When I was young, the book “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” was a bestseller. It was a 1970s fable, from a birds-eye perspective, of the struggle between conformity and flight and how individual transcendence also requires community and forgiveness.
My mother read it. She was a part-time nurse who had returned to college in the days of beehive hair and multicolored pantsuits. She had a husband, two young kids and a house in a bedroom community.
At the time, my budding interests involved checking out seven library books every week and studying words from a giant dictionary my parents kept on a shelf alongside an atlas of the world and a red, white and blue encyclopedia set.
I also was imprinted with the titles of other books my mother read during those years, such as “On Death & Dying” and “The Phenomenon of Man.” I see them vividly in my mind. I even have her worn version of “Values Clarification” nearby as I write this.
Unbeknownst to me, these were shaping moments.
An even more obvious moment occurred while I was studying the Holocaust in middle school. My mother introduced me to her humanities professor at the University of Minnesota. He was a Holocaust survivor and sat with me to gently share his story. It was my first interview.
Even then, as an awkward, introverted lover of words, I recognized that being entrusted with someone’s personal story was sacred. It was about more than doing research or retelling someone’s story. It was about seeing things from a new perspective. Being privy to a new point of view.
It shaped my career choices. My writing interests always have been less about getting the news or revealing secrets than going in deep to intersect, for just a moment, with the truth of someone’s life — in a way that is less voyeuristic than intimate. Clarifying with them their values. Transcending the material world by picking up a morsel of what makes a person unique.
Not every interview leads to that kind of reveal. But as someone who started asking questions decades ago, I see the threads of what this career has afforded me — namely, a birds-eye view of the ecosystem of which we are a part.
We are impacted by each other — embedded with each other — evolving together in such a fluid way that we are unaware of the entire movement. We tend to see only the periphery of the relatively few individual parts that are nearest us at any given moment.
The monthly conversation circle I am a part of recently named a symbol of our ecosystem: We are like a murmuration of starlings, swooping and diving and soaring together. As parts of a whole, every twitch of our wings is precipitated by what happens to the living being on our left and is in turn impacting the one on our right.
As our city and state address issues of education, housing, policing, prevention, mental health, infrastructure and more, the symbol of our era might be less the Jonathan Livingston Seagull of the 1970s “Me” generation as one that reflects a shift in narrative — more aware of its role in the collective.
Those of us who have had the luxury of basking in the intellectual pursuits of our parents or of reaping the financial rewards of our predecessors or of feeling emotionally secure in the confines of our individual childhoods are now, finally, beginning to join in discussion with those of different experiences.
People emerging today in politics and entrepreneurship and education and healing have finally begun to weave with so many “others” that the deficits and cracks in the structures of our community are being talked about more widely. We are recognizing how our movement together is ailing — that “we all do better when we all do better” has yet to be implemented.
As conversation gets louder about the trauma and pollution that is making our collective whole less sustainable — as I talk to people who are “woke” to their role as part of the solution — I feel optimism. Despite today’s frustrations, from my viewpoint, we are becoming more of a “We” generation.
Mikki Morrissette is the editor of Minnesota Women’s Press, which will be hosting on Jan. 15 an event at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis called “MWP Conversations: Healing in Community.” The event brings together storytellers and experts to offer insights into how trauma affects all of us and solutions that deserve support.