By Gloria Peterson
I wish I could personally thank every man, woman, and child who participated in the worldwide Women’s March protests on January 21, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as 45th president of the United States. I was home ill, but very much there in spirit.
Like many, my heart has been heavy since the election, and there have been things to grieve. Sadly, every time I hear the agenda of the right, I have a visceral response. I worry about losing my health insurance. This insurance saved my life when I needed treatment for cancer. I listen to the comparisons between Trump and Hitler and Mussolini. I get scared, and I’m not even facing deportation. But on January 21 when an estimated two million people in the US alone demonstrated, along with numerous protests around the world, my spirit soared!
There was an un-named something special at work that day, which I am puzzling about. It has to do with our interconnectedness, compassion, and altruism. The protest was seemingly spontaneous, with information spread person to person and over the internet. There was no central organizer or organization. Energy was high, goodwill was abundant, and there were many acts of kindness in the huge crowds. People in wheelchairs and people with casts on their limbs participated. All were welcome, amid a wonderful inclusivity and diversity of people and causes. People performed heroics to attend and say that the emerging political agenda is simply not acceptable.
In an attempt to name this “something special” quality, I’d like to speak of the writings and work of Jim Doty, a medical doctor who has done so much to promote compassion. There was also, in 2012, a stunning natural phenomenon relating to Laurence Anthony of South Africa. But Jim Doty first…
Doty writes of his life and his inspirational process in a book called Into the Magic Shop. At the age of 12, he was already well on his way to juvenile delinquency when he wandered into a magic shop and met an older and kindly woman named Ruth. Ruth could see that there was something special about this boy and offered to teach him “real magic” and meditation techniques every day for six weeks. This experience changed the trajectory of his life. Ruth’s kindness, and the practice which he continued to do for many years, healed his heart.
While teaching at Stanford University, he realized that what he wanted to manifest most was a “world where people not only do no harm to one another, but reach out to help one another.” He sees us at the beginning of an “age of compassion.” My take on the spirit of the marches is that compassion was a factor.
Doty believes we are collectively “on a journey of connection.” He continues, “One act of compassion leads to another act of compassion; and so on across the globe.” Compassion, he believes is an innate instinct. This instinct is present not only in humans but in many other species as well. There are many examples, from monkeys caring for each other when they are injured, to a dolphin who assisted in saving a beached humpback whale. This behavior is clearly present in toddlers.
Doty also believes that many have misinterpreted Darwin by implying that survival of the fittest means the strongest. But in fact, it is the survival of the kindest and most cooperative that ensures long-term species survival. To Doty, there’s no shame in caring or in feeling another’s pain. He would say this is “beautiful” and what it’s all about.
The second theme that relates to the “something special” of this protest concerns Lawrence Anthony, author of The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild. who died in 2012. He was born and died in South Africa. He loved nature and dedicated his life to conservation. He bought land for the 5,000-acre Thula Thula Game Reserve in Kwa Zulu Natal.
At one point, he was called upon to assist a conservation group. Nine elephants had escaped an enclosure and were about to be shot for wreaking havoc. Anthony rushed to the scene. He earned the reputation of “elephant whisperer” by communicating to the matriarch of the group with tone of voice and with body gestures, and he was able to prevent their being killed.
At the time of Lawrence Anthony’s death in 2012, something unusual and mysterious happened. Two herds of elephants traveled at least 12 hours to his home to pay homage to their friend. They stayed at Anthony’s home in Thula Thula Reserve for two days. After that, they left in solemn funeral-like procession to return to the bush. The question is, how did they know that this man had died?
The rabbi presenting at Anthony’s funeral said “…If ever there was a time when we can truly sense the wondrous interconnectedness of all beings, it is when we reflect on the elephants of Thula Thula. A man’s heart stops, and hundreds of elephants’ hearts are grieving. This man’s oh-so-abundantly loving heart offered healing to these elephants, and now they came to pay loving homage to their friend.”
I believe that the Women’s March was a gorgeous display of our interconnectedness.
Donald Trump’s policies, initiatives, words, and attitudes are wounding our very hearts. Many people now live in fear. We are reminded, again, of the horrors of Nazi Germany.
I believe that on January 21 people instinctively came together to help protect, nurture and care for one another. Perhaps we had our pulse on the heartbeat of democracy, and it was weak and feeble. Or maybe it had stopped altogether and needed to be resuscitated. Or perhaps it was our own and other’s pain that we felt. We came together with great courage, conviction and goodwill toward our brothers and sisters. Perhaps our hearts yearn, like Jim Doty, to make our world a place “where not only do we do no harm to one another, but rather, reach out to help one another.”
I’m lacing up my work boots, for there’s much work to be done. I still wish I could hug the two-million-plus marchers and thank you for your courage and caring. I’m certain that a hug from all of you would permanently heal my ills, and I wouldn’t be so worried about my health insurance. You all have beautiful energy. Let’s stay in each other’s hearts as we do our collective work!
(c) 2017 Gloria Peterson.
Gloria is a nurse in Madison, Wisconsin and a member of the Society of Friends.
Images from Carly Brooke’s post about Lawrence Anthony’s work on her blog, Featured Creatures, here.