You Are Not Alone and Now Is Not the Time to Be Silent

I’m struggling to find ways to take action while abroad. I cannot attend the weekly protests erupting at home. I have a French SIM card and can’t call internationally to encourage my senators to flex their spines. My mom (successfully!) emailed Murkowski against the confirmation of DeVos (though it proved insufficient), but mainly we just wake up and drop our jaws at our tiny screens hurling the horrors that transpired while we slept. Despite the moments of heartening, it’s difficult to evade becoming overwhelmed. So while France, too, nurses the foreboding possibility of its own entrance into this wave of 21st-century fascism and shakes its head along with us at each day’s events comically worse than the last, I feel removed from the home that, despite its fundamental atrocities and hypocrisies, I still desperately love.

My heart breaks for the people encompassed in a sweeping ban designating national hostility, for hard-won legislation and also common-sense legislation, for body autonomy and reproductive rights and healthcare and environmental protection and efforts to dismantle institutional racism and foreign diplomacy and heeding history’s lessons and every misguided, backwards step to come. Precisely because I feel so bitingly this overwhelming and cruel uncertainty, I also feel more heavily ashamed and unjustified at the minute yet paralyzing pain that governs my own personal existence. And because with every action comes its equal and opposite reaction, snide reminders of the insignificance of my struggles in the face of so many real issues to struggle against only feed that dripping, hollowing shame.

But it is not so far a leap to uncover the connections. In these double-edged times when it is all we can do to convincingly remind ourselves that our fortitude needs exercising to grow and that perseverance is possible, there is no division between personal and political. The larger collective world is not separate from us. It is a testament to humanity that we can feel enormous pain in (comparably) trivial adversities and allow it to topple us, to strike us squarely in the gut so as to simultaneously steal our breath and bend us in half.

For some agonizing time I fell back into spiked ruts which, though painful, are now as familiar and intimate as my own shadow. In that exasperating palimpsest of the demons we refuse to let go of, I bewilderedly watch myself repeatedly, voluntarily hand over my worth, resilience and belief in possibility to a prolonged delusion that scrapes away my insides. As I half-curiously, half-irritatedly contemplated how to reconcile my selfish desire to wallow in my endless faults with my quivering yet burning need to participate in just progress, I looked in the mirror and smiled at the wonder that I saw.

Because this body that endures changes and squeezes and death glares and deep breaths and chastising and congratulations (which are two sides of the same coin) and scorn and far too much responsibility for anyone to handle, this body has again demonstrated that inside of it exists an ancient and powerful knowledge that it is but a microcosm of the web it inhabits. Against my resubscription to a bogus, sexist, oppressive business scheme and mental manipulation deeply infiltrated in society, my body rebelled.

Long-held injuries flared up and hot tears stung. I panicked and flailed defeatedly — here I was again — but gradually, in the way that subconsciously you have known something for a very long time as it builds up under your skin but finally hits as if an entirely new, revolutionary epiphany, I wrapped myself in the soft truth of my connectedness and saw that my inner struggle mirrored the outer. In the context of the coinciding of a deeply introspective, fracturing historical moment and a well-positioned yet idiotic demagogue; when what the world needs most is compassion yet we are told to harden our skins; when we are convinced at once of the need to emulate simpler and truer times of the past and to speed forward towards relentless progress that should have already been made, we push harder to control and return more devastated when we can’t.

This is not to say that we do not have agency. Through protest and civic engagement and displays of humanity and commitment to step up and speak out when we recognize the warning signs, people power cannot be ignored and is already churning out impact and influence. Within every moment, we have choices. But in the larger framework of an election truly not decided by the people, and a history to which we are beholden but unable to change, and the sticky snowball of fear with a mind of its own that declares the only way up and out is to glom on, we are not in control of this world.

Surrender on this global scale, implemented personally and effected collectively, means leaning into that blurred mesh that feels a little uncomfortable because we know it’s time to wake up. Let us feel entirely the despair, the overwhelming deluge of absurdities and regressive power plays inundating our life-bubbles we have worked so hard to protect. Let us throw open the doors to that one little space maintained pink and tender, secret and oh-so-precious, reserved for the a-political and the soft glow on which we know we can depend in our moments of retreat.

Because if there was ever a time to deepen our humanity and build our strength, this is it. We cannot escape the realities of cementing justice and compassion as irremovable and uncompromising by separating our personal humanity from that of the rest. When we lean in, when we allow the full melding of our determined activist ideals and our vulnerable, tired, sacred organs, that pink and precious place will grow deeper and wider. When we finally fully listen to people of color and believe in their pain as our own, when we interrupt the steamroller of betrayed agreements to respect indigenous rights, when we pull from our education of a modern genocide embodying evil to recognize that Never Again requires commitment, when we engage with our bodies not in a hostile tug-of-war but by nurturing boundless acceptance, then we will truly feel the gears of change turning. Then we will feel more ourselves and more human, and remember that we have always been those things.

So yes, take care of yourself. Spread self-compassion and self-care unsparingly, and let it seep outwards and permeate the boundaries. But please, let’s not build walls. Let’s share and listen even when all we want to do is crawl and huddle and cry, and then when we’re on our knees and puffy-eyed let’s sit in a circle (or maybe a virtual one) and touch our hands or maybe not, maybe just let the space and the waves and the beingness roll and sit and refresh us.

We’ve got work to do, and my journey and yours and ours is so very far from over. And it will change and we’ll mess up and we’ll learn things and relearn things and forget them again, and hopefully relearn them, and I will love myself, as fiercely and unconditionally as humanly muster-able. Now is the time to be fiercely and unconditionally human. Truly, we have no other choice.

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A Bouncing Sphere Becoming a Venn Diagram

It’s vacation, really, what I’m on. I didn’t quite think of it that way, but traipsing through Ireland and then England for two weeks with no job, no obligations and only my ability to stay within budget as limitation constitutes nearly a textbook definition of vacation. So, naturally, I find things to worry about. That’s partly human nature, partly my own neurosis, but those nagging perturbations that have a knack for popping up as soon as the preceding one diminishes in importance present a near-constant opportunity for growth. In fact, finding pockets of peace within those worries is kind of the whole idea of this year for me.

People ask and I’m still not entirely sure why I chose this particular corner of the world as my first stop, but both Ireland and England have proved soft entry points into a year of solo travel. Lack of a language barrier, for one, removes a major challenge. So, too, does the similarity of culture and the extensive tourism industry that renders much of both countries extremely receptive to (especially American) tourists. Really, besides being more expensive (London = $$$) and discrepancies in pronunciation and vocabulary, I couldn’t have picked a more comfortable place to travel. Which leaves me to contemplate, to reflect, to wander, and, yes, to worry — but also to sit with those worries and trust myself to progress through them (maybe aided by an occasional text to my mom).

The Cliffs of Moher on the west coast of Ireland

The Cliffs of Moher on the west coast of Ireland

Because the human experience exists on a very, very expansive spectrum, some days or hours or moments I feel good, and some I don’t, and sometimes they occur right after each other or within each other or mix in a confusing swirl of faded trails left by watercolors after the color has run out. I’ll go to sleep wishing so many of my decisions had followed the left side of the T instead of the right and wake up with the sun peeking over the windowsill, and my good-feelingness is welcome but invokes a sense of myself as an imposter. Sure, I’m fine now, but yesterday I made a mistake, I was negative or mean, I didn’t appreciate the present moment, I cried and felt hopeless — so I don’t actually feel good today. I really shouldn’t get too comfortable in this repose.

And that realization, albeit twisted, really has a spark of truth in it. No, I’m not an imposter when things look rosy, and that feeling is totally valid — even if it is because of caffeine or that early morning possibility. Simply, it’s all temporary. Though maybe I’d like my default to shift further towards the lighter end, we so often hail happiness as the end goal, the constant expectation. And by this point I think it’s pretty clear we gotta feel alllllll the feelings. There really is room for the whole of it.

Which is to say, there’s room for vacation and adventure, challenge and relaxation, staying informed and tuning out. I can work on expanding my worldview and nurturing myself and, simultaneously, I can applaud high profile American athletes joining in yet another stage of necessary activism manifesting itself in NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s valuable protest. I can watch incredulously and then with relief when President Obama listens to the people and acknowledges the disrespect and cruelty of the Dakota Access Pipeline. And then, as I’m continually discovering my place in the world, I can notice how unnerving it is to be right smack dab in the center of colonialism. I absorb all of this in a privileged, relatively easy situation and my ponderings only grow deeper — because they incorporate my entire sensory comprehension.

I have never really traveled in Europe before, excluding a short family jaunt through Spain many years ago. My life has been spent almost exclusively in the New World. Thoroughly all of the United States is populated by people whose ancestors did not originate there, with the preeminent exception of Native Americans and Alaska Natives. Though I am constantly fascinated by and grateful to live in America, there is always the underlying truth that the people and America I see around me is not the natural outgrowth of what has always been. Especially in Alaska, where colonization is relatively recent and Alaska Native culture is so vibrant and present and central to the collective future of the state, I am always aware that people came before me. Even in South and Central America, where a majority of the population is indeed descended from ancestors who called their same land home, they speak a language and practice a religion forced upon them by the early Western world and look very different from the people who colonized them.

Here, however, surrounded by ancient castles and churches and the native language still the primary one and that from centuries past, with a few difficulties, maybe even I could understand, I feel the novelty. Of course, Ireland was invaded by the British and made to switch languages and religions. But even with that history of incursion, the pigment in the faces that primarily populate Ireland and England has not changed or been subjected to unspeakable cruelty, they have not been ousted from their traditional homes. This is the original West.

Years have passed, it’s not just Britain and England, and many other countries — notably the U.S. — have done their fair share of colonization, destroyed enough cultures and committed copious crimes against humanity. It’s worth feeling the vestiges.

St. Fin Barre's Cathedral in Cork, Ireland

St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral in Cork, Ireland

Guess where? (London)

Guess where? (London)

My extremely fortunate opportunity to explore all of these thoughts for myself is nonetheless operating on a one-way cash flow, and it’s not in. By the grace of hospitality and priceless connections I have stayed with friends of friends and am indebted to their generosity, and am definitely on a budget. I’m doing my best to be a responsible and stingy adult and make calculated decisions, so when I entered the Camden Market I nearly dropped into the gaping jaws of that insidious capitalism. Mainly stemming from my own ineptitude at balance, simply gazing at the stuff can be difficult for me to enjoy with no strings attached. But shopping can be fun, especially in foreign spaces and when viewed as an activity to explore the endless variety and ingenuity of the market. Sometimes I can appreciate it, but my inherent desire, my girlish want for the pretty thing makes me ashamed. I’d prefer to avoid shopping altogether and condemn capitalism without nuance than linger in the in-between where I marvel at things I don’t need, acknowledge the system we live in, and allow myself some room for whim purchases. And now that I’ve written that sentence, I realize that’s exactly where I’m headed. Ah, self reflection.

Getting acquainted with the Atlantic through the English Channel (Brighton, England)

Getting acquainted with the Atlantic through the English Channel (Brighton, England)

So I’m hopping around in a forgiving yet still terrifying first step of attempting to manifest independence, staying nearly exclusively with people I’ve never met but contacted from across the world, and each one tells me that they were warned karma would come for them. That they were hosted, treated, welcomed as young clueless travelers themselves, and now it’s their turn. I don’t know if the generosity, warmth, and support I’ve received can be justified by just karma, because I have an inkling I really ended up with some good ones. It looks like I’ll be hosting a lot of travelers in my day.