September 2016 Theme: Grapple

September 1, 2016

Join us this 2016-2017 academic year, as we take time each month to reflect on a theme as a learning community. Hear from students in a personal reflection on the theme, as they consider how the concept applies to their life and work. See here for an overview of these themes, which will also be highlighted in each month's school e-newsletter.

The theme for our school community this September 2016 is "Grapple." Our Communities, neighbors, and environments hold many different needs and stories. Together, we grapple with who we are and how we engage with one another.

Download (& save or print!) a PDF of this September 2016 Calendar

Student Mariah Ramirez has written this month's personal reflection--speaking from the heart about her own life and spiritual perspective. Mariah is a student in the MA in Couples & Family Therapy program.

 


Grapple

By: Mariah Ramirez

My heart sighs when I think about mountains. I grew up traversing the craggy spine of the Rockies in Montana, and as I got older, rock climbing began to captivate me. Before I became one, I saw rock climbers as a wild breed of humans with no fear. Everything about them was rugged, rapscallion, intense. These were things I wanted desperately to be, but felt I was too calculating, too cautious to be such an adventurer.

The first time I sat at the top of a 300-foot cliff, my jaw slack with the effort to find breath for the climb and the view, I saw in myself the trait I had missed in my observations of the “real” climbers – the necessary capacity to make decisions about balance. Climbing, I began to understand, relies completely on one’s ability to decide whether a ledge will provide the stability it takes to reach the next one, whether a narrow shelf of stone will give under the pressure of discerning fingertips. I quickly learned that moving higher required testing my weight against the rock, ensuring the choices I made with my hands and feet would hold me.

The social issues that I have begun to wrestle as a young, white, educated woman have caused me to carry out this same task: ensuring the work of my hands and the paths I choose to walk are ones that will hold weight and movement. The work of addressing problems and questioning my paradigms drives me upward, not only teaching me what I’m capable of, but providing me with a point of view that allows me to see a much larger landscape.

Was I immediately gifted at this skill of finding balance on rock faces? No. In fact, I was often paralyzed by the fear that I would fail. My efforts to continue striving were fueled by the very distinct motivation that there would always be someone there to help me. I had to trust that whoever was holding my rope would catch me if I fell, that I could believe them when they told me I could make it past areas I thought were too difficult. Despite the hesitation, the learning curve, and the very real danger of moving in the wrong direction, I kept tackling the difficult climbs and learning how to challenge my sense of security. My determination to become a person of integrity in a muddy, perplexing social climate has followed this selfsame pattern – the fear that I would fail, the resolve to face my weaknesses, the steadfast patience of beautiful friendships. I have been given the gift of being uncomfortable. I have been given the responsibility to make others uncomfortable. And I am learning to have the courage to confront my own contradictions of class, race, and privilege.

Robert Green Ingersoll, the renowned 19th century orator and social activist, once said, “Courage without conscience is a wild beast.” Indeed, for all my supposed bravery, I cannot dive into battles for justice, equality, and human rights with no sense of direction. I cannot simply change my mindset because it is what everyone else is doing. If it is to last, the change that occurs in me must come from a true conversion of heart, and mine is a stubborn one. Yet I am equal parts princess and pauper, swan and ugly duckling. For all my privilege, I too have struggled. For the times I have been the forgotten, the persecuted, the beaten down, I must recognize that I have also been the remembered, the persecutor, and the one holding the club.

I am learning to traverse this uneven ground, to press off from the certain footing of old truths to reach for something higher. The following is a reflection I penned at Café Vita the night Capitol Hill threw a farewell tribute to pop legend Prince. As I watched people interact through the windows, I was struck by the differences between them, the tangled dichotomies embodied in the man begging for a meal outside of Poquitos, girls in fiercely deliberate style stepping over the legs of the barefooted woman huddled beneath a street lamp. In prose, I tried to capture my internal struggle, my efforts to hold ground in my mind for all of humanity and to reach for a truth I have yet to see clearly. Perhaps you have grappled with these things, too?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

We can carve an idol out of fear and call it God.
- Det Sjunde Inseglet (The Seventh Seal), 1957

In the bleak, tired hollow of a twilit evening, I sit at the edge of my sanity and consider the ground below. How did I come to be here? I ponder, brushing crumbs off my sleeve, When did it all begin to look this way?

Shrapnel from my shattered paradigms ricochets off the corners of my skull, the constant battering that has kept me restless for weeks. Does one decide when to take control of the mind? Or is the mind, in its infinity, too wild to be tamed?

It continues to strike me as odd that the voices around me seem so enthused about the most mundane of life’s situations. The weekend’s plans, the course of a work week, the “oh-my-God-I-can’t-believe-she-just.” So many hours of their lives spent on the frivolity of disagreement, the vanity of appearance and status, the woeful waste of decent minds on the intricate details of deciding where to eat dinner.

I struggle alongside them; I have crafted a way of surviving surrounded by the monotony of life lived without purpose. But look, how much I have been given! Beside the dull ache of the commonplace, I am allowed and invited to explore the extraordinary! I am equipped with all the tools to build a way of being established on a drive for more than what is sold, given, or withheld on the streets, more than the image and likeness of a hesitancy to live. Amid the crowds that hail position – portraits of themselves as young and cavalier, pretenses kept up to impress the mindless masses – could this castle of cards that I’ve delicately pieced together remain intact?

Where does my heart live, I wonder? Where does my loyalty lie?

I fancy myself more in line with the souls of the forgotten than the playacting of the privileged. I can find a smile in faces wrought with sorrow faster than I can see hurt in the eyes of those for whom comfort is a matter of course. But am I so noble? Do I not enjoy, even sacrifice for, the meal artfully prepared, the wine whose name I can’t pronounce, the more succulent of life’s finer offerings? While I tout my willingness to engage the underbelly of society, I enjoy the elevated ability to move freely between the strata. Yet how close I now stand to both ends of the perilous spectrum. How very nearly destitute and so very nearly prosperous.

I suppose that it is fitting, in times such as this, that I have ended up in a coffee house, as so many overthinking intellectuals do. Perhaps to look down on the plebeian multitudes and place myself above them, in written word and in acted deed. Perhaps to assure myself that I am still striving for meaning in a world seemingly avoidant of such a notion.

Perhaps to, with tactless abandon, take stock of how I relate to the world.

Here, I find my penance and my prerogative. Here, I find the persistence of pain and the ongoing uncertainty of my moral code. Above all, I find a lack of clarity, a continuation of the hazy reluctance that has fogged my vision like smoke. Can I be said to have overcome fear when all my operations are saturated in distress over my discomfort?

Beginning to lose hope of resolution, and battling a headache that threatens both my acuity and my patience, I gather my belongings, tuck them away, and resolve to keep treading my narrow strip of stability as I venture back into the raucous world outside.