WHAT WOULD WHITMAN DO - Peterson Toscano

In the war diaries he later published, Whitman wrote: 

These Hospitals, so different from all others - these American young men, badly wounded, all sorts of wounds, operated on, pallid with diarrhea, languishing, dying with fever, pneumonia, well they open a new world somehow to me, giving closer insights, showing our humanity, tried by terrible, fearfulest tests, probed deepest, bursting the petty bonds of art. To these, to him, what are your dramas and poems?

Whitman was not forsaking his art. Rather he was recognizing that there are times when art is not enough, a time when we have to get our hands dirty, when artists need to take a stand with our bodies. This is the tension that tugs at many artists who feel the need to go inward and artfully explore while all the time there are pressing needs around; we see family, friends, and strangers suffering. These propel us out of our sanctuaries into the flesh and blood of the world we try so hard to understand. For me this often feels like a messy affair of inadequacy as I fumble to give comfort and care. While the services I offer to the grieving, the sufferer, the person waylaid by a storm or injustice does not reflect the thoughtful, polished art I so much aspire to create, perhaps this physical manifestation of my concern, the “profound conviction of necessity,” the word made flesh, is art in itself. As Whitman reveals, we can enter a process of transfiguration in which our bodies become the poetry. 

GIRLS TRIP & SAWUBONA - Micky ScottBey Jones

Depending on your demographic profile, Girls Trip may or may not be on your radar, even though at the time of its release, it was the current title-holder for largest opening of a live-action comedy in 2017. You may not have noticed it because like much of US culture, films are still largely segregated, from casting to marketing. A comedy with four Black female leads is easily dismissed as a “Black film” that would only be of interest to a subgroup of moviegoers. I am a Black woman, so it was no surprise I joined another Black girlfriend of mine for opening weekend. She was actually my companion on my #FabFlirtyFantastic40 Birthday Trip this year, so a funny movie that might at least slightly resemble the beach adventure we just enjoyed sounded like the perfect night out. I expected to laugh-scream (I do that) and exchange knowing looks and arm slaps throughout the movie, but I didn’t expect to do a deeper dive into my deepest longings for belonging, community, and self-love. 

GARDEN POETRY - Milton Brasher-Cunningham

To say history rhymes means it doesn’t repeat itself, but there are resonant themes that return, which, I suppose, can be a thought filled with either hope or despair. Seamus Heaney wrote a poem in honor of Nelson Mandela called “The Cure at Troy” that closes with these lines:

It means once in a lifetime

That justice can rise up

And hope and history rhyme.

I would like to think you can hear that rhyme at dinnertime—in the food prepared, the dishes digested, and the stories shared. Everything in the garden that gives its life for that moment, that meal, gives a rich and generous gift. At the table, we find nourishment and new life.


“This is an important play, a theatrical masterpiece, as significant as Death of a Salesman or Oh What a Lovely War,” our tutor told us as he handed out a list of the play’s themes: right wing politics and corruption, the ozone layer; the experience of the gay man— closeted and out, the personal and societal impact of the AIDS epidemic; faith and sexuality. This was theater at its most contemporary and my secret shame was I just didn't get it!

Other students declared Angels in America was their favorite play of all time, while I silently fretted over why I couldn't see it's genius. Maybe it’s because I was a latent homophobe? After all the sex scenes made me blush. Or maybe it was because the character I identified with most was Joe Pitt, a closeted gay man struggling with his faith as his worldview changes, but after the mortifying "safe sex, no sex" comment I wasn't going to admit that to my fellow students and be singled out as "that religious girl" again.


My granddad was a scholar—and a damn good one. Born and raised in rural Oklahoma, he left his simple upbringings, and all the struggle and trauma they

contained, to pursue the world of biblical scholarship. More than once, I’ve heard my grandmother refer to him as a “giant of a man.” And it seems he was, especially for his world. For 45 years, he taught and researched at various universities and lectured to audiences worldwide. He preached to his students the importance of a relentless pursuit of truth, and he himself lost much for that pursuit. He authored multiple works on the New Testament, archaeology, and the Apostle Paul, and his sweat mixed with the dirt of numerous archaeological digs in the Middle East. He raised three outstanding, service-minded sons, and he loved his wife with a dedication and fire all could admire.

Almost everything that made my grandparents giants together is an article of the past now. 


I was haunted for years by the thought that it might happen: a startling deathbed revelation that a core belief on which I had built my life was faulty. I would see in an instant how hundreds or thousands of micro and macro decisions had issued from a false premise. Scientists encounter this phenomenon frequently in research,  and have to go back philosophically and methodologically to the fork in the road and choose a different direction. But I would have no opportunity to do that, and would die immersed in regret amplified by realizing my unlived lives too late.

And then it happened. I recognized that I had told myself an untrue story for years. I had indeed acted upon it in ways I regretted. The saving grace was that this happened not on my deathbed, but in my mid-forties.


The greatest misunderstanding that people have about the USA until they live here is that it’s a country. I’ve been here for ten years, and the most surprising shift in my perception has been that the place might be better seen as really fifty nations, each with their own culture and laws, connected with their neighbors only as tightly as they want to be. This fact carries tension, of course, if you value coherence; but the liberating consequence is that if the first step to healing a place is knowing it, it may be much easier to know a state than the nation. The handful of key cities and rural communities that make up a state are conceivably knowable by a handful of people who care enough to steward the earth, nurture the people, and imagine “the next stage of good.” That phrase, coined by Bob Woodward to refer to the role of US American Presidents, is spacious and inviting. It’s a way to live. Looking out my window, seeing trees, but imagining the neighborhood and the city behind them, and the region behind those is a beginning of knowing. That knowing is vital to rootedness, and rootedness is the beginning of hospitality, and hospitality will save the world...

In my homeland of northern Ireland, lament for the past is real, but we are moving beyond the cruelty and toward owning our story, in all its painful and joyful variety. We know what it was like to live in a society governed by fear and hatred. We’re not going back.

Which brings me to the present moment, as it pertains to the fifty state experiment that may or may not actually be a nation. I’d like to offer some gentle thoughts on the state of the union, emerging from my experience of growing up in a place where we thought we could dominate each other, and are only recently discovering that our needs are shared. I’m going to sketch seven principles and practices for thriving in the current moment. Let’s begin with the one closest to each of us.