I write to you at a time of intense change. Here at Earthsprings, autumn arrived dramatically a few days ago with an early overnight frost that blackened the bright beauty of many of the late summer flowers in the garden, but also brought a sudden vivid blaze of color to the deciduous trees in the forest. I hardly had time to mourn the quick passing of the twinkling purple asters and the orchid-like beauty of the toad lilies and the fragrance of the basil before I was spellbound instead by the gold and red and orange and yellow splendor of the maples and oak and cyprus and sassafras. I took pictures today that I will send you soon. Some of those pictures, incidentally, show a few tall severed three trunks left from the damage of the hurricane of a few weeks ago, right there next to other trees bearing today’s new majestic, golden beauty in the still-dense forest in autumn. Change-awareness of blackened asters or overturned trees nonetheless overwhelmed almost immediately by a new but on-going appearance of beauty and order and redemption.

It’s sometimes hard to remember that about change, that beauty and order and some sort of rightness goes on, no matter what. Many of you have called me, describing the anxiety you are feeling these days, anxiety about the economy or the election or other things. I too have felt more unsteadiness in myself than usual, and I have had to take myself to heart, to calm myself by looking at the big picture, not just of the forest, but of our world and of our history.

Today is the Sunday before the election for president of the United States on next Tuesday. On the television today, to my amazement, I heard the person who was chief of staff of Republican Ronald Regan join with Colin Powell in endorsing the democratic candidate, Barack Obama. Change indeed!

In the nearly 70 years of my life, I have seen extraordinary change. Born at the end of the great depression, living through World War II and all the various wars since, as well as the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the shift to the “information age,” and all the rest, I have seen such amazing change that it often leaves me dizzy, trying to keep my own authentic “self ” in any given moment in the midst of all the volatile change that has gone on around me. It isn’t easy. And it is possible for me, only by being always open to the present moment with all its newness and potential, while also keeping in mind all that has gone before, remembering all that has changed, and even taking into account at times all that has gone away. When I can do that, I can have a balanced view, with a clear sense of how the past has shaped and informs the present.

This election season has been, all the candidates say, about change, about the need for change, the fact of change. Obama’s candidacy itself is obviously the biggest mark of change. This election is not and should not be, as he says, about race, but the fact that he is black, that a black candidate may be president of the United States, does have important historical implications for most of this country’s citizens, black or white or otherwise. To overlook or minimize the dramatic nature of this change would be, I think, a mistake, a lost opportunity to appreciate the transformation it represents in our culture, in us as a people.

Change is often frightening, challenging. Major changes in a culture take a long time to materialize. A lot of hard work and sacrifice and dogged determination, and willy-nilly mistakes and compromises and disappointments-all these and more go on before we come to any “water-shed” moment such as the one we are in today.

And, no matter how this election turns out, it feels important to me that we all do take a few moments, at least, to look back at the places from which we have come, in order to fully comprehend and appreciate what is happening now. This looking back need not bind us to the past or make us feel sad or guilty or responsible for it, but rather it can help us fully to celebrate the magnitude of the present, with all its challenge and anguish, with all its promise and hope.

Whatever candidate wins, he will need our prayers, our support, our own patriotism, and most of all our own broad perspective and willingness to reach across whatever divide amongst us is left on Wednesday morning. No matter who wins, some large percentage of our citizenry will no doubt be disappointed, hurt, perhaps angry. How can we become united, as we surely need to be to solve our serious problems, after such a bitter contest?

Because I have great concern for the moment, and for the future, and for this challenge, I have chosen to share with you here in this newsletter something out of my own experience. Not my political preference, not in any effort to influence your preference, but rather to make a statement about my own experience of reaching across the chasms that has divided me.

What I have chosen to share is a memory of a time when I was very, very young, a moment that shaped my life in many ways. I look back on it, and on all it represents, almost continuously these days, and it fills me to over flowing with compassion and with love for people on all sides of the so-called political divide. For, you see, that divide has run right through the middle of my heart.

Here is my sharing. I hope it helps you to remember, if you can, where we have come from, so that you can appreciate more fully where we are and where we may be going. I myself experience this memory of mine and its comparison to the present moment with on-going astonishment and often with, I confess, intense emotion, with tears in my eyes, tears of gratitude for the change that has occurred in our culture in my lifetime. This change is not finished with us, of course. There is still much to do, much to transform, much to heal. As a people, no matter what our color or origins, we have all suffered much, and we have a long way to go to heal old wounds, to be forgiving and open-minded, to find common ground, to become one people, united in common purpose and ideals. All the more reason to acknowledge and celebrate how far we have, in fact, come.

Therefore, may this remembrance of my own past, speak to you of the transforming power of change, sudden change (like the change in my garden today with the advent of autumn) or over time (as we are seeing in this election season). By remembering the past, may we have a broader perspective so that we may face the future with hope, and courage, and compassion and patience with one another in the days ahead as we move beyond the election and into the coming time of continuing challenges. When I was very, very young, there was a race riot in Beaumont, Texas, where my family lived. Year later, I wrote a long poem about it, and about the little black boy who was my little playmate at the time. Here is the poem, a poem written when I was in my thirties, but using language that would have been used in my family when I was aged three, language no longer politically correct. I mean no offense. That, too, speaks of how much we have changed. Here is the long poem, in its entirety:

little black boy,

shiny as a round, wet marble…

…was your name Henry?

I seem to think it was.

Henry, wasn’t it…

what every happened to you?…

my first playmate, age two

or three. strange my mother

let me play with you,

white, southern that we were,

full of dark fears…

…”big black nigger man

under her bed, had a knife,

too; wonder he hadn’t…”

perhaps it was only we were so small,

obviously innocent. we played hide and seek

in the tall weeds in the back yard

of the rented clapboard house

I lived in…

…that house, I remember, had

pale white venetian blinds;

I lived in that house, my daddy

already dead, with Mama and all

those lively relatives, during

the war, when everybody

worked in the shipyard, and talked

about Germans…

one day, I remember, clear as clear,

I sat in my little wooden rocking chair,

there in the clearing in the tall weeds,

and you, Henry, danced, round and round me,

as I laughed and clapped my hands.

I remember the sunlight, as you danced,

shimmering everywhere, following you,

glints of radiant sunsheen

dancing, too, it seemed,

with you…

and then you had a turn rocking, I think;

you liked the little wooden chair,

red as a polished apple,

hand-made by an old white haired man,

Mr. Page, who also laughed, deep in his throat…

my children sit in the rocker,

now; Mr. Page is long dead.

what ever happened to you, Henry?…

thinking of you, though, besides the sunlight,

there is, like a sliver of broken glass,

memory of the night of race riot.

you lived in nigger town

and I lived a few blocks down.

during the riot, my white folks and I sat

for days and nights and watched through slits

like narrowed eyes in those

pale venetian blinds…

…lights out, doors locked,

listening to sirens and the radio,

full of static and National Guard,

curfews, and the red glow of huge

fires raging in nigger town…

a crowd of male relatives I hardly knew,

come to town special, carrying long guns,

to protect us, they said, from niggers

gone mad, made jokes

about all the gruesome ways

niggers were being found, dead…

and I, small as I was, trembled

in fear, for myself and mine, true,

even as I wept secretly into my sleeve,

thinking of you…

…were you dead?

was that your house burning?

(suddenly I realized

I’d never seen your house.)

was that your father spread-eagled

in the woods, guts spilled,

eyes put out, manhood severed?


I was only two or three years old.

you were my friend, perhaps my only friend.

did I ever see you again?

I can’t remember….

there’s only the sunlight shimmering

the day you danced, fused with that

firelight that was a lethal burn, burn…

…what ever happened to you?

Henry? was it Henry, your name?

because of you, little loved black boy,

shiny as a marble, sunsheen on you,

and that night of horror,

something seared through and through me-

the knowing that love, like honor, is color blind,

and that dark and light are two sides

of one mystical, mysterious whole

inseparable, and that ideas

like right and wrong, and

beautiful and ugly,

and innocence and guilt,

dance together, until

they melt down one another.

later I would walk with your Dr. King, and sing

freedom songs, and bring up my own children

to understand. But who can understand…

…how dark it was,

how full of fear,

long guns everywhere,

glinting in the dark,

guns I’d never seen before

protecting us from some nigger

(from you? Henry?)…

from some (black) who, perhaps, (no doubt,

I now know, driven mindless by indignant rage)

might empty a stolen shotgun, they said,

right there through our (bleak, grey) walls,

(hardly better than his own)…

as the red lights from fires reflected

through our pale venetian blinds

and the heavy smell of smoke that might be

flesh, your black flesh,

took away my breath, and hot tears,

hidden in the dark, were searing fears

that left an indelible mark

of black and white, and dark and light

so that I was, prematurely,

initiated into scared truths, truths

of a unity of spirit, of a sense of total community

I cannot now live without…

…what ever happened to you,

little black boy?

Henry, wasn’t it?

wasn’t you name Henry?

wasn’t it? wasn’t it Henry?

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