National Transitions and Painted Rocks

People aren’t the only ones who go through transitions. So do countries. Just as ours is doing right now. All the turmoil, anger, arguing, cruelty, incivility, and even some mass shootings are signs of it. The old way (or at least the illusion of it) is ending, and a new beginning lies ahead—so we are most definitely navigating the In-Between, unsure of our footing on the way to creating our nation’s future. The various factions each believe their way is the right way, and all fear to give an inch, lest they lose whatever advantage they believe they have. We seem to have lost the desire and ability to compromise and to listen with understanding and compassion to the other side (we did this once, right?). As a result, many people are suffering unnecessarily.

It helps me, a little at least, to remember that this situation is Story on a grand scale. Remember, everything is story. We automatically invent narratives based on our experiences, and then we believe that those inventions are Truth. We don’t even realize this; it’s just the way our brains work. This is not necessarily a problem, unless we reach a point where we believe our truth is the absolute truth and persecute others who believe otherwise.

Here’s the thing, though: Because we made up this story of division and separation, we can make up a new one. One of caring and kindness, with a compassionate understanding of various viewpoints, so that we may all be buoyed by the spirit of cooperation, instead of drowned by the angry competition that favors only a privileged few.

Yes, I know this sounds impossible and naïve. Maybe it is. Hell, it probably is. But here is one tiny experience that sustains my hope.

Last week, I participated in a small Story Corps group, where perhaps a dozen people gathered together to write stories that can be read aloud in four minutes and will be broadcast soon on our local PBS station. Over three evenings (and at home in between), we crafted little but mighty stories that revealed some powerful experiences of our lives. We read them to one another on the last night. A few were hilarious; some were serious; others caused tears of sorrow.

I have no idea of the political affiliations of the people in the group. Around that table, it didn’t matter at all. What mattered was that we had come together to share some of the important truths of our lives. As we listened with respect, we were reminded how much we are alike. Not how different we are, but how much alike, with our joys and sorrows and a deep desire to be understood and accepted.

The rock in the photo at the top of this blog was brought to our group by a woman who fell into deep grief after her son died. She was lost until she found a group that gets together to paint rocks. Yes, to paint rocks, which they then distribute to others or leave around town to be happily discovered. This process and the support of that community has sustained her and helped her begin the healing process. In a sweet gesture, she brought rocks of various sizes and shapes, with many different images painted on them, for all of us. We happily accepted. This rock now sits on my desk where I see it many times a day. It brings me joy in these dark times.

In addition, even when I feel I can do nothing else, I am doing my best to be as kind as I can to others in my sphere of influence. I do my best to be of service, in my weekly volunteering with people undergoing chemo and monthly as I help to cook and serve dinner at a local homeless shelter. And I offer my journaling work, so that people can write to discover their own joy.

I remember a quotation from Wendell Berry: “Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts.” I can be joyful—there is still much for which to be joyful—even as I consider the troubling facts of our national transition. I am still struggling to discover my best responses while maintaining my integrity and advocating for what I believe is right. But I will continue to infuse my story with joy, with this new talisman to remind me.


Here are some prompts to help you explore our national transition, which of course is yours too.

What brings you joy in dark times?

What stories do you tell yourself about current events and the people involved? How do you feel after you tell them to yourself?

How might you offer joy to someone currently facing a painful time in their Story?

What is your vision of the best future for our country?

Transitions Can Surprise Us

In the last few months, people I love have been experiencing all kinds of transitions, and I can’t help but be affected. These transitions began around the time of Mom’s memorial service, which was held on May 26. She died on January 2 and was cremated. With her kids and grandkids living in Indiana, Michigan, Texas, New York, Alaska, and Tennessee, we figured it would be good to hold her memorial in late spring in the hope of better travel weather. We chose May 26, which was also significant because it marked 52 years since our dad’s death. Everyone was planning on coming. Having not been together in nearly ten years, we all looked forward to the reunion.

You’ve perhaps heard that saying that when we make plans, God laughs? Well, prepare yourself for some sharp and unexpected turns to those plans. Between January and May, job loss, a surprise job commitment, and a new baby prevented some family members from being able to come. One who did come had been recently diagnosed with a life-changing illness and went home to begin a long course of treatment we pray will work. Another who had mostly removed herself from the family over the last eight years came, and all seemed to be well once again. The one who had looked after Mom since her stroke in 2010 and had planned the service (doing a remarkable job with all of it) is now free and adjusting to that new reality.

And, of course, the big transition we have all been adjusting to over the last few months is the loss of our mom and grandma. The family dynamics have shifted, and we are all gently working to find our place again.

It’s not that I had never experienced change and transition before studying them. But prior to that, they were just events and experiences that happened to people. Before, I didn’t realize there was a difference between change (the event itself) and transition (our emotional and psychological reaction to the event). I had no idea that all transitions in our lives follow the same three stages: something ends, which causes us to enter a time of feeling in-between, followed eventually by a new beginning. And I had no idea that a particular process of writing through transition could be so helpful.

I have been writing about these events and my feelings about them. Most of the transitions are not specifically mine, but they touch me as well because they involve people I love. I wish they would write too, but they’re not inclined to do so. Which is fine. They will deal with their transitions in their own ways—one way or another,we will all get to where we need to go. I’ll be here to support or cheer them on when they need it.

1. Think of an event or experience that changed your life, for better or worse. If you can give it a name, what would it be? Write a letter to it, expressing your feelings about it as honestly as you can.

2. Make a list of five new beginnings over the course of your life. Then for each one, briefly write about what had to end to open up space for the new beginning.

3. Recall a major change in your life, then write for at least 10 minutes on the emotional and psychological transition you had to navigate to finally accept it and enter your new beginning.