Bad things happen. They happen when we’re engaged and loving life, and they happen when we seem to be disengaged and despising life. They just happen, all the time.
For a long time, when I looked back on my life to think of all the heinous things I’ve done and that others have done to me, I was comforted little by Nebraska author/heroine Willa Cather who wrote, “The end is nothing; the road is all.” I didn’t appreciate her lack of appreciation for my apparent suffering, of for the disgust I felt for myself when I did things I thought were bad. I just wrestled with it all.
As I taught more youth and adults about engagement, I began to understand there are a lot of different ways to look at bad things. A lot of people hold grudges, looking at the outcomes of bad things as the end of the road. They saw a thing getting stolen or taken or schemed out of them as being terrible. Others seek revenge, wanting to give back to the person who did them wrong exactly what they received. The saying, “Living well is the best revenge” grew from that belief. Some people turn a blind eye, offering the proverbial other cheek to those who’ve wronged them, while others still go out and do the thing that happened to them to others, still. There are even some people who forgive and forget, or live and let die.
Soon after September 11, 2001, American writer Alice Walker published a book called, Sent By Earth: A Message From The Grandmother Spirit. In it she recounted lessons and thoughts leading up to the events of that day, including the following:
”In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, each recalling the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length.
This tribal ceremony often lasts for several days. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe…”
I have come to understand that being engaged with others as well as with ourselves often means being with others sometimes. We go through rough stuff, and that’s life. Sometimes we do rough things, and that’s life, too. Be the going and the doing are the engagement, our lasting connections with the lives we with. The opposite side of the suffering I talked about is embracing. We don’t have to wrestle and connive with people who do us wrong, or beg, plead, and wail for those we’ve done wrong towards. Instead, we can simply live with it.
Ram Dass wrote, “We’re all just walking each other home.” This is what engagement is all about, the spoken and unspoken contracts we have with others that allow us to form, unform, deform, reform, and transform the lasting connections we have to the worlds within us and around us in all ways, always. So go get engaged, and be who you are – even if that means doing something wrong, or having somebody do wrong to you. Its all engagement, good or bad, and its all alright.