Who inspires you? What is it about them that lights a spark? Why?
Sometimes we’re inspired to change a complacent pattern. Repetitive routines dull our senses. Sometimes, we’re not living up to our potential, but the tigers in the jungle of our mind hold us back: fear, insecurity, self-doubt, shame. Uncertainty can become a storm on creative waters, pushing us toward the temperate climate where we’ve become comfortable, sated but not fulfilled.
I’m inspired by women. Brave women. Curious and unsilenced women. Women who feel life’s injustices and reach toward that fracture as a place of strength. This humble spot is where the platform waits, the platform of having a life with meaning.
A photo went viral this week, taken near my childhood hometown at a BLM protest in Whitefish, Montana. The young woman is valiant, brave, forcing an irate white man to look her in the eyes. Her name is Samantha Francine. She inspires me. Read the rest of the story.
Humans are social animals that learn by the examples of others. We learn first from our parents, then from exposure to the world. Limitations of exposure equals a limitation in possibilities. When we witness situations done differently, we build a foundation based on possibility rather than fear. A growth-based mindset is not the norm in our patriarchal culture. To heal from trauma, both individual and societal, we must shatter the barriers and build bridges with our deeper sense of self. We can learn to live differently. Inspiration is everywhere.
After another death of a black human, there is nothing I can say to express my emotions in a way that is meaningful enough. As a white woman, I have the privilege of education, health care, financial security, and a non-prejudiced gaze from people in positions of power. I have never been threatened by violence from a stranger. Nothing I say can compare to the voices of men and women of color who reap the trauma of inherited oppression. The systemic nature of patriarchy and a culture intent on capitalizing from division serves to scapegoat its failures onto the vulnerable, to break them down, to trod over them like dirt.
“I can’t breathe.”
The words of George Floyd have spoken for humanity. My stomach clenches when I say his words out loud. Tears pool in my eyes. I’m sickened by the spectrum of what it means to be American.
Equality demands a transfer of power: that the vulnerable will acquire freedom from scorn and classification, and the powerful will serve the traumatized with compassion. Yet we see the opposite in our political landscape. We feel the triangulation, the bared teeth of party affiliations, the lack of leadership. Narcissism is a new face wearing an old hat. The tactics strive to break us down and disorient our vision, to instill competition between allies, to discern powerless from omnipotent.
I grew up learning surrender as a socially responsible female action, believing my lack of boundaries was an extension of compassion. Gaslit and convinced of my inferiority, I was told to be nice. By young adulthood, I had no defense against the bullies in my life. Imagine the trauma.
Imagine doing nothing for change. The how is less important than the why. Trauma can not heal until the threat is removed and safety is secured for longevity. It is unsustainable to maintain relationships built on power and surrender, just like it is unsustainable for humanity to exist on polarized means. It takes great courage to disassemble foundations, but we are better than what was built for us.
We are in the midst of adaptation. Depending on our location and level of risk to coronavirus, change has disrupted our lives in various degrees and durations of intensity. Urban areas are impacted much more heavily, terrifyingly so, by the virus’ ability to accelerate rapidly. But Montanans have been under official Montana shelter-in-place mandates beginning March 20th, and the number of known cases in our county indicates a much slower growth trajectory than in other areas of the state. Missoulians are luckier than most.
But I want to talk about adaptation. My two daughters, ages seventeen and nineteen, are home from school and their schoolwork is mostly done from their bedrooms behind closed doors. I trust that they are responsible humans and can navigate classwork without my assistance. They wake up at noon. It is my belief that their natural rhythms are stretching out the kinks after years of leaving the house for school at 7:30 a.m. They take solitary hikes or bike rides in the afternoon. They stay up ungodly hours, but I don’t mind. For the first time in their young lives, they have the opportunity to be accountable for their work while managing their own time.
Similar adaptations are happening within our communities and livelihoods. If you’re like me, we are connecting with friends and family, and possibly strangers, through Zoom, FaceTime, Facebook Live, and other video platforms. We are cooking at home, doing projects, finding self-gratifying activities. We are exposing our vulnerabilities to fear and grief and love through different creative means, finding a release through imperfection and not getting hooked into the belief that we’re not good enough for, well, whatever it is we usually deem ourselves not good enough for. Without realizing it, we are relaxing into our fullness of Self.
There is meaning behind this. Beyond the tragedies and fear of coronavirus, I’m seeing the breakdown of patriarchal structure. Words typically aligned with the toxic masculine, words like power, stoic, loveless, have fallen underfoot of our collective vulnerability. Fear is always present with vulnerability, but doesn’t the presence of fear also indicate an opposition to the toxic manifestations and structures which we have unwillingly prolonged through fatalistic obedience?
Nature clearly wants to shake up the system. It is a pertinent time for questions. The personal: How does my body respond throughout the day? Who determines if I’m good enough? In which areas can I embrace imperfection/loosening of judgments? And societal: Why must school/work exist on a strict clock? What might the world look like if toxic priorities of power/money were replaced by compassion/equality? How can environmental damage be minimized? Where can humanity benefit from more balance?
We are experiencing a tectonic shift of our familiar world. As with every traumatic experience, there is fear and grief and inevitable uncertainty. Change is terrifying. Change brings loss. But the breaking of structure and familiarity comes with an enormous opportunity for amelioration of everything that needs repair. It is my hope that we will have grown collectively in spirit as a compassionate whole, one that we won’t oppose through reflexive obedience to the norm, but with a brave and daring objective to heal the overlooked and neglected wounds.
I’m writing a few days early because we are living in an unprecedented threat. The invisible force of coronavirus as a global pandemic has saturated our lives with a shocking amount of fear towards everything we touch, inhale, ingest, consume, and interact with. Our minds are overwhelmed with news, statistics, dread, paranoia, sorrow, grief, vulnerability, and nearly everywhere we turn there is another voice with another fact that puts more weight on the load. We have been forced to retreat, to adapt to alternatives to keep the threat as distant as possible.
To me, it seems as if we are trying to figure out how to live within a mindset of elimination, how to conquer the beast that we can’t see, can’t feel, but know its presence is real. It is a beast that thrives through connection. Now is as evident as ever to see how connected we are. Despite oceans and skies, we convene on one planet with one uniform need: each other.
The irony isn’t lost on me. In order to eliminate the beast, we must deny ourselves of the very connections that save us from falling prey to despair. Loneliness and depression go hand in hand. In troubled times, our minds seek the simplest path. Some prefer fight and some prefer flight, and neither are wrong in their preference, although they are both a product of fear and as we know, fear begets behavior and language that repels and shames rather than validates and confirms.
How do we turn our language to empathy? How do we forge through a crisis when we are fearful of everything that surrounds us? How do we trust our world again?
Having gone through my own crisis of identity and sense of reality, I know that life can take everything from us including our faith in our perception of truth. These are scary times and faith is rattled. What is our truth? Are we afraid of death or are we afraid of not fully living? There is a difference. The first is oppressive whereas the fear of not living life to its fullest has options. We can alter our patterns, discern the way we spend our time, refrain from language that suffocates and repels. We can create space within ourselves for growth.
I can think of no better time than right now to implement seeds for personal amelioration through introspection. We have been gifted one beautiful and glorious life. Fear eats away at our minds, paralyzes us, forces us to panic. Right now, my fears are dwelling on the fact that I have to take my daughter in for lab work today and I’m afraid of exposing her to the world. She has an autoimmune disease and is doing great, but what if? The truth is, I’m not afraid of her falling ill, I’m afraid of being the bad parent who exposed her to danger despite the fact that lab work is part of her health regimen. My fear is a question of my goodness: am I good or am I bad? Quite selfish, really.
What are we really afraid of? There is no wrong answer. Naming the beast minimizes the threat. Within the safety of our walls, if we don’t make the space now, then when?
Today I wear the mark of the cross on my forehead as a reminder of where I have come from and what I will become, dust.
At the Ash Wednesday mass, I found myself looking around during a prayer spoken in Latin because I didn’t know the words. I have been Catholic for nearly twenty years. It struck me how easy it would have been at an earlier point in my life to chide myself for not reciting the prayer, as if not knowing the words made me less important, less worthy, less good. Back when I was naive about life, I was a harsh critic. It was my tendency to feel that I didn’t belong.
What does belonging even mean? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary app says it is a word constructed from Middle and Old English, formed of two words be (as an intensifier) + long (at hand with). For objects, it means to be the property of somebody. For humans, it is to possess a role within a group, community, or world. Notice how a shift of possession happens when we approach humanity as a living object, something that may vary or shape shift over time but will inevitably remain beyond ownership.
We don’t have to be perfect to belong. There is no box to squeeze into, no rules or practices that must be adhered to for a person to fit in beyond the identity of self. In the real world, there is no referee blowing the whistle on the misfit. I mean, aren’t we all misfits anyway? I, for one, attest to not knowing the words, the rules, the parameters that limit me to one collection. I am fluid and free, and prefer to float between groups and places who consider me as one of them. I am who I am, simply dust.