reason to hope

“I have decided to stick to love. . . Hate is too great a burden to bear.”  ~ Rev. Martin Luther King

There’s a neighbor up the road I’ve never met. I know his pick-up truck though, as I often find myself driving behind him as we come and go on our daily rounds. The truck is lifted, painted with camo, and festooned with decals and bumper stickers supporting the flag, the military, and the NRA. There’s one that defines gun control as “hitting your target.”

When I’m behind this man, I ease my foot off the gas and slow down, giving him space to roar off up the road and out of sight. Nevertheless, I’ve had ample opportunity over the years to absorb the slogans and messages plastered all over his vehicle, including this one on the center of his tailgate: “If you don’t like it here, you can go back to the shit-hole you came from.”

My heart clenches when I see those words. The angry bigotry, rooted in fear of the “other,” scares and saddens me. I’d never heard someone refer to another country as a shit-hole until I saw my neighbor’s bumper sticker.  I wouldn’t recognize the man behind the wheel if we met in line at Rite-Aid, and so I’ve been left to wonder: Who would think, let alone say, something so hateful? Now, of course, I know the answer to that question. We all do.

It is January, 2018, and we live in a country where evening newscasters feel obliged to warn parents that they may want to remove their children from the room rather than expose them to the vile, racist language used by the President of the United States.

There was so much that was so horrifying about the first year of the Trump administration that I slipped, as the months went by, into a habit of trying to protect myself from future shock and more despair by following the issues carefully and then envisioning all the possible worst-case scenarios. There’s plenty of dark fuel for those fires in the daily news from Washington.

But after twelve months, I’m exhausted from being constantly upset. A friend said she’d heard the phrase “outrage fatigue” on the radio this morning and realized that’s exactly what she’s been feeling. Me too.  As I thought on New Year’s Day about my intentions for the year ahead, it dawned on me that while there is much going on  I can’t control or make sense of, I can choose how to respond. And anger, fear, and despair won’t make the world a better place. Faith might, though; and so could hope. Combine faith and hope with positive actions, no matter how small, and you have a potent alchemy for change.

On the first day of this new year, I made myself a promise. Going forward, I would be more mindful of what kind of energy I send out into the world. For me, this means taking a moment early each morning to set the compass of my own heart toward gratitude. It means placing my feet firmly down upon the small, barely discernable path of optimism. It means remembering, as Jesuit priest and author Gregory J. Boyle has written, “There is no force in the world better able to alter anything from its course than love.”

Choosing optimism doesn’t mean turning away from the truth of where we are. It doesn’t mean being in denial about the dangers and the inestimable damage already wreaked by Donald Trump and those who enable him. The reality of this presidency is deeply disturbing. It’s the hateful bumper sticker magnified, touted on television, and turned into policies founded on the notion that some lives matter more than other lives.

But there is another reality. And that is our own humble, human goodness. In his New Year’s Eve message to the people of Rome, Pope Francis expressed his gratitude to the ordinary men and women who quietly contribute to the health and beauty and charm of their city. “Artisans of the common good,” he called them, citizens who simply do what they can to make things better, not through noisy words but by silent deeds.

In my own small New Hampshire town, there are artisans of the common good at every turn – grocery boys who carry bags out to cars without being asked, auto mechanics who run a quick vacuum over sand-encrusted floor mats after doing an oil change, neighbors who show up unasked to shovel snow, postmen who deliver mail right to the door on a stormy day. There are singers and actors, artists and writers, activists and speakers who enrich our lives with their creative efforts. There are dedicated volunteers who turn out day after day and year after year, in all kinds of weather, to plant window boxes and town gardens, who teach schoolchildren how to grow and cook healthy food, who manage a vibrant, welcoming food pantry, who carry on traditions such as Children in the Arts Day in the spring, and Peak Into Peterborough in the fall, and the New Year’s Labyrinth.

There are groups of committed men and women who came together in the wake of the 2016 election and who continue to make phone calls, write letters, and stand strong against the erosion of our democracy and core values. There is the Arab-American who offered a series of evening talks at area libraries last winter entitled “Ask a Muslim Anything,” during which he generously answered any and all questions about Islam and the Muslim faith. And there are the Unitarians who, after a “Black Lives Matter” sign was stolen twice from the lawn in front of the church, made a new banner, a bigger one, and hung it from a second-floor window, out of harm’s way.

It’s easy, as a white person in a rural, protected community, to take what I have for granted, even as I stare at the ceiling in the dark of night trying to imagine what it must feel like to be one of those 700,000 undocumented kids who were promised a secure life in this country, only to now face threats of being pushed out of the only home they’ve ever known.

Nothing I’ve experienced in my own 59 years is akin to that kind of danger and uncertainty. But I am trying to envision myself there, in the shoes of a young immigrant wondering what the future will hold, whether my country will honor its promise, and whether the artisans of the common good will prove stronger in the end than those who seek to expel and to exclude, who wish to build barriers and to separate us from each other.

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day. And so this afternoon, writing these words, I go in search of some of his. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness,” King assures us. “Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

This is the encouragement I need right now. Perhaps you need it, too – the reminder that we can only begin to change the world by first changing how we see and respond to the world.

“Faith,” Dr. King said, “is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” Let us celebrate Martin Luther King Day 2018 by heeding his fierce encouragement to keep moving in the direction we want to go. Let us take the first step toward hope, whatever that looks like in this moment. And let us walk arm in arm on this path that was carved out by the words and deeds of all those who traveled it before us, who spoke up for justice, who acted from a place of deep compassion and kinship, and who made of their own ordinary lives a blessing. To be an artisan of the common good is to believe not only in our own goodness, but to shine a light on the goodness of someone else.  It is to stand, as Gregory Boyle urges, “with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop.”

Need reason to hope?

Watch this.

Listen to this.

Play this.

Read this.

Check out this.

for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. Barb from CNY says:

    Once again when I am heartbroken by the issues of our current world, your words bring hope and your words bring peace. I too will make the choice to love, to be a light, and not contribute to the darkness. Thank you so much Katrina!

  2. I just came from the home of a neighbor, who had a gathering of friends for the afternoon. After pleasantries we’re exchanged, the rhetoric began to turn somehow, to politics and
    the President. You never knew what hit you. Angry voices, shouting and yelling, getting
    louder and louder. Women cutting each other off,not letting others finish a sentence in
    order to make their opinion be known. What makes one person think that they are the only one who is right, and no one else matters? I left early, not wishing to be a part, and
    wanting to get away from the fray. When I got home… there was your email. THANK YOU.
    Thank you for bringing me back to SANITY and civility. I hate to see or be part of this
    devisiveness. I need my own personal labyrinth to meditate on. I choose 2018 to bring
    calm and serenity into my life. I am worthy of it.

  3. Thank you for capturing the heartache and shame that has come over this nation… I commit to actions of kindness every day and do my best. Bless you.

    Mary G. Anderson
    Legacy Coach/Organizatonal Consultant

  4. Me too. Thank you. This is beautiful. I appreciate those who continue the fight through political channels, I can’t. This month I unsubscribed to all the email lists, their darkness making even more bleak the Black House in Washington. Combat fatigue, yes. Sign me up to be an artisan of the common good, one with a flashlight.

  5. I, like you, feel the constant assault of outrage and fear! I often wonder how long I can go on like this. As a country, how long can we go on like this? How is Trump shaping the thoughts of our children? It’s hard to concentrate. Hard to do anything creative. It’s hard to work.

    However, you are right. Dr. King was right. Kindness and love.

    I will do my best to put forth kindness and love. “Artisans of the common good.”

    Your post offered a sense of peace. Thank you.

  6. Once again, Katrina has given us her thoughts, her heart and encouragement to have faith that collectively we CAN effect change just by sharing kindness whenever and wherever we can. I don’t ever respond to anything on FB that’s political. Just too painful when disagreement/hatred/bigotry appears. I’d rather use this platform to connect with like minded individuals. We must find a brighter day and soon. This darkness is simply painful and unacceptable. I read all comments and they are always encouraging.

  7. Lisa Arbour says:

    Just thank you.

  8. Your honesty and courage matter in this world! Thank you for lending them to me. Love and Namaste, Augusta

  9. Thank you for these words. So well said.
    Blessings to you, Katrina.

  10. Stephanie says:

    “Combine faith and hope with positive actions, no matter how small, and you have a potent alchemy for change.”

    Your words and the words of others you’ve quoted here are filled with truth and beauty. They are a beacon of light and a breath of fresh air for our heavy hearts. Thank you for the reminder that we can be a collective force for good. We can start now, wherever we are, and move forward with hope, courage and love.

  11. Stella Foco says:

    Thank you for this. I plan on showing Martin Luther King’s speech in my classroom and reminding them that they can make the world a better place by being kind and compassionate of others. Perhaps they will choose kindness and acceptance instead of hate. I teach in a town that is very much supportive of our president despite his actions. It seems that those who voted for our president remain committed. That scares me. Why aren’t his actions changing people’s opinion of him.

  12. Sandra Oliverio says:

    I stand with you, Katrina. I have allowed the despair and fear of this past year and what may lie ahead almost stop my motion of living life to the fullest. I gave up letting my voice be heard on social media, or questioning sessions with family members that voted for this evil man, disturb my day and night’s sleep.
    I will stick with love and thank Our Father for the gifts bestowed me and us for this day.

  13. Judy Tastor says:

    I am weeping…….with hope and faith…….and oh yes, LOVE!!!!
    THANK YOU, Katrina!!!

  14. You put my thoughts into your beautiful words. Thank you.

  15. Mary Ann Dunant says:

    Thank you. I so needed to read these words today. “Artisans of the common good” – what a lovely way to be.

  16. New Year and new resolve. LOVE will conquer fear in the end. We never give up hope, and we do our small part to make the world better. I’ve decided to take this negative energy and push it towards the good. I will be volunteering more, sitting and fretting less. I am speaking up for those whose voices are drowned out by the hate. This is risky in the state I reside in, where bumper stickers like the one on your neighbor’s truck are sadly commonplace. To argue is futile, since reasonable discourse has been set aside for angry rhetoric on both sides. So I will make my own small contributions to better my corner of the world.

  17. Jan vaughn says:

    This brought to mind 1st Corinthians 13:13 But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love. I enjoy your shared thoughts.

  18. Thank you, Katrina for the light and beauty and love you bring and inspire Us to share as well. YOUR VOICE IS SO IMPORTANT AND HEARD. Thank you with all my heart.

  19. THANK YOU Katrina for this uplifting post which is a perfect tribute to Martin Luther King. Your words soothe my spirits, which have been broken by the events of this last year and especially this past week. At times the state of our nation feel hopelessly out of control. If MLK were alive I suspect he’d be ashamed and astonished by how far we have fallen backwards from the progress our nation had made towards equality. May we continue to “stick to love” and rekindle the dreams and work and change that MLK began 50 years ago! Let us begin again. “We shall overcome.”

  20. Well said.

  21. i love what you say, and I particularly love how you say it. “Artisans of the common good” — love that and may have to borrow that sometime. Eloquence. Poetry.

  22. This is so uplifting. Exactly what we need! And I’m reading Gregory Boyle right now, and have been so inspired by him! Love that you quoted him here. I’m reading his book Barking to the Choir. So optimistic and hopeful and a wonderful portrayal of the power of love in the darkest places.

  23. Lauren Seabourne says:

    A perfect blog to read on MLK’s Birthday. I echo everyone’s comments and compliments. Obama tweeted the following today:
    “Dr. King was 26 when the Montgomery bus boycott began. He started small, rallying others who believed their efforts mattered, pressing on through challenges and doubts to change our world for the better. A permanent inspiration for the rest of us to keep pushing towards justice.”
    And your words in this blog are also inspirational and what we all needed. Thank you.

  24. Susan Beane says:

    Very simply…thank you.

  25. Interesting…….you’ve never met the neighbor driving the truck, yet you seem to feel justified in your judgement of him. As you are neighbors, have you considered being neighborly and taking him a bag of your homemade granola or a plate of homemade cookies? I would like to believe there is more, much more to each of us than the bumper stickers on our car. Isn’t our collective judgement of others one of the reasons hate and anger continue to exist? What scares me most in our country today is the new mentality of ” if you don’t agree with my beliefs, there is something wrong with you”. Katrina, I have heard a person refer to another country as a ‘shit hole’. A company executive that travelled abroad to various countries for work used that exact word. I have even heard it used to describe areas in our own country. If every person in our country was wearing a recording microphone without their knowledge , I think many of us would be both surprised and appalled to hear what is said when we think no one can hear us. As a 63 year old woman, life has taught me many lessons. One of the most important has been “Do something where you are”. Volunteer, make weekly donations to the local food bank, make a loaf a banana bread for a friend going through a difficult time, send a hand written thank you note, knit baby hats for preemies, knit chemo caps for cancer patients, drop off a restaurant gift card for someone who is recovering from surgery, etc. As a wise person once said “Light one candle where you are”. Imagine the light that would shine if we all do that! Peace to you.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Mamasan, thank you for your thoughts. It’s true, I’ve never met the man in the pick-up truck. I have no idea where he lives, only that he’s further up the road from me. He drives fast and furious; I’ve never glimpsed his face. So, I don’t know how I’d facilitate that gift of granola or cookies. However, if you read what I wrote, you will see that I do not judge him. I wonder about him. I wonder who would put such a message of hatred on the vehicle they drive. I do judge the words — they are unkind and cruel and intentionally aggressive. I also know that such sentiments arise from ignorance and fear. He is afraid of people who are different. And that kind of rage and hatred makes me afraid of him. I’ve been as honest about this as I can be.

      But the entire message of my piece was the very thing you are advising: Do something where you are. Yes. When I first wrote about politics on this blog, trying very hard to express my personal opinions in a way that would foster conversation rather than shut it down, I lost 1600 subscribers. So, what scares you most about our country is exactly what scares me, too: the idea that there’s something “wrong” with anyone who has a different perspective on our problems. Some of those now-former readers wrote that I should have my head examined, that I should pray to God to clean my nasty mind, and that I should stick to writing about what I know, i.e., family life and nature and cooking. Others said that if I didn’t support the President then they were no longer interested in anything I had to say. I love cooking and I draw deep solace from the outdoors; family life remains the center of my life. And yet, I don’t feel that silence is an option for anyone these days.

      I don’t hate that man up the road. But I’m deeply worried about our country’s failure to uphold some of the values it was founded upon: compassion, truth, integrity, and the belief that every human being is equally deserving of dignity and respect and freedom. And I lay much of that failure at the feet of the man in the White House and those who enable his agenda. We must continue to light those candles, many of them, in whatever way we can, where ever we are. And we must continue to open our hearts, to engage with each other, to listen, and to work toward justice for all.

  26. I’m that guy from down the road who drives the rusting out, silver Toyota Tacoma with the decal on the tail gate that reads PTL. Yeah, I’m that “library’ nut. It’s amazing how we (people in general) can live close to other folks without knowing a whole lot about them, and the less we know, the freer our imaginings are to run unchecked. Until ten minutes ago, for example, I had no idea that you are a skilled writer/communicator with a large following. And I’m sorry to hear that you lost readership by being open about your political views. Well, you certainly have my respect.

    Mamasan’s advice is sage. “Take care of your neighbors,” I think she might say, “and you take care of yourself.” Now if that guy in the camo pick up would only slow down a bit, there might be opportunity for some sort of neighborly exchange. Or maybe not. Might be enough to simply light a candle in his honor.

  27. Joline Manseau says:

    Just what I needed after last evening’s state of the union address. thank you

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