After a divisive election and post-election, the world around me was starting to feel like “us vs. them” a lot more than I’m used to. There seemed to be a general sense that we as a whole must eliminate some of our parts in order to be great. This has made me feel surprisingly tender. As I’ve wondered and contemplated my feelings of sadness and agitation, it’s become clear that this world view is at odds with basic principles that I try to hold at my center.
My practice has taught me to view the world has connected or as a whole. Yoga introduces this lesson at the most basic level – our body. We learn to view it as a whole – seeing the connections between our strong legs, stiff back and injured shoulder. Then we step back and begin to sense that we are an even greater whole made up of valuable and profoundly different parts – our mind, our spirit and our body. Next, we realize that our community is put together the same way. In fact, the whole world around us is assembled from an infinite number of wildly different and equally important parts. It’s the very diversity of these parts that makes the whole such a miracle.
As such, my mission within the walls of my home and without has been to find ways to celebrate differences. To realize the benefits of seeking points of connection. To recognize that we can learn from anyone despite differing points of view. Given this, I agreed to take my youngest daughter to the Women’s March in D.C. with some trepidation. I worried about entering into a maelstrom of antagonism. I was afraid I would be joining an “us” that was determined to make others feel like “them.”
I need not have worried. As I moved through the throngs of people, the only identifying factors that made the group feel like an “us” were warm, ready smiles and gentle manners. The police who periodically moved through the crowds were greeted with applause and calls of thanks. A man sat down, feeling faint, and four different groups approached him offering water and sandwiches. Despite being elbow to elbow for hours on end among more than a half million people, it was rare to get bumped or jostled. More often than not, when someone did run into me, they turned immediately with a smile and an apology. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.
The sea of people within which I found myself was made up of a countless members of “them-s” that I’ve been reading and hearing about for months. Gender. Race. Faith. Wealth. Sexual orientation. Generation. Reason for participating in the march (you could tell by the various posters and signs). Even region of the country. In the small group clustered around us were people from Georgia, Nevada, and New York City. Behind me was a gay couple who had been together for almost 40 years. In front of me, a family of three whose husband was holding a sign that said “I’m with her” and had a picture of the smiling toddler his wife was currently carrying through the crowd. To my right was a group of Muslim students. To my left a youth group from a local church.
Indeed nearly every “them” in the book seemed to be represented in the crowd that day. What took my breath away was that “they” were acting a whole lot more like an “us” than they were a group of people divided by differences. In fact, as I stood watching, trying to absorb what felt like an historic experience, that was my biggest take-away. All the “us-es” and “thems” are just people. People who can quite effortlessly come together in a crowd more than ten times the size of a sold-out football game here in Philadelphia to say, “We all matter. We are all important. We are all valuable.” To say, as we heard chanted hundreds of times that day, “This is what democracy looks like.”
I came home re-invigorated and re-inspired by the notions I’ve learned so well on my yoga mat. As often as I might wish away my sore hip or my sticky upper back, this is shortsighted. After all, my body would be woefully incapacitated without either of these parts, no matter how irritating they can be. Similarly, this great country is the miracle it is because of each and every one of us. No matter which “them” we identify with, it’s trumped by a much greater “us.”
And that is what democracy looks like. It looks beautiful. It looks like the melting pot described in the verse on the base of the Statue of Liberty. It looks diverse in beliefs, faiths, wealth, address and a million other ways. It looks like kindness, manners, respect and open hearts. As a whole, it looks like hope.