Celebrations are the result of something that has accumulated – maybe it is years like in birthdays, or profits like in an annual report, or effort like in a win in sport or opening night in the arts. Celebrations are at the threshold of one stage coming to a completion and a new one about to begin. Just as a new baby being welcomed into a family, the addition of new person into a team or neighbour into a street, arrival is also the end of something else. In the life of the activist, celebrations are often few and far between, when we don’t stop to acknowledge the incremental achievements and completion of a set of tasks or moment in the journey to a longed for destination.
I remember Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul and Mary) being asked a question by some college students about the changes she had seen in her lifetime and she recalled an earlier time in her career when she was playing gigs to segregated audiences on campuses and at the end of her career that was no longer the case. She was explaining that sometimes you have to look over time to see the big changes. The trio she was a part of never lost sight of their values and dreams and lived to see many of the civil rights they were the soundtrack for play out over their life times. Making time to notice the small steps along the way is honouring all that has gone before and taking the moment to recognize that you have arrived at a new threshold. I don’t think enough activists pause to celebrate.
I am thinking every birthday party of activism. A pause to blow out the candles to say look how far we have come, what have we done this past year, who have we been, where have we travelled inside and out and then with a puff the candles are out and the new year begins. I have never been a great one for birthday cakes but when I turned 60 in 2018, it came at the end of what had and will be a hard year to beat, for adversity and insatiable grief. I had a cake and I blew out the candles and in a gust of acclamation that I had survived. I was not triumphant, I was relieved to have arrived at a new beginning and wondered what lay ahead, knowing because of what had been before I had built resilient muscle through a broken heart that would keep being broken again and again.
I think there are some lessons here for the activist. We arrive to a new season and if we take the time to stop and blow out the candles we can gather up the lessons of the time that got us to this threshold and in the pause hold on to what has been built and notice what new point has landed. Then with a metaphorical deep breath, exhale into the new landing. There will be bruises, wounds to tend and wholeheartedness has a chance to regroup – the celebratory moment can help with that. Sometimes there has been friendly fire, own goals and collateral damage very close to home. This is the time to also ask for forgiveness, recognise that healing brings hope and like the new moon, the empty candles signify its time to cycle through another season. There is work to do and you are ready, once the bubbles have faded and the candles extinguished and you are fuelled and re-energized by the celebration. The rhythm seems to be: do the work, stop, light the candles, turn off the lights, blow the candles out, turn on the lights, start again.
So here’s to the activist:
May you have candles to light and to blow out. May you make the time to notice your wins along the way, acclaim who and what has brought you to the moment of celebration and may you joyfully and gently open to the new threshold waiting for you to arrive.
PS Chooks SA the movement I started to close the gender investment gap turns 3 this week. It coincides with my appointment to the South Australian Entrepreneurship Advisory Board to the Chief Entrepreneur and State minister for Industry and Skills. I am going to remember to have candles and cake as the Hen House Co-op which is one of the initiatives of Chooks begins its next phase to find more women who are ready to start co-ops and their own social enterprises.