This post is titled, A Safe Place to Land, in tribute to the Sara Bareilles song from her album, Amidst the Chaos (2019). A stirring duet with John Legend, co-written by Lori McKenna, this four-minute song captures and connotes the urgency and ubiquity of humanity’s current situation and personalizes it in a way that resonates deeply with me. The first verse:
When holding your breath is safer than breathing
When letting go is braver than keeping
When the innocent words turn to lies
And you can’t hide by closing your eyes
Written prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the killing of George Floyd, these words ring prophetic to me. In the context of the last year- a year that has been dominated by massive upheavals in public health, economic, political, and social realities- I’ve returned to these words over and over again. I’ve spent countless hours studying, reflecting, writing, and talking about what we collectively face and how global conditions affect individual lives- especially the lives of the most vulnerable and marginalized members of our human family. I’ve struggled to clarify my own role “amidst the chaos” of our rapidly changing world.
It goes on:
When pain is all that they offer
Like a kiss from the lips of a monster
You know the famine so well but never met the feast
When home is the belly of the beast
This verse, for me, in a mere 4 lines, captures the essence of what life is like for exploited, deprived, alienated, and forgotten people- increasingly encompassing more and more of us. We have created systems and institutions that have made life so precarious for so many. The vastness of our collective pain and grief threatens to overwhelm our capacity to imagine how it could possibly be different.
The ocean is wild and over your head
And the boat beneath you is sinking
Don’t need room for your bags
Hope is all that you have
So say the Lord’s Prayer twice, hold your babies tight
Surely someone will reach out a hand
And show you a safe place to land
These words remind me of the oft-used adage, “we’re all in the same boat,” which has been trotted out often throughout the pandemic, typically by politicians and pundits who seem blind to the reality that the vast majority of the world’s population may be experiencing the same crises but their impacts are not evenly distributed. The image accompanying this post, drawn by artist Barbara Kelley, represents a more accurate view of the reality. COVID-19 has exposed long-standing disparities in access to all manner of basic needs and protection against shocks. It has also offered us a unique opportunity to see the connections between global warming, extractive economics/market capitalism, social/political alienation, and the narrative foundations at the root of all of our existential problems.
Imagine yourself in a building
Up in flames being told to stand still
The window’s wide open
This leap is on faith
You don’t know who will catch you
Maybe somebody will
This verse, for me, bring to mind global warming and ecological devastation and the ways in which the governments of the world have consistently procrastinated on addressing the causes and consequences of our unbalanced relationship with our fragile planet. Greta Thunberg has bravely and famously admonished political and business leaders multiple times to act as though “our house is on fire,” and treat the climate crisis as the emergency it demonstrably is. She and many other youth activists are recognizing that standing still is not an option and they are leaping through the open window and simultaneously trying to catch all of us. As someone who has been in close relationship with hundreds of teenagers and young adults, I have committed to being an accomplice to their actions. I intentionally teach my students about power and engage in conversations with them about what they care about, in direct contrast to the systems and institutions that have been built to maintain the status quo. The window, to me, is alternative ways of knowing and being, rooted in protection and care. It’s in emerging philosophies and practices that center and amplify the voices of the unheard.
After a repeat of the chorus, the song goes into the bridge, which repeats through the end:
Be the hand of a hopeful stranger
Little scared but you’re strong enough
Be the light in the dark of this danger
‘Til the sun comes up
Less than a week ago, the United States and the world witnessed the transition of Executive government power from an openly xenophobic, nationalist, isolationist, and cruel administration to one that has some potential to act rationally and compassionately in the interest of people and the planet. Structurally, however, our systems of government are still designed to operate separately, slowly, and with deference to wealthy interests. There is light in the dark of the danger posed by the former administration’s cruel rhetoric and policies but President Biden and Vice-President Harris are not going to turn the ‘ship of state’ around without significant and persistent pressure by those of us who envision the world as it could be- as it needs to be if humanity is to survive.
Having interacted with a number of members of the Biden-Harris transition team prior to the Inauguration, I was encouraged by their grasp of the intersectionality of the issues we face and their intention to listen carefully to the actual, lived experiences and ideas of regular people and shape policy accordingly. Without transforming the institutions and systems tasked with supporting the stated goals of our national Constitution, to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence (sic), promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” however, their intentions will be fatally hamstrung.
In my last post, I promoted the Revolutionary Love Project‘s initiative, The People’s Inauguration, as a resource for we, the people, to engage in learning and community-building to support the transition away from the old paradigm and into new ways of enacting needed change from the grassroots. After the first few days of the initiative’s launch, I’m excited to share that the content and process being used has real potential to hasten our collective shift and I reiterate my encouragement to check it out. There are numerous other resources linked on this site to consider engaging, instead of or in addition to this effort.
Bottom line, each of us has a role in bringing about real and lasting change- in being “the hand of a hopeful stranger.” If we all accept and embody our roles in transforming ourselves, our communities, and the world, we may yet create many more safe places to land.
Please share, comment, etc. and connect with me if you’d like to collaborate.
Video of a live performance of the song may be viewed HERE.