First the Pain, Then the Rising

Life scared me into being small. It pushed me to be fearful, to be quiet and obedient, to never be “too much,” too intelligent, too driven, too ambitious, or too much of a leader. To take what I earned and worked for and “just be grateful.” To only speak when asked, to only act when prompted, and to settle for mediocrity when excellence and brilliance were my signals of virtue.

Life scared me into believing that my purpose on this earth was merely to exist. It led me into thinking that I was a singular cog within the capitalist machine that trudges on and on. It engrained into my mind that insignificance and replaceability were facts of this life, and that in spite of the depth of my heart and my mind, I would never have the capacities to create, reach, and impact the way I wished to.

Life scared me into believing that I am too weak, alone, and unprepared to deal with pain. That I was incapable of braving the storm and it somehow taught me that because I felt things so deeply and thought so deliberately, the world and all of its pain would be too much for me to handle. It made me believe that the heart beating inside of my chest and the mind functioning in my head like clockwork were not sufficient, that all I desired would forever be unattainable, and that the anguish, heartache, torment, grief, and suffering that reveals itself in abundance would ultimately defeat me.

I’ve always had BIG thoughts. BIG feelings. BIG connections. BIG ambitions. BIG dreams. BIG opinions. BIG words. A BIG aliveness within me that was waiting to prevail and to break through the confines and the cages that society urged me to create for myself.

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As I’ve grown, learned, and evolved, there is one truth that I have discovered and will forever cling to: that if I truly desire the things I believe myself to value and uphold, that I must not only be willing to face the storm, but that I embrace and move towards the pain it may bring. What I want most out of this life— fulfillment, love, vivacity, wholeness, compassion, impact, meaning— do not come to those who cower away from the pain. In fact, I’ve found that in the moments during which I felt most complete and human, pain has always been close by. I have learned to welcome the pain this life breeds for me and for those close to me, and I do my best every moment of everyday to inch closer and closer to the discomfort, for that is the source of growth. The deepest pains of my life have also been the ground from which I have evolved abundantly, loved most deeply, felt most wholly, and have succeeded in being most human. In spite of life’s relentless teachings that pain and sorrow may only beget more, boundless pain and sorrow, the end we reach after enduring such pain is anything but an end. Following the pain, learning how to navigate, cope, create, and feel our way through is the beginning of our journey towards becoming more human— of unraveling and untangling the cages and systems that have always inhibited us, the negating of the age-old teachings that push us into taming ourselves for the likeness of others and of society, the revolution and evolution into who we are truly meant to be.

I shied away from the BIG for longer than I care to admit. I believed my big feelings, big thoughts and insights, big wishes and dreams, big aspirations and intentions for inspiration, and big voice to be *too* big. I stayed in the cage that the world presented me with upon entering this life, and as I grew and began to better understand what womanhood and minoritization constitute in this nation, I enabled the tightening of my cage. As I came to understand the nature and function of a capitalist state, I felt the bars around me closing in more and more everyday. As I began to face pains and the inevitable tribulations of life and the human condition, I began to stiffen the bindings of the cages myself. I withdrew, scared of it all. I had tamed many of my big feelings, but the fear always remained, a haunting reminder that I could not shrink myself nearly enough to escape everything I so desperately wished to. I thought that avoidance would lead me to happiness or joy, or at the minimum, apathy. Perhaps the fear was so big that I would have rather felt nothing at all than the feelings I knew to be so powerful that they might kill me. I convinced myself that self-preservation was the highest virtue I could settle for, and I believed my survival to depend on my own withdrawal, my ability to anticipate the potential harms, pains, despairs, and anguish that life could have waiting for me right outside the confines of my own cages. So I withdrew. I settled for a small life, because the BIG seemed too much for me to cope with:

To feel nothing at all was less scary than feeling everything all at once.

How wrong was I?
As it turns out, the lessons that the world drilled into my mind were not, in fact, what I have found to be true. Not only that, but they were completely antithetical to what I actually want my life to be like— what I want ME to be like. But then again, how could I have ever expected the world that created and handed me the cages to be the same source of my freedom and wholeness? The past few years of this life for me have undoubtedly been the worst of my life. I’ve felt what I thought to be the greatest heartbreaks and griefs imaginable, I’ve lost more than I can properly put into words, I’ve failed miserably time and time again, and I’ve had my fair share of finding comfort in the darkness and anguish the harrowing realities of the world brought to me. What I didn’t expect, though, is that with the heartache came insight. With the loneliness came contemplation. With the loss came an emptiness now home to my most precious and beautiful memories. With the failure came reflection. With the grief came connection and humanness. And with the darkness ultimately came the arrival of a light breeding a transformation and strength I could have never seen, felt, or anticipated. If the lowest of my lows have taught me anything at all, it’s that no matter how fiercely I run away from pain and how extensively I try to shield myself from its impact, I will never run fast enough. I can never fully disappear. Pains and trials will always approach me faster than I can move away from them, and it will always find each of us, for it is what makes us most human.

 

 

It took me a long time to figure out that in this lifetime, trying so desperately to avoid the BIG-ness I knew deep down that I wanted was simply impossible to see or experience from within the confines of the cage I allowed myself to adopt and exist in. If I truly wished to seek the dreams I had conjured, speak with the strength I knew I had, write with the power and impact I wanted, and experience the fullest, most authentic and beautiful life I knew, pain was inevitable. It was the starting line, and a daunting one at that. But somewhere along the way, I got tired. I got tired of living a small life, having a small voice, settling for what the world told me I should be grateful for, and waiting for “the moment.” I had waited years and years for something extraordinary to wedge its way into the orbit of my restraints, and it never came. Because it never does. The moment that I was constantly waiting for would never come, because not only was I so conditioned to feel and see only the surface of everything this life offers, but I had not even granted myself the time, space, and freedom to grow into knowing exactly what moment I was actually waiting for. Much of my life has been spent waiting for these BIG moments that have never arrived, because I felt more comfortable in the waiting room of my cage than outside of it creating and existing in the moment I wanted to experience. Because all I allowed myself to feel and be was small, I was constantly anticipating the BIG to arrive— the euphoric joy, the greatest of tangible successes, the most brilliant of thoughts. The gift of time has provided me the necessary pain I needed not only in order to begin breaking free of my own bounds, but to begin being the BIG I had been impatiently waiting for.

Years ago, I never expected to be here. In grad school. Thinking these thoughts. Writing these words. Loving and losing. Growing with every step and breath I take, never knowing if the direction of my growth is in alignment with what I desire or value. What I do know is that now, having faced the pain and knowing that I will continue to walk towards it, is that my life is the most true, authentic, and beautiful it has ever been. I am here to keep becoming deeper, more true and real versions of myself time and time again. To be alive is to be in a perpetual state of revolution; some of it willful, some of it fateful.

The people I most admire in this life are many things, but resilient, courageous, intentional, empathetic, and human are my favorite things about them. I now know that no one gets to be those things without having first faced the storm, endured the pain, and learned to overcome. The overcoming, or rising, follows the conquering of the pain, and there is nothing more true and beautiful about this life or the human condition than this— that the same pain and deep suffering that makes us fall to our knees and falter more than we can imagine is what also grants us the freedom to evolve, to see the world through new eyes, to become all that we wish to be, and to grow into the people we are meant to be. You don’t get to be resilient, brave, courageous, insightful, or wise by shying away from the pain and avoiding all the heartbreak that comes your way. Only the brave are warriors, and that is the greatest sense of freedom I know.

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So now, whenever I sense the cage closing in on me and taunting me with its confines, I remember the pain, and then the rising. And as many wounds, aches, and troubles I may face in both embracing and being the BIG I always waited for, I remember how living a small life felt. I remember the roads and paths I could have taken that may have eased up my journey and made it more bearable. But then I remember the feelings; the ones that cannot be replaced, understood, or even felt inside such a small life. Untangling myself from the world’s expectations, definitions, and dividing lines will always be messy, and I know that it will inevitable leave me more open to harm and pain than if I were to choose the safety and preservation that accompanies societal boxes. But I’m tired of waiting for the big moments, and I refuse to allow this singular, ever-fleeting, precious life I have to shrink into anything less than magnificent. If I have one shot at this, I would rather risk feeling everything and living through it all than avoiding all I can and diminishing my human potential with every inhibition of freedom I procure. I would rather be “too much” than nothing at all. I would rather love so deeply and risk losing just as intensely. I would rather feel great joy and risk the great sorrow. I would rather feel inspired and enthusiastic and risk disappointments and frustrations just as large.

I would rather be vulnerable and leave myself open to the pain and suffering, for without it, the truth, authenticity, and beauty of this human life and in the rising would be lost.

 

 

Me Too.

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I was 16. He told me he loved me. I believed him.

I remember thinking in the moment that this wasn’t right, that this wasn’t how I should have felt. I remember thinking that the problem was me, who just didn’t want this and didn’t feel comfortable. Not in the slightest. I’ve never felt more unsafe or more uneasy than in that moment, for I knew what was coming. Had I done something to insinuate this was what I wanted? Did I give consent unknowingly?

No.

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He pushed me onto the floor and held me there, relentlessly telling me that this was what I wanted. More than that, he told me this is what he deserved. After all, he’d been waiting for three whole weeks since we began dating.

During those weeks, I found myself in agony, walking around school hand in hand, knowing the kinds of messages he would send after the final bell rang. I never anticipated how quickly things would change once we decided to move beyond a friendship, nor did I want things to turn out the way that they did. I now understand the patterns and signals of abuse more than I ever thought was necessary, and they scream at my past self everyday. How could I not predict it? How could I not understand the danger I was in? Those first weeks continue to haunt me all these years later.

I was only 16 when I found myself on an irreparable path of destruction and abuse, just like the ones I had always been warned about. I never thought it would be me. It couldn’t be. Growing up, you always hear stories about things like this and wonder if that could happen to you. Maybe if you’re careful enough, it won’t. Maybe if you’re smart enough, strong enough, confident enough, etc., it won’t happen to you. But the reality is, none of that matters. No measure of intelligence, strength, or confidence can serve as a proper shield against sexual assault or abuse, for it is so much deeper than that. It’s deeper than the movies you’re shown or the books you’re encouraged to read, it’s deeper than a manipulation of the physical body, and it’s far deeper than what my 16-year-old mind could understand and fathom at the time. I knew that I loved, but who knew how deeply that would complicate things?

He was my best friend, and I was his. I loved him, and that is what so heavily blinded me. We grew into what I believed to be a good relationship from the greatest friendship, something I never thought could go awry or cause such immense pain. From the start of our relationship, though, there was a great shift in dynamic. I remember feeling both confused and concerned that so early on, we were encountering frequent disagreements, many of which revolved around sex. I remember him asking me, not yet one full week into dating, if I was ready to take the “next step” of our relationship. I told him no, that I wasn’t comfortable and didn’t feel ready. I was young, and although I hadn’t yet begun to identify or address the ever-growing pit in my stomach upon having to say “no” and stand my ground, I was scared. I knew that wasn’t what I wanted, but I also knew that I loved.

In my heart and in my mind, I knew that I shouldn’t have had the concerns I did from the start, nor should I have ignored the red flags that were placed in the line of my vision time and time again. I understood that it wasn’t healthy or respectful for him to be asking me everyday whether or not I was ready, when I was finally going to consent and want that for our relationship, or attempting to guilt me into pleasing him by victimizing himself as he compared our relationship to those of our friends, many of which he claimed “had more fun” and “experimented more” than us. He told me that’s what he deserved, that he had done so much for me and always supported and loved me. So why, he asked, couldn’t I do this one thing for him? He would explain to me time and time again his position and would defend his aggression and persistence by self-aggrandizing, never failing to mention that he believed himself to always be the one who was forced to compromise, give up what he wanted, and put me first. He tried to persuade me every moment he could find, urging me to “just understand” what it was like to be him, a teenage boy in a 3-week sexless relationship. He pushed and pushed and pushed, always framing it as a transaction he was so justifiably owed. I owed him my body, and I owed him everything. He deserved it. Who was I to deny him?

Weeks later, when I found myself on the floor of his living room, arms pinned down, and clothes being torn off, it was all a blur. I felt everything and nothing all at once, somehow hoping the world could stop so that I could think straight. I told him no, but his hands continued to travel down my body, ultimately reaching the button on my jeans. He unbuttoned them, and again, I removed his hands. Twice. Thrice. My heart beat faster, and though I spent weeks convincing myself I wasn’t afraid of him, I was terrified. My blood ran cold, and I became paralyzed. I froze, and though I felt the tears welling behind my eyelids, I could not release them, nor could I speak. I held onto the guilt of freezing up for years. How could I have not been stronger? Spoken more? Fought back harder? Fighting or fleeing was not even an option in my mind. I couldn’t think, and thus I couldn’t move. The tears spilled down my cheeks as I lie there in silence, wondering how I had gotten here. What I had done to deserve this. What I could have been punished for. Why I was unable to even function.

It’s taken me 6 years to forgive the 16-year-old me in that moment, who found herself unable to even breathe, let alone continue to resist and fight after having done so consistently. I understand now that that was a trauma response, and both my body and mind were unable to do what I believed they should have. Still, it’s hard to swallow. I never imagined myself to be anything but a fighter, and it’s easy to assign roles and actions to yourself when the experience is yet to be lived. Should I ever find myself being sexually abused or assaulted, I would fight. Or I would run.

I did neither. I couldn’t.

I’ve found the grace to forgive myself for that moment, though I know I have nothing to apologize for or reconcile. I had neither abandoned what I knew and expressed were my feelings and intentions, nor did I fail to speak up and stand strong. And still. Years later, the lump is still in my throat. If not for that first time, for the remaining years of our relationship I allowed it to continue.

That may have been the first time I felt violated, but it certainly wasn’t the last. I never felt safe, and I never felt comfortable. I never felt whole, and I rarely felt appreciated, let alone loved and cherished. After initially pressuring and manipulating me into sex within the first weeks, the trend only worsened with time. He would push me to have sex with him everyday, and we would for months at a time, for he always threatened me with expectations and guilted me into believing I somehow needed to serve him and his insatiable desires. Everyday without fail, he would touch me without consent, in spite of my consistency in telling him “no.” He would continue, with an undeniable aggression and a look in his eyes that I will never forget. There I would end up–in his bed. As soon as he would finish, it was done and he never once cared to ask how I felt or if I was even okay. It became ostensibly clear to me that all he wanted was to get off, and that’s what he expected everyday. Soon enough, the problems moved far beyond solely unwanted sexual advances and assaults. He consistently held things that I had told him in confidence over my head and would threaten to blackmail me when things weren’t going the way he wanted or expected them to, and I was told from some of my close friends that he constantly reached out to them in order to complain about our sex life, my body, what I was or wasn’t giving him, etc. I never understood his behavior in general and the way in which he viewed our relationship and consequently treated me to be abusive at the time. I knew what he was doing during those years was not normal, but I couldn’t allow myself to believe I was a victim of abuse in the relationship, because somewhere along the way I had internalized his sick proposition that I did, in fact, owe him something. And that my love, companionship, encouragement, loyalty, and heart was not enough for him or any relationship I found myself in. I didn’t believe it to be possible for him to be abusing me because I had convinced myself that being in a relationship with him made that impossible. As a 16-year-old, I didn’t understand that being in a consensual relationship did not imply consensual sex. That being in a consensual relationship didn’t necessitate this kind of treatment, nor did it mean that I was so disposable that I owed him things. I thought that my love for him inherently counteracted and rectified the horrible things he said and did to me, and I thought and talked myself into believing that I could not have been mistreated, because I had decided to love him.

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I’ve never lost touch with the shame I felt throughout the entirety of the relationship, nor even now, years later, in telling all of this. I wasn’t able to get myself to tell a single soul until just last year when I explained my experiences to a few close friends, and I truly never thought I would be here, writing this post. Every word brings a kind of agony and pain so deeply-seeded in my experience, but simultaneously offers an odd release and catharsis. The truth really does set us free, and I’m only reminded of that more and more as I continue to lean into the discomfort and embrace the pains of the past in moving forward. Though (after years of studying and learning) I understand far more about what sexual and psychological abuse and assault look like, I continue to carry the burdens of guilt and to comprehend that the shame is not mine to bear. These moments and this time continues to appear in my mind as distant memories from time to time, and the anguish appears to be ever-present. Even so, I’ve never felt more in-touch with the things that happened to me as my mind continues to slowly unravel them, unpack things I had sown away for what I intended to be forever, and deepening my understanding of myself and what used to be. Accepting that these things happened to me was an internal war I waged for may years, and I used to feel ashamed for even pondering the thought. But the truth is that it did. Part of me thought that simply acknowledging the reality of what I’d been through would somehow make it impossible or more difficult to move beyond, or that it would delegate me as weak, a victim, or incapable in more ways than I could imagine. This was an unfair burden to place on myself, and I speak now in order to alleviate and prevent others in similar positions from doing the same. Remaining silent and postponing healing does not make you braver; it only deepens and intensifies the wounds that have been inflicted upon you and that you never deserved. Not speaking is not in itself an act of valiance or virtue; do not fall into believing that your protection of your abuser makes you more courageous than you have always been.

You are brave without protecting others. You are brave for protecting yourself. You are brave in speaking your truth. You are brave in living a life most authentic and beautiful to you. You are brave within your own mind and within your own life. You are brave all on your own.

You are brave.

You are brave.

You are brave.

This world and society has a way of indoctrinating into our minds that rape and sexual assault only happens in dark alleyways by a man with a weapon while walking alone at night, or that sexual abuse implies the weakness or ignorance on behalf of the victims. Realistically, abuse is everywhere. It is everywhere, and it is fervent and undeniable.

Every 73 seconds, a person is sexually assaulted. 1 out of every 6 women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed, 2.8% attempted), and 9 out of every 10 victims of rape are female. About 1 in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Furthermore, 55% of sexual assaults happen at or near the victim’s hime, 15% occur in an open public place, and 12% occur at or near a relative’s house. In addition to the falsified narratives perpetuated through our being taught only about aggravated assaults in alleyways, what they fail to teach us is that our love or care for somebody does not negate the abusive way in which they behave in a relationship. You can know somebody, love somebody, and even be in a relationship with them, and there is still a high potential for abuse to occur. Do not abandon yourself so deeply into believing your experience is impossible. The body remembers even what the mind does not, and the pain and trauma is undeniable and often long-lasted. I gaslit my own experiences and pain for many years, and I’m only just beginning to come to terms and understand all that happened to me.

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“No” does not mean “convince me,” and neither does “I’m not sure,” “I don’t like that,” or “I’m not comfortable.” Only “yes” means “yes.” Endgame.

To anyone who has ever experienced this kind of pain or suffering, I am so deeply sorry. I hear you, I see you, I know your pain, and I believe you. Even if you never choose to speak, to write, or acknowledge the truth of what you have so bravely endured. You deserve to feel safe and validated, and if you struggle to find a space in which that is available to you, I will be that space. We will create it together.

All my love,

Kam ❤

 

On Activism, Caging, Empathy, and Impact

In this time, I often hear from people practicing activism and advocacy that the exhaustion is overwhelming, that the pressure to educate is debilitating, and that the pain and despair is unbearable most days.
I am one of these people. I am one who, like many others in similar positions, feels everything so deeply that I can hardly breathe most days, who spends my days engaging in dialogue with people who will never open their eyes to reality or care to meaningfully digest history, politics, or the realities of our world.
I am tired.
In this time, I also see some who are choosing to sit in their radio silence, marinating in their complicity and conscious/willful ignorance, claiming that activism is an empty practice, a hollow feat, a meaningless endeavor that never inspires or commands real change. In the minimal words they do find, they demean and minimize the efforts of those who are adamant about not only critically thinking about systems, human nature, politics, history, and change, but seeing it through as well.
These are cages.
From the beginning, we are told that our realities, histories, communities, and truths are worthy of erasure, are easily ignorable and negated, and that our experiences are only significant in relation to the power structures and forces that dominate our existence. I have found myself feeling limitless amounts of sadness and hopelessness during this time, sitting in the heavy reality that this is the world we must live in. But it’s that very same anger, frustration, despair, and heartbreak that make the deep feelers, activists, and allies of the world the type of people that will question and challenge the very systems that harm them most, the ones who blaze trails, who catalyze change, and who make this world a brighter, safer, and more inclusive  place.
This world and this society will always tell us that we cannot make a difference. The system is built on the silencing and deeming of the oppressed/the Other as “crazy,” “loud,” “angry,” or “much.” But we are navigating through everything that we have no choice but to deeply feel because it is so close to us, and we are channelling our “muchness” into the kind of work, dialogue, activism, and philanthropy that is both needful and world-improving. We will be the ones to feel our way through leading what needs to be led, challenging what needs to be challenged, and shaking the earth under the structures and systems that have forever tried to inhibit the power and impact of our voices and our lives.
Nothing is simpler or more convenient than creating and perpetuating a system by and for one, while the many are silenced into thinking they are helpless, aimless, powerless, and worthless. But the power abandons the empowered when we realize that its continued suppression of our voices and our experiences, its dismissal and ignorance of our potential and value, and its unjust, marginalizing treatment of the oppressed is wholly dependent on our acceptance of such a premise. The continued drowning out, co-opting, and silencing of our own voices depends on our willingness to accept such false truths. The power (undergirded by ignorance, racism, bigotry, white supremacy, misogyny, and endless oppressive forces) is contingent upon our ability to believe in its falsehood. The system and the world want nothing more than to make us feel like we cannot make a difference, that our voices will not be heard, or that change, progress, and dismantling of inherently unjust systems could never be seen.
History proves otherwise.
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Should we decide that it is no longer enough to feel it all and be told to sit with it and be grateful, should we decide that we are to rise and to fight, the foundation of such injustice and misplaced power will have already been lost. A system that is so deeply and fully broken cannot have the strength and unwavering support in its roots that will be necessary to continue on. A system that was never built for us cannot betray us, but we are empowered and informed enough to turn our back on it, for we were intentionally excluded from every notion and ideation of “equality,” “justice,” and “equity” this country has ever popularized. We are not required to listen to the songs of the oppressors, to tame our voices, experiences, and activism so as to not make the ignorant uncomfortable, or to thank the system for having not killed us yet.
In this nation and in this time, it is increasingly important that we push on, that we continue doing the necessary work and creating the change we wish to see, that we advocate and educate, exhausting as it may be. And while our bravery may be less brave as it it compulsive in order to free our minds and make space for all that we are, our voices are meaningful. This work is meaningful, and change is meaningful.
There is nothing more imperative than activism and empathy now and always, and THIS is what will continue to have lasting impact.
Extending Activism Beyond Our Own Circles
At this point, there is nothing that weighs on my mind and my heart more than the questions of how to reach people, how to extend beyond the circle I have (proudly) chosen to surround me, and how to surpass the social media feeds and the people who consistently appear on and support my platforms. Though I am more proud than ever of those whom I call friends and of what continues to be shared amongst and within them on my feeds, I’m not naive enough to think that this is the way everyone’s phones or computers look right now. And while it’s equally inspiring and esteeming to see and hear people in your circle who directly participate, advocate, and show understanding, there is no doubt that these are not the people we need to reach. We can share, post, talk, and reinforce historical and political truths to one another until the end of time. But at some point, we’re just singing to the choir. The people who have made the effort to become informed, who have spoken, who have made deliberate, conscious, and intentional choices and actions, and who have listened to BIPOC and our experiences during this time already get it. They already know. They have shown this everyday. Our activism must now go beyond.
The question is: How do we reach those who need to hear it most? Those who so violently turn their heads away from the truth, reality, brutality, contexts, and political and historical facts that they continue to willfully ignore and even deny the existence of? Those who choose not to care, choose not to see, choose not to listen/hear, and choose not to learn?
Is the comfort of living such false truths and perpetuating incorrect narratives and histories that worthy of protection? Is that “Americanism?”
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Although this is still one of the heaviest and most daunting questions for me to consider and I’ve yet to come up with a clear, concise way to tackle this and to most effectively reach beyond, here are some tips and methods that I’ve found to be the most integral when communicating with people who appear to be uninformed, non-empathetic, or wholly apathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement and the Black experience:
  1. Continue to share Black stories. The consistent uplifting of Black voices and perspectives has been one of the most inspiring and necessary outcomes of the movement that I’ve seen on every media platform. Black voices have been silenced, repressed, and ignored for 401 years too long, so including as many Black perspectives, opinions, experiences, etc. when in dialogue with someone who may be majorly unaware is absolutely essential. Do not allow the continued ignorance of the Black experience to be a shield or an excuse for the conscious refusal of many to learn and evolve, particularly when resources and content is more available than ever. The world has learned enough whitewashed history and has heard endless white voices— it’s time for the Black community to be seen.
  2. Try to give people practical, methodical steps that they can choose (or choose not to) take. Ignorance and apathy are both poisons that threaten the Black Lives Matter movement and prevent the sharing of proper information, the opportunity for meaningful dialogue, and the necessary dismantling of the inherently unjust systems on which this nation was built. I’ve found that being as clear as possible in my wording and through even offering examples, circumstances, or any kind of experiential perspective on relevant topics is most likely to be impactful to those who do not understand, fail to hear, and cannot begin to think of living outside of themselves.
  3. Recommend insightful resources for people to self-educate, for it is not the job of the oppressed to teach about oppression. Learning, listening, and engaging is of utmost importance right now— encourage it in every way you can. Simply providing book, podcast, speech, or tv/movie recommendations that engage productively and meaningfully with race, racism, power structures, and systemic injustice is a good start, and incorporating an artistic lens or layer to complex topics is rarely a harmful thing.
  4. Speak as confidently and as often as you can, and be comfortable with making people uncomfortable. There is no space for fear, hesitation, or trepidation in this movement and in this time. BIPOC are being killed everyday, and our lives are consistently endangered. It is no longer the responsibility of the oppressed and silenced to enable the continued misconstruing and perpetuation of wrongful information, harmful ideas, or hateful ideologies (even those that have been societally accepted/permitted). While it is not our job to educate, I feel a moral obligation to say something, to step in when incorrect facts or falsified information is documented or shared, and when people outside of the movement work to demonize and villainize the intentions and purpose behind it.

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

-Audre Lorde

 

Keep fighting. This is only the beginning.

Thoughts on Allyship + How to Get Involved

As difficult as it may be for non-black people to understand their place and role in the Black Lives Matter movement or The Racial Contract in general, allyship is supremely important. The act and pursuit of being an ally has come to the forefront of conversations in the context of BLM, and this discourse can be a source/tool for growth, learning, and transformation for us all. It must be understood that the black community has been fighting this fight since the very beginning, and the weight of racial injustices, discrimination, and marginalization are truly inescapable. The attempt of this community to convince the world that “black lives matter” has been and continues to be the lived experience that defines and explains the inequalities and inequities perpetuated by American society and culture. The burden of these undeniable injustices has forever fallen on the shoulders of the most oppressed; for this reason, allyship is EXTREMELY important. It can no longer be the work of the most disempowered to challenge the systemic injustice and abuses of power that have forever tainted this nation. We are all responsible for the infringed liberty and life experienced by the most marginalized, and turning a cheek can no longer be an option.

To be an ally is to be more than a non-racist it is to be an anti-racist. It is not enough to be apathetic towards the black family in your neighborhood, believing that a lack of intense of external hatred equates to the support and uplift being an ally assumes. It is not enough to post a black square and claim solidarity on a social media platform for the sake of joining a trend or fulfilling a boost of the ego, and it is not enough to only be aware of overt racism or the manifestation of blatant white supremacist ideals. To be an ally is to be opening to listening, learning, reading, speaking, and participating (though not leading) in a movement that is needful, good, and just, though may not be particularly relevant to your life or the struggles you experience. It is fighting the fight alongside those who need it most, recognizing that a community may be in need of the tools or power you possess. Allyship is defined by the willingness to engage and actively work to dismantle the inherently oppressive systems and institutions that harm people of color, as well as the openness to lending a hand in solidarity without the expectation that your voice or experience will be the most needed or important to hear. It is the uplift, encouragement, solidarity, compassion, and sometimes protection that privilege may often grant allies in aiding the oppressed progress towards justice and equality. Allyship may be empathy, grief, outrage, accountability, authenticity, and courageous activism & protest. But allyship may also begin with a mere willingness to sit and feel yourself through the potential discomfort of these conversations and realities, an effort to hold oneself and others accountable, or an attempt to create change and introduce new perspectives in your own circle or within your home.

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Allyship is not performative.

Allyship is not virtue-signaling.

Allyship is not self-centering.

Allyship is not white fragility.

Allyship is not a denial of privilege or power.

Allyship is not short-term of temporary.

Allyship is not an undermining of black voices or perspectives.

Allyship is not relying on a hashtag to suffice for one’s participation in the cause.

Allyship is not related to social capital.

Allyship is not exclusionary or selective.

 

 

Allyship is advocacy.

Allyship is privilege utilized non-selfishly.

Allyship is solidarity paired with conscious action.

Allyship is going beyond the surface.

Allyship is understanding your position, privilege, and power.

Allyship is recognizing your own capacities within the movement.

Allyship is continually checking in on your black friends, family, and colleagues.

Allyship is being unafraid to be wrong, to speak imperfectly, or to act imprecisely.

Allyship is facing the fire, even when you’re unsure of what the sparks will create.

Allyship is understanding that it is not the job of the black community to teach or educate you about racism or their oppression/mistreatment/trauma.

Allyship is learning.

Allyship evolving.

Allyship is activism.

Allyship is essential.

 

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Five Ways to Be an Ally and Activist

  1. Engage in meaningful conversations. Don’t shy away from difficult discourse or the complex historical and emotional ties to experiences involving race. Care enough to show up, speak up, and involve yourself in every way possible, and attempt to learn how to do the important and necessary work as much as you can.
  2. Listen. Remain open-minded and kind whilst engaging with or attempting to educate others, and understand that your work and position as an ally may not necessitate or imply that your voice is the most important in the room we are asking you to stand and fight WITH us, not save us.
  3. Be willing to hear the voices and validate the experiences of everyone around you, even if their opinion differs from yours. Often, it is those we most disagree with (or who seem to misunderstand or be non-empathetic) that we most need to reach. Refrain from shutting down, unfollowing, blocking, or closing yourself off to people, and try your best to keep the lines of communication open, especially when there is knowledge to be shared and lessons to be learned.
  4. Research. Understanding history, political and social context, and how theories of race and The Racial Contract have shaped each of our experiences is essential, and now is the perfect time to invest ourselves into learning more about systemic injustice, oppression, marginalized communities, and what it means to be black in America.
  5. Uplift the voices we, as individuals and as a society, most need to hear. There is much to be learned from the black community during this time, as well as black activists and educators that have and continue to inspire and catalyze change in the form of progress. Hear the voices of black men and women, acknowledge the truth of queer black people and the work & success they have courageously seen, the trails they have blazed, and the power of communal movement.

 

In order for allyship and activism to be benevolent and progressive, education and empathy must coexist. We must all continually learn from one another, listen and speak as often as possible, and continue to push for transformation in our own circles, in the greater society, and within ourselves. No one can know the perfectly right things to say, when to say them, or even who to say them to, but a clear and genuine attempt at continued growth is both virtuous and absolutely imperative. When I can no longer find the words, I look to the sources that have built and shaped us— the authors, educators, and activists who have paved the way, who write and speak with passion and purpose, and who inspire me everyday with their hearts and minds. In addition to this list of potential practical steps allies can make during this time, I have also provided a compiled list of books, podcasts, tv/movies, and organizations surrounding race, systemic injustice, the black experience, America’s foundational history, etc., that I highly recommend looking into and learning from. They all have a great deal to offer us, and willful engagement and conscious curiosity is the first of many steps in the right direction. 

 

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Essential Books for Reading

  • The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. DuBois
  • The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin
  • Citizen, Claudia Rankine
  • How to be an Anti-Racist, Ibram X. Kendi
  • White Rage, Carol Anderson
  • The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander
  • Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo
  • Women, Race, and Class, Angela Davis
  • The Racial Contract, Charles. W. Mills

 

Powerful Podcasts for Listening

  • 1619 (The New York Times)
  • Code Switch (NPR)
  • About Race
  • Intersectionality Matters! (AAPF/Kimberlé Crenshaw)
  • Pod for the Cause
  • The Diversity Gap (Dr. Beverly Tatum)
  • Pod for the People
  • Yo, is this Racist? (Andrew Ti, Tawny Newsome)

 

TV/Movies to Watch

  • 13th (Netflix)
  • When They See Us (Netflix)
  • If Beale Street Could Talk (Hulu)
  • Dear White People (Netflix)
  • Crime + Punishment (Hulu)
  • I Am Not Your Negro (Amazon Prime)
  • The Hate U Give (Hulu)
  • Just Mercy (Free On Demand)
  • Moonlight (Netflix)
  • The Birth of a Nation (Amazon Prime)
  • 12 Years a Slave (Amazon Prime)
  • Roots (Hulu)
  • Malcolm X (Netflix)

 

Places to Donate/Important Organizations to Know

  • Color of Change
  • Unicorn Riot
  • Black Trans Travel Fund
  • My Block, My Hood, My City
  • Black Women’s Blueprint
  • The Loveland Foundation
  • ACLU
  • Know Your Rights Camp
  • Innocence Project
  • The Bail Project
  • National Lawyer’s Guild
  • Emergency Release Fund
  • Femme Empowerment Project

Black Lives Matter

I came home last night to my find my sister picking up some of our old softball bats to bring back to her apartment “just in case.” That is, just in case she happens to get attacked on the street at any point. I looked at her, saw the immense, unwavering fear in her eyes, and felt my heart breaking into a million pieces, the same way it has many times in my life.

This is being black in America.

Following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, the world has truly been a terrifying place. The international outcry from the black community and the increasing worldwide recognition and opposition to police brutality has been unlike anything we’ve seen perhaps since the murder of Trayvon Martin or Sandra Bland, and the whirlwind of activism, protests, riots, and looting has culminated in and for this time. In this moment. THIS is the Civil Rights Movement of our generation. What are we going to do with it?

As these weeks continue to pass, I’m constantly hearing people comment on police brutality and specifically on George Floyd’s killing claiming that “this one’s different. This murder was the one to do it.” And while it may be true that Floyd’s murder was perhaps one of the most tragic, violent, and despicable crimes many of us have seen in the modern-day media, let us not ignore the fact that the killing of black people just like George Floyd is not a new phenomenon. The key that must be identified through his death is in the very essence of it— it was SEEN. The entire murder was caught on tape, and the entire world heard George Floyd’s final words, his desperate calling out to his mother, his telling the officer that he was innocent, that he didn’t commit any crimes, and that he couldn’t breathe. The warranted outrage and surge of activism, influence, and protest did not occur because Floyd’s death was somehow different than all of the other countless, senseless murders of black men in this country that have been committed at the hands of police. Rather, it happened and will continue to happen because these injustices continue to be caught on tape, thus incentivizing the world to hold the empowered accountable. Perhaps Floyd’s death will serve as the straw that broke the camel’s back for many. But for others, the camel’s back has always been broken. His murder by the four officers in Minnesota was not an anomaly. It was not an isolated event. The complete and utter brutality of Floyd’s death that continues to be shared and consumed so widely does its job in forcing the awareness and realities of the irresponsible, inhumane, and indefensible police brutality that continues to take people’s lives, destroy communities of color, and pose the greatest danger and threat to black people. At the same time, the mindless consumption of such videos and killings of black bodies may also increase the desensitization or even sensationalization that often occurs with media coverage surrounding the loss of black lives. My greatest hope is that this kind of numbness towards the taking of innocent black lives ends with George Floyd. May we not forget about the countless other murders we have also witnessed and watched happen on our phones, heard through the radio channels, or have even watched on live television. Additionally, may we never forget the ones we didn’t— the countless deaths and killings the media or people didn’t document for the world to see that have forever taken place, for this has ALWAYS infected our nation. Those that didn’t make the news, those that have been swept under the rug or hidden away for the sake of the assailant’s and accomplices’ protection. May we not forget the thousands of other black men and women who have been shot down by police, who have been brutally murdered on the streets, or whose homes have been broken into during the night where they would be shot with 8 bullets while asleep in their own beds. Rest in Peace, Breonna Taylor. Say all of their names.

What I also hope for this moment and for the people who have begun to awaken themselves to the absolute brutality at the hands of the police is that this fight is not just about police brutality. It is about so much more than the killing of innocent black people by men in uniform, hiding behind their identities as “protectors” of this country and its people. It’s about race and racism (overt and covert) as a whole, it’s about the systems and institutions so deeply engrained in the foundation of this country that perpetuate enslavement, discrimination, dehumanization and marginalization, it’s about the anti-black and pro-white rhetoric and behaviors adopted by many in this country, it’s about the systemic injustices that make simply existing an inherent challenge for people living in a black body, and it’s about the historical, cultural, and societal perpetuation of white supremacy and the pure ignorance of the immense privilege and power that grants them. It’s about this nation and the poisonous, unjust ideologies, systems, and institutions that undergird its consistent inability to create or promote equality, equity, or justice. It’s about the arrival of the first slaves on this soil in Jamestown in 1619, it’s about the centuries of slavery that followed, and it’s about the continued silencing and disenfranchisement of black people following the “abolition” of slavery in 1865. It’s about Jim Crow, it’s about literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and poll taxes, it’s about the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896, and it’s about segregation. It’s about the assassination of transformative, needful black leaders and activists since the beginning of time, it’s about the appropriation of black culture and the lack of any kind of awareness or rightful appreciation that typically accompanies it, it’s about non-black people using the “n-word” and having no clue or care what that entails or implies for the black community. It’s about white people revering the Confederate flag and statues of people like Robert E. Lee, it’s about misusing and misconstruing the origin of the word “ghetto,” it’s about the co-opting of black movements throughout history, and it’s about the microaggressions and forms of racism that society has chosen to both accept and protect for years upon years. Racism is a pandemic in itself.

401 years later. Here we are.

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This fight is everything, and it is about everyone.

In my lifetime, my black father has been the one who allowed me to see what living in a black body meant for people like us. But my white mother was the one who taught me how to be an activist. I watched my father be consistently discriminated against in the world and in his workforce, and I watched my mom take active, conscious steps with him everyday to combat and challenge those systems and the people who create and bolster/eternalize them, in spite of how similar to her they looked. I saw the deep sadness in my father’s eyes whenever people questioned his relation to us, his children who happened to have skin a few shades lighter than his own. I heard the conversations in our home, the discussions and often difficult discoveries that the oppressive, coercive, and unjust systems were internalized even by people we call family and friends. I felt the anxiety and the fear whilst walking in public or even around a grocery store, for there is no guarantee of security or safety when you look like my father. And simultaneously, I saw the fire in my mother’s eyes every time she chose to speak up, to defend the goodness and virtue my father possesses and that is in constant danger of being overlooked merely because of the color of his skin. I heard my mother’s thoughtful, empathetic, and passionate words, never failing to challenge the institution and the unequal valuing systems that continue to empower whites and disempower people of color. I felt her anger, her frustration and confusion, and her fear for my father and her children’s lives as we went off to work and school (respectively) each day. I understood why, when I was in the third grade and wanted to complete my hero report on J.K. Rowling, my mother urged me to instead check out books and biographies about Ruby Bridges and complete the project about her wonderful life as a young advocate and barrier-breaker in the world of school integration at just the age of 6. I knew that her voice was the strongest I knew, and I knew that she often served as the protector, for she understood her great privilege and never went a day succumbing to the luxury of silence that whiteness offered her. To be silent, unmoving, and absent in times of injustice is an immense privilege, and I’m so lucky to have had a mother (and now wonderful friends) who refused to reap this benefit for the sake of her husband and children, and for the world.

My mother taught me how to speak. She taught me how to fight, and she taught me what it means to be brave and courageous. She also taught me, as she exemplified everyday, that seeking justice and participating in advocacy often means being willing to disagree with people in your own home or to stray from the bubble in which you are raised, engaging in the most difficult of conversations, and daring to defy what has been so deeply engrained and sown in the soil by which we have always been surrounded. She taught me that these things start in our own circles, that accountability and willingness to fight or even engage in discourse is a virtue in itself, and that shying away from the most important of conversations such as justice and equity was not to be modeled or accepted. So, in light of her fire and light, I urge you to be active. Call out people who don’t seem to understand that racism goes beyond white people overtly saying “I hate black people.” Racism and the racist, white supremacist ideological groundings and behaviors are deeply-rooted in this nation and in people. Check your non-black friends who like to say the “n word” and joke about fried chicken, refuse to stand for even the seemingly harmless comments that many others allow to pass through, and protest anybody and anything that attempt to immortalize the institutional injustice that composes the entire history of America. Demand justice for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for Ahmaud Arbery, and the thousands and thousands of other innocent black lives that have been taken. Call your local governors, state senators, and even federal government representatives. Go out and protest. Post the black square on Instagram for assumed solidarity, and follow it up with extraordinary action and allyship that make the post meaningful. And if you find yourself wishing that things could “just go back to normal,” or that you can resume posting what you ate for lunch today on your Facebook feed, please check your privilege. To have the mental capacity to think of anything beyond racial injustice right now is truly a luxury.

To turn a blind eye is to side with the oppressor. To exist in a black body in this world is a predetermined threat— the systemic supremacy and abuse at the hands of whites in power makes it so. Failure to acknowledge, to feel, to defend, to become angry, and to speak is merely a perpetuation of the injustice defining what this country has enabled. This is heavy, and it feels personal because it IS. It is about ALL of us. We are ALL complicit. We are ALL responsible. And we must ALL become aware of our privileges and fight for those who have not and cannot ever reap the benefits that come with the immense privilege of power and whiteness. Deny the normalization of abuse, halt the numbness to racism and microaggressions, and demolish the structures that harm and kill people of color. This is our America. This is murder. As a white-passing biracial woman whose black father was also in law enforcement, I’m truly at a loss for words. Every single day, I have to think of the horror surrounding the possibility that it could have been my father, my uncles, my friends, my cousins, or any person of color whose life is inherently undervalued and less meaningful according to the state and the abysmal sources of power that poison any potential for freedom. My complicity and my privilege need to be examined, as do the world’s. It can no longer be the work of the most oppressed to challenge the systemic injustice and abuses of power that have forever tainted this country. We are all responsible for the infringed liberty and life experienced by the most marginalized, and turning a cheek is no longer an option. Face the fire, even if you’re scared. Speak up, even if you don’t know what to say. Say the wrong things, make the mistakes, and challenge people and the system everyday. There is a grace that comes with learning what to say and what not to say, what to do and what not to do. For so long many have been taught to not talk about race. To be colorblind was to be on the side of equality, and to not take note of the vast differences in color and experience across the nation, individuals, and communities was a signal of moral superiority. The time was never right to be silent. The world needs you to speak. There is no more space for fear. Be an ally. Be an activist. Do not succumb to the silence that surrounds you; it will not protect you. Whatever you do, act. Enough is ENOUGH.

In spite of how proud of, inspired by, and grateful I have been for my circle and their ability to take a stand and bravely challenge the system and those who created it these past weeks, my heart remains extremely heavy in this time. It is impossible for me to look past the hatred and injustices overwhelming the world and this country, the complete lack of willingness to fight by many— for the black community, for justice, for equality and equity— and the silence of the masses. The despair, frustration, and anxiety runs deep, and I am often horrified at the state of this nation and the direction it continues to be headed. This life and this time is full of fear, and I feel it everyday. I feel it for all those who have skin a few beautiful shades darker than my own, who will continue to be marginalized, wrongly prosecuted, illegally and wrongly attacked and imprisoned, or viewed as a “thug.” I feel it for women of color, who will continue to feel unsafe and devalued in this society and by this administration. I feel it for young people of color, the ones who will be forced to deal with the fallout of these tragic and terrifying times brought on by the most privileged and irresponsible, and who will (unfairly) be largely responsible for educating generations past and people who simply cannot be reached. And most of all, I feel it for anyone living in a black body, who cannot afford the privilege or the luxury of staying silent, for the weight and severity of racism and evil surround them everyday. The most oppressed and powerless continue to be burdened with the weight of dismantling and challenging their oppressors and the system that was never meant to serve them, and this cannot remain true any longer. We carry this weight everyday. We live it through. Our lives are not a hashtag, we are not a trend. Posting and claiming solidarity does not suffice. Speak and ACT for those who need it most. Read. Listen. Donate. Educate. Sign the petitions. Make the calls. Advocate. Understand and empathize. We cannot do this on our own. Fear, discomfort, or uncertainty are no longer excuses for complacency and conscious complicity. Fight against it everyday. Resist.

Black lives matter, and they always have. Even despite what our history and the “leaders” of this nation tell us.

I will be publishing more posts that I hope will inform and assist in some way or another within the next few days, including what BLM means and entails, ways that non-black people can be allies, book/podcast/tv recommendations, things we can all be doing and learning, and how we can continue to support and bolster the movements and campaigns that are so needful in this time. But for now, the link provided below is a great resource to start with getting involved and better understanding/participating in what our world is seeing today:

 

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/

On Loneliness & Yearning

When I was young, I often felt lonely. To be frank, most days I still do.

I remember always wondering if I’d feel this way forever. You know, like home to the deep kind of loneliness that just takes your breath away. In trying to explain how my heart felt, I would always write off the deep ache within as nostalgia, a force I’m anything but a stranger to. I’ve always been aware of how nostalgic and past-centered of a heart I have (I mean, I used to sob on New Year’s Eve as a child because I didn’t want the year to end and for a chapter of life to close). In addition to that, though, there was always a steadfast, lingering feeling of aloneness I had. Not in the surface-level, simplistic sense that I needed more friends or felt unsupported/under-encouraged in any way, but in a massive, profound way that tied into what felt like the depths of the entire universe. From a very young age, I became fascinated by the seemingly endlessness of the world, the grandiose and mysterious ways in which people inhabited it, each finding their direction and their people to make it through. I found it extremely overwhelming to think about the world in such a vast and limitless way, for it inherently had an ability to make me feel small. It’s taken me many years to realize that the vastness and capaciousness the world entails does not intrinsically make me any less significant; that the world can be limitless, striking, and magnificent, and so can I.

Significance and brilliance do not have to be exclusive, and I don’t find it to be.

As a child, it was nearly impossible for me to grapple with the innate philosophic nature of my mind that has always been present and simultaneously find ways to suppress how lonely this kind of thought often made me feel. I don’t remember a time ever feeling full or “complete,” for the mere knowledge that such a grand world existed and I was so bound by the time, space, and life I had was crippling. Maybe it was a severe case of FOMO, or maybe it was something much deeper. It has always been difficult for me to properly express or explain what this feeling was like, but what I do have are vivid memories of telling my mom that I just felt out of place sometimes. More that that, I think I even felt as if I was in the completely wrong time and place. These kinds of thoughts and sentiments I had were always accompanied by a great deal of guilt, for I couldn’t fathom the truth of having many friends, feeling great love, having every bit of encouragement and reassurance one could need, and yet still feeling so incredibly alone when I lied in bed at night. I felt guilty for having so much and somehow not putting together how exactly to reap what others had sown for me. What more could I need in order to feel complete? How could I teach myself to just be fulfilled and whole like everyone around me was?

This internal dialogue never silenced in my mind or in my heart. I carried it with me for years, always convinced that I must have been missing something. I knew I was happy, content, and even inspired. But still, a part of me remained that wondered if every space and vacancy inside of me could ever be filled. I never let go of the loneliness or of the guilt that followed its lead, wherever it went. I spent a lot of my time observing others, questioning what the ability or sense they had inside was that enabled them to feel fulfilled and not alone on this vast planet. Now, a lot has changed for me in the ways I observe and engage with others. The ebbs and flows of this life have taught me this: a human being’s understanding and expression of fulfillment is one of the things most unique to them. A sense of wholeness is not only something to be sought after, but something to be felt and learned through the many evolutions we experience in this life. I’ve come to accept that the aloneness I experience is not emblematic of my inability to experience fulfillment. Rather, perhaps my loneliness is a subconscious recognition of the idea that people aren’t born complete. Nobody comes into this world at the height of their being, having felt and embraced complete and full humanness. That is something we must learn. What greater purpose could we have as human beings than to pursue ourselves (in the form of our passions, lifestyles, loves, failures, successes, etc.) in an even greater attempt to feel whole? I find no deeper or more profound meaning to this life of this existence, so maybe feeling incomplete is the gift that allows us to continue living beautifully and with great heart. Maybe feeling alone is what most binds us all together, makes us all understand & sense one another’s hearts in their most open and vulnerable of forms, and serves to remind us that none of us are ever truly alone at all.

Homesickness. Longing. YEARNING.

That’s the best way I’ve come to describe the feeling that often stops me in my tracks, forces me to be still, and pushes me to examine every ounce of who I am and what I wish to be in this world. It’s the constant, debilitating pressure I feel every minute of everyday to be somewhere, to do something, and to grow into someone of importance. The aloneness reminds me everyday that the universe is grand, mysterious, and often relentless in the ways it creates paths for all of us here. The endlessness of it all can be alluring in the most beautiful and magical of ways, but it can also be equally paralyzing. That’s the part of it that consistently creates and reinforces the loneliness inside of me sometimes, for the awareness of infinite possibility only heightens the innate sense of insignificance or smallness I often feel inside. In some ways, I find that having such a gracious world home to limitless opportunity is a kind of hindrance in itself, for its lack of barriers somehow enhance the ones I have within. The unknown has always been a source of great strife for me, for I enjoy having plans, expectations, goals, deadlines, and a life of obligations and checked-off lists. The funny thing I’ve come to realize though, is that the things I once believed to help complete and ennoble me were actually the things that made me feel most alone. In other words, everything I’ve always thought to be the end goal and what I wanted most is anything but; what I really needed was something I neglected for years upon years— stillness. To just be.

Contrary to what I once believed, there is a kind of power to be embraced in stillness; to simply exist and do/expect nothing more. I always thought that the more time I spent in my own head, sorting out my internal monologue and discovering my own emotionality, the more lonely I would be. I mean, it’s only logical to assume that spending time alone and in introspective analysis would be especially isolating. For me, though, places and situations that allow me this type of freedom and creative space are actually where I feel most myself and at home. As I’ve grown and evolved with time and with experience, I’ve found that I tend to feel most alone when I’m surrounded by lots of people. This isn’t always true, but it is when the space I occupy is simultaneously being occupied by people with which I go unseen or unheard. Feeling known is something I’ve discovered to be really important to me. Not liked, just known. Heard. Understood. The solitude I’ve heeded throughout the years has allowed me to see this in myself, and that has made the world of a difference in my heart’s loneliness.

I’m surrounded by the greatest of friends, the most loving, wonderful family, and a world of opportunity and experience just outside the door. But still, my heart often aches with nostalgia and pangs with reminders of how incomplete I sometimes feel. I still don’t feel complete, nor am I fully satisfied with the life I’ve lived thus far. I’m not always fulfilled, and my breath is often taken away by how intensely I feel that I’m walking alone on this earth, for no one is me, therefore no one could fully understand me. The awareness that only I am myself, that my heart cannot be held or seen in its completeness, and that my thoughts & words may not ever be expressed or understood in the way I intend to articulate them remains a great fear of mine. I feel as if I’m reminded of the individual and lonely existence we all have here more than anything else, and it frequently saddens me and fogs my ability to embrace the beauty of this world and this life as the moments continue to pass. But the isolation within my heart and the lack of fulfillment I experience is more encouraging than disheartening, more hopeful than discouraging, and does not oppress or bind me in the ways I once believed it to.

Feeling alone is merely a part of the human condition. It is a fraction of my existence and my personhood and, though at times it feels overwhelming in the most intense of ways, it is not consuming. It does not entrap my mind or my heart, and it no longer has the power to. Maybe we’re all a little bit empty, a little bit unfulfilled, a little bit lonely, and a little bit incomplete. And maybe that’s okay. Because we’ll figure it out. We have to. That’s the point of all this, isn’t it?

That’s who we are and what we’re made to do: to yearn, to long, and to search— for meaning, life, love, value, wholeness, and fulfillment. We will one day discover it all, if not in people and in things, then in our hearts and our souls. Perhaps that will be the last place we think to look, but that’s where the deepest and most significant findings will occur.

All within.

All alone.

 

Political Community vs. The Soul

Alright, everyone. We’re taking a break from the emotional, nostalgic wave I’ve been riding lately and are getting back to some philosophical roots in this post! The state of our nation and the direction of the political world is constantly on my mind, but especially as of late. One of the political questions I’ve been pondering since the start of my undergraduate career is the role of political community and how virtuosity and viciousness tie into both political engagement and the lack thereof. In other words, I’ve taken great interest in human nature, matters of the soul, whether or not politics is inherently engaging and virtue-bearing, and whether political “retirement” or refusal to involve oneself in matters of the state is emblematic of some form of vice. My graduate school coursework will likely have some semblance of these questions and theories, so this essay I wrote last year has been at the forefront of my mind in recent weeks. Here are some notes on political community and the human soul:

In Politics, it is undeniable that Aristotle proceeds to make a multitude of claims about the nature of the state, how it relates to the notion of a community, and the role and responsibility that he believes human beings to have to participate in such a community. He emphatically discusses at length how important and necessary communities are, and ultimately works to argue that human existence and engagement in political community and is absolutely essential in trying to achieve eudaimonia, or the ultimate good/happiness. In the very opening of Book I of Politics, he claims that “it is clear that all communities aim at some good, and that the community that is most authoritative of all and embraces all the others does so particularly, and aims at the most authoritative good of all. This is what is called the city or the political community” (Aristotle 1).

Through his immediate articulation of the notion of community and what he understands it to be working towards, it is clear that Aristotle holds the political community to a high (if not the highest) regard, even equating it to the city itself. His emphasis and transparent declaration that the political community is the highest and all-encompassing community allows him to set the stage for what will be discusses in his subsequent books in Politics, and ultimately leads him to stating that “the city belongs among the things that exist by nature, and […] man is by nature a political animal” (Aristotle 4). This premise is what most undergirds Aristotle’s argument throughout the text and bodes well in concisely summarizing what he wishes to proclaim about the function of the political community and the agents within it– that the community is absolutely needful, the source of human engagement, and the only means by which a human being may obtain eudaimonia. In short, Aristotle’s theory of virtue and eudaimonia is completely dependent and contingent on human beings’ potential and actualization of participating in a political community, and he deems it completely imperative for people to do so. He even goes as far as to say that human beings are their most human (that is, we best express our humanity and highest capacities) when we engage politics and claims that we simply cannot exist without the community in general. He claims that “the individual when separated from [the city]is not self-sufficient” and that “one who is incapable of sharing or who is in need of nothing through being self-sufficient is no part of a city, and so is either a beast or a god” (Aristotle 5). This, by and large, is the argument that most grounds what Aristotle works to lift up throughout the text, and is the principle that will be challenged throughout this paper. Aristotle says that political engagement and the participation in a community of this sort is unquestionably necessary in order to pursue justice, virtue, and eudaimonia, and he does not believe it to be possible or probable for people to exist outside of the community successfully. However, I think it possible that Aristotle, in so enthusiastically defining the political community and describing its essentiality in relation to human beings, perhaps undermines several other elements that have major force in the lives of people, and even misses some that may even be more important. That is, Aristotle fails to recognize the complexity and difficulties that may arise between individuals and their community, and he undermines the possibility of an unjust political community in and of itself. Should he believe the political community to be the ultimate driving force in the pursuit of justice and eudaimonia, yet the political system itself is unjust and detrimental for the individual, I find it very difficult to agree with Aristotle in saying that it is necessary for human life and happiness. If the political community and the practice of engaging with it is, in some way, damaging to an individual or their soul, then Aristotle’s argument appears to be somewhat self-defeating. In short, he fails to consider the potential for an unjust and injurious political community, as we witness in Sophocles’s Philoctetes, thus causing him to overlook circumstances and states in which engaging with the political community would not only be disadvantageous for an individual, but also pain-inducing and harmful to their life and soul.

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One of the ancient works that I have found to be in direct conflict with the overall premise and argument articulated in Aristotle’s Politics is Philoctetes, a tragic play by Sophocles. The play tells the story of Philoctetes, a notable archer and warrior in ancient Athens, who was bitten on the foot by a snake and abandoned by his own men on the island of Lemnos, left with nothing but his wound to rot (and his bow and arrow). Throughout the play, Philoctetes is further schemed when Neoptolemus and Odysseus, after being told by a well-regarded prophet that Philoctetes and his bow and arrow are necessary to bring down Troy, attempt to rob him of his bow and deceive him in doing so. The Athenian men go to Lemnos with the intention of persuading Philoctetes to rejoin their army and fight the war with them, but many complications and questions arise when Philoctetes (rightly so) does not wish to rejoin Athens. Philoctetes, in this sense, has been completely disengaged from his political community and the life in Athens following the desertion he faced after being left on Lemnos by men he trusted, and does not feel an obligation nor a desire to re-engage with the community that had abused and wronged him. The clear deception that Odysseus and Neoptolemus exercise right from the start indicate that their motives are not derived from an innocent and virtuous place, for they only wish to trick Philoctetes enough to succeed in escorting him back to Athens with them. As Odysseus speaks to Neoptolemus and directs him in what to say to Philoctetes, the malice is evident: “You must maneuver the mind of Philoctetes and deceive him with beguiling words. […] Say they implored you to leave home and join them as the only man who could bring down Troy […] Say what you will, as bad as can be, the worst things imaginable” (Sophocles 6). Odysseus’s attempt to persuade Neoptolemus to act in such a deceptive and scheming manner is both disappointing and unjust in itself, for it illustrates the malfeasance and degrading effects the corruption of the youth may have in the formation and actualization of people’s character. Following the orders given by Odysseus, we see the character and demeanor of Neoptolemus change from a man of high integrity and one who “would rather do right and fail than do wrong to win,” to one who, in attempting to follow orders from those who are hierarchically more powerful and respectable, abandons his sense of virtue and goodness for the sake of honor and victory. This initial change in Neoptolemus’s character after being inveigled by Odysseus is the first instance in which it becomes clear that the Greek political community is perhaps mal-intended and unjust in itself, thus raising question as to whether the community has the capacity to be considered something essential in achieving eudaimonia, justice, or virtue. That is, if both the political community and the actors who engage in the community do not act according to justice, it would be difficult to sustain Aristotle’s claim that the community is the mode by which justice can be attained. Assuming that the Athenian political community that is reflected throughout the play is one in which the men deceive one another for the sake of achieving glory or honor, lose their integrity in order to prove their loyalty to those with power, and treat the misfortunes and pains of others (as in the case of Philoctetes) as negligible and unworthy of consideration, I would hardly say that this type of environment is one aimed at the good, justice, or any facets of the sort that Aristotle is so certain of being true of the political community. The way in which the Athenian community is presented in Philoctetes challenges Aristotle’s notion and role of the political community that he describes in Politics and poses the question of whether or not communities have the capacity to cause more harm than good and be more detrimental for the individual and his/her soul. In the case of Philoctetes, his forced re-entry into the political system is something that is questionable– there is reason to doubt if his being forced to engage with the system, people, and community that had previously caused him immeasurable amounts of agony and grief was necessary for him to continue on. Furthermore, I find it unlikely that his reintroduction into the community was something that would enable him to be “happier” than he was in existing outside of it. For this reason, I find Philoctetes and his life to be an unmistakable counterexample to Aristotle’s notion of community and its capacities.

In some ways, the Aristotelian view of political community is both understandable and agreeable, for it is difficult to imagine a world where communities of this sort don’t exist, and even harder to imagine individuals who are so detached from the community as a whole and are completely uninvolved in every aspect. In this sense, the community can be deemed necessary merely because it exists. However, that in no way means that the community manifests all of the assets Aristotle believes it to in his articulation. It is possible, and clear in Philoctetes’s circumstance, that the community is neither just nor good, thus rendering it somewhat improbable to conclude that it is capable of promoting the pursuit of eudaimonia and virtue. For Philoctetes, the mistreatment, abandonment, and pain (both physically and psychologically) he endured at the hands of the political community which betrayed him is irreparable. The damage and harm the political community caused him was not without cost, and the attempt of Odysseus and Neoptolemus to deceive him further only illuminates the inherent conflict between political community and the proper orderliness of the soul more. If Aristotle is correct in his notion that Philoctetes could only flourish, achieve the ultimate good, or display his humanity if he were to re-enter the environment that had destroyed him in the past, his circumstance is extremely problematic, for it asks an awful lot of Philoctetes. Not only is he expected to put aside all that has been done to him and the pain he has been forced to deal with, but he is also expected to assist those who had wronged him in their pursuit of glory and honor, something that Philoctetes undoubtedly would not desire to do. The re-engagement with his political community that Philoctetes ultimately concedes to is not a choice that came without consequence (if it can be considered a choice at all). Philoctetes, in describing what he had been through and the position he later found himself in, stated, “Evil creatures are never destroyed; some unseen power carefully protects them and takes perverse pleasure in diverting criminals and wrongdoers away from Hades, while the just and the good are sent straight there” (Sophocles 23).

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It is clear that, after all that had been done to him, Philoctetes had lost faith in the rightful outcomes of justice in accordance to man’s character, and he did not take lightly the wrongdoings that had been committed against him. Still, when Neoptolemus and Odysseus arrive on Lemnos trying to persuade him to come back to Athens, rejoin their army, and reintegrate back into the political community so that they may win the way, Philoctetes does so. It only takes the arrival of Heracles at the very end of the play to change the course of Philoctetes’ thoughts. The deus ex-machina ending of Philoctetes involves Heracles descending from the heavens and directing Philoctetes to go with the men to Troy so as to “be cured of [his] vicious wound” and be known as the army’s champion (Sophocles 69). Heracles proclaims that his suffering “will be repaid with a life of glory,” and that the Athenian civilization will forever hold him in high regard,” something that clearly is of high value to the people of Athens (Sophocles 69). The order of the god takes immediate hold within Philoctetes, and he immediately agrees to sail back to Athens, but the dissatisfaction and malcontent that accompanies this ending should not go unnoticed or unexamined. By the end of the play, it is evident that Odysseus had only selfish and conniving intentions for wanting Philoctetes to rejoin the Athenian army. He had not only succeeded in persuading Neoptolemus to abandon his sense of morality and integrity in going along with his deceitful motives, but he also achieved what he wanted to accomplish all along when Philoctetes agreed to return to Athens and fight the war. The mere injustice of the course of these events throughout the play is what makes Aristotle’s conceptualization of the political community as a mechanism through which happiness and justice is achieved a hard pill to swallow, and a description that doesn’t quite fit Philoctetes’ situation. It seems as if asking Philoctetes to simply let go of all that was done to him and wash away his pain is a wearying and unreasonable task, yet he is still asked to do so, and concedes upon being asked. The encouragement of those around him, Odysseus, Neoptolemus and Heracles alike, to return to Athens by their side whilst dismissing from mind all of the turmoil and pain he had endured is not only a sign of manipulation, but a reflection of an unjust political community. Philoctetes’s re-entrance into the Athenian community was one in which he did not receive the just treatment or recognition he deserved, nor did Odysseus and Neoptolemus reprimanded in any way for what they had done. In this way, the wicked were never punished (or even considered wicked except by Philoctetes himself), and the good individual with the virtuous soul was forced to reconcile his burdens and pains so as to rejoin the political community that had created his misery in the first place.

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The tragedy of Philoctetes lies in the fact that political life itself is in conflict with the pursuit of justice and virtue, and there is no inconsequential and just way to go about it, for human beings ourselves are incapable of escaping the injustices that accompany political engagement (illustrated for the need of Heracles to descend and “solve” the worldly problem).  Philoctetes must return to Greece with those who betrayed him, while simultaneously receiving an opportunity to be healed. The paradoxical ending reflects the tragedy that participating in a political community may be inevitable and unworthy of choice but is perhaps not always the best option for the nature of the soul. In the end, we are left with a meaningless solution provided by a god– one that offers no insight as to how to begin solving the lasting and inevitably tragic conflicts that come with political and social life. The harmony has been lost, and there is no seeing a possibility of coexistence between political community/engagement and the pursuit of justice and virtue, thus challenging Aristotle’s claim that political community is where eudaimonia is said to be found and where the source of justice lies.

With Philoctetes in mind, it is clear that political community can be harmful and have detrimental effects on the individual, which leads me to believe that perhaps political engagement is not what allows for the highest good. In fact, it is something that can produce permanent and ruinous impacts on people and their lives. In this way, I disagree with Aristotle, for I find it more agreeable to say that political community is somewhat inevitable (simply because it exists), but not necessarily essential for human life or the pursuit of eudaimonia or justice. The likelihood that political communities, like that of Athens in Philoctetes, will be unjust and reflect a world in which the wicked proceed to be honored, moral compromises are made and result in the loss of integrity, and the blameless suffer is not a community that I call just, nor is it one in which I can imagine human beings flourishing. That is to say, political engagement comes at a very high cost, one that is often irreparable and unfair. And to me, the inherent conflict between the need to engage in political community and the pursuit of justice, a well-ordered soul, and human flourishing is enough for me to defy Aristotle’s elevation of political community as the means to achieve the highest good. Political community is, in itself, a tragic element of human life; we are forced to live with one another despite everything, but that doesn’t deem the community necessary for happiness. For if the community is unjust and inequitable, as it is in Philoctetes, the position of the individuals and their souls is at stake, something that should never be taken lightly. Aristotle fails to acknowledge the possibility of such conflicts that may arise, as Philoctetes’s circumstance so perfectly demonstrated, and through Sophocles’s play, it becomes clear how complex and tragic political life really is, despite all of the potentials Aristotle believes it to have.

Works Cited

Aristotle, Politics. Edited by C. D. C. Reeve. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2017.

Sophocles. Philoctetes. Edited by Seth L. Schein, Cambridge University Press, 2013.

On the Heart and Being an Empath

I used to think the impassable shields I carried were what saved me. That the walls and burrows I intricately constructed were the foundation that I needed to survive.

I so deeply believed that suffering in silence was the highest pillar of strength and that feeling things through were for those who could not persist. Something taught me, from a very young age, that sensitivity was not to be taken seriously, nor was it a signal of anything but weakness in many forms. In hindsight, I think that being a woman has a lot to do with the trepidation and hesitation I often feel in expressing my heart and embracing the depth of what I feel, because this world has made it clear that, for a woman or a girl, being outwardly emotional or vulnerable is synonymous with hysteria and an inability to behave rationally or thoughtfully. I know better now, and that thoughtfulness breeds from the heart; there is no thought or purposeful engagement with the workings of this world without the heart’s input. Still, early on, I had engrained into my mind that I could not both feel things deeply AND be intelligent/successful, for these were mutually exclusive. Human beings couldn’t possibly be exemplars of both simultaneously, for the execution of one wholly and completely discounted the other. This is the narrative that I told myself, and this is the narrative that both enabled me to survive and was ultimately harmful and non-serving to the life I wish to lead.

I denied my being an empath for as long as I could. I longed to not be a feeler, one whose heart is so moved by everyone and everything that it often bears an impossible weight. I concluded in my own mind that I valued my mind and what I knew it offered me more than my heart and any speculations of what it could potentially give me. I trusted that my mind could lead me to the places I belonged, the things I needed to know, and the life I wanted to have. It hurts me now to know that I discounted and disparaged the power of my heart for so long, and for no reason other than to avoid pain and all kinds of feeling that stemmed from the cracks leading to my own brokenness. The heart, I now understand, only brings more meaning and fulfillment to life in every form, and the mind’s limits illuminate the endlessness of the heart’s affections and what the brain deems unreachable. I allowed years of my life to be spent in the darkness, forcing a lack of feeling in my own heart and body, because I feared it would lead me away from truth and splendor. With time, I have found that the heart is the creator of this truth and splendor I so desperately sought, and to diminish its sovereignty was only to diminish the meaning and size of my life.

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Everyday, I’m actively working to dismantle the theory I have accepted and embodied over the years that stoicism was the highest virtue achievable in human life, to be apathetic and uninterested was an overt display of fortitude and courage, and to lean into how deeply and fully I felt things in this world would only lessen my capacity to be competent and worthy. I understood emotionality to minimize the ways in which I could interact with the world rather than seeing it as an optimizer of connectivity, community, friendship, and love (arguably the most important things this life can offer us). I can vividly recall countless times in my life that I’ve forcefully shut down feelings I may have been experiencing, because I held onto the false truth that the expression of sentiments was unattractive and chaotic. Although my awareness now allows me to see the danger and shortcomings of beliefs like this one, I cannot deny how very real it felt to me for so many years, for women are undeniably set up to find scrutiny and judgment on the other side of emotional freedom. Even today, I must deal with the daily debate I have in my own mind: can I have a heart like the one I do and also find success in the career, professional, and intellectual world? Can I be everything all at once?

Life is messy, confusing, heartbreaking, uplifting, ugly, and so very beautiful, all at once. So why can’t we be everything all at once? To deny our malleability, capacity for evolvement, imperfection, and corrigibility is to deny the significance and unique experience of our humanness. Compassion and empathy is what people DO. There is value and meaning in what is uniquely human, and that is reason enough to lean into what I have been most afraid of my whole life. I find it unforgivable to allow myself to restrict my own capacity for flourishing any more than I already have, and I hope more than anything in this world that you will not do yourself the same disservice that I did or embrace the wholly incorrect idea that feeling equates to weakness. To feel is to be human, and to feel deeply is a gift. Life is surely more difficult and harrowing upon allowing oneself to acknowledge and accept every passing sentiment the heart incurs, but awaiting us at the other side of feeling is understanding, truth, and beauty, all of which are extraordinarily subdued if the potential of the heart is kept in the dark. I found comfort in the darkness for longer than I care to admit, and I expected the discovery of light to be found solely within the capacities of my mind. What I never anticipated to be the truth, though, is that the true source of light for most people, and surely for us “feelers,” lies in the chambers of the heart. I always knew the depth of my feeling and any level of emotionality I experienced to be a dark mark on my strength, demerits on what I thought was what made me special or great. I created capes of perfectionism and stoicism to make me stronger and braver. But maybe feeling is a superpower, and that’s the cape we really need to soar.

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Although part of me wishes I could have arrived at the gratitude and fullness I now feel upon hearing and acting with the heart I was given, I’m appreciative of the perspective I was able to gain from how fearful I used to be. I wish I could go back to being that little girl who read books, became so deeply attached and invested in every character I saw love and goodness in, and cried over their trials and tribulations that had no impact on the unfolding of my life whatsoever and tell her that she isn’t abnormal. Nor was she wrong. I was never a broken person who failed to see the line between reality and fantasy— I just felt so much and so profoundly. The intensity of my reactions and sentiments connected to people I’ve never meant, their struggles and suffering that kept me up at night, and how badly I wished to carry their pain and wear their burdens on my own shoulders was not something I should have been so fearful or suspicious of. Rather, I should have nurtured and cared for that part of me, for acting on it is what has brought me the most joy and fulfillment of all things in my life. It is also where I most see and feel my mom closest to me, for she remains the most heartfelt and empathetic human I’ve ever known. I thank her and the beautiful, compassionate, and courageous friends who hold such a special place in my life and in my heart, for they have taught me more than any book or exercise of the mind ever could. They have allowed me to see that vulnerability IS power, that emotion is to be felt, and that expression is a gift. That life is a conversation, and sometimes being brave means listening to the scared and childlike voice in your head that just wants to feel seen and protected. I think I’m finally starting to see that the meaning of life isn’t to make yourself as small as possible. It’s not my life’s work to make my voice, my feelings, my opinions and intentions, my beliefs and strengths, my mind, my body, or my life as insignificant and non-threatening as I can in order to make others comfortable, for their satisfaction and approval is not what I’m fighting for— mine is. The questions I (and maybe all of us) should be asking myself are: “Am I satisfied and fulfilled with the life I’m living?” and “Do I approve of my choices and the way in which I consciously carry out my days?”

As of today, here is what I know to be true:

I feel best when I write.

I feel best when I read.

I feel best when I create.

I feel best when I find beauty.

I feel best when art surrounds me.

I feel best when I love.

I feel best when I can hear and be heard.

I feel best when I understand.

I feel best when I see and embrace love.

I feel best when I feel.

Being and embracing the empath deep inside my heart and my soul has not been simple, but experiencing the gift that is feeling deeply and wholly is not one I would have willingly abandoned. I’ve come to appreciate my desperate need to help people through their trials, my insatiable desire for a career in which I continually learn while being available to others and their journeys, my irrational connection to fictional characters, the tears that fill my eyes while watching TEDTalks and quite literally every movie ever made, my crying over global issues and suffering that I simply cannot solve on my own, and how often I ponder the meaning and substance of what comprises my life. I don’t think I’ll ever be fully comfortable with feeling everything all at once, but it’s okay when I do. I’ll never be able to do it all, but what I choose to do, I wish to be purposeful and fulfilling while I have the time on this earth.

“I don’t think that I’m broken at all. I no longer think that I’m a mess. I just think that I’m a deeply feeling person in a messy world.” -Glennon Doyle

Why Strength Isn’t What We Think It Is

I used to think that strength was defined a certain level of immutability— the ability to remain unchanging, whether it be regarding things I love, ideas I believed in, things I preferred or didn’t, or lives I wished I’d had. I embraced that a sense of authority, initiative, power, and confidence equated to strength, and things that I KNEW I never went back on. I withstood this ideology for many, many years, always wholeheartedly believing that my understanding of words as simple as “strength,” “love,” “goodness,” or even “compassion” were not only logical, but were unsusceptible to any form of doubt or questioning. With time, I’ve been lucky enough to experience things I never imagined, learn concepts that were once foreign, have met people who have lifted and held my heart, and have felt things I once deemed unfathomable. My life has been anything but ordinary and nothing like I expected. It has been both wholly fulfilling and quite empty, full of success and equally full of failure, drawn to the highest of mountaintops and the deepest of valleys, and has been tainted with equitable amounts of both light and darkness. Life on this earth has led me in directions I never expected, and I’ve changed with every strike of the ticking clock as I’ve seen myself through. But I’ve found that keeping myself open to new things and new people across time, embracing the unpredictable ebbs and flows this life brings, and even changing my perspective as I continue to learn and grow from those around me is what I truly desire. I don’t desire to be rigid in my beliefs, unwavering, or unmovable in any part of life, for true growth and meaning I believe to come from a certain evolution of the heart. I’ve been a witness to my own change and constantly-altering mindset my entire life, but I’ve only recently begun to view this characteristic of mine as a form of strength, as opposed to a problematic and shameful form of meekness and in inability to remain resolute. You can be strong and you can also be quiet. Strength and volume do not have to coexist, just as strength and reservedness/quietude are not mutually exclusive. You can be everything all at once —strong, quiet, vulnerable, emotional, courageous, loud, and empathetic— and that is a beautiful gift.

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I’ve had to do a lot of thinking about why I had embraced and engrained these understandings about myself and what I once deemed to be flaws in my character, and with time and intention, I’ve realized that my life thus far (like everyone’s) has led me to believe certain falsities about human nature, who I am, and what I’m meant to be in this world. I’ve allowed my deepest insecurity of being perceived as incompetent, incapable, weak, reliant, and codependent to have dominion over any kind of freedom I had in actually pursuing, choosing, and becoming who I wanted to be. In some strange way, the inexplicable fear I had surrounding these kinds of visions of me forced me to develop traits, feelings, and elements of character that succeeded in being the antitheses of what I’d abhorred, but failed in liberating me to become someone I admired and wanted to be. In other words, my fears bode well in steering me away from the dislikable character traits I saw in myself and others, but they did not grant me any liberty or vision to see what I may have found to be likable. In orienting my life in a such a way that mirrors Negative Politics (i.e. formulating your beliefs around what you don’t like/wish to avoid as opposed to what you do like and wish to pursue), I unknowingly embarked on a journey that led me to a complete lack of confidence and fulfillment. Having given no real consideration to the things and kind of person I did want to be, how I wanted to be embraced, and what I wanted to do to love others, I found myself living a life defined by oppositions.

For fear of being perceived as incompetent, I valued intellect and intelligence almost above all else. For fear of being weak and vulnerable, I adopted confidence (often a false one) to remind myself and others that I have authority. For fear of being reliant, I revered solitude and lonesomeness as a virtue, for it meant that I could survive, should everyone choose to abandon me. For fear of being meaningless of labeled Other, I tirelessly sought control and power over my own life and everything I engaged with. For fear of being incapable, I prided myself on an insatiable appetite to be perfect in as many ways as possible, leaving no room for people to stare or criticize.

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But, this isn’t living. Orienting my entire life and being around what I feared most surely didn’t lead me to the discovery of any true virtues, as I so thought it would. I expected that living my life in complete inversion to what I hated most about the world (and myself) would light my path and somehow lead me to joy and fulfillment. If I didn’t like A, then I could just figure out what the opposite of A was (ex: B) and pursue that in order to be happy…right? No. The problem, I’ve found, is that things like true happiness, virtue, fulfillment, or flourishing (“eudaimonia” in Greek philosophy) cannot be intellectualized⁠— they are to be experienced and felt. Just as one cannot see love, empathy, kindness, or even goodness, the greatest things human life has to offer us cannot be seen or perceived. What most makes us human is the emotionality, mutability and individualistic way in which we move through this world, and the corrigibility of our minds and hearts. And perhaps our inability to fully comprehend exactly what makes it meaningful is the most beautiful part of it all. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle defines a virtue as being “a mean between two vices.” That is to say, if cowardice and recklessness are both vices, Aristotle’s perceived virtue would be courage. The same conclusion can be made in reference to temperance serving as the virtue between overindulgence and insensitivity. Through finding the midpoint between what Aristotle deemed to be “two extremes” as mentioned, he claimed to have found the nature of virtuosity. Although I definitely don’t agree with Aristotelian Virtue as a whole, in hindsight, I do think he may have drawn some important conclusions that I find visible in the trajectory of my own life.

Considering what Aristotle has to say, it’s no secret to me that in my attempt to avoid one vice or trait that I did not desire for myself, I barreled forward and landed upon things that may also be considered vices. In my forceful, shame and fear-driven path I paved for myself, I completely failed to recognize that seeking the antithesis of what I understood to be a vice may not necessarily lead me to landing upon a virtue. In fact, moving so jadedly and blindly through life only led me to find and experience a field of oppositions that I now understand to only serve as that: oppositions. They didn’t fulfill me, give me meaning, or make my life any more worthy of joy than living in fear did, and that’s how I know it wasn’t right. So, maybe Aristotle was right. Maybe I was moving too fast all along and I flew right past the virtue I was seeking all along, because I had my sights set on something I knew would contradict every fear I had. But what kind of life is one lived only out of fear? I don’t want to know myself as someone who consistently flees from what I’m afraid of being, only to land upon other things I’m equally un-proud of. So, you reflect, you learn, and you keep going. After spending years and years studying politics, philosophy, and literature of all kinds, I think the real secret of life is that no one really knows what we’re doing. That’s the tragedy of the human condition, isn’t it? We spend our entire existence trying to decipher what is meaningful, who the people are we’re meant to spend time with, finding the things that “spark joy” (thanks Marie Condo), and racing the clock, only to find that the clock will always win. But, that doesn’t mean that this life isn’t worth it. Maybe, in an odd way, Aristotle was trying to teach us something about the essentiality of the journey, the “in-between.” The spaces between lines, the words left unspoken, and the feelings never shown or even understood— it all matters deeply. And perhaps it’s a conscious choice of our own to stop for a while and acknowledge the spaces, the everything that’s exist within and amongst the nothingness.

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I’m not sure where I am now, whether I’ve found anything of impact, or if I have come remotely close to reaching what I hope to be my purpose in this world. But I am sure of one thing: I’m learning to embrace the everyday, the mundane, the things I once despised about my character or the world around me, for there’s meaning in all of it. I’ve felt victim to the fleetingness of life and the weight of endings for as long as I can remember, so much so that I’ve forced myself to miss some beautiful things that ARE happening and ARE here. We only get one go-around on this earth, and what a remorseful thing it would be to only remember the fear, pain, agony, and emptiness at the end of it all. Nothing hurts more than a heart left to mourn the possibilities that weren’t given a life or weren’t worthy of embrace, and I don’t want to let go of the wonder this life brings.

There are a million moments waiting for me, and I don’t want to miss a thing. You shouldn’t either. (:

Farewell, 2019. Goodbye, decade.

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2019, you have been quite the year. Looking back on all that I have gone through in the course of these twelve months, all the waves of change that have taken rise in my life, all of the unforgettable experiences I was lucky enough to be a part of, and all of the memories/moments (both wondrous and painful) I have both created and endured, it is truly hard to put into words. This year has been nothing like I anticipated and, at times, nothing like I ever wanted. But still, 2019 has been everything I needed. This year was equally as eye-opening as destructive, as insightful as disillusioned, as productive as damaging, and as fulfilling as completely heartbreaking. All of this is to say that 2019, whether I wanted it to be or not, has been nothing short of transformative. And for that, I am now so very thankful.

I remember heading into the new year at this time one year ago and thinking to myself, “There’s no way 2019 is going to be as tough as the past two years. It can only go up from here.” I naively believed that the pain, loss, and grief I felt throughout 2017 after losing my mom would forever go unparalleled. For me, 2017 was the epitome of heartbreak and agony, and a real manifestation of the “rock bottom” that is so commonly referred to. Heading into the following years, I worked tirelessly trying to convince myself that the coming year just HAD TO be better. I mean, how much harder could things get, right? And while I think I was right to believe that 2019 would be better, this was only true in very selective ways. While 2017 caused me the greatest heartbreak of my life (in more ways than one) and left me weakened on my knees time and time again in some ways, 2019 also did so, just in very different ways. I was so very wrong to assume that the hardest obstacles had already been planted before me in 2017 and that every hardship that came my way would be less heavy and less impossible to overcome. If 2019 has taught me anything, it’s that the pain, heartache, brokenness, and adversities that present themselves in our lives will never disappear. They will never cease to arrive just when you thought you were on a good track and felt as if your life was properly ordered, like a ticking time-bomb. Hard times will ALWAYS come; but, that also means that they will always GO. And the constant fluidity and nuance of joy and heartbreak, of pleasure and pain, is what makes life on this earth so beautiful and worthwhile. This year truly has taught me more than I can say. But most of all, I’ve come to realize that life’s hardships and things that try us don’t wait for us to be ready or well-equipped enough to face and conquer them. They never will. The universe can see you get knocked on your knees and do everything it can to keep you there. But despite it all, no matter how seemingly impossible it appears, love can always be found. And with love comes hope, light, and joy. That is what gets me through, and that is what I will carry with me forever.

You know, everyone always says that the end of the year is the most essential and valuable time to reflect. It’s a time to look back on the past twelve months of our lives, look deep within ourselves, the relationships we’ve worked so hard to create, forgive those that have been lost, re-discover what values we wish to hold onto, and set intentions for the next twelve months of our lives. And while I do appreciate that that’s what dominates discussions at the very end of each year because I think reflection paired with just introspection is one of the most needful elements of human life, I also think the extraordinary emphasis and insistence that people put on the coming of the new year is filled with immense loads of pressure, something I find even unbearable at times. I try my very hardest to avoid all the talk about what huge life changes, behavioral tendencies, toxic diet talk, and unhealthy provocations of what the start of a new year means to society and our culture, because I find it extremely damaging and anxiety-inducing. To me, the start of a new year is something to be celebrated, not feared. Simply because the last digit of the year changes does not signify that humongous life changes are to be made, nor should it be a signal to force unwanted or unhealthy change in your life, no matter what benefits it may reap. The pressure that comes with the new year is something I have always felt inside of me— it’s a constant push to be better, to change yourself and your ways, to be thinner, to achieve more, to gain more, to succeed. While all of these “goals” may be warranted, I think that for most people, these are merely things we are told to desire. We should want to earn more money, to have more things, to look our best, and to constantly be “better.” But what I think most people lose sight of is what “better” truly means to them. Each year I fear getting lost in all of the pressure-filled and anxiety-driven talk of the new year and failing to recognize what I truly need, desire, and deserve for myself and my own values. That’s why I reflect often, daily even. Not just on New Year’s Eve. Because I think it’s important to consistently reinforce my goals, intentions, relationships, and what I want to see manifest in my life. For that I am responsible. I have learned that keeping myself in check and on track in this way helps me to stay centered and focused on what I believe to be important, and I am grateful for the gift of introspection and reflection, both of self and of the world.

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While making lengthy resolutions isn’t my ideal way to enter the new year because putting impossible standards and pressure on myself NEVER goes well for me, I do like to head into every new year with a few words that I would like to see manifested in one way or another throughout the new year. For 2020, the words I have chosen are “be” and “know,” a constant reminder to be who I am meant to be in this world, acting and presenting myself as such, and knowing my value, worth, and power as a human being. I wish you all the very same. There’s so much beauty to be felt, seen, and embraced in this world, if only we have the courage and capacity to find it.

With all of that being said, I am SO READY to leave 2019 and this decade behind me. There are many things I want to, and definitely will be, discussing in great detail about this year in the future, because I learned countless lessons that deserve some level of discussion, especially if there’s a chance they can aid someone else on their journey. But for now, I am kissing 2019 goodbye, and leaving it behind me. This door is closing, and I couldn’t be happier. New opportunities, experiences, lots of big changes, and more growth are bound to come my way in 2020, and I couldn’t be more excited or anticipatory. I’ve never felt more ready to embrace the coming change in my life, and I am thrilled to enter this new year with everything I could ever need to continue on. I am equipped with all of the love I could ever ask for from all of the wonderful friends and family that surround me, an undying hope for the future, and an inner recognition and understanding that I am wise, strong, and worthy enough to overcome.

Here’s to 2020– to love, to hope, and to life. I am so ready for you. Bring it.