The fact that Parker J. Palmer wrote this book while in the throes of depression is profoundly powerful to me. Early in 2015, I became terribly ill with a virus. The virus hung on and beat me down to the point that I could barely leave my bed, except to visit my doctor in her office. I’m an introvert who thrives on time alone, and I often say that I’m my own best company. But, after ten days in the house alone each day while H went to work, and too sick to do anything other than doze in and out of sleep, I found myself quickly sinking into darkness and despair. At the ten-day mark, I began to feel better and I rallied to wrap myself in a blanket and shuffle around the house for a while. I had dinner at the table with H. I looked outside through our sliding glass door. I took a shower. It seemed I had turned a corner. I went to bed that night, eager to awake feeling even better the next morning.
But, before the sun rose, I awoke in the dark with my throat on fire. The pain was fierce and my fever was back. Strep throat was the diagnosis. A major setback. The antibiotics I was prescribed for this new infection went to work right away and, within forty-eight hours I was feeling measurably better. But the damage had already been done.
Depression had me in its grip and I descended into its spiral of darkness before I knew what had hit me. If you’ve ever been there, you know the incredible sense of hopelessness at the bottom of that pit. You know how difficult it is to make it through a single hour, let alone an entire day.
I’m grateful to Palmer for inviting us into his own story of depression as the backdrop for his experience of writing this book. As with Palmer, when I eventually emerged from my depression, my perspective on the world, myself, and even elements of faith was more focused; more clear. My heart, indeed, had been broken open and, the experience of navigating the tension of light and dark within my own body actually made me stronger. I recognized the power that embracing the tension—rather than running away—has to bring healing to a broken heart.
The American presidential race has not only created an immense of tension, but I might argue it was birthed from tension as well. Over the next few weeks together, we will enter right into the tension, together. I cannot tell you how excited I’ve been to begin this session of Forward with you. I’m truly looking forward to hearing your thoughts and working together toward open hearts.
Some questions for you (use these questions as a guide for conversation in the comments, or feel free to raise your own questions or offer your observations from this week’s reading): What is your takeaway from the Prelude and Chapter One? How would you characterize the tension of this election season? Have you considered the diversity of our country to be a blessing, a curse, neither, or both? Why?
One of the takeaways, or really just a reinforcement of what I know but tend to forget when it relates to political issues, is that hearing each others stories and personal experiences, even in relation to issues that can be divisive, humanizes people. In the Prelude Palmer references this and that two people can have parallel experiences and come to contrary conclusions. A lot of this comes down to doing more listening than talking, something that does not always come very easily for me. In the introduction to the paperback edition, Palmer writes, “…we’re less inclined to differ with each other honestly than to demonize each other mercilessly. That’s why it’s so seductive to gather with folks who share our view of what’s wrong and do little more than complain about all those “wrongdoers” who aren’t in the room.” If we sit and talk with people who don’t always share the same opinions as us, it at least puts a human face on the issue and we are less likely to express sweeping generalizations about “the others.”
Yes yes yes. As I was rereading these sections in preparation for this post and our conversation, I was struck by that as well. As you’ve said, I know it, but having it reinforced was truly powerful. More and more, I desire to create an environment and culture a presence in the world which invites and celebrates each person’s unique story, and allow that story to enrich the way I live my own.
Reading about Abraham Lincoln and how he held that tension between the two groups leading up to and during the Civil War was eye-opening as well. When I see the political climate today, it seems as if someone like Abraham Lincoln would hardly stand a chance, but yet he is viewed as one of the greatest Presidents in our history. So why is it that a leader like Lincoln seems out of reach in the present day?
Mandi @ Life Your Way
Yes! I hate that political discourse is focused solely on defending your own position. I want to understand why people believe what they do, and I want to have those conversations, even about the topics I hold close to my heart. I hate that we’ve reached a political climate where anyone who disagrees is seen as “evil” or “bad” by each side. Can’t we just be different without calling each other idiots or worse?
On a related note, I’ve been reading Ron Chernow’s Hamilton, and it struck me that even during the Revolution, there were fiercely opposing viewpoints between loyalists and patriots, with good “men” (I’m sure women had their opinions, but they certainly weren’t highlighted) on both sides denigrating the other side. That’s probably stating the obvious, but it’s been a reminder that it’s human/sin nature and not *just* the current political climate.
One of the ideas that most stood out to me in the early pages, and which has come up in my conversations with others to whom I’m describing the book, is “How did we forget that our differences are among our most valuable assets?” What a contrast to the idea that if all those other “misinformed” people just got on board with our own views, we could all move forward together. America’s diversity used to be a point of pride for our nation, along with the belief that we grow and learn from those who come at life from a different perspective than we do. I’d love to see us working from the principle the author suggests here: “Protecting our right to disagree is one of democracy’s gifts, and converting this inevitable tension into creative energy is part of democracy’s genius.” Can we operate from the belief that the person who stands in opposition to our view still wholeheartedly loves our nation and wants the best for its people–and then work together from that point to pursue the common good?
Just the other day, I was listening to a podcast in which one of the speakers made an important point about fear. She said that, as she watched both the Republican and Democratic conventions this year, she was deeply troubled by the way fear was being used by both campaigns to manipulate and then pit the hearts and minds of the citizenry against one another. Fear is a powerful, powerful tool and it has been so effective in “othering” people who are different from us. If we can find our way over (and sometimes through) our fears, we might get back to a place you’re calling us to remember: celebrating the differences that were once a source of pride and honor.
Well said, Deidra. It seems we make some of the worst decisions when we operate out of fear.
“The powers of the heart, that transforms personal anguish, can also transform the way we do politics. The suffering that undermines democracy, by driving us into foxholes and fragmenting the civic community, has the potential to open us to each other, to hope and to the hard work required to sustain the American experiment.”
These words are so pertinent to what is going on in America today. Can we as a nation, in our diversity, open up to one another, and to do the hard work required to sustain this country.
I may not have ever invested time, in a book like this, unless you asked, Deidra. I want to say thank you, because it is not quite the norm for me. (Thanks for the stretch, that is.) I really respect your views and opinions and the growth you encourage here, in this space, and I appreciate that it involves such diversity, and often addresses issues that cause me to reach, even with spiritual introspection and hope. I like that.
I was impressed with a few thoughts here, in the book. Initially, what stood out for me, was the thoughts how Palmer shared about : we “regard tension as a condition to be relieved, not as an energy to hold in our hearts,” and how it is important to know the difference between “eustress and distress” and how one can be destructive, and yet another lead to growth. I am all about growth. And…this book is stretching me, at a time in my life where I reflect on my past, as well, and how I also went through a lengthy depression, and I notice the benefit that came out of that long, enduring, stressful and yet very fruitful season in my life. I believe ‘fruit’ always are part of particularly trying seasons like this, yet we often fail to receive and partake or “feed”, if you will, off its harvest. So…my perspective, like yours, also shifted, and I embraced a new faith. This faith was momentous for me, earth shattering, in fact. I journaled immensely through this period and I found myself in a place where embracing tension , eventually didn’t become hard for me. My book, in fact was birthed out of this season of my life. I learned to be very courageous, during this time, and I actually struggled with my own brokenness; but cherished the blessing on the other side – of “becoming” …and living “free”, on an entirely different level. I really enjoy that Palmer speaks to the ‘Heart of Democracy; and uses these themes as a backdrop, as well. I think this book will help me to see more of where I can be used ‘for good and influence’, in the name of certain freedoms, ( volunteerism, my workplace, family work and influence, my neighborhood, my relationships and my public life,etc. ), and also healing work in my community.
I am still not sure what I think of this election season. I pray often about that tension.
I believe the diversity of our country is indeed a complete blessing, and I love its diversity, color, magic and intrigue. In many ways; however, it has also been a curse, when I consider personal losses of my own in my ancestors being forced to leave our country and my identity stolen from me – is something I had to stretch myself to reach for , glean and learn about in various ways. It has taken years to restore that.( And unfortunately, I am still working on what was stolen. ) But i feel grateful to be here. Not always proud to be an American, … but glad to be here.
Good questions. Glad to be here, as well.
Raquel Jackson Lindsay
As a grateful recipient of a free book, I look forward to learning and growing with this group.
The story in the Introduction about John Lewis struck me. I admire and respect him so very much and the story about his forgiveness of the man who beat him years earlier was so touching. I also appreciated Palmer’s comments in that same section about his experience with the Civil Rights Pilgrimage. My family and I had our own Civil Rights Pilgrimage two summers ago and visited many of the same sites he mentioned. I too was impressed with how much the faith of the civil rights icons and their connection with the black church imbued the movement. In Chapter 1 I appreciated his statement about the key civic capacities we all have and his emphasis on developing habits of the heart. I think this whole experience of reading and discussing together will be very rich and meaningful.