One of the collateral benefits of creating the Modern Elder Academy is the people we meet along the way. Poet Mark Nepo will be on our MEA master faculty next year and he sent me this just-penned piece of prose a couple of hours before we graduated our 50th cohort so I could share this exquisite piece of writing with them at their graduation ceremony this past Saturday evening. Proud to share “The Anthem of Our Day” with you as well.
In the ocean of history, things build and then are worn away to what is most essential. This is an irrevocable and recurring tide of time. And while the storms, whatever their form, first push us away, it is only by coming together that we endure and emerge even stronger, clearer, and more loving. This seems to be where we are now. And the practice, so simple and so difficult, is how to move through the days with caution and care, without feeding our panic. For the other virus spreading now is fear. We all feel it, calling us with its hypnotic frenzy. But one thing I’ve learned from almost dying from cancer is that fear is to be moved through and not obeyed. And we need each other in order to see clearly so we can right-size what is before us—day after day.
Just as you can only see stars at night, it is during times like this that our inherent light and kinship are most visible. And while the pandemic is traveling across the globe, we must remember and reach for the miracle of life, which is still everywhere. This is not just stubborn optimism but a declaration of our need to stay available to the undeniable resources of life. It is those resources that remind us of the truth that we continue to affect each other and need each other. When one of us does something or doesn’t, it affects all of us. As Dr. Sanjay Gupta has wisely put it, “When you care for yourself, you care for everyone.” So when you wash your hands, you are keeping everyone you meet healthy. As all the traditions affirm, the deepest self-care is, at once, caring for the human family. If humanity is a global body, every soul and life is a cell in that body. And we are being challenged, more than ever, to keep the global body healthy by keeping ourselves healthy.
In later life, the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, said, “I want to see what is necessary as beautiful, so I can be one of those who makes things beautiful.” I invoke this as an anthem of our day. If we can meet the outer uncertainty with an inner covenant of care, perhaps we can make what is necessary beautiful. Perhaps the washing of hands can become a modern sacrament, a holy ritual by which we hold ourselves and our global family in the deepest regard. Perhaps the slight bow of love and respect can replace the handshake as a holy ritual that will lessen our fear while sharing our love, so that we can bear the uncertainty together.
As we practice caution and social distancing, let us not distance each other in our hearts. As we are forced to slow down and stop our busyness, let us feed more than our fear. Let us strengthen our inner resolve, both physically and spiritually, so we can meet the necessities of the day in hopes of making things more beautiful. For we all are being called to outlast the siren of fear until we can touch upon the reliable truths that reside beneath all fear. Like a strong net that softens the carriage of weight, the strength of our connections, even while physically apart, will soften the sharpness of the uncertainty inherent in times like this.
In the Chinese language, the ideogram for crisis also means opportunity. And I believe that if we can share our fears and help each other not obey them, we will take the first step to making what is necessary beautiful. By practicing being all of who we are, we can strengthen the net of connection that is the human family. Like the rest of us, I can only try to navigate between caution and fear while maintaining our deeper connection. And in my own struggle to be more than my fear, I will affirm our strength of heart and commit to staying connected in our care. When larger than our fear, the kinship of being we all share endures.