Jeanne E. Cleary

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Holding Both.

Posted by e.magnotto on May 7, 2013 at 9:45 PM

As published on mediate.com

May 2013

Some things are best one and done. I never want to hear the sound of gunshots again. Here in Boston and in my hometown of Watertown, people are reeling from this past week of tragic events. I am still hearing from friends who ran the marathon, who were at the finish line, whose neighbor died, whose close friend or colleague lies in the hospital with lost limbs and more surgeries to come. Broken bodies, broken hearts and shattered lives. Our experiences of courageous responders and the amazing unbroken spirits of some folks despite lost and broken bones buoy us, inspire us, help us to remember that part of ourselves that is strong and courageous and unbreakable. We see our own hidden reserves mirrored in their strength and courage. Dare we see a mirror when we look at Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, or even his older brother?


As a professor of mediation in the graduate program of Conflict Resolution at UMass Boston, one of the things I teach is the refrain: “What do you need to grow in order to have the capacity to hold both?” Growing capacity in addition to skill acquisition has been my passion for a number of years now, and my unwitting students of mediation find themselves faced with the confusion of “Is she talking mediation or meditation now?” as I weave basic mindfulness concepts throughout the classes. My students are charged with remaining “neutral/impartial” as mediators, to honor the dignity and worth of each person at the table in the face of the compelling impulse to resolve pain and distress by finding right and wrong, good and bad. Holding both (sides, stories, people) is a tough one.


I am challenged in the aftermath of this week with “holding both” as I consider this 19 year old boy (only a few years older than my son) on the one hand, and the horrific acts he perpetrated on the other. At the Saturday night vigil at Victory Field here in Watertown, I chatted with two women who like me were struggling with what to do about our confusing feelings of the heartbreak of the pain and loss from his horrific actions and compassion for this “boy”. In the end, we didn’t resolve this. In fact, what was there to resolve? We were feeling the reality of open hearts to the whole of it, the whole of all the people involved, the whole of our own experiences.


- Jeanne Cleary

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