Jean Shields Fleming
Boundaries and Borderlines
Updated: Jun 25, 2022
Finding grace when it feels like every sacred pillar is wobbling.
I don't know about you, but lately I feel like my superpower is sorrow. Between the mass shootings, vanishing constitutional and voting rights, the pain of the earth writ large in fire and flood, the only sane reaction seems to be grief. I told a friend recently that I put on hope as a kind of armor to meet this moment, when within 30 years we may lose species that make the world a more beautiful, joyful place. There’s much talk of the sanctity of life, but it doesn’t seem to include children living outside the womb or any non-human life at all. Add in divisive politics, corrupt politicians, crumbling infrastructure, mutating Covid strains, beleaguered teachers – a partial list of the moment’s woes – and, well, it’s a lot.
It feels as if every pillar is wobbling, the City on the Hill gone dark. As W.B. Yeats wrote in 1919, the center cannot hold. So it seems. At the end of his poem, The Second Coming, he asks:
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
The malaise is real. So what’s a good hearted human to do? Here is my response. I would love to hear yours.
Go Slow and Get Outside
When the world says hurry up, it’s a sign that it’s time to proceed slowly. Walking in the hills, swimming in the sea, or listening to birds slows me down enough to sense the rhythm of the earth. Like air, touching this is a daily necessity, essential to my life, and a source of joy and nourishment.
Fear No Feeling
Where does it hurt? Head, heart, gut? Everywhere? Good. Feel the feelings. Actually feel them in your body, and name them, too. Feelings are universal, part of what bind us together as organisms on this earth. Our emotions are stepping stones to empathy, and empathy is the great bridge builder.
You Can’t Do it All
As individuals we can’t do everything – and we don’t have to. But we can do something. Values help us discover what. What do you care most about? People living without food? Put your energy there. Learn about it. Donate money if you can. Work with others in your community.
My areas are education and the environment. I care passionately about these two things, so I focus there. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about gun reform, women’s rights, or voting – I do. But my greatest joy and deepest concern are in nature and children. Your compass will be different, but when we work from our hearts, together we can, as Gandhi said, “be the change we want to see in the world.”
But Do What You Can
Recently, my husband and I joined a friend on a road trip to the Ukraine border. We had a carload of veterinary supplies – rabies vaccinations, parvo tests, pet carriers. All told, thanks to the the vet community here in Greece, the donations totaled over 5000 euros. We drove these to a charity working with war refugees coming into Romania with their pets. A former colleague is spearheading this mission, and our friend here is embedded in the local animal welfare community. It was a perfect match of need and capacity, so we went.
The team at the border was grateful for the supplies – and we saw how small a drop in the bucket it was. But every drop helps. We heard very clearly that they also really need donations. So if you think that donating money doesn’t do much, think again. That money matters. With it, Save the Dogs and Other Animals has sent over 30 tons of pet food into Ukraine to help feed the growing population of stray animals wandering the bombed out streets.
If you have the chance to help tangibly, take it. Serve at a soup kitchen. Help kids with homework. Organize a delegation to see an elected official. This is our power. We don’t have to wait to use it. We can begin now, today, right where we are. Do “small things with great love,” to use Mother Theresa’s beautiful phrase. And don’t focus on results. Because, spoiler alert, you probably won’t be here to see them.
Get Over Yourself
That’s right. Reality check time. Few of us get to see the completion of our mission. Moses is my role model on this. This person of enormous power in the Old Testament, who experienced God directly in the burning bush, who brought the law to his people, this same guy did not make it to the promised land. He died. Did that make the work useless? No. It was foundational to the emancipation of his people.
You might not get the reward you want. Do the work anyway. Invest in the millennium, in your grandchildren’s’ grandchildren. It’s our gift to the future.
Protect Your Imagination
Don’t binge on bad news. Know what’s going on, but step away when you need to. The economics of the media feed on outrage and doomscrolling. This creates a climate of cognitive dissonance, when we know something to be true, yet we’re bombarded with contrary messages. Resisting this is a subversive act, a step toward liberation.
Seek and See the Wonder
We inhabit a beautiful world, a “fruited plain” as the song says. Look for its marvels. Every day. They are there, waiting to give their gifts to you.
A cat sleeping nearby. The wind moving free through the trees. The first sip of coffee. These small wonders are my rosary, my mala. Stopping to admire a line of ants carrying grass seeds across a trail. This is my most sacred work.
Such moments allow me to experience the borderline between the everyday and the infinite. This space is where the sanctity of life truly dwells, and when we enter it, through our attention and love, all becomes holy, all becomes possible.
Jean Shields Fleming is the editor of Certain Age and the author of the novel Air Burial. She lives in Greece.
Images from the Public Domain Review