Skin of the earth

I woke up this morning to the picture of dead bodies in Nice.

I woke up to a heartfelt plea by a former student, laying bare her pain and asking those that love her to surround her and lift her up.

I woke from a dream in which I had discovered a forgotten wing of my own house, its uncharted possibilities a symbol of my own heartbreak, my own persistent sense of hope.

So it felt appropriate that my work today was to reveal three prototypes of a “Storytelling Barn” – a place where folks from different backgrounds can come together to break (or make) bread, share stories, and make unusual connections that might spark new ideas.


On a day like today, this feels, at least partly, like what we need: yes, we need better policies. We need more courageous conversations. We need structural reforms in education and criminal justice and housing and a thousand other things. We need empathetic leadership. And we need more barn-raisings, more sources of healing, more ways of naming the harm that has been done.

For the Amish, a barn-raising falls into the category of activity known as a “frolic,” a combination of group labor and social mixing, which builds and solidifies the community as much as the barn. But what I can’t stop thinking about is the way a colleague earlier today described a barn-raising as the process by which a community of people literally lift the skin of a barn out of the earth and reshape it into something shared, supportive, and sacred.

I am sick at the state of the world, at the mangled roots that hold us in place, at how many of us, in different ways, sidestep our own personal pain in ways that leave those wounds untended, ripe for infection, exposed. So I’m holding close the words I just read in a wonderful new book by Hisham Matar, The Return: “What is extraordinary is that, given everything that has happened, the natural alignment of the heart remains towards the light.”

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