On TV last night in Houston, St. Patrick’s Day — yes, I still watch local news and weather sometimes — was a most touching story of a school janitor lady giving some of the little money she had to repair a vandalized school bus, one that transports the kids she loves at the school she has worked at for 20 years. It got me to thinking. We all know the above famous Martin Luther King proclamation, a good one to remember in dark times— the arc of the moral universe is long and it bends toward justice. The moral universe, according to others, and me in the blog post, bends toward one other thing as well. It bends toward love.

Human darkness expresses itself in so many forms: sexual slavery, terrorism and cruel legislation even, to name a few. But love pops up and seeps in all around too, like in this little story in Houston that aired for 75 seconds and moved its viewers.

I am in fortunate life circumstances right now and I can appreciate the love arc in these later years of my life. While still active in work, here in my 69th year, the inner adventure of my life has taken over. It is from this vantage point that I see the long arc that has been carrying me along all these decades. It carries us all along if we can cooperate with it and move toward our essence. And if we do not move this way and instead stay stuck on the surface of ourselves in a life of distractions, busyness and media consumption, the elder years can be a hell-to-pay story of decline and loss. I sensed this janitor lady was acting out of her essence, which is why the little story was moving.

Writer Mary Sarton said it well in a Times op ed in 1978, sensing an arc like Martin Luther King did:

If the whole of life is a journey toward old age, then I believe it is also a journey toward love.  And love may be as intense in old age as it was in youth, only it is different, set in a wider arc, and the more precious because the time we have to enjoy it is bound to be brief.

Let’s take every chance we can to bend our lives toward love and justice.

Illustration created using work of Flickr Joseph Dsilva under CC License; and Flickr Babak Fakhamzadeh under CC License



We are gearing up it appears, if legislative forecasting for 2017 can be believed, for a big spend on the long-neglected infrastructure of highways and sewers and bridges. It took us decades to get to this mandate and let’s hope we intelligently add to our public assets.

Democracy itself has a less visible infrastructure, but one just as badly in need of repair. Like physical systems, we use the democratic infrastructure all the time: they are in constant use and need maintenance and metaphoric oil changes. All the courts and laws and regulations, the freedom of speech and the press, tax levies and executive orders, voting mechanisms and city council hearings, it all needs regular attention.

Occasional professional maintenance has filled highway potholes year after year, but now the big make-over is needed. So it is with democracy—as we follow the laws, vote, stay out of trouble and pay taxes we are in a pothole-filling “citizenship lite” mode of just keeping the infrastructure going. But these activities are short of the big investments that we now need to make in our democracy.

So, listen to the words of Parker Palmer as we enter the new year, words out of his book Healing the Heart of Democracy, written pre-2016 elections by a few years.

“If our democracy fails it is because we will have become so fearful of each other that we unravel the civic community upon which democracy depends, losing our power to resist all that threatens it and call it back to its higher form.”

As you set your direction for 2017, you may also want to set some citizen-level resolutions. I know I am going to. And you can start very close to home, in your own heart. Again, Palmer:

“Democracy is a non-stop experiment in the strength and weakness of our political institutions, our local communities and associations in the human heart. Its outcome can never be taken for granted…. The democratic experiment is endless. Unless we blow up the lab, and the explosives to do the job are found within us.”

And we may not blow up the lab but let it fall into disrepair through lack of maintenance, starting with our own practices of mind and heart; by isolating ourselves, not engaging those with different views, or engaging in our new favorite national past time—seeing ourselves as victims. For some, victimage description is a full-time job.

We may not need to go from “citizenship lite” levels of democracy to running for the Senate, but we all need to notch up our work as citizens. Let’s love the democracy that we have inherited. It needs our attention. Let’s refresh the experiment.


Ripen against the Grain

October 13, 2016

I did an un-American thing last month. I went on a 33-day trip to Wales, England and, mainly, Ireland. I walked the hills and listened to music and drifted and did nothing to add to the U.S. GDP. It was enriching. I slowed down to a crawl, and had no goals except to enjoy the […]

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Wisdom from a Master

July 27, 2016

Peter Block’s insights into our work and lives is so precious in this interview of a few months ago at the Hudson Institute’s annual meeting. https://hudsoninstitute.egnyte.com/dl/4eajYdLL0F?utm_source=CHIC+Newsletter+June+2016&utm_campaign=Summer+Newsletter&utm_medium=email

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Things I can do only because I am old

July 8, 2016

Ok, my most recent reading binge has been on ripening, aka maturing and aging, the 3rd 3rd of life. I am too far along for the “second half of life” term, though this has been and is still a very useful term in some contexts. All of this reading is on later-in-life psychology and even […]

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