My last entry here, “Desert Crosses,” celebrated people I met in Tucson on my 2014 community service road trip – volunteers devoted to aiding immigrants, many refugees from violent danger, seeking a better and safer life. That blog was posted November 8th – the day our country elected a President whose racist and sexist comments disturbed not only those immigrants, but a broad range of people from border to border. Anyone who cares about our most vulnerable citizens have to admit that we live in scary times that just got scarier.
So much so, it’s easy to feel that more has changed in the last two weeks than in the two years since I took my “whole service trip” around the United States. That being the case, what could my posters about acts of human kindness have to say that don’t feel trite? Particularly when this week’s installment of my fumbling foray into the realm of visual art is about the plight of a constituency blissfully unaware of the entire controversy – wild horses?
During a time when violent emotion boils within folks from one end of the political spectrum to the other, Neda DeMayo – the founder of Return to Freedom wild horse sanctuary in coast California – offers a story that can help liberals and conservatives (and even the wholly apolitical) channel frustrations into positive directions.
Two years ago when I volunteered for a week at the sanctuary, Neda told me how her mission started when she was “around age 10 or 11,” when she saw a television program about the abuse of wild horses.
“I remember standing in the living room. I was very upset. I don’t know if it was a Western, if it was a news broadcast… I just remember how it felt. I had a lump in my throat. I was very upset. You can ask my mother. I said, ‘When I grow older I’m going to give them a home and I’m going to tell everyone the truth!’ ”
The truth was going to have to wait a few decades. First came a wide-ranging exploration of spiritual disciplines and creative arts that took her from East Coast to West, and beyond. She studied in a San Francisco yoga ashram and with Native American medicine people – she even went to India and meditated in a bamboo hut. Meanwhile, at various points she’d pursued training in such theatrical pursuits as mime, street theater, and mask-making, as well as French pattern-making and couture drapery. Eventually she moved to Los Angeles and “just fell into” serving as a fashion stylist for celebrities.
This was the life she was living when stories about wild horse abuse broke out in the national media.
“Every time I turned on the TV, I would see [wild horse] hunts or different things that upset me and I didn’t know what to do. Then I was watching the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer and he was looking at the chess board and you hear Ben Kingsley’s voice saying, ‘Don’t make a move until you see it’ – and I literally said I’m not going to make a move until I see it. And then I started to see it, started to see Return to Freedom and get a vision together.”
Getting the vision together took some doing. Like other great organizational leaders I have known, Neda took her time learning.
“It’s passion followed by correct action. You’ve got to be solid, you’ve got to think it straight through.”
Sure, for reasons that go beyond politics – including the usual November academic rush – I haven’t been able to muster much in the way of either passion or correct action, and even navigating my workday has challenged my ability to think anything “straight through.” (Hopefully, my advisees didn’t pay the price for that when they registered for classes last week.)
But the commitment I already had in place – tutoring and mentoring at African Community Education – has helped me shift a few more hours of my week from feeling helpless to feeling helpful – even if I’m being helped just as much as the kids. In times that threaten to drain my spiritual accounts, ACE has proved to be money in the bank. That only scratches the surface of what ACE has done for me – but that’s another blog for another day. For now, consider the ways you can shift emotions from anger to love, from helplessness to helping. With the holidays coming up, there are plenty of opportunities – including the Catholic Charities meal deliveries, as well as the sit-down meals offered at churches such as St. John’s. Meanwhile, consider how to build in the commitments that help you channel emotion into action year-found.
For inspiration, check out the recent Nicholas Kristof 12-step program on recovering from the election. Or, if you want to know more of Neda’s story, read the blog I posed from Return to Freedom in June, 2014.