What is our Invisible Legacy?
In August 2015, I got an email from my teacher that brought me to tears.
She told a story of seeing two of her students wed. They used pieces of several ceremonies that my teacher had officiated, including my husband’s and mine. She explained the way they weaved the disparate elements together, creating something new that suited them perfectly.
The email read, in part:
“Thank you so much for sharing your wedding ceremony with me for others to use in creating theirs… it was such an incredible thing to see our community’s way of creating ceremony as collaboration so vividly. In places I knew, too, at which ceremonies I had spoken certain words, but no longer knew which of us had written them, me or you, as it all weaves a beautiful new whole.”
Without knowing it, a group of us shaped the words that served to join these two people together. We shared what felt true for us. We brought our friends and families together and said those words. And then we handed them over to be shared.
What a gift to participate, even accidentally, in love between two people.
It is true, in the work of making change and caring for others, that sometimes we don’t see the results right away:
We may never know what happens to a certain piece of land.
We may not know what becomes of a client or student.
We may organize for years and not see perceptible change.
We may not see the change we are hoping for, even within a single lifetime.
I know that this is stressful for many people. That the uncertainty can be damning, the progress infuriatingly incremental. It can feel like we are getting nowhere — and in the meantime, we are bearing witness to much suffering.
It can be too much to accept sometimes.
I say this to you, if you feel despair: you do not know.
You cannot know what your actions will create.
You cannot see into the future to witness what you, in concert with millions, are building. We can only do what is in front of us. We practice, we show up, we commit. We participate in liberation whenever possible. We become a part of the invisible lineage of freedom.
By participating in compassionate action, we take our place in the ancestry of justice.
Our names and individual actions may fade from memory, but what we do today lays the path that others may walk someday. We do it not because of the recognition, but because it is right. We do it because this is what is in our hearts.
We cannot know what effect our actions may have.
What we do today may be the catalyst or the spark for what is to come. So we show up. We wade through the heartache or stress. We move forward steadily and gently. This is the only way.
We cannot be attached to outcome. We can only stand in the faith that accompanies change-making work (whether it’s rooted in spirituality or not).
It’s not about positive thinking.
Let me be totally clear: this is not about feel-good anything. This is not about what Joanna Macy calls, “premature equanimity,” or sugarcoating the situation. I don’t believe that we can create liberation through happy thoughts alone. I do believe that we can re-frame the action that we do take.
It is possible to acknowledge that we are up against powerful forces, without being consumed by that reality.
I choose to remember that we are in this together. I look into the face of what we are up against and choose to continue. Not through grand acts of heroism, but by putting one foot in front of the other. Just doing the best we can. I believe that energy follows awareness. I also believe that it will take collective effort to get collectively free.
It can be easy to point to victory.
It can be easy to feel disappointed when we don’t reach that “victory”. It is much harder to appreciate the tiny efforts of each our of imperfect selves as we reach for a kinder world. But remember: you are a part of this. It is through collective action that we make change, and your work is a part of the fabric of what we weave together.
We may never see what becomes of our words and deeds. But somewhere in the future there are people speaking words of devotion, of love. Somewhere, the world that is possible is opening her eyes.