“Acting on what we know to be true is the sinew that holds humanity together.”
The moon has watched us come forward and retreat forever. In its light, we rise and fall. In the pause between what has happened and what will be, it is our turn. And today, with all that is happening in our world, I am stopped by someone hesitating to speak the truth. If honest, I have been here, coiling in my own hesitation.
This tension between hesitating and coming forward works us the way a caterpillar recoils in order to move forward as it inches its way along the earth. In just this way, the humble recoil and surfacing of our soul in the lives we’re given takes time—time to try and fail, time to hesitate and then move forward anyway, time to lie and then admit the lie, time to want what we think will save us, only to drop it when we discover that it won’t. What frees us is the turn inward after chasing paradise, when we finally decide to live in the world.
Yet it is not that we hesitate, for that is human. It is when we obey that hesitation that we give power to the dark. Then, we become agents of dissolution. In the tumble of situations that never stop coming, our resilience always constellates around the courage to tell the truth to ourselves, which arises from the courage to see things as they are. And then, of necessity, to speak what is true to each other. But the first condition of authenticity is to listen for what is true. This brings us into the flow of life-force where we can receive it.
To tremble with fear or tenderness or excitement at what life puts in our path is a sign that we are coming alive. The tremble is to be consulted not avoided. And whether it was the early cave person who carved the first flute from a mammoth bone, or the Ukrainian man kneeling before the barrel of a Russian tank, or the young girl who brought the bullied boy a glass of water, or the Lutheran tailor who hid 16 Jews in Nazi-occupied France—acting on what we know to be true is the sinew that holds humanity together.
Each of us is part of this endless coming forward and going back. If we would only talk about how hard it is to keep going, it would help us keep going.
By the time you put this down, another crossroads will present itself in which you and I will have to decide, one more time, whether to hesitate or speak the truth. This is how life draws us out. And how we respond determines the strength of our giving. The terror of being human is that we can allow cruelty to go on in a second. But the treasure of being human is that we can, in an instant, stand between the whip and whipped. And this gritty, noble gesture is the fulcrum on which history turns.
This excerpt is from Mark’s book in progress, Falling Down and Getting Up.
Questions to Walk With
- In your journal, describe a time when you hesitated but then moved forward anyway. What made you hesitate and what made you summon the strength to move forward?
- In conversation with a friend or loved one, describe a time when you needed to stop running in the world and turn inward or a time when you needed to stop retreating into yourself and start living in the world. How did you become aware of your need to act and what did you do?