18: There’s No Place Like Ommmmm

18: There’s No Place Like Ommmmm

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind (of) America

There’s No Place Like Ommmmm

Music can change the world because it can change people.

~Bono

The day before a Women’s March, I received an e-mail from a friend warning me to be prepared because it could get ugly. She cautioned there might be people protesting the march, and she gave me a list of strategies to avoid getting swept up in the violence, including staying out of the center of any frenzy, and writing my name and an emergency contact phone number in black marker on my arm in case I got caught in a police raid.

She said that her sister had recently been holding hands in prayer with a group of activists in a peaceful protest and was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet. With this dark cloud hovering overhead, my friends and I gathered on the eve of the Women’s March in a ceremony that included prayer, meditation, and soul-to-soul sharing, plus gobs of chocolate (because chocolate, well, no need to explain).

We all expressed how scared, nervous, and unsure we felt about the march the next morning. We questioned if putting our lives at risk was worth it. None of us felt particularly strong, but we all felt it was important to show up anyway. Come hell or high water, nothing would stop us from marching.

Until then, I’d not been the type to be politically active. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I attended several Marianne Williamson for Congress rallies, and I have always taken a very strong stance in the Pepsi/Coke debate.

I’ve also suffered from a severe case of the “Disease to Please,” which is why I’ve not been more vocal about my political feelings. I’ve cared way too much about not offending anyone and wanting everyone to think I’m the nicest person on the planet. But, thankfully, that is no longer the case. It’s safe to say that the beast has been awakened . . . and it’s okay if people unfriend me on Facebook, which happened as soon as I attended the women’s march, by the way.

It does hurt my feelings when people unfriend or unfollow me on Facebook (especially when it’s my own godmother), but I’m learning to come to peace with it. The beauty of gathering with women is that, in addition to celebrating each other’s highlights (career, relationship, or hair), we can express our pain, angst, and drama without having any clue what the solution might be. It’s in the simple act of sharing, caring, and listening that the healing alchemy takes place . . . and that night, it did.

By the time we arrived on the metro in downtown Santa Monica, we were buoyant, our tanks were full, and we were ready to take on the day, come what may, even if that meant, God forbid, getting shot in the eye with a rubber bullet.

We were among thousands of mostly women, and some brave men and children, smooshed together like sardines into the train compartments.

Even though we were packed to the gills, the metro was automatically programmed to stop at all its normal twenty-five stops along the route to downtown. Every time we’d stop, we’d see a bustling mob of hopeful people waiting to get on. Upon seeing how crammed in we were, despite their disappointment, they’d take a breath and resign themselves to wait for the next train, while encouraging us as we pulled off to the next stop.

Luckily, we were a jovial bunch that made light of the fact that we were all up in each other’s business. I joked and said, “We’re definitely getting our daily hug quotient today. At least, we’re all good sports about this.”

I spoke too soon.

At the next stop, a huge, irate man barged his way into our compartment like a punk rocker in a slam pit, and started yelling: “MAKE ROOM, YOU SELFISH IDIOTS! THERE’S ENOUGH ROOM. DON’T BE SO SELFISH!”

In seconds flat, our happy Girl Scout camp became helter-skelter, fraught with screaming, yelling, and pushing. The louder that people shouted at the man, the more adrenalized he became, and this lit match was quickly becoming an out-of-control forest fire.

On a dime, I realized there was no fighting fire with fire. This ugly scene would only continue to escalate, so I did the only thing in my power I could think of to do in that moment . . .

I OMMMMMED . . . loudly!

Because my friends and I were on the same wavelength from our ceremony the night before, they instantly jumped on my Om bandwagon and together our OMMMMM escalated. This incited the rest of our compartment to join in, and we suddenly became a single voice of the loudest OMMMMM I’d ever heard.

I’ve ommmmed a lot in my day, but I’ve never ommmmmed like that . . . with such intensity . . . at such a volume . . . with such a purpose: to snuff out fear with love. This was no light and fluffy Om; it was an Om on a mission.

After about eight rounds of Ommming, as if we all shared one mind, we gently lowered our volume and noticed that the man had stopped ranting.

Absolute silence settled in upon our compartment. We felt a cautious optimism that we’d successfully snuffed out the rage with our Om, but we didn’t know for sure the fire was all the way out until we got off the train in downtown Los Angeles. We all took a deep sigh of relief and were grateful our Om put out the fire.

I reflected on the Singing Revolution in Estonia in 1988, when spontaneous mass singing demonstrations led to the restoration of the independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The people of Estonia literally joined hands and hearts and, with a unified voice, sang their way out of the bonds of the Soviet Union.

Then Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi came to mind. They taught that “non-violence” is not merely the absence of violence, but a force unto itself — a soul force — stronger than hate and fear. It is a force that, if engaged in, will have the final word.

I felt elated because for the first time in my life, I truly felt the power of “non-violence,” not just the intellectual understanding of it . . . and I suddenly became incredibly thankful for the irate man.

I pray for him because I know he must be incredibly troubled to carry around that level of incendiary rage. But for my girlfriends and me, he was a strange angel who taught us how powerful we can be in the face of hate.

Luckily for us, the incident with the man was the only troubling event during the day. In fact, the march itself was incredibly peaceful and good-spirited. My sister Shannon nailed it when she said, “Being at the Women’s March was like being on the winning team at a sporting event.”

We felt like we had won because we all had an opportunity to have our voices heard, and to be shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of thousands of people (and millions worldwide) who realized how powerful we can be when we join our voices (literally and symbolically) to ensure that peace, freedom, and liberty have a voice (or at least a loud OM!).

Dorothy said it best when she realized the great, terrifying, and powerful Oz was just a little man with a big God-complex. In the end, she realized that all she needed to do to get back to her place of power was to tap her heels three times and say, “There’s no place like Ommmmm!”

~Kelly Sullivan Walden

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