I have a friend, Sue B. Sue is an artist of considerable talent. No, this isn’t a picture of Sue. It’s a photo of a mask Sue created while she was still attending art school in the Pacific Northwest. I look at this and I think, My God…she made this when she was still learning her craft. , about eight years ago. You can imagine how beautiful her work is today, having practiced it for so long.
But I’m not writing about Sue because of her artistic talent. She’s not my friend because of how she draws or puts together a mask or anything that she does. Sue B is my very dear friend because of who she is. Period.
That’s not to say I agree with Sue on everything. I received an email from her the other day, a multiple-recipient blast she’d sent out to everyone in her address book. It was cordial, as Sue’s emails usually are, apologizing first for the multiplicity of addressees, before getting to the real purpose of her note–which was, to paraphrase, a plea to be left out of the political loop which seems to have wound itself around the necks of her large circle of friends and relatives. Apparently most of this circle thinks Sue should be sticking her own neck into that loop as well. Sue’s email was her way of saying, thanks for the invite, but she’s not going there.
Frankly, reading the email rankled me just a bit. It also brought to mind an earlier encounter I’d recently had with Sue. My wife Jeanie and I visited Sue and her husband Paul when we went up to the Puget Sound area this past summer to pick up our remaining household goods (Jeanie and I had purchased a new home in Fort Collins, Colorado, back in June). We were sitting at a table in a local Italian restaurant, chatting over Chianti and breadsticks, and the subject of the upcoming election sort of nosed its way into the conversation. I don’t remember who first brought it up. What I do remember was mentioning that I wasn’t quite sure whom I would be voting for: Obama seemed a little too slick and inexperienced; McCain struck me as too old and a bit hot-headed for a job that, I thought, required an abundance of energy, tact and diplomacy.
“I’m not voting,” Sue said simply.
It was one of those out-of-the-blue comments that can take a pleasant conversation and jerk it around the corner and down a dark one-way street dead-ending in a seedy neighborhood: suddenly a feeling of danger blossomed in the air around our table. Too late, I remembered some sage advice offered by a distant, unremembered someone warning against discussing politics with people you love.
“Okay,” I said. I deliberately avoided asking Sue why she wasn’t going to vote, hoping to turn the vehicle we rode in around somehow and head it back to the friendly, well-traveled street we’d just left.
But oftentimes several things can go wrong simultaneously. Not only had we taken a wrong turn, but now the brakes on our conversation failed. We careened down the darkened street toward what I saw as certain disaster. “The political system in the United States is too divisive,” Sue said. “What we need is something to bring us together as one people. I don’t want to add my energy to anything that can’t possibly do that. So I refuse to participate.”
That’s my good friend Sue, telling it like it is. I don’t remember much more about that particular topic of conversation. Jeanie and I exchanged furtive glances at one another (we’d already had plenty of discussion between us on the relative merits of voting), and someone thankfully swung us around to talking about the latest movies–something less volitile. The thick air grew thinner, more breatheable, and soon the four of us were laughing and carrying on as we had been before.
But Sue’s comments stuck with me, floating high in the pool of memories in which I was still swimming when Jeanie and I finally said goodbye to Sue and Paul at the end of the evening and drove away. Not voting? How could anyone believe that not participating was a valid way of dealing with the political issues our nation was/is facing?
And so, given all of the above, I wasn’t particularly surprised by Sue’s blanket email asking friends and relatives to not involve her in the political loop, to not ask or expect her to take some sort of stand. But I still couldn’t help being a little bothered by her attitude, believing, as do most of us who call ourselves activists, that “if you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
I re-read Sue’s email two, three more times. I kept coming back to this part here: “Paul and I have made a committment,” she’d written, “to bring peace to the world–beginning right here in our own home, and move outward from there. If everyone in the world does the same thing, there will be no more wars, no strife.”
I remember thinking, Yeah, well, it’s a nice thought, Sue, but…
It wasn’t until I’d put Sue’s email away and had begun my daily reading from A Course In Miracles, that it hit me. Or, more accurately, it settled over me like a soft, warm, comforting blanket. I came across this passage: “Peace is clearly an internal matter. It must begin with your own thoughts then extend outward.”
Then I suddenly remembered an old saying I’d heard for years while attending the Unity Church: “Peace begins at home.” Of course.
The election this year is (as they all are) ugly. Nasty. And Sue is right: the overall feeling one gets whenever actively participating in our political process (or, sometimes, merely observing it) is always one of separation, division, anger, and sometimes even hatred. It seems unavoidable. And it can be argued that merely participating in the process contributes to the problem, because the only language being spoken is…well, I can’t think of a term for it. But I’m sure it has nothing to do with love.
So, I guess the bottom line is this: Who has the stranger ideas? Sue and her largely invisible minority (remember, they aren’t participating), who choose to stay out of the muck and work on changing the world one small thought at a time? Or the vocal majority, who for some unfathomable reason believe that adding their own energy to the ugly fray will in some miraculous way (and contrary to the laws of physics) diminish it?
You decide. I welcome your own ideas on this.