Halfway Through the Year

It’s Time for Lightmaking …

In a world where darkness continues to hover and claw at every corner of our lives, to poke its bony fingers into even our tiniest pockets of joy, it can be hard sometimes for those of us who choose to walk toward trouble to remember why we do it.  Are we hoping, in the words of the late John Lewis speaking atop the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 1, 2020, to “get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America”?  What is it that drives us to join a silent vigil or a loud march; to write those postcards, sign those petitions, send that money, or join a social activist group like the Raging Grannies, when conflict-avoidance is so much easier on the nervous system?

Are we motivated by the words of Frederick Douglass, who said way back in 1857 … Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

“Let’s face it, we don’t get into activism because things are great. We’re usually angry or upset or sad about something.” These words are from Karen Walrond, a long-time activist and Radiant Rebel, who wrote a book called The Lightmaker’s Manifesto: How to Work for Change Without Losing Your Joy.  Imagine … WITHOUT LOSING YOUR JOY!

This is a book about the relationship between Joy & Activism, a relationship that’s been giving me more than a bit of trouble lately.  Big Thanks to Andee Tagle and Mansee Khurana, who brought it to NPR’s Life Kit.  Here are just a few lines to spark your interest.

“Any time you are led by your values to do purposeful action in the hopes of making the world brighter for other people,” you’re participating in activism, says Walrond. She calls it “lightmaking.”

“Once you’ve identified the space in your life for change-making, evaluate what skills, gifts and interests you have to contribute.”

“When is it time to take a break and let somebody else take the reins for a little bit?”

“Our job is to take the baton from the people who came before us and then pass it along to the next people, and the way that we do that is we focus on the progress as opposed to the focus on actual eradication or complete success.”

How much easier it is to focus on the lack of actual eradication or complete success, rather than on the progress, especially when it feels so small. In his beautiful song, “Anthem”,  Leonard Cohen calls it ringing the bells that still can ring as he asks us to ‘forget your perfect offering’.  But I mostly love the part where he says I can’t run no more with that lawless crowd, where the killers in high places say their prayers out loud; but they’ve summoned up a thunder cloud and they’re gonna hear from me.

Sooo …  we all do our little parts, whatever they may be. Sometimes we wish we’d done more. Sometimes we just notice. Some of us write poetry about it. A friend recently shared that she reads my column because I provide a kind of ‘clearing house’ for stuff she’d like to know more about. Here’s what I’ve got for today … for her and any others of you who might be interested.

First of All, the “Lightmaking”:  How to be an activist without burning out : Life Kit : NPR

About Israel/Palestine:  A historical perspective I had the privilege of experiencing this week, Expanding Our Conversation: Shaul Magid recording + upcoming events plus Val D. Phillips on Substack “This time it’s personal”.

About religious trauma from my favorite Missourian, Jess Piper. Although I was not raised in the same church setting, the “body shaming” she talks about was definitely a thing in my childhood.

And now the poems:  First, Kim Stafford’s “Accessory to War” was featured on The Slowdown, curated by Major Jackson, and introduced this way:  Today’s sobering poem lands a powerful reminder: that even when we adhere to a belief against war, even when we wish not to collude in acts of aggression, in a powerful nation as ours, mere citizenship implicates us. 

Accessory to War
By Kim Stafford

Last glimpse before 
dark: crushed mint in a bowl
for tea, pewter pot with the bent spout,
and my brother sprawled on the carpet singing
me to sleep, the song our grandmother sang to our
mother under the olive trees in the mist of her stories
that were our book of delights, night by night
the telling of the time before, gardens
and bread, water from the well,
doves in the fig tree, then
starlight on the roof.
Reading the news, I learn
my taxes bought one rivet on the shoulder
of a bomb that fell on a family, my rivet flung
free as shrapnel whistling through the room to blind
a child so her brother clawing through smoke and rubble
vowed revenge in all directions, his life for retaliation—war
works so well for enemies, making each other seem
necessary, while my taxes, dirty money earned
by teaching and writing, bought the rivet
on the shoulder of the bomb
this poem sent.

“Accessory to War” by Kim Stafford from AS THE SKY BEGINS TO CHANGE © 2024 Kim Stafford. Used by permission of the Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Red Hen Press.

And last, from both Words That Dance and Tributaries, my own offering written more than a dozen years ago, guided by Kim’s dad  …

    Where was your money when the tanks grumbled
    past? Which bombs did you buy for the death rain that 
    fell? Which year’s taxes put that fire to the town 
    where the screaming began?
                                 Willliam Stafford
                                –Entering History

Where was I when we voted to drop
the bombs? to starve the children? to burn
the village? Was it one of those years I was
preoccupied with getting my taxes paid on
time or baking cupcakes so my children’s
school could have money for art supplies,
or further back on one of those Sundays
when we used to sing Onward, Christian
Soldiers? Was it one of those decades
when talking politics or religion made for
bad taste at the dinner table and other
conversations about spending less for what
we called defense and more for education
weren’t on the menu? And in Gaza on that
sunniest of afternoons when a gentle boy
the same age as my grandson, sat innocent
on a river bank, was it my silence that
bought the bullets that killed him?
Where was I when the screaming began?

Until next time,

Published by Sulima Malzin

This 'Aging Rascal & Occasional Writer' invites you to embrace the world through her open window of poetry, art, activism, music, and humor.

Notify of
Inline Feedback
View all comments
I'd love your thoughts, please share!x