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Mindset Monday: Shedding our Collective Skin

By MJ Ryan

Today, I am offering an excerpt from an email that Steph Speirs, CEO of SheEO Venture Solstice wrote to her community recently. I think her framing of what is happening is beautiful and important. Solstice is a solar organization bringing to low cost solar electricity to vulnerable communities. Please check out their work and consider donating to their nonprofit through their partner Patagonia: https://www.patagonia.com/actionworks/grantees/solstice/donate/. And if you live in NY or have friends who do, sign up for free solar and get guaranteed utility savings here: https://enroll.solstice.us.

Steph writes: “In biology, shedding one’s skin is called “ecdysis.” Snakes shed their whole skin in a process that can take up to two weeks. Lizards shed piecemeal, and insects like cicadas leave behind whole exoskeletons when they molt. Normally, human ecdysis is imperceptible because it happens via skin cells and strands of hair at a time. Normally.

“During ecdysis, the new skin becomes soft, more permeable, and more vulnerable to disease and predators. During this phase though, the animal also expands, since growth is otherwise constrained by the rigidity of the old exoskeleton. Ecdysis even allows damaged tissue and missing limbs to be regenerated or reformed. Over time, the new skin hardens.

“One way to interpret the discomfort that all of us have experienced recently is to call it grief, partially because we are losing our protective exoskeleton. There is too much suffering and loss to fathom right now, and the hardest hit will be the ones who have historically donned the least protection: gig and service workers, those with serious medical conditions, the elderly, those earning too little money to save for an emergency, and communities of color.

“After ensuring the safety and health of our team, the first thing we did in the first few days of the coronavirus crisis was to call our customers to see how they were faring. We heard people say that they are suffering, that they are sick, and that they have lost jobs. We heard everyone say that they are learning to grapple. The uncertainty of our current era deepens the grief.

“At Solstice, we have taken some comfort in focusing on what we can control. Solstice staff have been remote, working overtime to transition all our community gatherings online and helping people save money on their electricity bills. We will continue to do what we’ve always done—build trust within a community and offer a product that can truly make people’s lives better.

“While on her honeymoon in 1978, Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye was brutally robbed of everything she owned. A stranger came up to her after the robbery, looked her in the eye, and said, `I’m so sorry this happened to you.’ That day, Naomi sat down and penned a poem:

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.

“Whatever you’re going through, know that someone in Ohio or Alabama or Italy or China or Iran has felt the same way. We are all being forced to shed our collective skin, and we are ensconced in that vulnerable phase when our soft underbelly is exposed. But it is also during this time that we grow and we repair and we rebuild. As painful as this is, we are supplanting the rigidity of our old exoskeleton. Because moments of crisis are also moments of courage. And because this too shall pass.”

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