In between, George Floyd’s passing and now, it feels as though an eternity has passed. It has been brutal, heartrending, exhausting. In the days leading up to the murder, I had been working on a post about Ruthie Lindsey and her beautiful and brilliant book “There I Am”. But, after that murder, it felt wrong to write about anything beautiful or comprehensible in the face of ugliness and the incomprehensible. I just couldn’t do it.
But I could write “Say All of Their Names” and I could write about the marginalization of diversity, about a cold civil war and I felt so enraged and so fired up and so…..hardened by indignation, I felt like I could write about those topics forever. It was like a dam burst and it would just flow and flow and flow forth from me ad infinitum. And then the stomach knots started and the cramps. And these were followed by a general weariness of the spirit. A heaviness. I couldn’t right about those things anymore, but, I also know a huge part of my white privilege is being able to opt-out of something I just don’t want to do. Or can’t. A black or brown person cannot opt out of being black or brown.
So, then I felt guilty and ashamed in addition to stomach knotted and crampy. I felt my hardness getting harder because now I wasn’t just pissed at a f*cked up world, I was pissed at myself and my role in it. The cycle was vicious and exhausting and infuriating and stomach twistingly terrible. I went to revisit this post I had started, just to examine what the hell I was thinking and to castigate myself further for not having endurance enough to sustain an effort toward true social justice, when a funny thing happened.
As I started to read the bits and pieces of what I’d written about how Ruthie Lindsey used lists to bring her back to life, to remind her how to live, how to find and how to experience joy and, just reading that post, I felt myself…..softening. I felt space upon up in my chest and in my stomach. The knots came a little bit undone as I remembered that there has to be joy. There has to be joy and lightness and space and movement and the ability to breathe, if we are going to be allies to others who can’t breathe, in the long term too.
Warriors don’t last long if they’re always on the battlefield and not giving time and attention to the things that can sustain and keep them in the battle for the duration. Tom Hanks remarked that the responsibility of being human is a no nonsense business and it most definitely is no nonsense. It is not for the faint of heart or for the faint of spirit. But, the spirit can’t sustain itself on its own. We have to work with it, co-create with it, cultivate it’s soil so that it may flourish. And of its main ingredients is experiencing joy. In the face of terror. In the face of heartbreak. In the face of this moment in our lives.
Each life has its place and this wild and maddening and brilliant play. But consciousness cannot be raised, hearts cannot be healed and minds cannot be changed if the ones wanting to aid in the facilitation of the change are not elevated, are not healed and are not changed. People become elevated, healed, changed and able to engage in sustained ways when they are equanimous, mindful, judicious, learned, joyful and soft. The greatest warriors, the ones who can sustain the fight in the long term have, as Brene Brown calls them, strong backs and soft fronts. Equanimity. Balance. Equilibrium. Hardness and softness in balance.
My intention for my writing has always been to consciousness raise, beginning with myself, and, maybe others would find something elevating here too. That intention can still serve now. In the wake of COVID. In the wake of George Floyd. In the wake of anything. Because if we don’t start by fixing our hearts and then addressing things in our homes then we can’t go out and address things in the world.
Ruthie Lindsey engaged in her own war. A war with her body. A war with pain. A war that eventually broke her heart, her mind, her spirit. A war that hardened her and sent her down a path of self-abandonment, addiction, neglect and hardness. The only way Ruthie was able to return to life was through softening. Through make enough space for her pain so that it didn’t harden inside of her, but, rather, opened her up and softened her to the world. She had to feel all of her feelings including the ones we are taught to avoid. Instead of staying mired in them, being crushed by them she learned to move with them, to dance with them and to do freely and fearlessly and joyfully.
She also learned to make lists. Everything from what she needed to do to get through each day and function to lists about what to notice, where to go and how to once again experience joy. All of this begs the question: how can seeking out one’s own personal joy gives one the strength to persevere in a battle like the one for anti-racism; one that requires duration but is already breaking people down? Well, they can’t on their own, but, those lists, especially the one focused on joy, the one that brought Ruthie back to life and has since kept her in the game, show us how to be fully human. And full humans can then in turn be a warrior who goes the distance. But we can’t save other people’s lives without first saving our own.
We have to cultivate our own freedom and our own joy in order to ensure those things for others. We cannot though do this though at the expense of those who need our allyship and our voices the most. We need to reframe how we find joy and who our joy gets extended to. How can we take our joy experienced even in the face of heartbreak, weariness and hardness and translate it into action. Tangible action with world changing effects. Well, I’d advocate for making a list. A list that makes space for my pain and for another’s. A list that lets me have a soft front but a strong back so I am able take action on behalf of myself and sustained action on behalf of the world. When we cultivate our own hearts, our own minds, our own spirits and, when we raise the consciousness in our own homes and take action there, we may then raise consciousness and take sustained action in the home that we all share.