Silence, as every meditator knows, confers the opportunity to notice what matters most. This past week, I’ve been noticing our ideas about age and thinking about an important event approaching fast: On November 3, The Shalom Center (where I have the honor of serving as president) will honor Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Gloria Steinem with a benefit event called “This Is What 80 Looks Like: Two Lifetimes Speaking Truth to Power.”
I’ll be there, and so will a great many people of every age, faith, and orientation who respect and love these two titanic figures and want to honor their work. If you can afford it, buy extra tickets or a table to enable others to come. Even if you can’t make it in person, please make a contribution. With a contribution of $50 or more, you can also write a message for the tribute book.
To explain why I hope you will do this, I need to tell you a little story. I spent the last week in a beautiful and very quiet place with companions ranging from 8 to 80-something. The instant I stepped onto the forest path, leaving behind the convivial lakeshore crowd, I realized that in my ordinary urban life I almost never experience silence. Indoors, appliances hum and click. Outdoors, automobile sounds, distant music, and airplane engines intrude even hours after midnight.
The silence created an inviting space, empty and full at the same time, something very like a blank page. Apt, because my life these days seems full of beginnings: a new home with a new love, two new books, a new set of consulting approaches, workshops, and talks to help create a culture of possibility. I am no longer young, but my desire to enlarge my own understanding, to experience the pleasure of living, and to help heal the world—these things are undiminished. Really, they are greater than ever.
I think about the default assumptions in our common culture. Someone my age should be winding down, no? Time dims the senses, they say, veiling feelings and perceptions. But the beauty of the world moves me more now. There was a late, intense rainstorm on my last afternoon at the lake. The sky darkened, the wind rose, and we were drenched. Trees fell. At about 7:30, back indoors, the room suddenly blazed. The cloud layer had lifted to reveal the setting sun close to the horizon, gilding the treetops, coating the water with honey. To be alive in such a moment, with eyes to see! With inner weather it is the same. I laugh and cry more easily now, not because some infirmity has weakened my restraint, but because the years have cut away the protective shell around my heart. Whatever burns there blazes out.
In the social change world, I sometimes hear the presumptive critique stated in polite and analytic terms: senior leaders don’t want to retire when expected, frustrating their younger counterparts. From this perspective, leadership looks finite, as if a zero-sum game were being played.
But is it? In my own realm, it seems to me that creating a culture of possibility offers infinite opportunity and has infinite room for advocates. The more people who see it as their collective responsibility, the more people who feel the potency of their own agency in shifting our culture from Datastan to the Republic of Stories (as I discuss in my recent radio interview: listen free this week on New Dimensions Radio), the more quickly the emergent reality will come into focus. I love to mentor younger people who see the possibility of the world in living color. And just as much, even more, I love to take my own place in the dance we share.
I want to honor Arthur Waskow and Gloria Steinem (recent Medal of Freedom winner) because they embody the evergreen generativity that is our best resource as a species. All of us have the capacity to continue asking questions and allowing the answers to infuse our lives, but few exercise it as fully and with as much relish as Arthur and Gloria. Few radiate the sheer chutzpah and shining inspiration these two exhibit daily. Few shrug off the little kvetches of life in a body with such stunning determination. It’s true that I’m no longer young, but I have quite a few years to go to catch up to their four score. When I see them, I feel affirmed in my desire to make the most of the time I am granted.
I think you will enjoy the back story to Gloria’s and Arthur’s friendship: it starts in 1968 and picks up last year on Oprah. You call read all about it at The Shalom Center website.
Please contribute, come take part in honoring both of them and every resolute spirit who has refused to desist in the service of liberation. They both raise their voices to call our danger and opportunity; and both are rooted in the silence that writes a new story. Neither is ready to simmer down. Your support for the The Shalom Center now will write the story of Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s work which is yet to come.
The wisdom of age, the persistence of desire. Leonard Cohen sings “Amen.”