Say to them,
say to the down-keepers,
“Even if you are not ready for day
it cannot always be night.”
You will be right.
For that is the hard home-run.
Live not for battles won.
Live not for the-end-of-the-song.
Live in the along.
~ Gwendolyn Brooks
Dear Springhouse community,
It has been a while since I have written to you. So much has happened. It always does. Life holds so much. I hope your summer has been fruitful.
This summer, I discovered a poet named Gwendolyn Brooks. I am embarrassed to admit I just discovered this well known poet who wrote 20 books and has the distinction of being the first Black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize. She has been named one of the most influential poets of modern times – and I am just learning about her. I hope you have already read her poetry. It is magnificent. This poem above, Speech to the Young: Speech to the Progress Toward, has been a friend to me as we prepare for our 10th year at Springhouse.
Springhouse has come so far. It amazes me that we have been able to sustain, and even thrive, in a dominant culture where, tragically, thriving is not the norm. Springhouse is committed to building a world where all life thrives, one day at a time, starting with ourselves. We have a strategy that we hope will move us toward this vision – one that we have given much thought and prayer to. We believe we can build this kind of world through:
- Education in a school where teens and adults practice a new way of living and learning over and over again;
- Media in a print shop where we share messages that inform, inspire, and reveal that life is a gift and we must take care of it; and
- A Global Network with people committed to practicing Sourced Design – a cultural design that creates examples of a culture that takes care of Life in ways that respect the uniqueness of people and place.
Culture is created, sustained, and spreads over the long-term through these methods. It starts with an idea, a community taking care of that belief, practicing through education, sharing through media and networks of affiliation, and solidifying through legislation. It has been this way for ages – building culture that takes care of Life and culture that really does not. We can take these methods and use them to create culture that takes care of Life. We can’t do it alone, and it has to start with each one of us living in ways that we hope for the world.
Culture-building is long-term, generational work guided by a mighty, audacious vision. This means we need the wisdom of elders to inspire and guide us on our way. We take the words of elder Gwendolyn Brooks to heart. We accept her invitation to stay strong – to stick with it in the face of nay-sayers, to design communities in new ways even though there are those who would rather stick with the status quo, to be wary of privileging outcomes or end-goals over the process of change (or vice versa), and, as tempting as it may be to think we can do this alone, to hold hands with others and seek joy in hard work.
Change is life. To change our own lives is monumental, let alone a community and culture. There was a time when I thought life was about avoiding pain or orienting around it. Both led to a smaller, self-centered life. When I put Life at the center of my own life’s design, I took better care of my body, I was more reverent, and I grew my self-awareness. I got stronger. I could lift my head and see that life was not all about me or even just the people I knew and loved. There was more to love out there. A community can get stronger too by fostering unity through shared values and practices, respecting and celebrating individuality, and taking care of relationships. For a person or community to live in this way takes practice, which means we need places to practice and people to practice these new ways with. If we do not have this, and mentorship, our personal and collective habits will eat the changes we make for breakfast. I have seen it in my own life and in the countless lives of people and organizations I have worked with.
Brooks calls the presences that keep us from Love and Life the down-keepers, sun-slappers, self-soilers, harmony-hushers. The down-keepers are not only outside of us; the harmony-hushers are in us, too. When I work with these powerful presences in myself, I work with them better outside of myself. In the early days of Springhouse, I remember sharing at a regional meeting, where I was publicly mocked by what Brooks might call a sun-slapper. By some miracle, I took a breath, felt my feet on the ground, thanked the person for sharing, and moved on. I kept my focus on the mission, not the nay-saying. To respond, rather than react, felt like hitting the “hard home-run.” Later, as I reflected on my experience, I found great strength in considering the elders before me, and those today, who fight for Life in much harder circumstances. If they can do what they have done and do, I can certainly be an even stronger advocate for Life through my work at Springhouse.
I think we can all agree that we need to hear words and experience examples that call us to a higher occasion and point us toward what is possible. We will continue to hear what we need to hear to take better care of Life, as long as we need to hear it. For some mysterious reason, Life just does that. It finds a way through the cracks. It lights the way in the dark. There is much evidence that points to this, including how Brooks’ poem still finds its way to us and to young people. When I shared Speech to the Young with my daughter via text, she texted back, “Oh, I have heard that poem. It became a really popular Tik Tok!”
Springhouse is a cultural experiment – with a school to practice, a print shop to spread the message (with the 2nd edition of our book for sale now!), and a global network to connect us in the practice of Sourced Design beyond our high school or 8-month cultural design program for adults. Thank you for, as Brooks says, “living in the along” with us. We hope to see you along the way.
In solidarity and with love,