As this week comes to a close, I find myself holding my breath. Today we inaugurate a new president, and the next four years of American history will be written not only by our leaders, but also by us as well. And while I have my own opinions on the matter, that is not why my lungs aren’t functioning properly today.
It is the severe division between us as people that has me on edge. Friends and family so vehemently opposed to the beliefs of others, that across our country, mistrust, anger, and fear are brewing just beneath the surface, about to boil over. I see it all over Facebook and the news, people saying terrible things to each other, growing more and more mistrustful of their fellow Americans and fellow human beings.
And I totally get it.
But it is in times like these that I remind myself of the reason I wrote The Soul Mender in the first place. The painful reality of our division brought me to Riley and Oz, to Jackson Cain and Adil El-Hashem, to Zachary Stone and to Ezra Ahmad. The Soul Mender is not a political story, despite having many political undertones. It is not a religious story, even though I use religion as a vehicle to transport characters and plot lines. It is not a story about us versus them, or about which side you should take on controversial issues. It is simply a story about humanity, and the contentious world we’ve created.
One of my friends once told me that she wished there really was a Soul Mender, and I agreed. But another friend reminded us that we are our own Soul Menders, and isn’t that the truth? I created the trilogy to share a message and tell a story about empathy and unity, and to solve the woes of the world, if only for a brief moment in the reader’s life. But in fact, The Soul Mender Trilogy is based in truth. There is light and darkness within each of us, and we have the power to choose which side we will veer toward. Individually, we can change. Individually we can make the choice not to despise and fear, but to listen, understand, and empathize.
I have never been a poor black man on the south side of Chicago, nor have I been a struggling miner in West Virginia. I have never been in the painful position of deciding to abort my baby, nor have I been a woman struggling with the ability to get pregnant. I have never been a Muslim in America post 9/11, nor have I been an immigrant trying to find work. I have never been in the military, nor have I lost someone close to me who was fighting overseas. I have never been anything other than me. It’s not possible to be, and that’s okay. And while my opinions probably differ on many facets of the human condition than yours do, I understand the things I do not know about people, and understand that there are struggles out there which are beyond my capacity to comprehend. That is where empathy comes in. And I believe lack of empathy is the greatest challenge our world is facing.
We can’t possibly know what it is like to be every person on the planet, but I do know one thing. If you treated me like a terrorist, eventually I might grow angry enough to become one. If you treated me like I was stupid, eventually I might believe it to be true. If you treated me like a criminal or a thug, that would become my reality. And if you treated me like a racist because of who I voted for, you would be planting the seeds for that which you fear most.
Donald Trump cannot change our ability to empathize. Hillary Clinton could not have changed it. Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Gary Johnson…none of those people have the power to change that about us. They can make decisions for us on a large scale, but we retain the power to decide what kind of person we will be. And never underestimate that power.
We expect the best of others and of our leaders, but we must first begin by bringing out the best in ourselves. I have danced with my dark side many-a-time, and know who my Oz is and what she is like. Sometimes I slip up and go to that place, but mostly I try to stay in the light. As we go forward, we must all strive to push to our lighter sides. Despite our differences, despite the opinions we believe to be unchallengeable, we must be open to the ideas of others—not to change our minds necessarily, but simply to understand. To find a middle ground. To empathize.
Some of us are cheering for today, some of us are waiting with bated breath, and some of us are down right terrified. As we move forward into the next four years, I want you to think about something with me, and remind yourselves of this whenever you feel the darkness seeping in:
You are your own Soul Mender.
No matter what side you are on, you have a choice to do better—to make every decision with the light half of your soul. To strive to reach the point where you understand that you probably know very little about the struggles of anyone else but yourself, unless you speak with them and make an effort to understand. I don’t know what the future holds for our planet, but I do know one thing—I still believe in humanity. That is why I am writing The Soul Mender Trilogy, that is why I’m writing this blog, and that is why I will continue to work on myself as a human being day after day. It starts with me. It starts with you.
You alone have the ability to choose what kind of person you will be going forward.
You are your own Soul Mender.