“I, too, am America.”

I, Too
{Langston Hughes}

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

(Langston Hughes, “I, Too” from The Collected Works of Langston Hughes. Copyright © 2002 by Langston Hughes.)


The United States of America was born with three-fifths of the capacity it needed to live up to its stated ideals.

We have not closed the gap.

A child is expected to hit certain developmental milestones. We expect it to roll over, to crawl, to walk and to speak within a generally accepted timeline. If these milestones are not reached, well-intentioned caregivers seek the advice of professionals to investigate the cause and to prescribe a course of treatment to remedy any underlying condition.

None of this is taken lightly since it is understood that reaching the milestones “on time” is positively correlated to healthy development.

America is a child that has failed to achieve its first, most essential milestone, the one that unlocks all of the rest:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We have failed to achieve it because at the time it was written “all men” (all people) were not considered equal. In the 244 years since, we have failed to adequately address that underlying condition.

Unlike Germany after World War II and South Africa following apartheid, we have not faced up to the past in order to write a different future. We have hidden behind productivity, technology, armament and mythology (“the land of the free and the home of the brave”) to avoid the pain of reconciliation with our past. We have done so because of the false belief that vulnerability equals weakness. It does not.

America is a child whose underlying condition requires a more robust, honest and aggressive form of treatment. We will not meet four, much less five-fifths of our potential, we will not see our black citizens as human beings worthy of full dignity and respect, if we do not get it. This past week, I heard someone say that America is a construct, one that had to be conceived and built. That means that it is possible – if enough of us are willing – for it to be both re-conceived and re-built.

It is not too late for us to roll over, to crawl, to speak, to walk and perhaps even to run. But it is getting dark and too many of us, including me, have failed black Americans by believing it would get better on its own, that the child that is the American ideal would “grow out of it” and get back to normal.

It cannot and will not do so on its own, that’s the hard, grown-up truth. We have to act.

We have to act now.


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

A Small Needful Fact
{Ross Gay}

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.


It’s not enough to say that I am not a racist.

It’s not enough to say that I am uncomfortable talking about racism, that I haven’t tried, that I don’t know how.

It’s not enough to feel sad, disgusted, demoralized and ashamed.

It’s not enough to say that I live “here” and because I live “here” it’s not an issue for me, for us.

It’s not enough to pay attention.

It’s not enough to say that I’ll use my vote.

It’s not enough to visit the monuments, to read the words, to know the history.

It’s not enough to claim the moral high ground.

It’s not enough to say, “give it time, it will change.”

It’s not enough to be a “good guy,” a “good friend,” a “good” colleague, father, husband, citizen.

It’s not enough to share a smile and a wave, to hold the door, to say “thank you,” to say “no problem.”

It’s not enough to not know how.

It’s not enough.

It’s not nearly enough.


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

blessing the boats
{Lucille Clifton}

(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back     may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence

sail through this to that


It’s been a hard week.

Everyone I spoke to said the same thing, this week was tough.

Nerves frayed, emotions running high, sluggish, out of sorts and the continuing weight of uncertainty.

Maybe it has to do with the turn of the calendar, the stark reality of April becoming May a reminder that an entire month – over 6 weeks in total now – has been “lost” to this experience.

And maybe it’s this new thing we know as “Zoom fatigue.” So many people, including myself, have described these virtual interactions as more intimate and purposeful and because of that, more taxing also.

But there were highlights, too. Beautiful and revelatory conversations, generous invitations for future points of connection, hard-won insights born of mistakes. And ideas, fresh ideas only noticed because of the stopping.

I choose not to have another “tough” week but to just have a week. I choose to have a week in which I allow all of it to mix together, concentrated though it may feel, into something teachable and generative.

Because the “tide…is entering even now” and once I have sailed “through this to that” how will I account for the journey?


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Poem for a Sunday Morning

At Nightfall
{Ted Kooser}

In feathers the color of dusk, a swallow,
up under the shadowy eaves of the barn,
weaves now, with skillful beak and chitter,
one bright white feather into her nest
to guide her flight home in the darkness.
It has taken a hundred thousand years
for a bird to learn this one trick with a feather,
a simple thing. And the world is alive
with such innocent progress. But to what
safe place shall any of us return
in the last smoky nightfall,
when we in our madness have put the torch
to the hope in every nest and feather?

from One World At a Time


We’re home now. All of us are home. We don’t need the white feather because we know exactly where we are.

But when we no longer have to be home, not in this way, not quite so much, what will we remember?

What will normal induce us to forget?

What white feathers must we memorize now, before time and distance do their merciless work?

What simple truths must we never allow to fall away, the loss of which will put us back to sleep?

What will “home” mean when, once again, we have to find our way back?

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Pocket Poem
{Ted Kooser)

If this comes creased and creased again and soiled
as if I’d opened it a thousand times
to see if what I’d written here was right,
it’s all because I looked too long for you
to put in your pocket. Midnight says
the little gifts of loneliness come wrapped
by nervous fingers. What I wanted this
to say was that I want to be so close
that when you find it, it is warm from me.


A week ago, for my birthday, my wife recited this poem to me from memory.

It took my breath away. She took my breath away.

The gift of her time, her patient efforts to put it to mind. A gesture of such vulnerability, there in our kitchen, standing there, in front of a hot stove, reciting these aching, haunting words of love.

The poem is ripe with aloneness and longing. It is also tender and hopeful.

The narrator – just like each of us – wants so badly “to be so close” to the one they love. They want to be sure of that love – that they have expressed it just the right way – in the space of their disconnection and uncertainty.

And I cannot help but read in those last lines…”it is warm from me”…an arrival, a coming together, even though the poet does not give us that connection explicitly, he intimates it as though it is real.

He gives us solid ground on which to stand at just the moment when we feel there is none.

I like this poem for now. I like it for Easter. I like it for Covid-19. I like it for the universality of our experience of the unknown. For our losses, whatever form they take in each of our lives, and for our collective, if hesitant, recognition that we can control only one thing: how we choose to embrace the gift of this moment and the possibility of what’s to come.


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Truth and Consolation

Everything in the first list is true.

Everything in the second list is also true.

TRUTH

  1. Life is hard.*
  2. You are not important.
  3. Your life is not about you.
  4. You are not in control.
  5. You are going to die

CONSOLATION

  1. Yes, it’s hard. It’s also joyful and magnificent. Which do you choose to focus on?
  2. Except to those who love and rely on you. Except to those whom you serve.
  3. Until you humbly discover who you really are.
  4. You never were. The sooner you let go, the sooner you will be free.
  5. When you accept this, you can stop being a hero and start being a human.

*this list (and the strong influence to write this post) comes from Adam’s Return (Crossroad Publishing, 2004) by Richard Rohr.


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Beware the False Dichotomy

I read an article today that talked about the leadership challenge of navigating the difference between “wartime” and “peacetime” leadership.

It’s not a valid question because it’s based on a false dichotomy.

The distinction between “wartime” and “peacetime” suggests a dualistic, either/or approach to leadership. The discussion centered on working with the intersection of these divergent approaches – “What do I do when both are required? – but that only confirms the dualism of “two” approaches and that under “normal” circumstances you would practice one or the other which is, to put it mildly, hogwash.

Allow me to suggest that we think about this another way:

A leader’s impact, regardless of stability or crisis, is directly proportional to his or her dedication to the truth that leadership exists for the betterment of the human experience. Leadership is the moral responsibility to help other human beings work together to create extraordinary outcomes in the face of change.

When a leader is committed to this definition, dualism must go out the window. There is not “wartime” or “peacetime” leadership. There is, rather, human being leadership that always requires a few fundamental things: the preservation of dignity and respect; the vulnerability to have one real conversation after another; treating employees like adults; investing in their well-being as well as their achievement; clear goals and the resources to achieve them; the eradication of fear and the elevation of love.

With human being leadership, outside conditions are irrelevant. You’ve heard the wedding vow, “In good times and in bad.” Should I love my wife differently in the good times than I do in the bad times? Of course not. Leading a team is no different.

Lead them now, love them now, exactly how you would lead and love them at any other time. If you have to make a radical shift in your leadership practice because the wind has suddenly changed direction, you are doing it wrong.


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‘Essential’ is a Choice

Most of us don’t meet the government’s definition of “essential” when it comes to working the front lines of the response to the novel corona virus.

Most of us, that is, are deemed “non-essential.”

And we who are “non-essential” have been given a very short and manageable to-do list: wash your hands, stay at home and/or stay six feet apart.

But none of the “non-essentials” I’ve talked to feel like that’s “enough.” Most of them want to and are doing more.

You’re seeing it everywhere: acts of service, compassion, creativity, problem-solving, and helping hands. Educators, musicians, civil servants, service workers, neighbors, kids, from all walks of life, giving of themselves in innumerable ways and with epic levels of generosity.

These acts and these efforts, in all of their forms, are essential because they lift us up, give us hope, and remind us in tangible ways that we are all connected.

When we get through the worst of this crisis, it will be because the first wave of essential workers fought heroic battles to stem the tide of a terrible virus. It will also be because a second wave of people, those who chose to be essential, contributed their best selves to the effort, reminding all of us just how remarkable and just how powerful it is to be human.

This is the time to be essential.

Being essential is a choice.

Please do what you can.


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#49 – Vote

A little more than fifty days ago I decided to bring my daily blogging practice to an end. I decided to do so by using the final fifty days to write about “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” 

To be honest, I wasn’t sure I had 50 Ideas to write about but then I started making my list and they came easily. As the days went along, many from that initial list made the cut and many did not, as current events – personal, national and global – challenged me to think harder and harder about what I really believe in and what should be fought for.

In just seven short weeks the world has shifted so dramatically that it cannot and will not be the same again. Many of us haven’t felt the comfort of “normalcy” since the 2016 election. Our efforts to make peace with that outcome (with the rationale that the system will allow us to expunge the anomaly in four years) have been challenging at best, but here in year four the light at the end of the tunnel was finally coming into view.

And then the coronavirus changed everything. Not just because it is a once-in-a-century pandemic but because the ineptitude – perhaps even the criminality – of those sworn to protect the citizens of this country have led us into a crisis beyond description, the full scope of which will not be known for some time. We are needlessly stressing the entire infrastructure of the country, not to mention putting our most vulnerable citizens at risk, because of the greed and callousness of our failed leaders.

Does leadership matter? Ask your kids who won’t return to school this year. Ask the person just laid off from her job. Ask those confined to nursing homes who live each day in fear of infection without the comfort and care of family members not allowed to visit them.

Competent, compassionate leadership matters more than ever. And we see that kind of leadership at the local and state levels, as qualified people work tirelessly to respond to a crisis that their federal peers could have alerted them to much earlier and far more effectively. We see neighbors, co-workers, and complete strangers doing what they can to ease the burden of those within their reach because that’s the best of humanity coming through when those in power fail us.

I wasn’t planning to write about this today, but I have built an entire career on helping leaders become more effective in the face of change and we are witnessing the slow-motion train wreck of what happens when ineffective leaders have to face a level of responsibility for which they are tactically and morally unprepared.

What else could I write about, then?

I am disgusted, I am angry and I am so, so sad.

But what I feel even more strongly is the weight of my responsibility to do the following:

  1. Remain positive
  2. Control what I can control
  3. Be of service
  4. Show compassion
  5. Take care of myself
  6. Love my family
  7. Continue my work to build better leaders
  8. Vote

That’s it. So, that’s what I’m going to do.

What are you going to do?


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#48 – Letting Go

Of expectations

Of how it’s “supposed to be”

Of old hurts

Of waiting for other people to “get” you

Of old patterns

Of smallness

Of hoarding

Of dualism

Of negativity

Of waiting to be “picked”

Of isolation

Of separation

Of the facade

Of control

Of fear

Of silence

Of what no longer serves you, your family, your community

Let it all go and relish in the freedom of the release. What you needed then made sense…then. It doesn’t make sense to hold it anymore.

So, let it go.


This is #48 in the series, “50 Ideas Worth Fighting For.” Up for another?


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