Whoever you are, I probably don’t know you. We’re probably not related. We may not even have a common friend or acquaintance. And yet I think about you constantly. I think about the world that you are living in right now – is there enough water? Enough food? Are any of the places I loved still recognizable? What is the story that you tell yourselves about us, the people living right now – did our work ever amount to anything or is the world nearly unbearable if you’re not rich or powerful?
I believe writing is a tool for us to slowly crawl towards honesty with one another and ourselves, so this is as much a letter to you as it is to myself and others who are here with me now. Honesty can help us see all that needs to be done, and it can also help us to realize that we are not alone. Sometimes the most healing thing we can do is remind ourselves over and over and over again that other people feel this too and they are by our side.
I’m grieving most days. I’m grieving for the people who are told that economic opportunity must cost them their right to drink clean water or breathe clean air. I’m grieving for the people that have lost their homes to wildfires. I’m grieving for the people who can only afford a home in a floodplain. I’m grieving for the way we’ve allowed so few to control so much and the way they peddle false equivalencies that pit us against each other instead of uniting us in advocating for change. I’m grieving for the way that sometimes I had to turn a blind eye so that I could enjoy beauty with the other. I’m sorry. Saying that never feels like enough and yet sometimes it feels like all I can offer.
One of my favorite authors, Hanif Abduraqib, compares grief to a game of tug of war, where sometimes the flag is on the opposite side. The only way to survive it, even if you don’t feel like you’re winning, is to keep your hands on the rope. I want to tell you that my hands are on the rope right now, and I’m going to keep them there no matter how tired I feel.
Do you know what keeps my hands there? Joy, surprisingly enough. It would be disingenuous to suggest that this world offered only sadness. Despite all the world’s misgivings, there are still tiny miracles to behold, pleasure to be had. I taste it in a meal cooked with love and care. I smell it in my dog’s wet fur after a romp in our local river on a hot day. I hear it in a poet’s words that are drenched in beauty and belonging. I see it when a mother decides it is her mission to organize for change. I feel it in a soft snowfall, the warmth of the sun on my face, and the relief of crawling into bed with my partner at the end of a long day. These moments renew me and keep me working so that others can have their own blissful reprieves, too.
As Mary Oliver writes, “We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world.” This is the challenge, I think – – to realize that the same world that can dole out so much devastation can also provide ecstasy, and to hold these things at once even if they’re in tension. It’s the same challenge as when we are forced to both forgive and to demand more of others, to accept that we may be both the wound and the knife, that we are all beautiful contradictions with flaws and nuance.
We must hold these things not necessarily in order to make sense of it all but to keep moving forward in a direction that we can be proud of and that does right by both the people we love and the people we will never meet. It is said that if you are not being hit by the stones thrown at others, you are not standing close enough. Let this tension keep us standing close.
This is the hardest, most complicated problem I have ever worked on. It is a magician’s handkerchief – it is never ending and no matter how hard you pull, there is always more work to be done. We must keep pulling. You must keep pulling, too. We must simply because we must. What other option do we have?