What’s the Big Idea?

There are those right now who are asking us to be bigger people. Us as a country, as a society, to be bigger. To expand, to embrace a bit of discomfort, to open up, breathe deep until it hurts, stand up taller until we feel our spines unfurl, look around longer and harder. At our own communities, at our own neighborhoods, open the locked drawers where we harbor doubt, fear, suspicion, and the questions we think we've settled long ago. It all requires a willingness to be bigger, nurture new parts, maybe a little judicious pruning.

We realize we've been holding our collective breath for decades, centuries. Desperately trying to find nourishment from depleted soil, we cling to the margins, out of direct sunlight, sucking stale air into atrophied lungs. We get by in our familiar corner of the garden.

Old ideas barely nourish us but we cling to them. We feel spent, angry. We build walls, fences, enforce borders. We have become small, spiteful, petty. We see conspiracies among those thinking and speaking about big change. We insist they're not "us". We can't imagine a bigger world, renewed, cultivated, that include occupants we don't recognize. How are "they" entitled to what we've struggled for just for talking "big", marching, yelling, looting, rioting. Turning over the soil. Weeds.

As the spade gets closer, we get even smaller. We retract into the familiar. What feels right. Where there's no room for these...big ideas. Where we only hear what's comforting, what serves to patch any breach in the wall, the fence, the border.

There is a world asking us to be a bigger people. And there are those familiar voices demanding we remain small.

This tug-a-war, this convulsing, was on view in the park on Sunday, and in the days leading up to a protest in which the world asked us to be bigger. They spoke of expansion vs. contraction. The suffering caused by a society collapsed in on itself. They chant, "we can't breathe". Maybe the virus is a metaphor for a culture suffocating from a lack of imagination.

Aren't all revolutions just a contest between the forces of expansion and the forces of contraction? The fearful hold their breath, the agents of change open their minds and invite us all to breathe deeply with them into something fresh and new, that emerges, often painfully, like a newborn toward possibility. Like a seedling growing into its next pot size.

I say I'm too old. I'm as big as I can get, but thanks for asking. They insist there is room. They say it's not over. I say my wars have been waged, even the wars against wars. They say this war has been raging while I was making other plans, creating millions of casualties right under my marching feet. Right in my own neighborhood. They say, breathe that in, stay big, stay open, expand until it hurts. Don't get small on us. We need you.

It is easier for us to remain small. Where the world is like a familiar room and the shelves are full of familiar things. Where everyone looks like us, talks like us, and knows the value of a wall, a fence, a border. Where we're all small, predictable and breathing the same stale, recycled oxygen.

In March I planted two tomato plants in my garden box like I do every year. It's now July and they've grown a little, made a few tomatoes. I harvested a few but some animal got to most of them, the rest will never ripen. I ripped them out by the roots on Sunday. Next year maybe I'll actually feed them, replace the soil, try a few new pruning techniques. Maybe they'll get bigger. That would be lovely.

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