Photography by Annie Spratt / Unsplash
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One of my first jobs in Conflict Resolution was as a facilitator for a process bringing representatives of two small villages together. Two villages, separated by two miles, in the north of Ireland: one village identifying as British, the other Irish. A long-lasting ease between the two villages was shattered during a summer of violence and threat. So, I was part of the team that helped support conversations.
We met every Wednesday night for about eight months. We chose a venue that was seen as trustable by everyone. The aim was simply to address the kind of suspicion that had, once again, begun to take root. Everybody in the room had already lived through much civic strife. They weren’t just troubled by the violence between their locations; they were exhausted that it was happening again.
It was painful work, and moving. Some nights seemed like we weren’t making progress. Other nights helped. Week by week, over those months, from autumn to winter to spring, we found ways where individuals in the group could open up, or could ask complicated questions of each other. I learned so much from that group. They had no interest — or ability — in undoing the past. What they were interested in doing was inhabiting the present with kindness, humor, truth-telling, and courage. They used storytelling to mark their loss, to mark their courage and their connection. We had nights where the loss was too much to talk about, so we spoke about other things. There’s no point forcing this kind of work; it needed hospitality, not demand.
Our On Being episode this week is a revisiting of Krista’s conversation with Kevin Kling from 2012. He’s a humorist and storyteller, performer and activist, well known in and beyond his home of Minneapolis for his work in theater and radio. Having been born with a disabled left arm, he subsequently lost the use of his right arm in a motorcycle accident in his 40s. Hearing how you’re spoken about, he says, gives you information about the person speaking. This gives him insight into the power dynamics of storytelling: who is establishing themselves as the narrator, how they are making the characters speak, what they are attributing to the characters, who they blame.
Throughout the episode, Kevin Kling’s humor shines through. But deeper than that, we hear his profound wisdom about living with loss. After his accident, he recognizes that his loss brought him into contact with other losses. Looking back, he realized that he’d been running away from people for a lot of his life, and that now was a time to return. “I’ve started to embrace people I used to run from, my parents and my grandparents, understanding them on another level, understanding the choices that they made at times.” In this, we realize that loss has deep intuition embedded into it, if we can find the right time and space to listen.
We recognize — and can hear from many listeners — the impact of the loss of the past 18 months, as well as the concern about what might be around the corner with Covid. Kevin Kling’s insight about pain sitting in the body, as well as the importance of acknowledging anger, is a helpful guide for us in this.
Loss can be supported by places of trust, by acknowledging the things loss faces us with, by finding a way to live fruitfully with the energy of anger, and also by humor. Throughout this conversation, Kevin Kling highlights how laughter is just a way of life, and how the telling of a story can be a way to live with loss. Not to minimize it, or to solve it, but to find a way of thriving in the here-and-now. Story and humor are part of being shaped in the image of a Creator, for him: “the thing that I love about the idea of God, then, is that, you know, as a creator, your creations continue to surprise you.”
Kevin Kling’s insight about how telling stories is a creative gathering force speaks to the heart of what we aim for at On Being. We hope that gathering places can be places of connection, yes; but also places where powers and presumptions are undone, and places where griefs can be acknowledged, their burdens can be laid down — if only for a while — and where the possibility of spiritual and bodily rest can be honored. Wherever you find such place of retreat, amidst all the demands and losses of this last year, we wish you the deepest hospitality in order to experience the deepest rest.
Pádraig Ó Tuama
host of Poetry Unbound
The Wisdom App Is In the World
The Wisdom app is a new adventure: curated learning; new teaching and reflections from Krista; guided contemplative exercises; and events with other members to build a community of accompaniment. You can download the app and sample the first course — Hope Is a Muscle — in the App Store (if you have an iPhone) or the Google Play Store (Android). Search “On Being Wisdom,” download, and begin. Become a member there, or join through the On Being website, where you can also learn more about our Fair Pricing. All members will receive an invitation to our first Practice Space on Tuesday, August 17th.
Read Krista’s note about why this project and why now, or watch our July app launch event to learn more.
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“The Losses We Grow Into”
The humorist on the losses we’re born with & the losses we grow into. Why we laugh, & why we turn these things into stories.