Don’t try to change the world, for God’s sake.

Trying to change the world is like slamming the door in the face of someone who just knocked,

someone asking for food and water, asking for help, asking to be known and held.

Try to understand the world, and maybe change will follow.

The amount your world is able to change is directly proportional to how much of it you are willing to understand,

which is how much you are willing to hold,

not hold as in “be responsible for,” hold as in “be with.”

And stop trying to change yourself, too, while you’re at it.

Try to understand yourself, that’s all, and trust that the changes you think you’re supposed to make will follow understanding,

and consider that perhaps one of the changes you may experience upon devoting yourself to understanding yourself rather than changing yourself will be the disintegration of the imagined imperative to change yourself, which may, in fact, just be a disguised form of self-loathing,


heaving waves of grief that you gotta grieve if you wanna survive.

Why are you trying to change yourself anyway? Is there something wrong with you?

Why are you trying to change the world? Is there something wrong with the world?

There is no wrong, only suffering,

and suffering cannot be made right, or fixed, or transformed without being understood.

In understanding, there is healing.

Without understanding, your attempts at change just perpetuate the very thing you are hoping to change. You gotta understand, first.

What is understanding?

It’s like truth and reconciliation, Mr. Stevenson told me.

Reconciliation is the incidental result of truth. Truth is the way.

Don’t concern yourself with reconciliation, which is not up to you, which is out of your control.

Concern yourself only with truth, trusting that reconciliation,

just like the change you imagine the world needs, or you need,

will follow.

Reconciliation cannot come before truth, Mr. Stevenson said. We were walking down to the port on the Alabama River where the whites shipped in the blacks like cattle and took them to market.

You gotta start with the truth, which is to start with that feeling in your chest.

What is the truth, and how do you feel about it?

Did you think your feelings about it were irrelevant? Dismissable? Avoidable?

Were you taught that your feelings were untrustworthy and undesirable? That you can transcend them?That they obscure the truth?

It’s one thing to know what you know about how you got to be where you are,

and it’s another thing entirely to feel what you feel about it,

and until you feel it, till we feel it, we cannot get anywhere new. Cannot change.

We gotta feel it to heal it.

I gotta know how you feel, you feel me? How else can I really understand where you are?

If I don’t understand where you are, how can I understand where I am?

Where you are has everything to do with where I am, and me for you, too.

That’s understanding, which is how the world will change:

the willingness to feel what’s really here, in you and in me, in us,

and the ability to be with it, no answers, no solutions or prescriptions, no analyses, no escape,

like playing a high-velocity game of chicken with your own instinct to abort the work of being with what is.

You gonna flinch? You gonna dodge?

Eternal, unshakeable listening is understanding.

And when you start to shake from what you hear,

then shake. Really shake. Yes! Be shaken, get shook up.

That’s understanding, too.

Understanding is not some clean, sterile data set, antiseptic, antibiotic.

Understanding is a howl and a scream.

Understanding is getting seen and held in the rage,

is holding another in the rage, so they can grieve what’s underneath, and holding them in that, and grieving with them for God’s sake, for all our sakes,

receiving the gift of their truth.

Understanding is filthy,

is shit and piss,

is tumors and broken bones,

is getting old and misunderstood and mistaken,

is the utterly unresolved, the unreconciled

Truth. Understanding.

Then, maybe, reconciliation.

But that’s not up to you, or me. All we can do is truth. Reconciliation happens on its own, cannot be forced or coerced by any of us. Can only be invited. Waited for. Prayed over, courted, and sung to. Trusted.

Don’t try to understand the world with the intention to change it, knowing that understanding might bring about change.

That’s not understanding, man.

That’s slamming the door in the face of the one who is knocking,

and you are the one who is knocking.

That’s cowardice, which is understandable.

That’s disrespect, which is hard to bear, but understanding bears it.

Respect the world, in all our disease and suffering.

Respect by doing the work of understanding,

which is the work of asking questions,

the work of wondering and not knowing and openness and trusting and hush.

The work of love—love as work, not as reward, gratification, orgasm—

the love that asks a flailing, frothing, freaked out world:

Why are you the way you are?

What have you experienced that made you so?

What are you asking for?

What do you need, really, deeply need?

The love that says I am here for you, with you, always.

And when I’m not, I’m sorry.

I’m trying.

I’m afraid.

And I’m here now and I’m not going anywhere, God willing,

with you, with me, with us,



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