A sympathetic magic

We are in a moment when we are looking at a terrible and ancient wound in ourselves and in our culture, involving gender and power and sexuality and race, and giving it light and air to promote its healing.

It takes courage to speak out about this, it takes courage to listen, and it takes courage to understand our responsibility in wounding ourselves and each other, wounding entire groups of people and even our sustaining earth herself, and in finding another way to live.

Many of us, mostly women, are taking stock of and giving voice to how we have been injured by gender inequity and sexual violence throughout our lives. Many of us, mostly men, are hearing these stories and reflecting on injuries we may have caused or failed to prevent. Some of us, often in-between male and female like me, are caught between both questions. And most of us are asking why we allow these deep-rooted patterns to continue damaging our relationships, our lives, and our society.

Some of us are at the same time engaging in an equally powerful conversation about race, with many of us, mostly people of color, bringing forth unspoken truths about daily oppression and actual fearing for their lives, their partners’ lives, and the lives of their children; with many of us, who generally identify as white, like me, hearing these stories and reflecting, again, on injuries we may have caused or failed to prevent; and with some of us standing between, torn or confronting or mediating or holding sacred space.

I could go on, about economic injustice, even slavery, and the apparent enslavement and destruction of the very world around us, as if we had that power. We don’t, but we do have the power to destroy ourselves, and that destruction is starting to feel imminent, to feel like something we might suffer in our own lifetimes. It is huge and looming and tremendously immobilizing.

It is also personal.

When we approach deep trauma, it can feel like we are going to die, that it is hopeless, that anything — numbness, compromise — is better than getting close to that profound pain. But the only path to healing leads us there, into the nest of the trauma itself, where an essential part of our souls still remains, nestled like an egg, waiting to be warmed and to hatch with bright feathers and a new song to sing.

We each have our own dance of approach and retreat, moving towards healing at our own pace or swept up in the energy of the moment, and loving one another as well as we can while it all unfolds. But there is a graceful miracle, a kind of sympathetic magic that can be given to us: when we listen to someone else with full attention, when we acknowledge their story, and when we act affirmatively on their behalf, it advances our own healing. Our love and outrage for others can take us, for a time, past the seemingly insurmountable wall of our individual grief and terror and self-recrimination.

When we listen. When we believe. And when, with fierce love and compassion, we take action to change an intolerable situation.