It is another big thought day where my thinking meanders as a thread.
I began this week in a conversation with friends about the lives and experiences of people we have come to know who, often at an early age, became distinguished as "intellectually", "developmentally", or "learning" disabled.
The word "exile" creeped into my head as a way to describe what happens to people when this experience of being identified as "other" shows up in their lives. "Exile" has 13th century French roots in the word "essillier" to "banish, expel, drive off".
It sounds so harsh, and cold, and "good people" would not want to be associated with the idea of banishing and driving people into exile. But it seems to me that this is what happens as people are driven off into a place of exile. Sometimes it is a social exile, a sort of "exile on Main St", in that people are just viewed as "other", not one of "us", while occupying the same streets. At other times people are structurally set apart in "places of exile", out of view of the mainstream of civic life, in institutions, nursing homes, day centers, prisons, or the netherworld of homelessness.
The bottom line is that once the "othering" begins, the potential for harm increases, as empathy decreases when we don't recognize people as "us".
Exile, however, presumes being sent "from" an original place or state. My thread of thinking then traveled to one of the only pieces of writing that I can readily recall. It comes from Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century Benedictine nun cloistered in Germany. She is widely recognized as a trail blazing writer, composer, philosopher, scientist, Christian mystic, visionary, and polymath. She is an unusual source for the only piece of writing I remember by heart, but it touched me deeply when I first read it, and it still does:
“You ask me to speak Of my beginnings. I will tell you. I was created in love, therefore, nothing can express my beauty or liberate my nobleness except love alone” Hildegard of Bingen, 1098-1179
Hildegard is recognized to be a mystic, a wise spiritual leader, whose understanding of creation and the natural world sees humankind as part of creation, all humans, and love as the source of creation. Expressions of her visions and understanding of "original wisdom", resonate with many of the Eastern spiritual traditions that recognize that everything is connected. When we as humans banish, exile, and create "others", we are dismantling and fragmenting our world, the whole of creation, and that is not good for any of us.
Hildegard points to the task that faces humankind.
“Humankind is called to co-create, so that we might cultivate the earthly, and thereby create the heavenly.”
As I pursued some reading about Hildegard, I discovered the art she co-created, with skilled artists who she guided in translating the visions she expressed in her writing into visual works of art. In "The Tree of Life" painting, you can see Hildegard and her writing represented in the bottom left.
From the exile of "othering", to reflections on the original wisdom of creation, to externalizing internal visions, to co-creating, the thread leads me to our friend Judith Snow, another woman whose visions will last long past her life on earth.
Judith was a leading thinker, a writer, an influencer. Her visions of life and purpose, radically shifted how people think, raising questions about the way things are, and what could be.
"Inclusion is about a willingness to take unique difference and develop it as a gift to others. It is not about disability." Judith Snow
Judith viewed her life as a trilogy. In the first act, she survived the predictions and active participation of the medical and service world that saw her as "other", believing she would not live past the age of 29. In her second act the world would experience Judith free from exile, out in the world, influencing how we see and think. It was in her third act that Judith owned her view of self as artist. Much like Hildegard of Bingen, she would guide others in externalizing her visions, creating paintings. At the time of her death at the age of 65 (more than 35 years past her expiry date), she was collaborating with others to discover how she herself might be able to use technology to externalize her inner visions. As always it was Judith's life that embodied what art is all about.
"Look around yourself for an opportunity to enter into a relationship with someone who has been exiled. Act on the faith that that this person has dreams and hopes much like your own...Understand that this person may be the bearer of a deep and creative dream...may you rejoice in all that you create together."
So the long and winding thread for the week brings me back to "exile" where I began. Such is life.
“We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” from Little Gidding by T.S.Eliot