Digging in the dirt

Nina, Judy LaVercombe and Amoke Kubat
Nina, Judy LaVercombe and Amoke Kubat


Stay with me I need support 
I’m digging in the dirt
Find the places I got hurt
Open up the places I got hurt

  • Peter Gabriel

With spring in full bloom, I’m noticing numerous stories around the intimacy between trauma and connection. I feel showered with reminders about how beings push through the darkness to reach toward the sky and how deeply we rely on roots to get us there.

I recently had a conversation with “Braiding Sweetgrass” author Robin Kimmerer. We talked about those who face the trauma of being uprooted from their homes — refugees, or the generations of indigenous people forced to leave their land — and the need to find a new sense of belonging in a strange land. 

One idea, she offered, is when we realize that the word “ecology” means “the study of home.” Mother Earth is always here.

“I rely on you, you rely on me. That’s where the bond begins,” she said. Even in a new city park, or median strip along the road, we might see a familiar plant. “There you are. I’m home now.”

In a book discussion group, we read “The Ground Beneath Us,” by Paul Bogard, who grew up in Minnesota and teaches writing in Virginia. The ambitious book covers everything from the impact of fracking on groundwater to the author’s visit to Treblinka in Poland, where Nazis tried to cover up the remains of 900,000 people killed in the forest. 

Bogard quotes a Christian theologian, Paul Tillich, who in the 1950s referred to God as not a personified being, but as the ground from which all being derives. He pointed out that the name Adam — symbolic of the original human estranged from the garden — is derived from the Hebrew word for “earth.”

Planting seed

As the new owner of Minnesota Women’s Press, I hosted an event recently for more than 100 women about “the power of women’s voices.” One of the six speakers, playwright Amoke Kubat (“Angry Black Woman Talks to Well-Intentioned White Girl”), said that black and African-American women have always been leaders. 

“Even when they were captured,” Kubat said, “they had the wherewithal and the vision to put seeds in their hair so that wherever they landed, they knew they would be planting and feeding someone.”

Kubat said it is her responsibility to carry on that leadership as a storyteller, to remind us of how we are all connected, to “transform every incident, every moment, every person I can to make the impact that ‘we are we.’ It is not us and them, it is we.”

Author Judy LaVercombe (aka Judith Guest, “Ordinary People”), at the same event, indicated that she attended her first march, in Washington, D.C., after the 2016 election. Being a writer can be an isolating existence, she said — especially now that she is in her 80s, fighting against ageism. LaVercombe said she has always been political, sitting at the kitchen table with friends and family, but for the first time she’s engaged outside the home, including talks with legislators about gun violence. 

“It has made a huge difference in my life,” she said, “because now I feel so much more connected, part of a community.”

Reaching sprout

Stay with me I need support 
I’m digging in the dirt

Community connection is what we seek, especially in dark times. That message was delivered at a recent Magers & Quinn event by Sally Kohn, author of “The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity.”

It is the fear of others and things out of our control that lead us to seek a sense of security — a sense of belonging — with community. The neo-Nazis she interviewed, Kohn said, believe that hate started from others, and they are simply reacting to it. Gangs, terrorists and those who dictate a “one way” aren’t seeking true believers. Rather, they create them from among the disenfranchised and vulnerable and even the ambivalent.

We tend to deepen our beliefs as a way to bond with others. 

The trick, Kohn suggested, is to “stand up for our values without stomping.” The progressive ideal is to create space and opportunity for change to happen. “We never change our minds because someone makes us feel like a bigoted idiot.”

We have a choice, Kohn says, between “burn it all down,” the “polarization of purity” or “vulnerable engagement.” The opposite of hate, she points out in her book, is not love, but connection.

Tiny sprouts, pushing through the deep, dark earth, to reach toward the sky.