I came across the above quote and it really stuck with me. Feeling lonely is one of the worst feelings in the world. It’s different from feeling alone, but they often can go together.
I heard the phrase “don’t leave us alone” quite a bit this week as I listened to people in Ukraine, which occupies the world stage at this moment. Everyone is talking about what is happening there—sharing videos, links, you name it. And yet still, Ukraine is alone fighting a man gone mad. The country is fighting evil and insanity.
I must admit, I’ve struggled this week to make sense of what’s going on. I’ve struggled to stay hopeful. At times I’ve been deeply moved and inspired, and other times, I’ve felt deeply sad and heartbroken.
As I listened to President Biden speak last Tuesday about the state of our union, the state of global unrest, and the state of division in America, I couldn’t help but think about the state that each of us finds ourselves in at this moment. As he made an appeal for his new “unity agenda,” I couldn’t help but think about how disconnected so many of us are, and how lonely so many people feel. I couldn’t help but think about the idea of being unified within oneself.
I found myself thinking not only about what unifies me within, but what unifies me to you. I found myself wondering whether we the people have what it takes to stand up to division—to rise above our frustrations, our fears, and our exhaustion so that we can truly embrace a unity agenda like the president challenged us to do.
“Let’s stop seeing each other as enemies, and start seeing each other for who we are—fellow Americans,” Biden said on Tuesday. “We can’t change how divided we’ve been. But we can change how we move forward—on COVID-19 and other issues we must face together… It is important for us to show the nation that we can come together and do big things… It is in this moment that our character is formed. Our purpose is found. Our future is forged… Now is our moment to meet and overcome the challenges of our time. And we will, as one people. One America.”
Tell me: Did the president’s words speak to you? Did they move your heart? Do you buy into his vision that we can be one people, one America? Or do his words fall on deaf ears?
I know some people say we are hopelessly divided, but I really hope we can find our way forward and become a more unified country. Presidents are at their best when they call on each of us, when they paint a picture of who we are in our hearts. They are at their best when they can help us visualize their vision and believe in where they want to take us as a nation. I was encouraged to learn that, following his address to the nation, President Biden had a historic jump in his approval rating, which I believe means we're more unified than we think.
During Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s 2019 inauguration speech, which went viral this past week, he challenged each of his countrymen and women to see themselves as the president of their country. He told his fellow citizens, “I do not want my picture in your offices: the President is not an icon, an idol, or a portrait. Hang your kids’ photos instead, and look at them each time you are making a decision.” This past week, he also challenged his citizens to see themselves as “warriors of their country,” a call which many of them have answered.
Zelenskyy’s messages have deeply resonated with me. See yourself as the president, as the leader, and as a warrior. Know what you are fighting for. Realize what’s on the line. I believe that such a leader lies within each and every one of us. Each of us is capable of being both a warrior and a messenger of hope and compassion. We are each capable of defending, protecting, and lighting the way forward. We are each capable of putting one’s country above all else, especially our own egos, to consider what matters to us collectively as people.
We must feel the connection of ourselves to one another. We have to know what we are willing to put on the line, what we are willing to sacrifice, and what we are willing to die for. So many have died for our country, and so many continue to put their lives on the line every day on our behalf—be it in our military, in our police and fire departments, in our hospitals, in our polling places, in our schools. Can we see that?
There are many ways to fight, but fighting each other will never bring out the best in us. It simply leaves us isolated and alone. Fighting our own goodness, our own light, and our own gentleness is not a fight worth winning.
I know we all have multiple aspects to our personalities. We each have different forces that are competing for our authentic self and personal narrative. As one American Indian proverb states, the self we put forward on a daily basis depends on which “wolf we feed,” the good one or the bad one?
In truth, none of us are black and white. There is more than just light and darkness competing within each of us. Each of us can be brave and terrified, kind and critical, loving and mean, tender and tough, generous and rude (like the congresswoman who screamed at the president during his speech). The state of our inner lives spills out into our public lives every day.
The president is right: We are all tired, frustrated, and scared. But like he also said, we are all capable of seeing ourselves as unified and as one. This will take sacrifice, stillness, surrender, intention, and forgiveness. It will take a determination of spirit. We must each challenge the old within ourselves—our egos and our righteousness—and make space for the new.
To truly respond to the president’s invitation, I can’t see myself as better or smarter than you. I can’t judge you for who you voted for. I can’t shame you on social media. I’ve got to dig deep, rise above, and seek understanding. I’ve got to start seeing us as one. I’ve got to be open to including you in the national narrative, and vice versa. That work—that unraveling and rebuilding—starts inside before it shows up in the world.
Last week, the Ukrainian people showed the world who they are: strong, tough, patriotic, brave, scrappy, strategic, and United (with a capital U). Even while they are being bombed and attacked, the state of their union is awe-inspiring to the world. So is their humanity (just read this piece about Ukrainians returning captured Russian soldiers to their mothers). Perhaps for the first time in history, all of us have a front row seat to the ravages of war. We can see it in real time on our smartphones, on TVs, on TikTok, and Twitter. As Chef José Andrés said to me when I interviewed him about his work in Ukraine and Poland, all the people there realize it could be them. That’s true for all of us. What’s happening there is happening everywhere.
The challenge today, before each of us as Americans, is to show the same unity and strength of character. We must show the same resolve, sacrifice, resilience, and humanity if we want to preserve our democracy and identity. We must show the world that the state of our union is not frayed or divided. We must display to the world who we are—not who we once were, but who we are now. We have no choice but to unite inside and out. Otherwise we will perish from the inside out. It’s that simple.
PRAYER OF THE WEEK
Dear God, please help us dig deep, rise above, and answer the call to unify as people. May we witness our brothers' and sisters’ bravery in Ukraine, see ourselves in them, and show up for each other with that same kind of bravery, strength, and unity. Amen.
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