The heft of it all
A short missive on Here, Now
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A song I’m loving:
Yesterday was my daughter’s second birthday party; she officially turns two on the 26th so we held her gathering this weekend to avoid a Halloween crossover. I set out pinecones and flowers, rocks and a poem I wrote for her on an altar in our dining room. My husband (T) hung rose and rust-colored streamers along the patio. We got most of the food from Costco — pre-made salads, fruit, cheese and snacks — to create ease where possible. My mom brought romaine I forgot to buy. My dad made an Elmo cake, the face painted with strawberries, two small white powdered donuts for eyes. Her little friends and our families came over, giggled and jumped in the massive leaf pile T made, took turns flopping down the tiny slide into the ball pit, sang her an off-tune Happy Birthday before she blew out the candles with my help. There was love and sweetness and celebration, with grief humming in the background, in my chest. I was so present to my daughter’s happiness while also feeling present to everything else I was holding inside, everything I was doing my best to keep hidden. This is how it feels when our lives continue in a world that is, in some ways, burning — when our Life Events and daily tasks and mundane moments keep on keeping on while it, in some ways, feels like doom everywhere you look.
This is often how it is — this impossible balance. To practice holding the heft of both unfathomable grief and glaring joy in one palm, in one day, in one life, is a practice I’m deeply committed to. How do you allow grief to move you while not letting it pull you into the undercurrent, the place you might not know how to emerge from? How do you let joy take you completely, without being afraid of its inherent impermanence? These are questions I don’t try to answer, but instead are questions I attempt to live into. This practice has tested me greatly over the last few weeks as I’ve witnessed a world crying out for our attention and action, members of my family and dear friends directly impacted by the ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine, my own waning-yet-still-here depression, my baby turning into a kid, the Mexican Sunflowers that keep popping up in my garden, the pure outrage and dehumanization happening in online spaces, the outpouring of people in hard conversations and full voicemail boxes and the streets, how pointless yet necessary unloading the dishwasher after yesterday’s birthday party feels, the humanity that gets left out when we try to summarize what can’t be summed up… all of it.
As a parent, I am doing my best to both shield my child from reality and allow her to witness me responding to reality — to witness me being a whole person. I sob in private and I cry in front of her, and sometimes she says, “Mama sad,” and I say “Yes love, sometimes mama feels sad.” I want to hide the heartbreak of the world so she can exist without it as long as possible, but not so much that I lose myself to pretending. As a person, I am doing my best to attend to the true, major delight that exists in moments of play and awe while also attending to the distance between my politics and that of those who differ from me, and the pain that lingers there, the fear that sits in that space. I am doing my best to take action without bypassing feeling, to listen more than I speak, to let myself be imperfect at all of it without unleashing the energy of war inward, and thus outward.
When I ask myself what I want to put into the world during collective trauma and violence, it is this: this reminder that I must tend to my own tiny, behind-the-scenes world first, so that I can tend to the larger world with care and responsiveness. It’s this: this insight into my process, into trying to hold it all while knowing I can’t, into finding the kernels of humanity in myself and everyone around me. It’s this: this felt sense of freeze in my body and the work it takes to continually un-thaw, not look away, not pretend. It’s this: this permission to grieve what I alone cannot save while acting upon that which I can act upon. It’s this: this noticing of a desire to be neutral when neutral doesn’t move the pendulum in ways it must be moved. It’s this: this fear of saying the wrong thing, of hurting someone. It’s this: this noticing of that fear. It’s this: this willingness to be in conversation with myself and others, in private and meaningful ways, so I can see beyond what I don’t know. It’s this: this remembering of what I’ve already learned, what I’m certain of. It’s this: this confrontation with recognizing the impossible yet only-option task of continuing to be in the small, mundane moments of my life while reaching out my hand when it isn’t tethered to the big feelings and constant needs of a blooming, growing, wonder-filled toddler. It’s this: this utter desperation for violence to end. It’s this: this letting in of joy where it knocks at the door of my body, this towering grief, this not turning away from any of it.
I’ve spent two weeks waiting for the right words to come, and they are not coming. So I am instead offering you what I have — perhaps a mirror, perhaps a nudge, perhaps an outreached hand, perhaps something else. May we each continue showing up in the ways we’re able to, for ourselves and for each other and for what could be.
The tenderness in me sees the tenderness in you.
△ Part of the birthday altar I made for my daughter, a tangible table of hope —
With (extra) care,
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