Casting Stones

Flat stone skipping across calm water at sunset

On planet earth. I woke up this morning to the news that Russia had launched an invasion of Ukraine early this morning, attacking from multiple directions despite pleas and warnings of consequences from the US and the International community.

“Peace on our continent has been shattered. We now have war in Europe on a scale and a type that we thought belonged to history.” – Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary General.

As I write this, I’m at home battling Covid-19. Yes, the pandemic is still sweeping across the globe making people sick. And as hard as I have tried to keep my family safe from the virus spread, it has inevitably entered my world.

I am always an optimist. Until I’m not. And I have learned to “reframe” for most of my adult life when optimism has all but disappeared.

I thought 2020 would be a year of incredible “vision” (hence 20/20). I was making big plans, coming out of a challenging year of postpartum recovery and depression. I had been blindsided by the aftermath of my son’s birth, physically, mentally and emotionally. And then I had emerged renewed, having grown from the experience. So 2020 sparked optimism. But just a couple of months in, and, well, things had completely fallen apart with the spread of Covid-19. There were certainly learning opportunities to be had on a global scale. And as 2020 was coming to its close, 2021 had to be better.

21 is my lucky number, so I clung to my optimism. In some ways 2021 was better than 2020, but, I think much of it was just getting used to living with anxiety, fight-or-flight response, and eventually pandemic fatigue. The course of the year also set in place a profound check on white privilege, white fragility, and a dire call for real and meaningful inclusivity, safety, and opportunity for all – which seemed to streamline the narrative towards hope, healing and growth. If one were to get philosophical on this moment in history, while still very much in it, it could be summarized as a critical time for shifting away from systems that were no longer serving humanity.

By the end of 2021, once again, the general sentiment was that 2022 had to be better.

After a new moon stared the New Year, and an auspicious, rare palindrome fell on 2.22.22 with universal signs for hope and balance, and just after the Bejing Olympics closed, an event embracing world peace and celebration of humanity, the news came in of the Russian attack on Ukraine.

I believe the universe means to bring about great things, but certainly not without cost. And certainly not without learning and growth opportunities. Growing pains hurt.

But you cannot denigrate the enormity of a global pandemic and acts of war. These are truly the most brutal, deadly and horrific events that cannot be oversimplified as learning and growth opportunities. Especially when they repeat over and over again throughout history. It seems humanity just cannot and will not learn the most grave and serious lessons. It seems the world doesn’t really change at all. Has this pandemic taught us nothing?

I remember the aftermath of 9-11. I had a front row seat to it, having watched the plane hit the Pentagon as I was riding the Metro subway, reading a book on my way to work while crossing the Potomac, and out of the corner of my eye a missile like movement swept past and then a black plume of smoke appeared, and we were back underground. The country seemed to come together after that attack. It was something to behold. But not too soon after, the songs on the radio shifted from anthems to basic pop again, and the love thy neighbor sentiment drifted away. That’s the tragedy of tragedies. When there’s a real opportunity to shift, to change, to come together, to exist with peace, love and the best in humanity, we sit there for just a moment, and then we go back to the way things were.

Lessons on this scale cannot be left for just a few who are willing to listen, learn and grow. I truly believed the pandemic and everything that came after its inception was enforcing a kind of check on humanity.

And yet here we are.

I’m watching my three year old son play with Spiderman, Captain America and Ironman and I’m sinking. There are no superheroes to come and save the day. I know this. But really. Who is going to save humanity? When are systems going to really be in check on humanity? Are we just doomed to a fate that will play out over and over and over again until it’s all over and done and the planet has exploded into gases and particles in the universe? Until everything is either all dark? Or all light?

I keep thinking about the Thomas Aquinas quote: Good can exist without evil, whereas evil cannot exist without good.

It will never be just good.

Good and evil cannot exist without the other anymore than light and dark can exist without the other. I guess this is just the way it is until it isn’t. I guess we have to accept that the world cannot exist without duality until it’s all over. The world cannot exist without opposition and conflict until the world is simply gone.

So then nothing really changes, does it?

If only some people will be open and willing to listen, learn or grow that doesn’t really change the world. That changes some. Change may not be the pinnacle of where humanity must land; it’s the place where humanity should land – changed for the better. But it is certainly a call to action from the best intentions in humanity.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Ghandi

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced” – James Baldwin

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” – Leo Tolstoy

“It doesn’t matter how strong your opinions are. If you don’t use your power for positive change, you are indeed part of the problem.” – Coretta Scott King

“All great changes are preceded by chaos” – Deepak Chopra

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.” – Barack Obama

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” – Mother Teresa

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” – Albert Einstein

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Rumi

I am supposed to be the optimist. But in this moment, I’m really struggling.

So I must go back to nature, to the most grounding reality. Things change in nature: the moon and her cycles; the weather; the caterpillar; the chameleon; the egg. Change is inevitable. Things grow until they die.

Lao Tzu advised, “life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

It’s not that the world won’t change. Wars and pandemics will continue to happen and not because humanity is half evil but because it is the world’s nature to be in conflict. The point isn’t about trying to change the nature of humanity, where there is conflict, but to change the outcome.

I do not believe peace is a right. It is an outcome.

Because we know things are constantly changing, that there will always be duality and conflict, it means we will be in constant vulnerability to when darkness emerges for light to come through again.

My father always advised, “don’t worry about the things we have no control over.”

But that’s always been difficult for me. I have anxiety.

I think I finally understand what he meant. It’s less about the worry and more about self control. And it goes back to what Ghandi, Tolstoy, Rumi, and Mother Teresa suggest.

Our time here is short and our work here is to work on ourselves. To listen, to learn and to grow until we die – that is our real work. We only have control over ourselves. Chaos is happening around us all of the time. How we choose to react is completely up to us. Who we are and what we put into this lifetime is what influences outcomes. We can’t change the fact that pandemics will happen or that madmen will come in to power and cause horrible chaos and suffering. But we can balance evil with our earnest goodness. We can spin evil on its axis and change outcomes. We can embody in ourselves what is needed for humanity. We can be the stones cast across the waters creating ripples.

I don’t believe it’s our mission to change other people. I have a real problem with that notion. The greatest mistake people make within challenging climates – is believing they have the power to change a person – and that they even have the audacity and righteousness to try. Rather, if energy was spent helping to determine outcomes vs controlling other people’s intentions, we’d be moving forward.

We all know that woman who is determined to change her man into some fantasy idea of what she thinks her ideal man should be, instead of accepting her man for who he is. The “fairy godmother” syndrome of changing Cinderella into a princess for the ball never works – or at least never lasts.

You just have to accept what’s in front of you and do your part to offset the negative effects of these kinds of traumas on the planet. It’s not turning away from it. It’s leaning into making a better outcome. It’s about being a part of the solution. And part of that should be, ideally, in being a part of the world that learns from the world’s past mistakes.

This doesn’t change the anxiety that is setting in with this latest conflict. I am growing tired and weary from continuous, chronic fight or flight mode. I am overwhelmed and devastated for the Ukraine people, for the mothers with masked faces holding their babies in underground shelters, not knowing what’s going to happen to their homes, to their country, to their cherished loved ones.

I hug my boy. He and I are both recovering from Covid-19. As awful as I have felt for the past few days since the pandemic had reached my little world, I am on the mend. It’s sobering knowing so many were not so lucky. But a little light has come through. My little guy is playing again. Omicron has already peaked and new cases of Covid are on the decline as we are headed into spring and warmer weather. Yesterday the UK just ended all Covid restrictions, including its isolation law, to move back towards normality. Most parts of the US are doing the same.

As soon as we had symptoms we isolated. We stayed home. We were vigilant to not spread the virus. We did our part. We cast our stones.

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