The Great Shift – practicing feminist philanthropy during a pandemic

We are living in one eternal moment.

And in this moment, for me, new rhythms are beginning to form: slowing down, taking stock, sinking in. Setting my alarm and keeping a calendar has given way to mapping the weather for the week and planning what dessert to make each day. It is a time of internal chaos, one that makes me feel dissociated from my body, mirroring the unease I feel all around me. Accidentally dropping meetings (both mine and my children’s), is something I would never have done ‘before’, but it’s a pretty standard upgrade to this new version of me.

I ordered a butterfly garden this week, so we now have a jar of insects sitting on the kitchen counter. And I have been mesmerized — much more so than my kids. I’ve stood with elbows folded across the quartz top, staring at them as they slowly move around their little plastic cage, eating, pooping, weaving. Getting ready for the great shift. I think, how much do they know about what’s happening to them? Are they excited? Scared? Do they register the other caterpillars — do they like each other? It’s such small quarters.

There’s one that got right to business and plumped up right away. She’s currently slowing down and settling under a gauze of webbing. There’s another who stayed small and didn’t move for a long time. My boys declared her dead. But then she got the memo and started on her journey, now as big at the others but far behind in the webbing part. Will she make it? What internal timer is managing their schedule to transform?

I’ve started voicing them in the mornings while I make a cup of coffee:

“You’re messin’ this up, Betty. You’re never going to make it.”

“Shut up Sheila, you’re an overachiever.”

We are all, in this moment together, sharing a plastic container, trapped inside and journeying toward a massive transformation. Each of us is doing it differently, doing it at different paces and with different beliefs about what this is anyway. I believe some of us were already preparing ourselves when we got here, and others are slow to the game. Some will make it, some will not. And I don’t think any of us has any idea what we’re preparing for. Not really.

Now, what I know of the life cycle of a butterfly was significantly enriched by a fieldtrip with my 7 year old to the Pacific Science Center this past year, and a 3D movie called Flight of the Butterflies. I don’t want to ruin the plot, but two things: one, caterpillars turn to complete goo inside their cocoons before they transform, and two, their journey takes generations to achieve. They pass the baton so that the granddaughter of the first butterfly is the one to complete the cycle and arrive at the destination.

We are connected across generations right now, given the chance to take our place in a transformation that our grandchildren will hopefully be a part of. And, spoiler, we’re going to turn to goo in the process. Within this one eternal moment, there is an opportunity unfolding to question what no longer works and think through the why and for what behind all of our actions and interactions.

Photo by Krzysztof Niewolny

Feminist philanthropists are here for it.

The gift of this disruption is the chance to let go of the things that weren’t serving us, to sink into the possibility of connecting differently. To see the flow of time less sequentially, to consider our ancestors and future generations presence here. To know that there is a destination out there, beyond what we can imagine, but one that we’re in service to. To give way to the chaos, the goo.

More than ever, I’m realizing that we’ve always had what we’ve needed to support each other … it’s been a lack of will and imagination all along. I’m choosing to sit with the discomfort of this information. Too often I understand this perspective on race, economics, environment, class and gender intellectually, but I don’t allow myself to feel it deeply within my body. The last few months I can’t escape this feeling in my body. This is my past and future to struggle with and through. This is my work to do.

What could be different? What could the world look like? How can I contribute to a world that ensures everyone has what they need to thrive?

In this time, when on the one hand there seems to be more noise, and on the other, a dropping away of inconsequential information, we’re given the opportunity to feel what truly matters and decide how to act on it. Here are some suggestions:

1. Give from a place of joy and abundance. “Here’s something I have, will it help you?” Performing live music sessions, offering online classes for free, drawing chalk obstacle courses on the sidewalk, making face masks for neighbors and essential workers, donating food and money, and all of the ridiculous comedic memes and videos people are posting to encourage our common humanity. You have everything you need to make a difference, you just need to decide what kind of difference you want to make.

2. Pay attention to the patterns. We are getting a stark glimpse at how the world really works. The velvet curtain is being pulled back and it is overwhelming … to those who’ve been able to sit comfortably in the audience until now. If you live with privilege you might be shocked by how these systems are dysfunctional and interconnected. Notice the connecting nodes of fear and power and control. What can you do to elevate these patterns so more people can see them and act appropriately to create change?

3. Make a plan for how you want to be when things begin to shift back. There is already a pull to go back to normal. And if you’re feeling that what you thought was normal is far from what’s possible, ask yourself what small steps you can commit to doing now to ensure things will be different when we emerge. I’m sure the world looks different to the butterfly than it did for the caterpillar, but what changed? You change the world by changing yourself. This is a great time to reflect on how you consume and how you’re complicit in the harm done to others.

4. Solidarity and reciprocity, always. In this case I’m referring to staying the course with organizations you’re already supporting, as well as stretching, if you’re able, to support basic needs. Theaters, libraries, museums, and systems changers are suffering too, and we’re going to need these cultural context makers more than ever when we move into the recovery phase of this pandemic. Be true and stay side by side with the organizations you’ve partnered with, giving now so that they can give later.

The five beings on my counter are readying for their cocooning, all of them trudging toward the unknown. Driven by an internal imperative that things could be different, they seem to know there’s a world they were meant to inhabit differently. They’ve been working so hard and I’m excited for what’s about to happen for them. It’s going to be ok.

My book, A Generous Heart | Changing the World Through Feminist Philanthropy, will remain available for $.99 (e-book) for one more week before it returns to full price. The world needs your feminist philanthropy more than ever … join me in being informed, intentional and joyful in your giving!