A few months ago I was chatting with my Grandmother, whom I affectionately call Gma. If you don’t know my Gma, she’s a feisty, independent lady with a quick wit, great taste in books, and a fondness for Culver’s fish sandwiches. The daughter of Polish immigrants, she became a single mom in the 1960’s, raising her two daughters while teaching English in Detroit Public Schools. Throughout her life she has fought for justice and equality, from pushing back against gerrymandering to teaching refugees sewing skills. She knows the things that matter to her, and she lives her life accordingly.
So back to our conversation. We were talking on the phone, because sadly I’ve been unable to see her except from outside her window since the COVID pandemic began. In the middle of our catchup about Rosie’s newest words or what new style of mask she’s trying out — she’s sewn many hundreds of masks for her fellow assisted living residents and staff — she abruptly asked me this question:
What do you believe, and what will you do with that?
The question caught me off guard, and I didn’t have much of an answer at that moment. I stumbled through something about how I’m trying to balance being a mom and doing my job, and that I want to have more intentional conversations about racism with my family and friends in light of current events.
We quickly wrapped up the conversation, but after hanging up I remained stuck in my seat, struck with the depth of her question and my lack of an answer. In the weeks since that phone call, I’ve found myself coming back to it again and again.
I think in this particular political and historical moment, I see a lot of what my friends, family, and total strangers believe. I see it on social media, on the news, on billboards and front lawns and on hats. But what I don’t see a lot is what they will do with that belief.
We all are shouting from the top of our lungs about what we care about. I love refugees! I hate abortion! I want medical freedom! I want a better education for less money! I want to keep my guns! But I’m not seeing what people are doing to live out these desires, to make these changes happen, to act on their beliefs. I’m not even seeing it in myself. Yes, we can vote in a way that makes sense according to what we believe. But then what?
So what will you do?
I want to challenge you, as I am challenging myself, to do something about what you believe.
First, make a list of three things you have recently discussed/posted about online/argued over with someone. Take a hard look at that list, and then for each of those three things, brainstorm two ways you could take actual physical action on the belief you hold about that thing. An example, by me:
I care about refugees finding a warm welcome, safety and success in their new American homes. As of last week, the refugee resettlement program in the U.S. has been limited to 15,000 people for 2021 — a historic low.
BUT there are still refugees in the Lansing area who have resettled here in recent years. I can do the following to act on my belief that refugees should be welcomed to this country:
1. Frequent a refugee-owned business. Naing Myanmar Family Restaurant is a favorite of mine in Lansing and they’re currently open for takeout.
This is easy.
2. Reach back out to my friends at St. Vincent Catholic Charities, who resettle refugees in Lansing, and see if they currently need any help. I volunteered with them for a number of years, but it’s time to get back into it.
This holds more risk, because I’m already overwhelmed with work and parenting and life. What if they ask for a portion of my already limited time? But if really believe in this, I need to take action.
See? That wasn’t so hard. After you make your list of three things and two corresponding actions for each, I challenge you to share your list with one person — as I am sharing it with you. That way you have someone to hold you accountable to follow through. If you need someone to share your list with, please share it with me!
It doesn’t matter to me what your belief is, or how it may differ from mine. What I want is for each of us to think more creatively about how our beliefs matter, and what our actions say about what we believe. If we all took responsibility in a local, tangible way, I think we would find so much more satisfaction than in endless Facebook comment battles or snide comments behind each others backs.
My Gma in her 80s says at the end of that same phone call that she’s moving slowly from nerve pain and getting little accomplished on any given day. But she’s still spending her time sewing masks and giving them away — taking something she believes in, and doing something about it. What’s my excuse? What’s yours?