Transforming Pain Into Power
“If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it—usually to those closest to us.” Father Richard Rohr
Happy Sunday morning to you, and thank you so much for welcoming The Sunday Paper back into your inbox. I’ve missed you, and I hope you are doing well. I truly do.
I want you to know that I believe this newsletter to be a holy and special place. A place of reverence. A place of hope. It’s a place to get informed and inspired, but more importantly, it’s a safe space where many, myself included, come to share our stories of joy, grief, pain, and transformation with the hope that our words may help others heal and make the world a better place.
Transforming one’s pain, as Father Richard Rohr says above, is something each of us can do. I believe it is a form of public service in its own way. If you transform that which haunts and hurts you, then you won’t try to inflict pain onto others. And god knows, we have too many people in politics, on social media, and in all areas of human endeavor trying to transmit their pain onto others. We can and must do better.
Today is a painful day in our nation’s history. It is a day of loss and remembrance. It’s a day when our country suffered. We as people suffered, and through our collective pain, we found the courage to come together and save ourselves, our neighbors, and our country.
All of us who were alive in 2001 probably remember exactly where we were when we heard the news. I’m sure that if you close your eyes, your mind can take you back to that day when our world shifted. I know mine can. It’s a day I will never forget.
I want you to know that I’m honored to be here today with you, taking a moment together to be still and remember what was. I’m also honored to be looking ahead with you. I believe it’s always important to look ahead.
So while today is a somber day, it’s also an uplifting one because it’s National Grandparents Day! And while I share the grief of so many who lost loved ones back in 2001, I also share joy with the millions of others like myself who are lucky enough to be grandparents. It really is one of the greatest joys in my life.
Being present with my grandchildren is beyond exhilarating. It’s pure. It’s honest. It’s innocent. It’s real. It constantly leaves me in awe. I know so many families would be lost without the help of grandparents, and that their roles have never been more important. I’m thrilled that my fellow grandmother Anna Quindlen is joining us in the newsletter today to share her thoughts on this extraordinary role.
My experience as a grandmother has reminded me yet again that life is such a mixture of emotions. I’ve come to realize that wisdom and gratitude come when one understands that on any given day, we can experience both tears of joy and tears of sadness. That’s just what life is.
So here we are on this day with our eyes wide open. Hopefully our hearts and minds are as well. I know mine are. And while I may have taken a digital break in August, there are still stories that caught my eye and touched my heart. Among them were Liz Cheney’s dignified concession speech, combined with her rallying cry to all of us, regardless of party, to stand strong against those trying to undermine our democracy. I was also moved by Serena Williams’ powerful and elegant exit from center court. I’m so glad she is such a powerful emblem for women of all ages, myself included.
Of course, the biggest news of this past week was the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. She was an extraordinary woman who served until her very last breath. From a 70+ year marriage to four kids, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, she stood at the center of her family and her nation as both went through numerous upheavals. She was an elegant, strong, private woman in a very public role. I always deeply admired how she managed it all. Rarely was she ever found saying something negative about anyone in public. As Dan Rather wrote this week, Queen Elizabeth II was “a constant in a sea of chaos. … She provided a sense of steadiness and continuity during her country’s transitions.”
Steadiness is something I think we all crave these days in the public square. We need more leaders who are willing to stand up and exhibit strength and resolve in the sea of chaos. That is why I also admired President Biden’s democracy speech from a couple of weeks ago. His words needed to be said and needed to be heard. I know many said it was divisive, but I saw it differently. I saw it as a rallying cry for those in all parties who love their country. If we don’t stop extremism, we lose what our ancestors fought for and died for. It’s that simple.
We have important elections ahead of us—ones that will either safeguard our democracy or plunge it further into darkness. I’m energized. I feel confident that there are so many dedicated, inspired, and good people running for office, especially in the battleground states. I believe they are the change we need. No matter where you live, these candidates need our support and our votes.
I’m excited and hopeful on this day about our country and about those who are stepping up to lead it, just as so many brave people stepped up on September 11 to safeguard our future and to make sure our country’s best days were ahead of it. I believe they still are.
I hope that’s how you feel about your own life this morning: hopeful, motivated, and optimistic. I hope you find yourself ready to step up in your life. I also hope that you were able to take a little time this summer to check in with yourself and add some fuel to your tank for the road ahead because, my friends, we are needed. We are needed by our families, our communities, and our country.
Thankfully, I was able to recharge a bit, because I’ve got to admit: I felt drained at the beginning of August. I can’t actually remember when I first started feeling that way or why, but I do remember the first time I said it out loud. I was at a fundraising event in June for The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, sitting at a table with people who had paid a lot of money to support my work in the Alzheimer’s research space. A friend at the table turned to me and said, “Hey, Maria. Let’s work on a project this summer so we can finish it up by the end of the year.”
“No, no, no,” I heard myself say. “I’m tired. I need to take some time to rest.”
Wait, what did I just say? Omg, I thought to myself. Did I just say I’m tired out loud? I couldn’t remember myself ever admitting that I was tired before. Not when I had four young children. Not when I was working full time. Not when I was First Lady of California. Not Ever. Speaking it out loud made me feel a bit embarrassed and ashamed.
But for the last several weeks, I’d been hearing a quiet voice within me urging me to slow down. “Be still, Maria,” it said.“Do less. Want less. Need less. Make space. Stop.”
So that’s what I tried to do this past month: less. I tried to be still. Just be, I told myself. There is nothing you need to do. (That’s especially hard for me when I watch the news.) I told myself to stay in the moment and learn from it. I wanted to allow it to teach me and transform me. I wanted to focus on my relationships and on my health. So, I did all those things as I sought out silence and stillness.
I loved the feeling that not rushing gave me. It gave me time to go home to Hyannisport, which I hadn’t visited since before Covid. I got to be with my brothers—all four of them in one place!—and with my nieces, nephews, cousins, and aunts. I also got to visit my parents’ graves. I had a good cry and told them what I had been up to and how much I missed them. When I told them that I was trying to do less, I was sure my mother would pop out of her grave and tell me to do more, but she didn’t! (Don’t ever tell me people can’t change! Lol.)
For me, a woman who has charged through her life at 100 miles per hour, going slow and doing less is an unexpected place to find myself. It’s helped me to focus on what I love and what brings me meaning. It’s allowed me to question the speed at which I’m moving through my life and has allowed me to step back and ask myself why I do what I do and if there is a better way to do it. The answer is yes.
Moving forward, I no longer want to look down at my schedule and see meeting after meeting, Zoom after Zoom, commitment after commitment. I want breathing space. I want time to focus on my relationships. I know that’s the real key to feeling full, happy, and content.
I also want to put more of my energy into my country. I want to make sure I’m using my voice and my energy to safeguard what I hold dear and speak up for what I believe, regardless of the consequences. I want to put my energy into work that I hope makes a difference in people’s lives—be it The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement, Mosh, the books I publish, or the documentaries or summits we produce. I simply want to do it all from a more joyful, intentional, and quiet place.
I also want to deepen my connection with you, my Sunday Paper community. I love when I get to meet any of you in real life, as I did these past several weeks. Several of you came up to me in various places and spoke to me about how much this publication means to you. Hearing that many of you share it with friends and talk about it over meals really moved me.
I truly believe that together, we can open each other’s hearts and activate our minds. We can make our world better. We already have by supporting so many worthwhile organizations and people. We can heal each other’s pain and help one another feel like we truly belong.
In the last few years, The Sunday Paper has grown from a simple newsletter to a multi-layered publication full of original content. We’ve also launched a beautiful website, hosted summits, and shared conversations and all kinds of offerings. This paper is a beacon of light, a place to make sense of things and find calm in these turbulent times.
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So, my fellow Architects of Change, let’s head into this fall committed to bringing our best version of ourselves to the public square and to our country. May we recommit to the values that built our country, the ones we have instilled in our families, and the ones that we want for one another.
I hope you know that what you need is already within you. It’s not in a fancy job title or in social media likes. It’s not who you know, but who you are. Make breathing space for yourself, my friends. Slow your pace, look to your left and to your right, and then focus forward. It’s going to take all of us to believe our best days are ahead of us. Now, let’s go.
Prayer of the Week
Dear God, as I head into this fall, may I remain hopeful about the path ahead. May I resist the urge to rush, and instead pause, take stock what matters most, and remember that I have everything I need already within me. Amen.