It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.
—lines from “Low Roads” by Marge Piercy
I love these lines from the poem “Low Roads” by Marge Piercy. I often think of them when I feel as if I am not making a difference in the world, when I am feeling alone or lonely. These lines from Piercy’s poem remind me of two things.
First, they remind me that every little step forward is progress; it goes on one at a time, every time we act. It continues when we no longer see ourselves as separate from one another, but as all bundled together in the cosmos.
These lines, and indeed, our Ethical tradition, call us to deeper and deeper connections. They call us to daily widen the circle of love in which we stand so that all feel welcomed in our midst.
Coming out as a lesbian when I was 16 years old was the beginning of widening the circle for me. I suddenly realized that I was part of “the other,” the nameless, faceless assortment of those who did not fit and were not invited into the circle of love for the majority, the “normal,” the comforting sameness of life.
I distinctly remember what it felt like to be on the outside of that invisibly etched circle of inclusion. It was a revelatory moment for me. Or really, more aptly, it was the moment of the “big bang” explosion of my conscious existence. An entire universe filled with galaxies of possibilities burst forth when I came out; when I realized the “other” was just another facet of me I had not yet met.
So from that moment, my universe has been expanding to include ever more diverse peoples and cultures as part of my “We.” First, I reached out to the feminists, the pro-choice, and included them in my “We.” Then I reached out in solidarity—or rather reached back—to the poor, those living at or below the poverty line, whose lives echoed my beginnings in this world. I reached out to people of color, educated myself about my own inherent racism: how merely by dint of my skin color, I belonged to an oppressive, systemic racist culture.
…everyone on this planet is a part of the greatest “We” of all, Mother Earth; it is imperative that we also include her in our circle of love, of possibility, of life.
I then included people of color into my “We,” and those of the dominant culture who were trying to heal racism into my “We.” I went on to include other ways of being in relationship into my “We” as well, those whose hearts and loves didn’t fall into the tidy categories of monogamous, life-time partnerships of two people (regardless of gender). And of course, gender-variant people as well are now a part of my “We.” In recent years, because of unprecedented challenges to the inherent worth and dignity of every human, refugees and immigrants joined my circle of “We.”
Ultimately, I reached my arms around the entire planet and realized everyone on this planet is a part of the greatest “We” of all, Mother Earth; it is imperative that we also include her in our circle of love, of possibility, of life.
I’ve got to be honest here: every time my universe expanded to include more people, I felt uncomfortable. I felt resistance to the idea of stepping outside of my comfort zones of who could be “in” and then, of course, those who were still left out. I’m certainly not to at a point where my “We” leaves no room for an “other.” I keep expanding still, not always easily or gently, but it does go on one at a time when I care to act, when I care to learn about those who are different from me rather than judging them, when I intentionally take part in diversity in community rather than insisting on division and commonality. But as I push through my discomfort, I reach a place of expansiveness, of community, of joy.
We are living in unprecedented times. In just a few short years, we have seen the collapse of safety nets for the most vulnerable among us; we have witnessed a rise in hate crimes caused in large part by the reckless, inflammatory rhetoric of elected leaders; we have watched while a virus has brought the world to its knees, saving a special gut punch for the elderly, the poor, the marginalized.
It is time to start again, even in the midst of so many “nos” being thrown our way. It is time to care to act once more. Here at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, we continue on with fierce determination to say “We” over and over again, daily meaning more. As we do this, we can change our world; indeed, we already are.