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Fire and Air

In Nashville, we have a nightly quarantine ritual called the 8 O'Clock Howl. As the sun goes down each night, people go out on their lawns, porches, and apartment balconies... and HOWL. Voices rise from all corners of the city in a call-and-answer plea for connection and release and common cause. And after the howl there is peace—or some semblance of it.


All over America this past weekend, fires were burning. Fires of rage and frustration burned from Minneapolis to Atlanta to Los Angeles. A fire took down a homeless camp near the San Jose airport in California; fire fueled the SpaceX rocket as it blasted into outer space; and coronavirus, of course, continues to burn through our communities like a brush fire. With the news delivering one explosion after another, our brains and nervous systems are on fire too.


Last week, I asked: What can you see from here? What next step feels right? But it's hard to know the answer to those questions when you're blinded by smoke on all sides, and no matter which way you go, it seems like NOTHING CHANGES. 


This week I'm thinking about fires—the kind that destroy the status quo and the kind that make way for new life. What happens to stress and restlessness when scorched earth leaves behind an open landscape for change? And what do we do with the fires raging in our own hearts—fires of both frustration and ambition to move forward with purpose?


There are many useful ways to respond to racism and to fuel personal growth, even in a pandemic, but every remedy begins with something George Floyd no longer has: Breath. We have to breathe in order to act. We have to breathe in order to change. Without breath, we have no power.


George Floyd and so many others don't have the luxury of breath anymore, but we can honor their lives by breathing justice into our circles of influence and making space to learn and grow—individually and as a collective. Those of us who are white can start by making more room for and shining a light on people of color who are making their voices heard: artists, authors, influencers, filmmakers, teachers, and religious and political leaders. We can champion them. And we can listen. 


It seems like nothing changes, but, in truth, everything is changing. What we are witnessing is explosive change on every level of society, burning through our culture, our economy, and our individual lives. It feels impossible and huge and overwhelming—just as our personal and professional lives have shrunk down to the size of our homes. But our homes, if they are safe, are places we can start to build something new. Our daily lives, right now, are seedlings for what comes next.


So how do we take a step forward when we can't see through the smoke? We feed the fires—the good ones, the ones that fuel us—with steady doses of fresh, clean, perfect air. We move consistently in the direction of life, respect, and clarity, wherever they may lead.


What is one activity or practice in your life that feels like a reliable and vital dose of fresh air?


It engages your body and mind and makes time fly. It lures you in the right direction, toward your next step, every time. It allows room for your lungs to breathe and mind to wander. This week consider relying heavily and repeatedly on that thing to guide you forward. Put it on autopilot. It's the propellant that will fuel you for all the rest of it. 


Listen—Breathe—Respond. HOWL with all the breath you've got, and then listen, breathe, and respond again. 


Happy first Monday of June. Whatever comes out the other side of this month or year or decade, we will be stronger for it if we keep feeding the fire. Forward this to a friend if it's helpful. And please send me any resources you are finding helpful, either for issues around racism or for your own personal well-being. I love hearing from you.


Much love, Sarah




It's been too long since I've read Toni Morrison. I'm going back to the source for guidance and insight. And walking, every day, walking and listening. 


Thanks to my local Bookshop for stocking this bit of fresh air, right around the corner. 


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SARAH HAYS COOMER

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