9/11 and the mission of Freedom Song

9/11 and the mission of Freedom Song

Today is September 11th and I am reminded of the many ways the world changed on that fateful day, 17 years ago.

Mark and I were living in downtown Manhattan at the time, and when we were finally allowed back into our apartment we found it covered in the toxic, white dust that settled all over our beloved city.

The city that we loved, that had provided us with all we needed to make our creative dreams come true, changed almost overnight into a place where scared immigrants displayed the stars and stripes in their front windows, hoping it would be enough to save them from attack.

We read with horror accounts of sikh shop owners who had been killed for wearing turbans and we watched as fear mongering nationalists hijacked the city. 

Within a month of the attacks we decided to return home to New Zealand.

Since then the world has become a darker and more divided place than ever. The fear and division caused on that day has grown so much that when I look at America today I feel desperate about the future.

There are more refugees and displaced people than ever before, (67 million at last count) and new nationalist movements are taking the fear and anxiety of our age and using it to fuel their political ambitions.

I think many of us are feeling apprehensive about the future.

When the attacks happened all those years ago, I took refuge in my faith and in words that helped me to make sense of the chaos all around me. Freedom Song was a touchstone poem that I carried around with me back then, and I remember reading it during my toughest times to bring clarity to the confusion.

And now 17 years later that same poem is now a beautiful hard cover gift book and the message it brings is more relevant than ever. It looks at the world and all its heartbreak and gives a solution for these strange and divided times we are currently navigating.

The message is simple but very important at this time. We know deep in our hearts that our shared humanity is all that really counts, and yet sometimes we need a timely reminder.

People have told me that they have cried or choked up when they first read Freedom Song. This makes me happy because I know that it is doing its work and making us think about the big picture, and more importantly helping us to tap into how we are feeling about the way the world is right now.

Freedom Song didn't spring from a focus group or to plug a gap in the market, the words sprang from the depth of my soul, as it struggled to make sense of the human suffering it encountered.

It brought a message of love and connection to me at a time when I most needed and it and it exists now in the form of this book to connect with your soul in an authentic and healing way.

Freedom Song has changed and evolved with me through the last two decades. I was lucky to find the unique and wonderful paintings of Ewan McDougall to illustrate the deep themes running through the words. 

I wrote the first draft of the poem when I was in my early 20s and working as a journalist on a documentary with Rena Owen from the award winning New Zealand film, "Once Were Warriors". We were talking to people whose lives were similar to those depicted in the movie.

I was shocked when we met a young woman who told us the story of the death of her baby at the hands of her partner and how she had taken the rap and blamed post-natal depression to save her partner the jail time.

I thought I was pretty worldly twenty something but this confession broke my heart. There seemed to be little emotion in the woman's retelling and I was shocked and saddened by the lack of love, and devastating violence that was at the centre of her life. 

I felt helpless to do anything to make this woman's life any better and  her story was only one of many sad stories I heard through my research. I went to bed that night with a very heavy heart.

I fell into a fitful sleep and in the middle of the night woke to a urge to write. What emerged was the first draft of "Freedom Song". The words somehow distilled my distress and pain into a rhyming poem that answered some of the deep questions that I couldn't answer in my woken life. 

The words came from a deep well within that was working hard as I slept to bring meaning to my world. The whimsical tone, and compassionate words brought me peace that night and it has done the same thing on many nights since.

Freedom Song is a celebration of our shared humanity and a song of hope in these strange and uncertain times.

It came to me as a gift of clarity at a time when I really needed it. Now I offer it to the world with the same intention...may it bring peace, clarity and joy to all who come across it.

And in this same spirit I will donate a percentage of profits from Freedom Song to the Save the Children charity.



Trump, Tom and Freedom Song

Trump, Tom and Freedom Song

This week a dear friend shared with me that a brilliant young man we both know (let's call him Tom) has recently become radicalised to alt right philosophies and was keen to attend speaking tour of Canadian alt-right speakers Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux in Auckland recently.

I was shocked to hear this, as the young man in question is sweet, smart, savvy and very polite. Not that this means he is immune to hate speech and the philosophies that go with it, but because I finally knew a real person who believed these ideas and he didn't fit the bill of my preconceptions one bit.

There is lots of anger out there in the world and according to my 14 year old son there are lots of young, white men who feel threatened by feminism, immigration, government interference and many other things. And there is a concerted campaign on social media to gather and harness this anger and hate and make young people passionate about changing things in all the wrong ways.

WhenI was at University it was all about the Women's Room, and fighting for Palestinian human rights, and listening to ever more alternative bands in the quad and local pubs.

We were free to think what we wanted and to form our own opinions while the government paid our fees.

Things are so very different now. University is a business decision and kids are making choices based on what will buy them their first house, rather than an ideological ideas about what the world actually needs in order to move forward.

I've no doubt that kids are much smarter than we were at the same age and in the long run I have great faith in the way the way our society will grow, change and evolve over the next few generations.

But thinking of lovely Tom becoming passionate about such hateful ways of seeing the world broke my heart a little. It's so easy to live in our own little bubbles of those who think the same way as we do, and who echo back our own views of the world.

But to make a difference and to counteract the tribalism and "us and them" mentality that is growing globally we have to be prepared to really listen to those on the "other side" and understand where they are coming as much as we possibly can.

Judgment is easy, but what is not easy is to really open up a compassionate dialogue with someone whose views are polar opposites of our own. There must be valid reasons why Tom feels the way he does and if I can understand them, and then help him understand them then I have hope that we can bring more true compassion into our world.

We live in uncertain and volatile times and perhaps Tom just wants to put his trust in something, to rely on something that will not keep changing and will give him a sense of purpose in the world. Perhaps he has been wounded by a woman, or by his mother, who was wounded herself and so he is threatened by feminism and all that represents.

All the things that separate us come from a lack of love. When love is present we can embrace each other and find our common ground. When we are lacking in love we see this lack all around us, we are angry and we want to bring justice to the world and to make others pay for the wrong that has been done to us.

And it doesn't matter whether we are left of left, or alt right, this lack of love and the wrong decisions that it leads us to, take us further away from each other and from a world that is kind and free and sustainable.

My new book Freedom Song embodies my hopes for the future in exactly this way. It is all about the strange, disconnected times we are living in, and asserts that if we can drop our judgments of one another we will see that we are all fundamentally the same.

Love is not some esoteric, romantic word, it is the strongest and most difficult and powerful word in any language. It is also our only option, our only way forward, our only way back to ourselves and each other.

I truly believe that love and compassion can work magic. I want so much to gift Tom a copy of Freedom Song, and then ask him to let me know his thoughts.

I think I'll do just that and let you know how it goes.