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In the face of despair, what will sustain us?

a reflection from Assisi House Board President, Lisa Cagle Over the course of my career, I've often taught classes about the complexities of big social, economic, and environmental problems like climate change, homelessness, public health crises, generational poverty... I work in planning and policy, so I emphasize that these challenges are big systemic things, and that individual voluntary actions alone won't create the kind of change we need fast enough to alleviate mass suffering or prevent catastrophe. We need to change laws and policies and practices, from the top down, to "fix" these problems.


What I've found increasingly in the past couple of decades is that peoples' response to this information is complete overwhelm. The problems are so big, so entrenched, so inextricably tied together. What can we possibly DO to make a difference?


In the last few years, the almost immeasurably slow pace of systems and policy change has gotten to me too: how often can I bang my head against the wall trying to make it move before I'm demolished, while the wall remains?


When I read or listen to the news, when I soak up the latest social media posts, when I see how people are dehumanized locally, nationally, globally... Despair seems like the most rational reaction to so much that is happening in our world. 


In this same vein, I was asked by an intern earlier this year, "So, what can I do to combat the all-encompassing sense of anxiety and despair I feel when I think about how complex and bad things are?" I had to really stop and think. Because I, too, have been in the winter of that despair. 


The answer I eventually came to, the thing that keeps me going?: Pour your grief and your life into an attempt to create something different.


It is very important to critique the way the world is --  there is so much that isn't working for anyone but a handful of people. At the same time, it's also relatively easy to want to destroy what is and what's broken, especially if it isn't working for you. The hard work, the necessary work, is the creative work of building a different world. Of continuing to try to grow a new way of being together with each other, of living together. The continuous commitment and effort to create and sustain a more just, more loving, more joyful world that we can belong in together.


For me, today, this year, Assisi House represents the hard work of trying to create a better world. It's on the small scale -- we're not changing national policy or writing new laws. But one person at a time, one house at a time, one neighborhood at a time, we are creating together something new. We're growing community. We're creating home. And there's nothing that can beat the long despair of incremental systems change like getting to welcome someone home who hasn't had one in a long while. 


The systems change work continues too. There's still much that needs to be done, and we're happy to support those who are advocating for a system that works for everyone.


But today, we get to welcome 73 individual humans in St. Louis, home. 


Thank you for being part of this sacred work, part of our commitment to each other to recognize the dignity and humanity in each of us.


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