Years ago, a good friend and I hiked the cliff trail on the Cornwall coast in England from Land’s End to Padstow and back, then further to Tintagel—over 100 miles—and it all but destroyed me, as I was wearing new hiking boots I’d neglected to break in before the trip. By Padstow, my Achilles’ heels were rubbed raw, leaving me just about crippled at the end of our trek.

sigh… 

So when the goats broke out of their pen the other day, and I caught them out in the garden beds munching away on the new greens, I forgot about my chronic injury and heedlessly ran out to rescue the garden, stomping and yelling and chasing them down the hill. I also forgot that goats are smarter than me and that they laugh at outraged humans who run after them, so for them it was an amusing game—beh! beh! beh!—and they jumped right back over the fence while I limped, with my re-inflamed heels, back up the hill. 

I am a slow learner, it seems, and I have to live again with one of my repeated injuries and the burning pain that halts me in my tracks just when I need to be moving fast. Damn!

So I’ve been wondering about intelligent self-protection in these hard times; about mutual benefit; about combatting the harm we inadvertently do to ourselves and one another since our competitive system encourages it. 

And I think about shame. 

For example, in Cornwall I could have explained to my friend that I needed a day to go inland to buy some cheap rubber sandals to save my burning feet, but I was ashamed to admit I’d been stupid enough to bring stiff new shoes to a 100 mile hike! I know better, right? It wasn’t the first time I had shamed myself by not paying attention to the obvious and then been witnessed as a loser. 

 It might have been very embarrassing for me to make the request, but we’d have worked it out. As it was, I said nothing and trudged on, pretending I was just fine and could keep up.

If Herb had been with us in Cornwall—or here when I ran after the goats—he no doubt would have stopped me. He learned self-protection early on, fleeing from Nazi Germany as a child with his family and managed to survive unthinkable horrors, one after another, and learned how to take care of himself. After 58 years together I miss him every day, but I’m grateful he doesn’t have to witness the current versions of political madness for the second time in his life. It would have broken his heart, I think, as he truly believed in the country that saved him and his family when they fled for their lives. 

I wonder, does every generation have to go through these sorrows that makes us feel afraid and ashamed? I will not believe we are incapable, as a species, of mutual care and compassion, of intelligent creativity, of gratitude and love. We depend upon one another for life, after all, and we depend upon the health of the earth itself for our survival, but we are taught to ‘compete for the gold’ to ‘fight and win’ to impress and overwhelm our friends. We are brought up for war. Such a waste of energy, it seems to me, as all I really want is to belong to the people I love and to be loved in return, and not feel ashamed for wishing that.

And still, I live with the struggle for self-acceptance, even at this age, and the simple wish to love and be lovable—even when I zone out and bring the wrong shoes.

Here on the farm we are trying to counter our society’s pattern by living together and getting to know one another across lines of culture and color and belief system—not so easy during a lockdown! Each of us comes from people who have historically been harmed by poverty, racism or violence, and each of us, I would venture to say, suffers from some version of feeling inadequate or scared amongst the others. Certainly, angry—and with reason.

We descend from Africans, native Americans, Middle Easterners, Asians, Europeans East and West, South and Central Americans—all lands that have been colonized by force. (Imagine the inherent shame for those who have been colonized.) Our ancestors all arrived at some point in time to this continent, either brought against their will or fleeing for their lives from poverty or terror. Some came earlier, others came—or were forcibly brought—more recently; some have light skin and others rich brown, but none of our ancestors were exempt from suffering. Not one.

We are a melting pot of survivors who have been through exceptional horrors, separately and together, and we each have been informed by the experiences of our lives. As we heal ourselves of our traumas, I believe we heal one another, embracing our collective shames and terrors and rocking in one another’s arms, weeping and singing until we can take big breaths of forgiveness and self-forgiveness. We have all been hurt and we can all be healed when we do so together. 

I believe we are amazing, every one of us! We have survived despite attempts to enslave us, erase us, humiliate us but we are still here, bruised and inflamed and outraged, but not broken! We have nothing to be ashamed of, especially if we still can laugh and cry, because we have been tested and tried and we have come through true.

Take a breath. Take a bow.