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