A Frayed Knot: Picking Our Way Through The Need

So this piece of string walks into a bar. (Stop me if you’ve heard this.) Bartender growls, “Hey, you. We don’t serve your kind in here. Beat it.” Hurt and angry, the string heads home to her apartment. There she ties herself into complicated loops, and frizzes her ends till she’s nearly unrecognizable. Then she goes back into the bar and orders a beer.

“Hmmm,” says the bartender suspiciously. “Aren’t you that same piece of string I just threw outa here?”

“Oh, no,” the string says innocently, “I’m a frayed knot.”


Not the best bar joke ever…but close!

This joke popped into my head recently after reading these lines from Kim Stafford’s book of post-election poems, The Flavor of Unity,

“By writing, thinking, and talking, clarify your vocation, so you can enter the fray without being frayed.”

Copyright 2017 Kim Stafford. Thanks, Kim!

During the Civil Rights Movement, and more recent movements who use nonviolent resistance, participants had to learn to conquer their fear–of prison, of violence, even of death. The most famous freedom song, We Shall Overcome, contains the lyric, “We are not afraid.” Not being currently on the front lines of any struggle, but instead struggling to choose among the many, many causes calling for support since Trump’s inauguration, being AFRAID is not my issue–but being FRAYED? Yes. ‘Fraid so.

My email box and Facebook feed fills daily with calls to contact my congressional reps about the environment, or health care, or immigration, or…you know. If you’re an American, you’re probably getting the same emails. Sign this. Send money to that. Attend this meeting. Join that march. There is too much need out there to do it all.

Which is why I’m very much looking forward to the online course I’ve signed up for with Quaker writer and teacher Eileen Flanagan, entitled, “We Were Made For This Moment.” The intro to her course reads, 

In this time of tumult, fear, and hatred, the world needs the gifts that you were born to share. You may not be sure where to use them. You may not know how to use them to greatest effect, or even if you can make a difference at all, but you know you need to do something to work for a more just and loving world. You are not alone! The purpose of this online course is to help you to meet this moment.

Finding one’s purpose, to me, means finding my path. This means, of course, choosing some paths NOT to take. It’s never easy; we all want to contribute, be supportive, “be there” for each other, or vulnerable people, or the planet. But when we try to be everywhere, we fray…and–mixed metaphor alert–we burn out.

I want to walk a path and stick to it. I look forward to some guided discernment. I also look forward to hearing how you might have dealt with this same issue. How do you keep yourself in the fray without fraying?



4 thoughts on “A Frayed Knot: Picking Our Way Through The Need

  1. One of the ways I keep myself in the fray is by reading thoughtful and uplifting reflections like yours; they’re even better when they include bar jokes and puns! I’ve been reading lately that many of us are feeling weary and fearful, so your post is especially timely.

    George Lakey points out in this column from “Waging Nonviolence” (https://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/finding-courage-in-anxious-times/) that many of us spend too much time scaring each other. He writes: “…the job of authoritarians is to keep people in submission by scaring them — that, after all, is the goal of tweeting threats of violence, putting activists in prison, beating us up and militarizing local police forces.

    He offered this analogy of a different approach: “Everyone knows our situation is dangerous. Think of joining a climbing party to go up Mount Everest: Does the guide spend their time telling the climbers all the places along the way where people got hurt or lost their lives, putting them in such a state of anxiety that they can’t climb well? Of course not. Effective guides focus on the task at hand, encourage the climbers to believe they can do well, and help them to visualize reaching the summit, i.e, winning. Organizers can learn from the wisdom of others who deal with danger.”

    I expect you’ll receive that kind of wise guidance in Eileen’s course; I sure did when I took it in January, and it’s still helping to sustain me.

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