Welcome every guest, No matter how grotesque. Be as hospitable to calamity as to ecstasy, To anxiety as to tranquility, Today’s misery sweeps your home clean, Making way for tomorrow’s felicity.


At home Sue and I often sit in our backyard.  It’s become a place of solace during the months of pandemic.  Like many of my colleagues, I have worked during this time.  Unlike other workers also deemed essential, I had the ability to see people via televideo or even have appointments by phone.  This is a change.

The pandemic is far from over and our world was so troubled before COVID-19 and still is:  Our world is changing.  The climate is changing.  The tundra is even burning.  Human rights violations have not just tipped the scales of justice, but the contents have spilled out. Where is the balance?  This is a true tipping point where many Americans are ready for real change.  So, some change though painful and deadly in the process is ultimately good:  Black Lives Matter. 

We still have detention facilities in this country to date holding children; holding people only trying to find a way to survive.  This must change.

Joanna Macy, an eco-psychologist has spoken in terms of a great turning when we all might start to self-organize toward change for the sake of our planet, a living, breathing organism that we are all connected to for our mutual survival.  A young organizer and writer that I follow, Adrienne Maree Brown wrote Emergent Strategy, a book that also notes organization in nature such as flocking—meaning we might innately self-organize with others or flock.  One thing is certain, though I simplify concepts here, we are all in a state of change.

Cardboard sign that reads "Stand up and change the world"
A cardboard sign is seen close up, saying stand up and change the world, as eco-activists march for the environment.

What if we considered that perhaps we are moving toward an awakening of sorts where we move toward what would work for the better good for our home, the earth and one another?  We may indeed be innately moving toward that change.

Change both positive and negative carries its own bag of anxiety.  Anxiety like the Rumi poem notes is a guest that arrives at the door.  I think the point the poem is trying to make is to welcome this feeling and to learn from it.  That’s not easy.  The other thing is change, even when good, creates some amount of stress.  We might be asked to reflect more; to do things differently:  Wear a mask; consider our part in systematic racism; and honestly confront our role in all that has happened in our own lifetime and make some kind of change. 

I suspect one day we will find in our very DNA that we likely carry the memory of trauma on some level from past generations which would also point to intergenerational anxiety or heightened sensitivity to triggers in our environment.

This is antidotal anecdotal.  However, I can say some 30 years ago, I took a team to learn a new therapy which included a large mindfulness component.  The idea that people could learn to intentionally focus on one thing in the moment with awareness and gain the ability to notice their thoughts and feelings in the moment.  Revolutionary.  What we didn’t know at the time was that this practice made changes in neuro pathways. 

So, if trauma memory and anxiety are possibly carried in our DNA from generation to generation, what might that feel like for folks that were brought here against their will over 400 years ago and then enslaved?  On cellular level, this experience might take a long time to change.

The COVID-19 outbreak may be the first time many of us have seriously considered our own mortality and how we might still have a chance to get it right.  I have noted in my work high levels of anxiety.  For example, many of us have more time on our hands than we have had in years; yet, folks often report a feeling of paralysis.  Difficulty activating; yet, it’s not depression.  It’s more like being frozen.   Some of us have lost our livelihoods and some of us have people who have succumbed to illness during COVID.  There are many losses.   I posit we are all waiting to flock and gather for a great change.

About the Author

Woman with two hounds
Deborah Westervelt, a 2011 St. Louis Regional Art Commission CAT Institute graduate, a writer, and social justice advocate, has worked in community arts beginning in the 80’s with the St. Louis City Detention Center’s volunteer theatre workshop with Don Ellis. Later projects include co-Producing Peace Out!, a collaborative social justice and arts event that staged poems from around the world. In Tennessee, she worked to pioneer the first agency-based voter registration program. After serving a congressional internship, being awarded a Truman Scholarship, she was able to complete graduate studies at the Brown School of Social Work, Washington University. Missouri highlights include developing a statewide public defender alternative sentencing program funded through a public/private partnership well before such innovations as “drug courts.” Deborah served as past St. Louis Chapter Chair of the Missouri Coalition Against the Death Penalty and Missouri N.A.S.W. PACE. As a practicum instructor, she taught for both Washington and St. Louis Universities graduate schools of Social Work. Currently, semi-retired, Deborah enjoys Colorado life with Sue Westervelt, her partner and their two rescued hound dogs, Emmy Lou and June Carter.