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 Compilation of Flickers

There’s always moments. In the dark slogs and the unremarkable monotony there’s flashes of contentment, or maybe even a slight nanosecond of euphoria. Perhaps they are hidden and so small they become forgotten as soon as the realization fades, with enough distance between them to become convinced of their nonexistence. And then, one day, squashed between under-the-table footsie with your seven-year-old host sister and ease of communication in your second language and a little nugget of independence that is becoming more and more effective at persuading you that you’re enough, you plunge blissfully into cliché because the moments string together directly in front of your eyes and you’re running through the banner like the ribbon at the finish line but the edges continue to stream behind you indefinitely, flapping at your hips and stuck in the middle but dynamic all the same.

I’m not saying a switch just flipped. Sometimes it feels like that, but I know my moments — that I worked hard for and sometimes avoided and often longed for — have been steadily building. I’m not saying Spain is better or even magical. I still get frustrated and tired — the Spanish concept of a night is impressive in its extent while simultaneously designating the most insignificant of portions for sleep. Two-hour classes can be trying to sit through, frequently my words get jumbled and I doubt my language abilities and people and relationships are complex and frustrating. I have breaths of shame, regret and consternation and occasionally encounter lurking envy. But I wake up and sometimes my stomach gurgles with the remnants of the twilight hours and I sift through the world that took place on the opposite end of the waking cycle, and I smile.

I scroll through atrocities and inspiration, resilience and indignation, opinions and reminders of previous chapters. I smell October in Alaska and the mushy leaves are tangy and pungent and for a brief pang in the side of my chest I long for that crispness. Still a fire rages at injustice displayed to me by my country and my own complicit society, and again fleetingly I contemplate my place in those fights. Faces I love, accomplishments I’m proud to share, places my eyes trick me into thinking I need to be… ah, so is social media. The product of all this, to my surprise, is more often than not a smile. I think that’s what happens when you decide to love yourself. And when a whole lot of circumstance finally aligns on your side.

What else? (The Alhambra, Granada’s map-maker)

Layers too numerous to ascertain define my comprehension of Spain: a 10-year-old’s brief, wet and wrought family vacation, second-hand expectations and a historical lens I don’t always agree with. Memories of the Bolivian silver mine of Potosí that galvanized capitalism by feeding Spain’s debts through exploitation and the brutal colonization of all of Latin America sometimes seem dismissed here, but for me they are unshakeable. The date 1492 and the pedestaled statue of Columbus and Queen Isabela dominating the central plaza indicate something more to me than simply the “discovery” of the New World — namely, a vicious inquisition here and a ruthless genocide there that in many ways continues to this day. Now Spain, who laid so extensive a conquest, boasts its own political turmoil as it marches on without a government and I catch whiffs of a fallen empire. Tomorrow I will celebrate Indigenous People’s Day as I walk to class past that elevated Columbus and I will continue to ruminate also on the insanity occurring at home. This is a time to be alive. 

Casa Batlló in Barcelona, one of many Gaudí buildings by which I was mesmerized

Casa Batlló in Barcelona, one of many Gaudí buildings by which I was mesmerized

Barcelona sunset

Barcelona sunset

I wander (but mainly still lose myself) through the sometimes commercial, sometimes industrial, sometimes ancient streets of Granada that still exude charm and have thoroughly won me over and I’m not sure what it is that lets my insides feel light.

Perhaps my femurs know I am here solely to learn, expand and enjoy. That I am constantly, acutely aware of my fortune and privilege and somehow that inspires no guilt but only more gratitude. Absolutely nonlinear, by some stroke of serendipity this current section of the carousel has me twirling with a chunk of peace — stones roll off, chinks ever-plentiful are acknowledged, and still through it all there’s an overwhelming sense that I can handle it.

Flamenco in the caves of Granada

Oh, Granada… I have little to complain about