That’s How the Light Gets In


Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in

A long list of losses define 2016—nationally for progressives with an election that proves ever more ominous as the president-elect appoints people on the extremes of issues. All kinds of communities: LGBT, African-Americans, Muslims, immigrants, government workers, women and others are facing new fears and harassment. The country seems more divided than ever.

Leonard Cohen, Canadian poet, songwriter and singer, died on November 7. Beloved by many, his music and lyrics live on. The above is the chorus from Anthem, one of my favorites, and these lines speak to me of the particular hard space we find ourselves in at the end of this tumultuous year.

The most important question to me is how we heal the wounds between Republicans and Democrats—and stop demonizing each other. Cohen’s line “forget your perfect offering” speaks to me again about the value of mistakes. My students in prison taught me that nothing is perfect. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes.There is a crack in everything. Everyone suffers and feels some brokenness. Everyone feels vulnerable. But, that is how we find our common humanity. Dialogue means that we listen, acknowledge, and respect not only our differences, but each others’ vulnerabilities. If we reveal ourselves to each other—our hopes and fears, our hurts and vulnerabilities, it should not be impossible to stand on common ground—even make new friends. We could start with working together on projects that matter to everyone.

I am taking heart from all the people fighting the pipeline at Standing Rock in North Dakota. I am so impressed by  the number of veterans who have shown up to provide support and by the perseverance of all the people who endure the cold and provide solidarity. Louise Erdrich, Native American author and activist, wrote this piece in the New York Times on December 11: How to Stop a Black Snake.  She says we need to form new coalitions, become more powerful together and realize that we must fight for our land, our water and this “precious democracy.” If any group knows about long struggles simply to survive it is Native Americans. They’re not trying to be perfect. They know there are cracks in the world, and they also know they need to reach out in love, not hate. That’s how the light gets in.