The highest form of love is the love that allows for intimacy without the annihilation of difference.~ Evelyn Fox Keller
I hope this letter finds you well. We just returned from our all-school trip to Montgomery, Alabama last week and there is much to share. These intergenerational learning trips are rich with many precious experiences, far too many to speak to in depth here. There was one experience that really sticks in my mind and my heart. I know there are a lot of feelings, complexities, and politics around what I am about to talk about. With all of that said, I feel it is worth acknowledging.
The purpose of our trip was to explore the intersection of art and social justice in the context of the Civil Rights Movement. We went to the Legacy Museum, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the Equal Justice Initiative, Mothers of Gynecology monument, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NewSouth Bookstore, and more. We were even able to have a Zoom call with the Ghanaian sculpture artist Kwame Akoto-Bamfo who was involved with the Legacy Museum and memorial. We offered him a song at the end of our time together, and he was so moved that he invited us to collaborate on a current project. It was pure magic. And there was more.
Given the places and content that we were exploring, on the Thursday night of our trip we very quickly became aware that a man was being executed using nitrogen gas. The method of execution was an experiment that had never been tried before. I read some on the method and on the crime that this man allegedly committed, and, given the complexity and tragedy of the circumstance, it still remains hard for me to believe that the United States is only one of four countries in the West that still retains the death penalty for ordinary crimes.
I spent a great deal of time working on prisoner’s rights and prison reform in my late 20s and 30s in Colorado. I started a chapter of Coloradans Against the Death Penalty; I was on the Board of Directors for a “books for prisoners” program; I facilitated a support group for those living with HIV in a county jail in the late 90s; I worked with a group of lawyers, judges, and community members to explore using restorative justice practices in juvenile courts; I communicated through letters with a man on death row in Texas in the 90s for five years before he was executed; and I attended protests and visited prisons, including the Supermax in Colorado. Why did I do all of this? Because life is a human right, love is a responsibility, and just because a person behaves very, very badly – horrendously even – does not mean I need to do the same. Love is better than that, and I am called by a power greater than myself to love this world.
I can remember once testifying at the Capitol in Denver when I was in my late 20s regarding the death penalty (which is no longer legal in Colorado). There was an attorney there testifying, and I still remember what he said: If his mother was killed by the hands of someone else, he would want the person who did it, dead. Then he added something like: But that does not mean we should kill that person. He distinguished between his imagined feelings of anger and desperation, and what ultimately was the right action to take – the action with the most integrity. He basically said that we cannot remedy one horrific act with another.
The Thursday night that we were on our all-school trip, someone let us know that the execution was moving forward and that the appeal to the Supreme Court had failed. It got very quiet in that corner of the room, and some teens and adults gathered around. I suggested that we sit in silence as the silence can hold it all – all of the complexities, feelings, thoughts, opinions. So, we lit a candle, and we sat together. After a while, we started to talk. Some cried, others tried to make sense of it by sharing their thoughts, and one young man suggested that we sing to send some “good vibrations” to those who suffer, including the man being executed. Vulnerably, this young man led the learning community in the song “When I Rise,” uniting us in our shared work of learning how to love ourselves, each other, and this world. I felt honored to be with young people who can sit with each other in such difficulty and complexity and rise in service to a more loving and vital world through silence, allowing, and song.
We are committed to building a strong and lasting intergenerational, vitality-centered learning community here in Floyd, VA. We celebrate the ten years of experimentation that got us to this place, and we are excited about what is ahead in our learning community. We have an inspiring vision, a clearer mission, and a strategy that includes goals and objectives we have spent months working to craft. We need Springhouse, and we need more places like Springhouse that invite us to learn how to navigate complexity, grow compassion, be creative, and foster life. One person and one community at a time, we can move toward a world where all life thrives.
No matter where you are, you can be a part of this effort. Learn about our online and on-campus offerings and our school for teens and adults. If you would like to support our work consistently, please become a partner. Your ongoing support gives us some financial predictability as we commit over the long haul to be the strongest intergenerational learning community we can be and to support others as they build communities that take better care of Life.
We know that we cannot force the outcomes of our shared work, but we can give it our all. We commit to doing that, and we remain very grateful for your support.
With great love and appreciation,