I wrote this spoken word over the summer as the keynote address at The Bonner Foundation’s annual Summer Leadership Institute. The theme was Uncharted: Reimagining Your Work, and I wanted to share my encouragement to them with this campus community. I hope it speaks to you!
I am not a procrastinator. My capacity to over achieve makes me just the opposite.
But I uncharacteristically found myself hesitant to write this piece. Scared to admit that I was in a service rut, that maybe I needed to reimagine my work. That I needed to remember that just because there aren’t always happy endings doesn’t mean I can’t fight for them.
When I hear uncharted I think of an adventure unmapped out. And, if you’ve ever driven along the beach you may know what I am talking about. Deep ruts are formed in the sand by vehicles that have come before you.
The thing is, once you have chosen a track, you are in it. You go where they lead you. Life-fulfilling work often becomes a rut leading to exhaustion and disillusionment. Without maintaining proper perspective, dedication to social justice can lead to impatience, frustration … despair.
Uncharted means something unfamiliar, unknown, strange, unmapped. Places our minds don’t wander because we can’t let ourselves believe that. It’s the holding back of our imagination that keeps us motionless and dazed, attempting to change the status quo by thinking the same– it’s insane.
I don’t know about you, but I can find myself hesitant to hope. So overcome by the world’s challenges that I struggle to daydream no matter how “woke.” But, if we are awake enough to notice the crushing burdens, can we also allow ourselves to daydream different versions?
I hope what I am about to share will awaken something we often let harden, genuine pure vision and the feeling of freedom to imagine. It doesn’t mean you aren’t cognizant of the world’s pain, it means you’ll meet it with passion. We are hardwired to seek out liberty.
Freedom is the stepping stone to live how we were made, to embrace the weights of life beautifully unafraid.
Let me tell you a secret. I have always been so jealous of birds. Flying flapping farther just towards … Towards what I’d never know but I can see them now, disappearing past the treeline as far as the sky allows.
I’d think about them all the time, the joy of hollow bones, the joy of air-filled feathers, the joy of being let alone.
It wouldn’t be a normal day if I didn’t try to at least connect the dots,
If I didn’t try to reason how they’ve achieved freedom when we’ve so painfully not.
Why do they dance in the light as my brothers and sisters duck and run, fleeing from brutality, another victim of a gun.
Why are they free to travel at a whim, when stolen land is guarded and fellow humans demeaned by the term alien?
Why are they free to eat and live in community, untouched by invisible lines, when people are still saying law and order, confusing poverty with crime.
I mean isn’t that our life’s work? At the core we’re all the same. Aching for value, aching to be known beyond our names.
Aching for freedom, bowed down with the stress.
And I hate to say this, but I’ve learned true freedom isn’t weightless.
Do me a favor.
Sit back and imagine the silence of a long day done, what feelings and thoughts swarm as time rides the setting sun?
Do you still dream?
Do you, even after this year?
Or is your freetime filled with distraction, long streams of black–
Hours marked by endless static, exhaustion staring back?
I am well acquainted with the dark; I think we all are.
Running our hands along the walls of life searching for the light,
Feeling so trapped and burdened we wouldn’t dare imagine flight.
The dissatisfaction we feel is like autumn’s first frost, a warning death is coming and that we ought to count the cost.
But how do we count the sacrifice? When’s the last time you were sure? Or is your life’s purpose becoming more cloudy and obscure?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt defeated. I felt the weight of needed change make me want to retreat in.
And, I hate to say this, but I’ve learned true freedom isn’t weightless.
I’ve learned that even though the goal, freedom isn’t the end, but the start.
Yet, how will we know what to build if our dwelling is in the dark?
We’ve spent so long drawing battle plans, knowing how far there is to go, but have you let yourself imagine when oppression stops stepping on our toes?
Have you let yourself imagine total understanding of mental health, or the words no mass shootings this year or the start of generational wealth?
I tear up with wonder thinking of the bills that I could see pass, the abolition of prisons, the dismantling of class.
Long-awaited reparations, no more metaphors of boots and straps. Just a world steeped in love, not so pressed at giving back.
I wonder then what will we do with all our time?
Dreams are as big as the space we make to hold them. And I firmly believe that we don’t choose them– we’re chosen.
There is nothing more beautiful than knowing we are poem made flesh. Unbridled emotion striving to do our best.
When the day comes I challenge you to envy trees, not birds. They bear fruit every year, unrivaled, undeterred.
They touch the ground and grow towards the sky, an eye on both. Knowing freedom is made of winter winds and sweet summer growth.
This balance can seem cruel, that liberty is freedom to build, but it is in a mix of rest and work that we are best fulfilled.
When the day comes that our dreams are reality, I pray our roots run deep. That our leaves grow full and wide with shade, that we aren’t known by retreat.
Let freedom sting.
Let it remind us we’re alive. Let it remind us that no matter how tired, we tried.