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Hiking up the steep path into the wilderness above Hope, Alaska, my mother and I stopped frequently to take in the view around us – and to shout for grizzlies that we knew were in the area, actively bulking up for the coming winter.  After a few hours of climbing, we crept across a rocky falls into a wide-open cirque.  It was remarkable.  Breathtaking.  A tarn sat in the center, and a wide stretch of tundra with steep rock walls encircled it.  The ridge leading up the wall was wide and I asked: shall we go on?  Mom stopped, froze actually, and said: “This is far enough.”  I accepted this as her limit, happy to have been able to spend the day hiking with my 71 year-old mother, and we sat on a nearby rock with our lunch and watched Nuna, my sister’s dog, play in the lake. 

The perception of vastness can hit us at any point: looking into a wild open cirque, contemplating the public school system, thinking about reforming healthcare, or recovering democracy.  Why do some of us say: “This is far enough,” and sit down or turn back, and others of us say: “Let’s go on”?  Why we respond the way we do is an open question.  A different question might be: so we need to sit down, eat lunch, then find a hand hold and take just one step forward.  How would our world look different if we could find the small acts of courage it takes to move into the face of vast, unsolvable problems or worlds?  Small acts of courage are everything.  Taking on the vastness with awe, humility, and wonder.  Getting curious, simply apprehending – recognizing what is before us.  This act of seeing may get us somewhere moving forward.  Not to contain or constrain the vast unknown and wondrous, but to notice one’s own inner state and response in the face of vastness, and be curious about that, is to begin to see what is possible.  Seeing possibilities – that is our only responsibility.  Not solving, containing, or fixing.  Open to the possible, the curious.  And take breaks when you need to, knowing you are not alone as you sit on your rock, contemplating your next move.   

A recent hand hold for me into the previously impentetrable reform of American politics was a talk by Parker Palmer on Healing the Heart of Democracy.  He offers five habits of the heart that for me serve as handholds – touchstones – for moving forward on the path toward restoring democratic engagement within myself.  Starting with me, my habits and practices, is what is within reach.  The acts of Congress and congress people are far away on the high cirque edge and I cannot reach them.  But to reach them, I have to start with the steps I have before me.  And I need my handholds to steady my legs as I walk.  

For resources and more information regarding Palmer’s Five Habits of the Heart:

Conversational Credits: Kemp Battle, Karen Knudsen Edwards, and Elizabeth Terry

Claire Bronson
08/28/2013 11:29am

Thank you Kelly for sharing your wisdom gleaned from experience. xoxo


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