A Letter from Brandon Dennison – Healing in 2021

What follows is a letter I wrote to the Coalfield team:

Our intention, our theme, for 2021 has been healing: healing for our country, for our planet, and for ourselves. By Spring, it felt like we might just be getting there. Vaccine lines were long. Earth Day had a bigger focus than usual. And here at Coalfield Development, we were doing a lot of reflection and journaling towards some very genuine healing within ourselves.

However, by late summer things started to feel just as hectic (and broken) as ever. The delta variant had begun ripping through our country. One morning, while driving my son to preschool, I noticed traffic was insane near the hospital. I assumed it was a wreck, but to my surprise, it was the long lines for COVID testing. On yet another morning, my wife and I fretted over the risk of our son getting stuck at preschool due to flash flooding and our not being able to get to him. This came on the heels of yet more news that fires and floods are raging across the globe and emissions are up this year over last. There is also this strange political dynamic in which a large percentage of the country is convinced our president didn’t win the election. Even with no actual evidence of this occurrence, some politicians are using this idea as justification for new laws aimed at restricting voting rights.

Given all of this (in addition to whatever personal stress you’re experiencing in your life), it is totally understandable for all of us to be feeling down right now.

In the face of so much turmoil – turmoil in our world and turmoil in ourselves – how can healing even become possible? Step one is being honest about what’s broken, what’s hurting, what’s causing pain in the first place. At a recent Coalfield Council Day, we had a deep discussion about the difference between a wound and a scar. Sometimes we lie to ourselves and say we’ve healed, that “those are just old scars,” when in fact we’re dealing with still-open and quite painful wounds. Healing will take honesty. Healing will require strong integrity to the principles we hold dear.

It will require strong integrity to who we really are.

Climate change, threats to democracy, racism, the opioid epidemic, the COVID pandemic – these are open, hurting wounds. Let us acknowledge these wounds. But let us not become overwhelmed by them. Let us not become paralyzed by fear. At Coalfield Development we talk a lot about courage. Courage is not just for famous people on big stages or generals on battlefields. Living a full life, overcoming barriers, and striving to achieve our full potential, takes a lot of courage.

It’s easier to have this courage when we’re not alone. So, we also talk a lot about community here too. You are not alone. You are part of a courageous, creative community that exists to cultivate opportunity for you and for your neighbors. Your community believes in you and we are so glad you are part of us.

So we acknowledge what open wounds we have. We honor all we’ve learned from life while we reflect on old scars as reminders.

And we work.

We take the potential in our minds and the power in our hearts, and we put our hands to work rebuilding our community to be better than it ever was before.

What human minds and hearts and hands are capable of is astounding. For all the pain in the world right now, there is even more evidence of human possibility. The vaccine works, and it was rolled out in record time. Clean energy, for the first time ever, produced more energy than fossil fuels this year. Everyday people, often with very limited financial means, are fighting back against injustices.

You might look at this and feel as though it is only a small drop in the massive bucket of despair. I disagree. All the bad news just means we have more work to do.

If we’re stressed and worried about something, it’s almost always true that once we are at work on a solution, we’ll start to feel better about things. It’s only when we become paralyzed, when we sit still  and brood, when we disengage and complain, that we get overwhelmed. When we do what we can with what we have (no matter how small), and especially when we do what we can as part of a larger effort (a broader community), we reconnect with purpose and meaning.

And this action grows our hope.

In many ways, the right to despair is a privilege. Many around the world, and some among us, are merely trying to survive: to find shelter, to gather enough food for the family not to starve, to get just one more day in the face of grave illness. These folks do not have time to feel despair. They only have time to make the next move and to keep moving forward. And I’ve been amazed again and again over the course of my life by how the poorest of the poor are often the most joyful, resourceful, and inspiring among us. Those of us blessed with abundance must steward such resources with humility, persistence, and hope. We must put our hands to work building the community we all deserve.

There is no time for despair.

So as 2021 begins to closeout, we return to where we started: healing. Wounds remain open. So, it’s our job to honestly acknowledge those wounds and do our part to heal them.

In doing our part for our community and for our world, I’ll bet we start to feel the wounds within ourselves begin to heal as well.

Written by Brandon Dennison

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