The following is part of a series of reflections CEC’s CEO Sigrid Wright occasionally sends our leadership team about the current state of the world, including some curated poems.
As a child, I was obsessed with stories of ocean-faring people who sailed by the stars, and I spent nights camped in our backyard trying to decipher the sky. By the time I was 20, I’d talked my way into a national astronomical observatory in eastern Oregon, where the lonely caretaker spent an entire night providing a private tour for my sister and me of galaxies well beyond this one. By dawn, the tour had crushed any ideas that our puny selves mattered.
Soon after, I found that the Big Dipper looked less like a ladle and more like a giant question mark pulling humankind forward – a symbol of our existential wondering. Perhaps it even drove great thinkers like Einstein. It’s not that I’m so smart, he once said. It’s just that I stay with the questions longer.
Lately, with our collective navigational instruments on the blink, dials spinning uselessly, I awake from sleep and find myself curled into the shape of a question mark, as if to reflect back all the unknowns of this time. Days weeks months go by with little punctuation, without the grounding that social interaction and group compacts can provide.
It’s uncomfortable, all this not-knowing. But also comforting that we’re in it together, bringing our own individual knowings – hopefully using this time to ask the hard questions about what needs to be thrown overboard. I have thrummed on this topic frequently, but now again: we are facing not one but multiple simultaneous crises – social, economic, racial, political and environmental. These are not unrelated, but are deeply entangled by strong, systemic undercurrents. As overwhelming as it may sound, we cannot solve for one – or even two – without the others.
An article in this month’s Atlantic, which spotlights the racial pandemic within the viral pandemic, says it best: “Of all the threats we know, the COVID-19 pandemic is most like a very rapid version of climate change— global in its scope, erratic in its unfolding, and unequal in its distribution. And like climate change, there is no easy fix. Our choices are to remake society or let it be remade, to smooth the patchworks old and new or let them fray even further.”
Living in extraordinarily complex times demands the ability to hold complex thoughts and complex conversations. For most of us, this will require new internal navigation systems. But again, I’m comforted by this as a collective process. I’m imagining each one of us bobbing along on our own rafts, lanterns affixed to the bow. A whole ocean of us, guided by what stars we can see.
Two poem excerpts for you this week: one from Mary Oliver, and another from an author you know and love, but I’m going to make you work your memory for it.
The Journey | excerpt | Mary Oliver
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world.
Constellations | excerpt
The light was leaving
In the west it was blue
The children’s laughter sang
And skipping just like the stones they threw
Their voices echoed across the way
It’s getting late
It was just another night
With a sunset
And a moonrise
Not so far behind
To give us just enough light
To lay down underneath the stars
Listen to papa’s translations
Of the stories across the sky
We drew our own constellations
More of My Reflections.
- Future Ancestors – I imagine us, collectively absorbing the feeling of loss and the power of forces brought on by a changing climate, and then working to pull up systemic problems by their roots.
- The Right to Breathe – And as George Floyd’s breath was crushed from him, any remaining pretext that the current social and economic code merits an obligation to play by its distorted rules was, in my mind, extinguished.
- The Long Emergency – The societal bonfires of the past decades – human health, economic, social, racial, political, environmental – have now unarguably grown into one large Complex Fire and are forcing us to seriously assess the sanity of returning to “normal.”
- Burn Your Maps – After months of pandemic-induced disruption at so many levels, I find it liberating to realize that the times we are in may just be asking us to let go of where we wish we were, set a new course, and burn our old maps for fuel.