’m in a state and county with very low COVID-19 numbers, and since I’m in a category both privileged and protected, I’ve had a luxury of contemplative time for self-reflection. What has emerged is a much deeper understanding of the power of the question, especially when it comes to my own thinking filters.
My whole life I’ve been someplace between intrigued and obsessed with questions. Life’s Big Questions. Living the Questions. 4 Questions and Turnarounds. My favorite question of all? “What am I not seeing or noticing?” This one is especially challenging, since the part of me that would usually answer is so unaware that it can’t see through the fog.
Months ago, when the pandemic hit, I asked my favorite question. I began to see how little I knew about everything from COVID-19 to the future. This was humbling but not personal, since we were (and are) all in this together. But when the pandemic of racism exposed itself for all the world to see, I began to realize how very many blind spots I had. And this time the cost, to others and myself, has been personal.
The past month I’ve been taking a deep dive to look at what I’ve been missing, with the help of some excellent books and films and videos. I’ve taken care to dose myself with self-compassion as I go about discovering everything I haven’t been able to see until now. This kindness has taught me my own innocence. It has taught me to keep going. To ask another question: What do I do now that I know? This is a question I’m still living with. The first clear answer came today. I’m sending this to you, my friends, with a list of my most educational and inspiring discoveries so far.
May these assist you in your own updates. And don’t forget to serve yourself a generous portion of kindness as you go.
Love In, Peace Out,
See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love by Valaurie Kaur
Kaur’s TED Talk: 3 Lessons of Revolutionary Love in a Time of Rage
Mindful of Race by Ruth King
Sharon Salzberg interview with Ruth King: Sharon Salzberg has long been known for her approachable style and for bringing Metta Meditation (or Loving Kindness Meditation) to the West. In this podcast, Sharon interviews Ruth King on her work with mindfulness, racial conditioning, and justice.
Van Jones on Racial Justice (Youtube): “A continent of new common ground has emerged and we don’t know what it is…” A moving five-minute clip about the meaning of these moments.
Films: Selma, 13, Just Mercy, Malcolm X, The Hate You Give, Do the Right Thing. An avid Film Femme, these are among my favorite power tools for self-education.