Change always starts with confusion: cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for the new

Visualizing our portal into the future by Jennifer Wilson, Global Sisters Report,, Jul 2, 2021

(Unsplash/Daniele Levis Pelusi)(Unsplash/Daniele Levis Pelusi) daniele-levis-pelusi-YQrUzrsRNes-unsplash c.jpg

We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused. Change always starts with confusion: cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for the new. Of course, it’s scary to give up what we know, but the abyss is where newness lives.” These words jumped out at me as I read a chapter from Margaret Wheatley’s book Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future (2002).

This book focuses on working together to create change. The words she wrote then seem like they were made for today. Historically there have been times when events and circumstances led to change and newness. Most of us can come up with a list of such events. Individually, as people, as a country, and as the world, we are living through one of those times.

Frustratingscary and hopeful are only a few words to describe this time of living during a pandemic. Wheatley describes abyss as where newness lives. While this may be true, I imagine an abyss as a black hole. It is difficult to see the newness there and sometimes I would like to leave that newness and unknown right there in the abyss. I would like to say, “Well, that pandemic was an experience I do not want to repeat, and I want to go back to my life as it was.”

It would be wonderful in some ways to just chalk it up to being an abyss of time that is now over. Sometimes I would like for my fairy godmother to wave a wand and magically transport me back to the end of February 2020 — before millions of people died and life was passing by, fairly uncomplicated.

The problem with this is that no matter how hard I try to make it happen, my fairy godmother will not appear. I will not magically find myself back in that time with everything the same as it was. I keep hearing from many people that soon we will be back to normal. We will not be back to how it was in February 2020 — if that is what they mean by “normal.” The $10 million question becomes: What is life going to be like now?

Recently we have witnessed signs of change. The conviction of Derek Chauvin seems hopeful. However, there is a part of me that wonders — will we really begin to see change? Will years of oppression really give way to equity and justice for all? As an educator in this very complicated year, I have seen glimpses of change. I wonder if this year that turned education upside down will have an impact. Will students be welcomed back to school by administrators and teachers ready to make changes? Will education try to go back to the same that it was always like, or is it finally time to find a way to give every child a place of belonging, and truly leave no child behind? Will labor shortages lead to true living wage changes? Is it time to start paying people what they are worth?

All of these questions with no real answers lead me back to Wheatley as she says, “newness is there. It is waiting to emerge.” That reminds me of a reflection activity I did recently with Mercy Volunteer Corps. I, along with other members of the board, were invited to reflect on and draw our “portals” as we have seen them in this current moment. I think of a portal as a gateway, contrasting with the image that comes to my mind when thinking of an abyss. A portal leads me to the possible.

What does your portal look like? What needs to be left behind and what will be brought with you into the unknown future?

Jennifer Wilson

Jennifer Wilson is a member of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. She has worked with homeless women and children as a social worker and presently is a theology teacher and the diversity, inclusion and equity coordinator at a Catholic high school in Buffalo, New York.

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