Standing differently now

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I have a confession. I did not participate in the Women’s March on January 21st because I felt conflicted. Public activism has never been my way: I prefer to work behind the scenes, writing letters, signing petitions. Demonstrations that coalesce around hard-line positions, pitting one camp against another, make me cringe. As well, it so happened that on January 21st, my husband was attending a meeting of the mens’ rights group in which he is involved – to be clear, his interest is around the need to address mens’ issues, especially mental health – and I mistakenly adopted a simplistic loyalty to him that influenced my decision not to participate.

And yet, watching the newsfeeds of the masses of people – women and men – thronging the world’s streets, standing up for decency and democracy, I deeply regretted my decision. It took not going to bring home to me that I need to re-examine my preconceptions. No longer is it enough for me to sit on the sidelines, especially with the recent tragic violence here in Canada. I am shaken up, shaken out of the complacency of my long-held views, especially around open-minded tolerance. What does tolerance mean for me now? Certainly not condoning words and actions that promote bigotry, hatred, divisiveness. What are the limits of tolerance? Can tolerance honour the innate value and dignity of a human being, even when that human being seems committed to intolerance? What actions can my tolerance now generate that could span bridges while at the same time stand up for my core values and principles?

I am holding these questions uneasily, yet determinedly. Over the last week, William Stafford’s poem Being a Person has repeatedly come to mind, even though I don’t understand the link between some of the poem’s lines and what I am writing about. But when I pulled the same poem from my poem basket this morning, I knew I had to let this poem guide me on a deeper level – to “come back and hear that call” and to recognize that “how I stand is important”.

Be a person here.
Stand by the river, invoke the owls.
Invoke winter, then spring.
Let any season that wants to come here make its own call.
After that sound goes away, wait.
A slow bubble rises through the earth
and begins to include sky, stars, all space,
even the outracing, expanding thought.
Come back and hear the little sound again.
(Come back, and hear that call.)
Suddenly this dream you are having matches
Everyone’s dream, and the result is the world.
If a different call came there wouldn’t be any
world, or you, or the river, or the owls calling.
How you stand here is important.
How you listen for the next things to happen.
How you breathe.

~ William Stafford



  1. Batia

    February 5, 2017

    This is beautiful, Mary Lou! I too didn’t go to the march, I had a class to attend to. I don’t regret my decision because I feel that we have to ‘march’ consistently until this menace of intolerance and hate is uprooted. One of my friends has decided to wear, everyday, for the next four years, something that has a bright pink colour, it may be a stripe, a dot, or a complete or part of an outfit – pink it is. I don’t know, yet, precisely what my protest is going to be, but sit on the sideline is not ‘me’. I thought to send you some memorable quotes by one of my favorite authors, Elie Weisel:

    We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

    The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.

    There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.

    No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.

    Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing.

    There are victories of the soul and spirit. Sometimes, even if you lose, you win.

    Peace is our gift to each other.

    Hope is like peace. It is not a gift from God. It is a gift only we can give one another.

    I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I’ve been closer to him for that reason.

    Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.

    Much gratitude and love,

  2. Kate

    February 5, 2017

    Dear Mary Lou- right before reading your Blog posting I was sitting in the living room watching the snowflakes fall gently and reading “Being a Person.” I too did not march. I made a choice to continue with a new workshop I am in. That said, I felt a twinge of “missing out” when I watched the news clips about the swell of support around the world. My way has always been to use the camera lens to record memories and moments in time. The lens has helped protect me, in a way, shielding me from getting into the muck, adding a protective layer between me and what is happening and giving me a point of reference to speak to after an event. I also ought about all the great photos I could have taken. Through coaching and poetry I have had to drop into a new way that sometimes makes me feel exposed and a bit uncomfortable. Stafford’s poem is perfect and the line “How you stand here is important” holds much meaning.

    Thank you for sharing this timely and beautiful reflection during a time of chaos.


  3. Wendy Sarno

    February 5, 2017

    Oh, Mary Lou, this is so rich with your native honesty and authenticity so beautifully expressed. We are each struggling to find our way in response to the cascading events since the US elections whether we march or write letters or blog posts or make phone calls, or pray with our feet out walking among the trees. Sitting here in the middle of the USA I am so grateful for your voice and your friendship up there in Canada holding hands with us in big circle of support as we learn how stand up for human rights, earth rights. And I’m grateful to be brought back to this wonderful poem and my prayer that the dream we are having will be everyone’s dream and the result will be the world – a world made for all human beings and for the planet we live on.



  4. Sherry Galey

    February 10, 2017

    Mary Lou, thank you for such honest sharing of your thoughts and feelings. I did not go to this march either given that I could not leave my 88 year old mother alone, but I have gone to many in the past and will go in the future. Thank you for the poem too. I am looking forward to more of your unique way of linking life to poetry. I would love to share this with others on social media but I see no sharing buttons…

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