There is a friend Drew and I have acquired over the last few months, who is very near and dear to our hearts, no matter the drama, chaos, or topics of disagreement that try to come between us. He has quickly become a favorite, in spite of the circumstances. That is to say, when out with him, we are easily lured into political, religious, and other wise publicly “taboo” conversations and for some strange reason we don’t seem to mind. Under any other conditions, odds are, we would shy away from those subjects with grace and tact and move on to something a little more becoming, such as Kimye or Nemo… or some other “happening” trend in conversation.
Given that we hadn’t seen each other on social grounds for a while, the subjects of conversation at brunch (a few weekends back) were nothing, if not interesting, verging on intense. Relationships were dissected, history was examined, beliefs were questioned, and our government was pulled apart, one flaky layer at a time. As the conversation built our ideas and ideals were strained and stretched, yoga for the mind on a lazy Saturday morning. However, as we delved deeper our dear friend became a little despondent. As he viewed our world, all the change, all the cracks and flaws stacking upon each other, one fracture at a time, light quickly turned to dark, and the passable became insurmountable.
And so I ask you, when does the weight become too much? When do we cave and become one of the cracks stacked towards the heavens? Are we so broken? So beyond repair?
As we spoke my mind realed. There was the idea of change, but it must come from within, from a desire for more. A reformation, a change of self, which is the hardest thing to face. We can tout our ideals all day long, speak of that which we deem unexceptable and wrong, but what do we do? What CAN we do? In the end, we do nothing because the task seems too great.
In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott tells the story of her brother being overwhelmed by the task of writing a paper on birds. He had procrastinated and it was due all too soon. As he sat, despondent at the task set before him, their father came up next to him, placed his hands on his shoulders and said, “Bird by bird buddy, take it bird by bird.” Those words will stay with me forever. Here is why-
The world is a place, vast and overwhelming, but not insurmountable. Our troubles consume us so easily but if we stop, look at the big picture, and then step back, we will see that there is one little piece we can grasp hold of, take on, and overcome. Once we have worked on that fear, that anxiety, that obstacle, we can pat ourselves on the back, but only briefly, and move on to the next one. And bird by bird, we will make things change.
At brunch I used this analogy- In Pressure Cooker a documentary by Mark Becker and Jennifer Grausman, Wilma Stephenson takes teaching to a whole new level. She teaches a cooking class at Philadelphia’s Frankfort High School, but this is no ordinary class. Stephenson is a hard ass, cut throat teacher, she makes Hell’s Kitchen look like a cake walk. She demands perfection from her students because she knows their lives (and lively hoods) depend on it. However, on the flip side of the same coin, she demands it because she cares so deeply for each young person who is willing to try. She is giving, generous, motherly, and kind, though her form of affection may seem strange, it is most certainly affective. Her students have won over $750,000 in scholarships, in a school where 40% of the student body doesn’t make it to their senior year.
40%! That, is dismal, that is sad, THAT seems insurmountable. But Stephenson faces those numbers and refuses to let any of her students fall pray to their statistic. She hopes, she gives, she struggles with them, and kicks them in the ass if they start to crumble. She is a light in a very dark system. She gives me hope that our world is not broken.
Wilma Stephenson is one woman. You and I are only one person. But that is where it starts. That’s how change begins. That is how the world becomes new.
I have hope. The cracks and faults will not over take us, they are not insurmountable.