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  • Writer's pictureNancy Willbern, PhD

Collective Shadow: Part 2

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in

 Musical Lyrics by Leonard Cohen

Original sentiment by Rumi

There is a crack in our Liberty Bell. What a perfect symbol to represent the fault lines that run through the very fabric of our cherished nation.

We can't overlook those fault lines anymore. They have painfully been exposed. We see the cracks. We see the shadow. We feel them deeply and part of us recoils from them. But what does it mean to own responsibility for our country's unconsciousness?

It has to start with an honest look at ourselves. I will start with me.

  I am a White woman who has lived in the South my whole life. I came of age in the 60’s. I witnessed the birth of the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement and the protests against the Viet Nam War. More recently, I have been thrilled at the movement towards Gay Rights and Gay marriage. And because I lived through those historic changes and supported them, I have always felt that I was open to and accepting of diversity. I see now that that assumption is a large part of the current problem. It is a major fault-line that runs through my intellectually-based stance towards inclusion.

  So, here goes - By most impartial standards, I have always been protected and privileged. In the middle of all that protected priviledge, I remember when Blacks had to drink from separate water fountains, use segregated restrooms, could not eat in “our” restaurants, go to “our” movie theaters or “our” schools. As cliché as it sounds now, especially after the movie, The Help, the truth is the closest relationship to a Black person I have ever had was with Mariah, who came to clean our family home every Thursday from the time my mother was in high school until I was a mother of two. I loved Mariah. I adored her. We had a bond. I was forever “her Bug.” But truth be told I didn’t really know much about her as a unique person in her own right. I knew the Mariah that came to our house, who drank out of a pickle jar because she didn’t feel comfortable drinking out of one of “our “glasses, who stood up at the kitchen sink to eat her lunch, who sang “The Old Rugged Cross” when she ironed our clothes and sheets and pillow cases, the one who always wore purple jeweled ear-screws in contrast to her white, starched uniform. I knew the Mariah who made sugar cookies and home-made cinnamon rolls that would melt in your mouth, the one who knew how to cut out a chain of paper dolls from our discarded Houston Post – a newspaper that she, herself could not read. And that is something I didn’t even know about her until I was in college. So, there it is, right there inside of me, a dark corner of my psyche that has hidden inside my own unconscious mind – every bit as unnoticed as our Fore Father’s schism between idealized imaginings while slaves tilled their fields. I spent every Thursday with Mariah for my whole growing up years. I loved her dearly. I loved her soul, but I didn’t know she could not read until I was 19 years old. How could that possibly be? Welcome to my own very personal and deeply humbling, unconscious shadow. This is just the beginning.

  There is so much for me to learn, to be exposed to, to open to, to own about my personal level of unconsciousness. I, like our Fore Fathers don’t even know what I don’t know, but what I do know is that there is a part of me - just underneath the part of me that is afraid of what I will see - that wants to be expanded, that wants to know what it really means to be inclusive and respectful. There is a part of me that wants to see the light pouring through the cracks in my intellectual assumptions. It scares me but gratefully, it is where I am being led.

  It is not my place to suggest what any of you might do to awaken more deeply into the ways that you have shared in our collective slumber. That is between you and your Sacred Connection. But the place to start, should you want to open to it, is to be still, be quiet and just get as honest as you can within yourself. Take it all in. Don’t shrink from what you see. Stay right there in the visceral grip of it all. And as you experience the gnawing pangs that will inevitably arise, then - through genuine honesty and heart-felt humility - ask to be shown where to go from there. That's how the light shines through.

Stock image 272447 from Pixabay


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