Good morning good people
This week, I intended to share insights from Shafiq Morton’s A Mercy to All, which tells the story of Gift of the Givers and its founder, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman. And then, on Thursday morning, Ahmed Abbasi, the Gift of the Givers’ office head in Gaza was killed. I haven’t entirely processed why it felt inappropriate to continue writing the letter as planned, but it did, and I have respected that intuition.
I am not sure what else to say when so much has already been said. I am not sure it is even my place to do so. All these tragic deaths. All these deaths, all the killing, of the last six weeks. And as this happens, there are the deaths before these. We remember the horrors of the Holocaust, of colonialism, of lands lost and homes destroyed, we remember countless wars, and we witness it all again, the current deaths evoking the traumas of generations past. South Africans cannot but remember apartheid, whose scars cross our souls, indeed whose many wounds still lie open.
If you, like me, feel overwhelmed, uncertain what to do, or how to bring healing, when so many are determined to bring destruction, perhaps St. Francis of Assisi’s guidance will help, “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible and suddenly you are doing the impossible”. This pattern is repeated in all our religions and philosophies. It is ancient wisdom.
I am grateful to those who are doing what is necessary and are adding their voices to plead for, to demand, peace. I am grateful to those who are doing what is possible, to those who are reaching across boundaries and borders, rejecting narrow identities, to find commonality, who in their solidarity remind us of the beauty of connection. I am grateful to those, like Ahmed Abbasi, who dedicate their lives to doing the impossible.
I didn’t know where today’s letter would go. I hope you find something in it.
In the Western drama, Yellowstone, Governor Lynelle Perry (played by Wendy Moniz) asks Kevin Costner’s character, John Dutton, “How come you’re always three steps ahead of everyone?”
(Dutton is Yellowstone’s patriarch. The world is changing. It wants him gone. And yet, he always wins. In a New York Times Review, critic James Poniewozik describes him as a ‘Marlboro Man Tony Soprano’ and ‘a cranky authoritarian with nepotistic tendencies’. That says it all, I certainly can’t do better.)
Costner responds, ‘Sitting and thinking’. He’s quiet for a moment and then repeats ‘It’s a whole of thinking and sitting’.
In ten words he summarizes all of a business school library’s strategy shelves and a few dozen self-help bestseller lists.
Try it. Sitting and thinking, that is. Perhaps then you’ll see what is necessary for you.
Many of you will know Joseph Gordon-Levitt as an actor. He started early, at eleven. By fourteen he was starring in 3rd Rock from the Sun, in later years he played John Blake, Batman’s ally, in The Dark Knight Rises.
In this Spark and Fire podcast, we meet Gordon-Levitt the business builder speaking about creating HitRecord, an online community for creative collaboration.
He reflects that in his early twenties, he wanted to do movies that would challenge himself as an actor and the audience. He kept auditioning for roles. And, getting rejected. Repeatedly.
Looking back, he says “When people know you for being on Third Rock from the Sun or 10 Things I Hate About You, they don’t want to cast you in their art film. It just hurt so much to not be able to get a job. I so badly wanted to express myself in this way and was just not being invited to do it. It felt awful”.
Like Dutton, he spent a lot of time thinking. He didn’t sit. He walked New York’s streets, speaking to himself, thinking out aloud. On one of these walks he had a realization, “I had to stop waiting for someone else to give me permission. I couldn’t rely on a casting director or a filmmaker to accept me. I had to take responsibility for my own creativity”.
Try that too. Do what is possible.
Naomi Shihab Nye starts her poem Gate A4,
“Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning
my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement:
“If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please
come to the gate immediately.”
Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.”
There she finds a distressed older woman wearing a traditional Palestinian embroidered dress. Nye tells us the story of those hours, of distress dissipating and then, in the way of older traditions, homemade cookies get brought out and shared, “To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie”.
Gate A4 ends,
“I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This
is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that
gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about
any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women, too.
This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.”
I hope so.
Try that too. Whatever cookies you have, share them. When they’re offered, take them. Make the impossible reality.
That’s me for today.