Magnify the Good

I’m told there’s a body of research showing that people rise to the occasion when faced with a collective crisis. Rebecca Solnit, in A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster, writes about the solidarity, altruism, and improvisation that emerge when humans go through hell together.


Human spirit flowers in a crisis.

I don’t know the science myself, but it feels true in my bones. And I am seeing people support each other in so many marvelous ways, and putting their compassion and creativity to use. Musicians serenade us on Facebook live, feeding our hearts vital nourishment. (As I write this, I’m enjoying a live concert of John Prine songs from my friend Wilma, in honor of Prine, who is dealing with a serious case of COVID-19.)

A local arts center is organizing a “Flower Power Knit Graffiti Project”–sending supplies and instructions to community members to create flower petals for a knitted garden installation.

In the practical arena, I heard of a woman collecting plastic laundry detergent containers and water bottles to make handwashing and sanitizing stations for homeless camps. Meanwhile many of my friends and acquaintances are sewing masks to be used by healthcare facilities at-risk folks. “Sewing Grannies” from a retirement community organized an elastic drive, when they heard supplies were low. (One note said, adorably: “Some of this elastic is really old. I hope it still works. Thank you for doing this important work. If my old pants fall down because I don’t have any elastic to fix them it will be all your fault!”)

Businesses are stepping up too–not just in the mindbody field, where the amount of online support is dazzling, much of it donation-based or free. A maker of leather aprons has designed a hospital mask using special high-filtration HEPA material, and is converting production to meet that need. A local distillery switched from producing gin to WHO recipe hand sanitizer, and offered it for free while supplies lasted, no purchase necessary.

⁣I’m sure there are many more examples of entrepreneurs pivoting to meet the needs of the day, and people in general being the innovative, kind, fabulous beings we are at our best. These are just a few things I know about from my little perch.

Tell me something good! If you know of a good thing to amplify, contact me or put it in the comments.

Gratitude: Can I just give a minute to the technology and Internet availability that is keeping me connected? The Zoom staff meeting where I can see the faces of my team, who I miss awfully. Another Zoom meeting for my weekly writing group, so we can keep supporting each other through this madness. Facebook Messenger to share a guided meditation with two friends, and debrief afterwards, face to face (or next best thing). Countless Zoom yoga/dance/movement classes peppering my days and keeping me in contact with my adored community. Most miraculously of all: just today I used Whatsapp to have a long and refreshing talk with my dear friend Lydia who’s visiting her family in South Africa.

Tip of the Day: Pick up the phone (or Facetime or what-have-you) and connect. Here’s Hank Green talking about this act as an antidote to “the anxious scroll.”

Resource of the Day: I can’t get enough of Cornell Ornithology Lab’s FeederWatch Cam. Sights and sounds from Sapsucker Woods. Birds doing their thing, completely unapprised of any pandemic.


I couldn’t sleep last night, so I got up and looked through my growing collection of COVID-19-related resources, and discovered that a likeminded friend was also up at an ungodly hour curating her own list. (See Anna’s new Facebook group,Community Connections, for “creative responses to hunkering down.”)

On my list was Rebecca Solnit’s nightly live fairy tale reading. Since I was up, I decided to watch the replay. I don’t usually have the patience to watch long videos, but I was glad I stuck with it to the end (and what did I have better to do anyway?). For one, it filled my heart to hear her naming folks who were watching live from all over the world. With that black swan behind her, she was mesmerizing.

And the fairy tale itself–The Wild Swans–was well told, magically interwoven with this mysterious moment: Our current time resembling a fairy tale, a challenge of mythic proportions that no one could have dreamt up while moving through our daily routines and distractions.

But the very best thing: At the end, she told a story about an imprisoned friend named Jarvis. One day in the prison yard, Jarvis spotted another inmate throwing rocks at a bird. “Hey, don’t throw rocks at that bird!”

The rock-thrower challenged him, “Why shouldn’t I?”

Quick-thinking Jarvis said, “That bird has my wings.”


It’s hard to spot, but there is a Pileated woodpecker in this photo, right about dead center. I took the picture last summer on one of my many creek outings with my dog. Big poodle nearby, feet in creek, eyes on beech tree/bird: That’s pretty much heaven for me.

We may be restricted in our movements–some more than others, some for reasons that predate this COVID-19 wackadoodle world–but birds still fly, and maybe they have our wings, along with Jarvis’s.


Sunrise from the airplane that flew me to a conference last fall, courtesy of my workplace. Wings…

Gratitude: I am so grateful for my job at Central Indiana Land Trust right now. Not just that it allows me to work from home and keep my income. I serve a mission that fills me with a sense of purpose and perspective. Yesterday I helped to draft and send this “Nature is Not Closed” letter from our executive director, speaking of the solace we can find in nature (even as we have to cancel upcoming events).

Today, in a telephone meeting about our nature preserves, I learned how 85-foot bluffs along the White River were formed: They are massive outwash deposits left by the meltwaters of receding glaciers, 12,000 years ago. The river itself would have been a massive gushing thing. The land was malleable, with great gouges and piles of sediment being formed in real time.

Isn’t that a thing to contemplate just now?

Tip of the Day: Sleepless in Shreveport or wherever you are? Think of me, awake at all hours too. If in distress, take a tip from Jen Louden (who may have adapted it from Tara Brach)… Hand on heart, breathe, notice: Can anything eat me right now? Am I safe in this moment? Then consider: Many people feel the very same way as you, right this very minute. Send them your love and care, and feel that love and care in yourself. We are all in this together.

Resource of the Day: Weekend’s coming. So many options for planning some fun. Check out this evolving calendar of livestreamed concerts--Indigo Girls starts in a minute here! You can watch a Broadway play (not sure how many are free though). Have a movie night with friends while staying in your own homes. Do check out Community Connections if you’re a Facebooker, for more ideas and support.

Above all, may the 50,000-foot perspective, the geologic timescale, the wings of birds, bring you some freedom.

Small Respite

Final in a series

Author Rebecca Solnit writes about how we have changed in the last 20 years, mainly due to online connectivity. We have shorter attention spans. Our time is chopped into bits. We indulge our need for constant updates and check-ins.

She wrote that all this makes deep thinking and reading very difficult to sustain.

And often the habit of seeking external input subverts our inner knowing.

With that in mind, I conducted an experiment in the last weeks of 2013. I took a break from Facebook. I found it instructive—not always comfortable, but interesting.

I find that a quality of inner silence arises when I’m not hooked into an external source of connection. I’m not distracting myself through the random bits of pathos, trivia, deep thoughts, outrage, and silliness that constitute my Facebook feed—so I can face more easily the stuff that needs to be addressed, whether a stuck emotion or a dreaded task.

Back to my conversation with my friend Kate Boyd: She told me she had seen the film Inside Llewyn Davis and was struck by the pace of life pre-Internet. The breathing space of that age.

I had the same experience, and a sadness at what is lost, when I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which takes place post-World War II. The story unfolds in letters. I mourn the loss of letters.

Photo by Cas, via Flickr Commons

Photo by Cas, via Flickr Commons

Much of the story happens on an island, and the main character has long spacious hours in nature. I mourn the loss of time unfettered, disconnected from constant inputs.

There’s no going back, of course. But it helps me to put rules around my Facebooking, even bendable ones: No checking after 9pm. No checking before I get some work done. One day a week cold turkey.

Each Sunday I strive for an Internet-free day, but one day really isn’t enough to touch that sense of quiet. During my self-imposed “FaceBreak” and also during last October’s writing residency at Mesa Refuge, I came closer.

The hours at Mesa Refuge were largely Internet-free. There was no expectation to track anything other than my own thoughts and the work of my cohorts. The main questions were: “Did you break through that block you had last night, did you write your scene, did you get to the place you need to be?”

My writing shed at Mesa Refuge

My writing shed at Mesa Refuge

My time there was about ideas and creativity—and connection to something slower and sweeter than the latest argument or article posted online. Something, dare I say, eternal.

I’m looking forward to two writing retreats this summer that I hope will offer the same sense of spaciousness. And in the meantime, I manage as best I can—carving out Screen-free Sunday as a small respite, bringing some awareness into the mix when I remember to.

I hope this keeps me from having to file “social bankruptcy,” as in this very funny Portlandia clip (that a friend shared on Facebook).

What about you: Do you have techniques that help you deal with information overload? Have you ever taken a break from social media, by choice or necessity? Tell us about it in the comments!

From Dismemberment to Oneness

Rebecca Solnit, on how leprosy numbs the extremities so that sufferers don’t realize when they are damaging their own tissues:

“The disease strangles nerves, kills off feeling, and what you cannot feel you cannot take care of.”

She speaks of a kind of dismemberment, of patients who feel no pain, so they injure themselves, even blind themselves.

She quotes a missionary doctor: “One of the boys said to me, “My hands and feet don’t feel part of me. They are like tools I can use. But they aren’t really me. I can see them, but in my mind they are dead.'”

Reading, it struck me that this statement could also sum up the dominant cultural attitude toward our own earth home. Though we belong to her and she to us, for so long we’ve disowned her, exploiting her riches as just so many dead “resources.”

We’ve been operating under the delusion that we are separate from the biosphere and the myriad life forms that share it—and separate from each other too. The results are catastrophic. If we lack feeling for each other, the soil under our feet, the waters that flow, and the skies above, we won’t consider these worthwhile of care.

"Holding Hands," by Paige Shoemaker, via Flickr Creative Commons

“Holding Hands,” by Paige Shoemaker, via Flickr Creative Commons

But perhaps that’s changing now, bit by bit.

More and more of us are waking up to our empathetic selves. We’re feeling a kinship not just with other humans but with the earth herself. We’re re-membering our entire human family and our deep connection to the planet that holds us.

I think of the empathy displayed by Antoinette Tuff as she disarmed a young mentally ill man bent on violence in her school. In the midst of her fear, this bookkeeper found a way to connect with the young would-be shooter, seeing him as a hurting soul. Her ability to reach him on a human level may have averted a major tragedy.

Meanwhile, this summer a group has been tracing the route of the Keystone XL Pipeline in the Great Plains. The pipeline, as I posted in May, would allow the release of enormous levels of carbon—enough to create irreversible climate change.

Trans Canada Keystone Oil Pipeline, by shannonpatrick17, via Flickr Creative Commons

Trans Canada Keystone Oil Pipeline, by shannonpatrick17, via Flickr Creative Commons

Taking both a physical and a spiritual journey through the heart of North America, Compassionate Earth Walk aims to nourish the earth, while inviting all humans to return to oneness in the community of life.

From the story on

“We walk in response to climate change and in gratitude for the earth which has given freely to us for so long. We walk as an act of healing both symbolic and literal, including healing of the walkers, the land, the communities impacted by the pipeline, and the whole human consciousness of separation.”

No more numbness. No more dismemberment. The pain of our suffering planet and fellow earthlings might be difficult to face, but feeling it means we’re awake. It means we can care.

A Beautiful Indebtedness

I’ve been reading Rebecca Solnit’s latest resonant book The Faraway Nearby, and every day there’s a new discovery—about writing, about alienation, about the uses of stories. This morning’s passage evoked the web of interrelatedness and care that can happen among neighbors and friends.

In the author’s case, a cancer diagnosis showed her how much goodwill she had banked. People came from everywhere to help her.

She reflects:

“Before money…people didn’t barter, but gave and received as needs and goods ebbed and flowed. They thereby incurred the indebtedness that bound them together, and reciprocated slowly, incompletely, in the ongoing transaction that is a community.”

In some parts of the world, surely this beautiful indebtedness is still the norm. In my neighborhood, it’s making a steady return, in many small ways.

Some intertwined examples from this past week: I put a call out for dill on the Facebook Neighbors Garden page, offering other herbs in exchange. I’d planted dill, but the black swallowtail caterpillars ate every single sprig of it.

Black swallowtail caterpillars happily chewing up my dill earlier this summer

Black swallowtail caterpillars enthusiastically chewing through my dill supply earlier this summer

I wasn’t too sad about the loss, knowing the beauty that would come of it—until I saw the enticing baby cucumbers at the farmers market and ended up buying three pounds’ worth. I wanted to make a crock of pickles.

Happily, Amy of Fraudulent Farmgirl fame offered her unused dill. Over the weekend I biked over to harvest some, using most of it for pickling and borscht.

On that same bike trip, I stopped at Laura’s to unload some goodies on her hens. That morning I had cut back my severely cabbage worm-infested collards. I brought over the collard leaves, creepy crawlies and all, for the chickens‘ enjoyment. Laura sent me home with heirloom tomatoes and a photograph of the hens posing for a family portrait.

Laura's contented flock

Laura’s contented flock

Today Dawn Facebooked her own plea for dill, and since I had some left, I took it down to her house on my morning dog walk. Dawn put three things into a blue cloth bag of mine that was at her house from some earlier exchange. I came home with:

  • a salsa wrap made from her dehydrated tomatoes
  • grape juice from another neighbor’s unused Concord grapes (Dawn and I had picked the grapes Monday while catching up on life)
  • some maca powder, having mentioned in passing that I’d run out

I promptly put the maca in a green drink, the one I’m sipping right now. It also contains: frozen blueberries (brought back from Michigan by Anna), whey (received from Corinna down the street who makes her own Greek-style yogurt), lettuce (from farmers market), and kale (from my garden).

To add further depth to this web of connection: Laura was the source of my kale seedlings, a late-summer addition to my garden and currently the focal point of my daily worm-picking meditation. I no longer squish or stomp the worms while grimacing and/or squealing. I save them for Laura’s hens. The very hens that supply my eggs.

Writing this, I’m realizing my good fortune: my indebtedness extends even beyond my human neighbors.

What precious debts have you incurred in your community?