Since I didn’t write about Chapter 2 last week, I’m writing about both chapters 2 and 3 this week. Where the Introduction and first chapter felt inspiring, these two felt more like foundation-laying. It’s important work and asks some important questions, but they weren’t satisfying for me in the same offering-of-hope-and-vision kind of way. Thinking back on them now, they were a challenge to really examine how I move in the world.

Chapter 2 focuses on the distinction between refusal and retreat. I read it during the week that my governor decided our state schools would not reopen before this year’s planned graduations. Like Odell, I very much believe in the power and importance of temporary removal from daily routines, but we’re currently in the midst of an enforced removal that denies many of us the very things we need to connect with most. In light of that reality, the proposition of refusing in place becomes vastly more urgent.

I’m not going to offer any answers right now, because this is something I struggle with. I tend to push myself to carry the burdens of the many people I love, whether or not they want or need me to, until I have no choice but to retreat. I’ve lived my life on a yo-yo, unable to figure out how to get off and too often feeling chastised (at the least) when I’ve tried. The challenge for me in this second chapter is to remember that I don’t have to exit my circumstances to live my own life on my own terms. I can set boundaries that support my health, even when they upset others. And it’s a measure of my privilege, to be certain, that the people currently closest to me – both emotionally and physically – don’t begrudge me the time or space to do that. While my behaviors may be grounded in past experience, the challenge now rests entirely on my own shoulders.

Brené Brown (among others) talks about the need to have compassion for oneself in order to truly and genuinely express it for others. Sitting with all of this, the relationship between personal peace and worldly compassion feels less like a balancing act and more like a prerequisite. How can we possibly hold the compassion the world needs if we cannot nurture peace for ourselves? How can we build a kinder world if we’re constantly tearing ourselves down?

That doesn’t me we stop striving for improvement – whether personal or societal or global. It just means that we remember the impossibility of saving anyone else when we, ourselves, are drowning. Further, I believe both personal peace and worldly compassion depend on and grow from that same understanding.

All of that still begs the questions asked in chapter 3 – what are the privileges that allow us to outwardly express this personal peace and worldly compassion and what obligation do we have to wield that expression for the good of our society? These are deeply personal questions, and the answers must vary accordingly. The only thing I can say with any conviction is that if I’m asking the question then I have the resources to have some responsibility to my fellow human beings.

Of course, I absolutely have opinions about broadly generalized obligations of broadly generalized groups of people, typically organized around access to resources and conventional trappings of power. The problem with those opinions is that they tend to focus on the burdens of others, rather than myself. Reading these two chapters and sitting with their thoughts, I’m left wondering if maybe a part of the reason I bounce back and forth between giving too much and exiting is that the only solutions I’ve spent time examining are better suited to people with far different resources than those I have access to.