Photo: Koa Kalish
My plane touches down onto the tarmac of the San Francisco Airport and I flip off the airplane mode on my phone, waiting for my signal to catch. A barrage of texts and news announcements stream onto my screen: “Are you and Adam safe? Have you had to evacuate?” they read. Evacuate what? I worry before opening one of the news stories entitled “The Tubbs Fire.” I rapidly scroll through the article, aware that the rest of the plane has awoken to this same news and that many of us are now holding our breath as we go through the motions of deplaning and worming our way through customs. I send a series of rapid messages to Adam as I shuffle my way forward in line. “What’s going on?!” I text, “Is the house okay?” “Yes, everything is okay,” he replies, “let’s talk in the car.” I take my first deep breath and my hands move instinctively to my stomach, where they rest for the remainder of my time in line.
The Tubbs Fire was one of over a dozen Northern California wildfires that devastated communities in October of 2017. It became national news overnight, as it was specifically this fire that ended up burning over 5,000 structures and killing at least 22 people. Residents were forced to flee their homes in the middle of the night as whole neighborhoods in the city of Santa Rosa burned to the ground. My partner Adam and I live just a half hour south of Santa Rosa, in the town of Petaluma. This “firestorm,” as it has since been called, has inked itself into my memory, not only because of its gravity and proximity, but also because it marked the start of my pregnancy.
48 hours before the Tubbs fire ignited I gazed down at a positive pregnancy test in London. It was the tale end of a two-and-a-half-week trip to Europe, where I had been facilitating my course, “Earth Is `Ohana,” a class on embracing spiritual ecology as a response to our climate crisis. The day before I took this pregnancy test I was sharing about the “3-6-9 concept,” which references that our planet is headed toward a 3-degree Celsius global temperature increase, while going through the 6th mass extinction of species, and simultaneously headed towards a global population of 9 billion people by 2050. I had asked the class to sit in silence and reflect on how the sum of these numbers impacts them. For the majority of my 20’s my identity has largely been wrapped up in youth and climate work, understanding and sharing information like this has been the focus of my life for the past few years. The enormity of discovering that I was pregnant was also intertwined in the reality of these numbers. I was excited, yet critically aware of what it meant to bring another human being onto this planet. As I waited outside of the airport for Adam I kept thinking about how the myth of “safer, higher ground” was rapidly fading for many, and that our child would be living through so much more of this climate chaos.
The following days and weeks were surreal. Adam and I planned our future while packing up all the important items in our home. While we watched the ever expanding plume of black smoke to the north of us blanket the sky, family photos came down off the walls and were taken south for safekeeping, to his brother’s house. Checking the direction of the wind before bed became ritual, while we prayed that the fire wouldn’t jump the freeway in the middle of the night. We drove into the hot red haze that was Santa Rosa for my first prenatal appointment and listened to our baby’s heartbeat before being handed smoke masks and being warned that pregnant women needed to stay indoors during this time. As we drove home through the smoke I wondered about who this baby would be, but I was especially curious about why my child was choosing to come now. The sorrow of lost homes and lost lives poured into our small town, leaving evacuated families with nowhere to go except the front of our supermarkets. Store shelves were emptied and sirens raced continuously up and down the freeway while I tried my best to convince my close family and friends that Adam and I were safe, all the while delivering the news that we were starting a family.
“How do you feel?” was often the first question posed in these conversations. “Excited!” I would respond, eyeing the thick haze of smoke outside my window. Mostly I felt sad as I kept mentally replaying a recent visit with one of Adam’s friends. Over breakfast she had shared about her close encounters with the fire. A single mother living in Santa Rosa, she had awoken to the overpowering smell of smoke and, looking outside her window, saw flames rapidly making their way towards her home. Waking her daughter, she ran with her to their car and fled. It was only once they were at a safe distance that she turned to her child and asked if she was okay, to which her daughter replied, “my heart is shaking.”
These words echoed in my head as I remembered how our friend’s eyes filled with tears as she shared this story. This was the first moment I felt the strong surge of maternal instinct race through my body, the feeling of a love so all-consuming that it hurts to the marrow of your bones. In that moment I learned that it is possible to hear and feel the crying of the earth in a new way, that the feeling of your child’s heart shaking makes your own quake. I felt like an animal within my expanding flesh, rubbed raw by the truth that my skin was stretching to house another’s, and that one day this life would have to navigate our world.
As I grow bigger through the months I learn that pregnancy is a time of feeling vulnerable and powerful. I become aware of how my womb is an entire ocean, my body a whole earth unto itself, my baby it’s only citizen. My belly leaves nothing to hide, announcing that I have chosen to always place another’s life before mine, a life I live to protect. At times I have thought of pregnancy as both a consensual and non-consensual experience; consensual in that I have chosen to say yes to this journey, yes to growing this life, but I have not agreed to my gums bleeding and my teeth weakening because the baby needs my calcium. My body constantly feeds this life as my organs rearrange themselves without consulting my rational mind. Growing a child is teaching me that my capacity to give is rooted at a cellular level. I wonder if it’s possible to learn this without carrying a child, and I’m hit by the reality that everything I am going through is one of life’s most natural processes. I am curious how many of my peers will one day join me in parenthood. For most of us it seems inevitable; after all we are all animals.
“How will you balance motherhood and activism?” a friend asks me at the end of a conference. I appreciate her directness; it’s the silent question that I can hear wrapped around the many congratulations that I receive from my peers who know me exclusively through projects related to climate and social justice. I know my pregnancy is a surprising and even shocking turn of events for my current social group, most of whom actively work within “the youth sector.” I am the first of us to become pregnant and I can tell that, by association, I am aging my friends. Suddenly the words “the next generation” has taken on a new and much more intimate meaning. The next generation is no longer us; the next generation is growing in my womb. Recently a friend with whom I attended the UN Climate Conferences reposted a New York Times article on Facebook entitled, “No Children Because of Climate Change? Some People Are Considering It.” At first read I feel confronted by the wave of guilt that washes over me. Through the years I’ve lamented over the many points the article outlines. For me it all comes down to two questions: is it a selfish and destructive act to have a child? and if I do, will my child be okay in an uncertain future? Choosing to have a baby while being so intricately aware of the many ways the world is burning seems crazy. What does it mean to mother a whole generation of children into the devastation of these times? I’m scared because I don’t know. All that I do know is that suddenly my personal timeline has been yanked forward, beyond my own life and into the future of my child’s, providing a new type of urgency to understand where and how I might be most effective. Growing this life helps me to remember that my original introduction to grassroots activism was through mothers. These were women from my home on Maui who taught me the importance of showing up in my own community. From the mother who took her newborn door-to-door to collect signatures, to the single mothers who are currently running for office, back at home our activist spaces seamlessly blend family life and parenthood. These mothers continue to persevere because, as I’m learning, having a child demands a new type of engagement. I feel responsible for creating a healthier world for my baby to grow into, as well as shaping a human being that will play their part in our larger collective healing. I believe that activism and parenthood have always informed each other, but the act of mothering can often be invisible work. As we have started to acknowledge on a societal level, we can never know the true price of a mother or a father’s contribution, but for those who have yet to parent, we still can’t help but attempt to measure and question its value.
I feel every inch of my son’s head pass through me before I see his body gently land beneath my crouching open legs. He is silent until the midwife quickly picks him up to give him a little kiss of air that sets off a loud and continuous wail. His umbilical cord that binds his body and mine is the last remaining connection to our intimate truth of shared flesh. Just like every ancestor that has ever graced this planet, our love originates from an understanding that we were once one. I realize that my idea of what it meant to be a mother was simply theory before this moment. Until he was here I could not know that to birth another human being is to cross a threshold wherein ideas of right and wrong no longer exist. Here on the other side is the reminder that we were once all pure; within each of our origin stories was our own will to let life continue through us. When my son is placed on my chest for the first time, I am relieved of any shame for his life. I realize that dwelling in my previous guilt only takes away from the possibility of what my son’s life might offer. He is proof that within each of us lies the powerful act of creation.
I am a parent now. This new identity has slowly permeated every crevice of my being. It wills me to wake in the middle of the night to feed, to soothe, to hold. I do all these things with a gentleness and patience I did not know I possessed. I have long held the natural world in reverence, but to hold a part of me in this new truth is the closest thing I have known to holiness. For the first time as an adult I feel unapologetically grateful to be a part of my species. To become reacquainted with my humanness is a cooling respite after years of repenting for all that we have done. I had forgotten that we arrive inherently good and, in this amnesia, I had lost sight of our greater potential. In a world dominated by the story of our ugliness I have found it to easy to point a finger, to create boundaries and to have polarizing opinions about the “right ways to live.” Holding my child, I am suddenly able to shed many of these perceptions; instead I am contemplating how I might live from my own inherent goodness so that I may love my work as I do my child. After all, if those of us who care fail to seed the next generations, who will continue this work when we are gone?
This piece was originally written for and published in Loam Magazine's print publication, "Reawakening Resilience".
Words on motherhood, spiritual ecology and being creative with how we stand in our truth
I used to think that creating change was as simple as truth telling and speeches and long heart felt nights with new friends who felt just as passionate as I. Caffeine was my fuel and the label of a “good day” was given only when my productivity somehow managed to match my never ending to-do list. My identity and self worth was largely wrapped up in my ability to produce and title myself, from yoga teacher and UN Climate Youth Delegate to climate justice activist and project manager. It felt good to be seen and to impress. Like so many of us, personal value only made sense when others expressed interest or praise. A year ago, all of this abruptly shifted when I found out I was pregnant. I was on a trip, thousands of miles from home, over worked, under slept and attempting to keep a raging cold under control. I was alone staying at a strangers’ house when I looked down into a positive pregnancy test and for the first time in years I felt the gentle peace of quiet sweep throughout my soul. Suddenly the lists didn’t matter, there was nothing left to do, not even cry. Life took on the quality of one- moment- at- a- time, and so I walked myself back to bed, got under the covers, and felt the last echoes of my childhood fall away. I called my boyfriend to share the news and then I went to sleep.
When Kate asked me to be a columnist for Loam’s monthly missives, I thought that I would pick up from this point here in my story. In the last year I have been grown into a mother. My capacity to carry literally increased by 40lbs, and tested by never ending growing pains. I have felt and continue to feel all the feelings, sometimes in just one day. Loneliness, excitement, sorrow, fear, embarrassment, forgotten, love, patience, the list goes on. I have asked if I will ever be me again, and then laughed at the silliness of that question, only to ask it again the next day. I have worried and wondered how change comes about and have been filled with anxiety when I think about the world my son has been born into. Some days all I do is mother and other days I am back at my computer, in meetings discussing the recent UN Climate Change report, and planning a conference on spiritual ecology and education. In short, I am a modern mother who desires political and environmental justice and dreams daily of our collective liberation. My theory of change has always been rooted in the idea that there is more than one way to contribute and that more often than not, those who create lasting change are often quiet and invisible. This has only been reinforced in this last year, when in the exhaustion of pregnancy, I suddenly tuned into the low yet steady hum of people going about their every day lives, without the big trips and big presentations. Resistance and resilience, I have been learning looks so many ways and getting creative within the steadiness of work and home life is its own type of vital contribution towards a healthier world. This is what this column, “Reimagining Activism” is dedicated too. For those who wonder if their actions are too small, for those who hold down a 9-5 and are curious what their place might be in our greater social movements, for those who are questioning the current culture of activist spaces, I write for you. This column is an open letter to our collective struggles and discoveries, an ever shifting dialogue on the subtle ways that change comes about. Shifting culture is made up of the consistent ritual of every day life. Shifting culture takes everyday people, like you and me.
I see you, I recognize you, and I thank you for showing up.
I have not wanted to participate in the collective gathering of energy around the Eclipse and I do not fully know why. I do know that I am tired by the Eclipse posts in my feed and the repetitiveness that they represent. I do know that most days I feel angry and that at night an old type of fear has traveled its way into my bed. Before Charlottesville I was starting to lose my footing, post Charlottesville I can feel within my skin an under current of my old childhood temper. Flashes of red-hot, bursts through my bloodstream, the word ‘”fuck” comes out of my mouth frequently and I feel real hatred when I think of our current Presidents face. It’s the type of hatred that I so openly speak out against and that knowing makes me want to fall into myself and out from our mass channels of conversation. I don’t have something so pretty to contribute at the moment. I don’t have the energy to pick your spirits up. I want to tell you that there is a way forward, but I cannot be your guide.
I have been re-reading a letter I wrote to Adam, my boyfriend about my fear. This was in the month of December, and I had yet to arrive back in the states post our disastrous election results. I had woken up from a dream where I had spoken out at a rally in support of Trump. I said “we have to resist. Do not listen to his lies. Get up off the ground, go home, you do not have to be here.” In the dream I knew that part of doing this would put me and the people that I loved in danger. I could feel that our right to publicly speak out was slowly being taken away.
The night before writing this letter to Adam, I had watched what I would still consider the most impactful piece of media that I had taken in since the election. It was a video of Daryl Davis, the black man who is famous for befriending KKK members. A recent news article on him reads, ‘How One Man Convinced 200 Ku Klux Klan Members To Give Up Their Robes’. This video back in December was the first time that I ever heard of Daryl Davis and this mans story was a direct confrontation to everything that I had been taught. I was suddenly held accountable to my own ideas of hope and the strong boundaries that encased them. I realized I had never seen a black man standing next to KKK members, not counting a dead body swinging from a tree. I didn’t know this could be a possible reality and it felt as though a strong beam of light was shining down into my face. I felt like a hypocrite, hiding behind my fear of the perceived ‘other’. I quite literally had to raise my arm up and cover my face with my scarf from the friend that was watching this video with me. I felt ashamed as I started speaking out all of my fear. Childhood thoughts surfaced. Men in white robes are the images of my nightmares, I realized that this ingrained fear I have been carrying my whole life led to thoughts like, “These people are not human. These people are demons… these people.” I tell my friend, “I’ve only ever had two friends that were Republican. I have been raised in such an us, them mentality.” My world seems so small against the story of Daryl Davis. I am shaking inside to think about the possibility of really deconstructing these walls that I have been shaped by. I hear the stories of my family told to me at bedtime, about the one time my Indian father encountered a KKK member, how the man spoke hate into his long native hair. I am thoroughly saturated through by my mother’s plea for my safety, “Kailea the rules are different for you because you are brown. If the police stop you, you must comply. Please be safe!” I have been knowingly and unknowingly diligently building up walls of security over the past 26 years. There has always been the feeling to be small in moments of mass fear, to glide under the surface, to be an unnoticed face. This is our family’s way of survival.
I have never let these thoughts move out of my mouth into the air. I have never let them be fully realized and I feel foolish as they burst forward in my babbling. I am not brave. I am a human girl. I harbor prejudice that can be seen through the scarf that I hold over my face. When I finish talking, my friend hugs me and I cry. Suddenly there is space to think the words, “What is possible?” It had never fully occurred to me on such an embodied level that I could meet hate crimes with humanity. The idea of it grates against my insides; I take a breath and call it a night.
That was eight months ago. Eight long months in which we have been watching our government accelerate into its own inevitable collapse, taking a part of our society with it. Eight months of a continuing rise of white supremacists. Eight months of each of our own personal turmoil as we look for shelter in the echo chambers of our feeds. I know just as much as you that there will be no solace there, yet I can’t stop looking for it even as I can feel the sucking of our progressive views becoming smaller and smaller. I am not satisfied by anyone’s anger, least of all mine.
And then Charlottesville happens and it is like watching every one of my childhood nightmares come out of the night. I have been waking up from sleep and shaking Adam’s arm and speaking my fear into the dark while he tries to listen half asleep and tries to comfort while wrapping me in his arms. I lay there still awake unable to shake this feeling in my bones, it feels ancient this type of fear.
I have a personal strict protocol to not move forward fueled by hate, and so instead I have been stalled out. I know this is not what you want to hear. I am still moving, just in place. I put in my hours, check off my to-do’s and when I can, I walk up into the hills where you can hear the dry sounds of summer crack the long grasses in half. I find a bit of fuel in books just like I always have and I think everyday about how to tell the truth about the fact that I feel more and more uncomfortable in the left. How the spaces made to help POC and native people feel ‘safe’ make me furious. I feel I don’t belong anywhere. I am tired of being so careful with my words. I am tired of fitting myself into neatly crafted PC packages. I am yearning to be in conversation with people brave enough to say it wrong, brave enough to say, “I don’t know.” Our lack of exploration leads me nowhere. All of our right-ness is starting to sound very similar to everything that we say we stand against. I am starting to forget what it is we stand for. I miss hearing into the true words of people’s hearts.
Today is the day of the Eclipse. I have not read any of the horoscopes, and the fog of the North Bay blocked out my view of the sun. Instead I went and sat down in my own yard. It was not mystical, it was not deep, it was just me and my tomato plants, my half drunk cup of coffee going cold, the feeling of dry soil against my feet. I placed a prayer down for this emptiness that I feel in the form of a contained circle made of dried bachelor button petals. Dark purple, indigo, light pink, the colors tell the age of each flower, bleached lighter and lighter by days growing under the strength of the sun. Here we are as well, running around in our frantic pain while the sun ticks time, day after day. Putting ourselves to bed in the well-known fears of the past. Asking for something different while we practice all the same motions. Forgetting that we are more alike, than different, forgetting that we are rarely original in our thoughts about the world.
Rumi left us with the well-known lines, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” There are more words though that are part of this particular passage that are less known. They read, “When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.”
I am putting down my big ideas of making sense of any of this. Instead I am asking for the courage to live into a humble life; a life where there is space to speak my fears and to hear yours too, before we set them down.
The Eclipse is over now.
This is the moment that I have yet to name. I wonder about the other times in the history of humankind, when the passing of the baton to the next generation was such a somber ordeal? When elders felt more grateful for the fact that their lives were nearing an end, when looking into the eyes of those who still had so much life to live out. A few years ago when these odd interactions first started happening they confused me. I was used to looking towards adults for guidance and support, and it was a strange sort of societal initiation when I realized that I was now also considered an adult, in that I was no longer shielded from all that was falling apart. Perhaps what was most unsettling was the ease that sometimes accompanied an adult handing over ‘the world’ to me. “Here,” some would say, “we may have fucked it up beyond repair, hopefully you can make it better.” These dead end comments would leave me infuriated and struggling with myself when I couldn’t seem to create the capacity to internalize that we seemed to currently be living out some version of the end of the world. Now I realize, that this is a near impossible task. I am not sure that we humans are fully equipped to comprehend on an emotional or psychic level what it is we are in store for. We are struggling to realize in the midst of the unraveling, that we are unraveling. And we are struggling with the ability to take responsibility for our part in it all.
I’ve had a small collection of rose buds drying over the last weeks and I took them with me outside, with these thoughts in mind. I sat and slowly began to peel a bud open, petal by petal. “This is me consciously creating an unraveling,” I thought to myself. I picked up a second bud that was still intact and placed it in the center of the petals, and questioned the possibility of new growth from something old and decaying. Often I find myself feeling stuck, conscious that I am living and working within an old and dying system with the hopes of creating something new. I feel frustrated when I bump up against what seem to be immobile boundaries. “Will I to one day be an elder grateful for my passing time on this earth, simultaneously saddened by all that I could not or did not do? Will I give up early, and eagerly throw the baton of responsibility into the hands of my grandchildren?” I ask myself these questions and it makes me feel like a coward. I pick up a pinch of tiny dried petals and sprinkle them within a larger petal, “this will be a prayer for courage”, I say to myself. Moving to the next petal, I place a prayer within for belief. I desperately need to believe in something beyond our current environmental and political crisis. I do this 9 more times, moving around the center bud, laying down prayers for my own responsibility, for growing into eldership, for steadfastness even when I am scared. And then right as I place my last prayer down, a small gust of wind comes through, overturning a petal, sending bits and pieces of my thoughts into the air. An eternal reminder that we will never be in control and that everything is already in motion.
“So long as Hawaii was a monarchy, however, a non-Hawaiian would never have complete control of the government and therein lies the tale of Bayonet, the Overthrow and the American annexation.
The same founders of the Independent/Reform Party in 1883 made up the committee of safety that took control of the government in 1893 under the protection of American soldiers and warships. In 1895, in a particularly spiteful and cynical piece of timing, they declared their republic on July 4, a “government” that had all of 4,000 mostly white citizens, and declared Sanford Dole president for life. That this “republic” was set up for no other purpose than to encourage the Americans to annex the islands makes it impossible to commemorate the Fourth as a day of independence. I cannot imagine how any Hawaiian, knowledgeable about this history and feeling any sense of kinship with his or her nineteenth century ancestors, celebrates the Fourth of July.”
– Jonathan Osorio, Excerpt from ‘A Hawaiian National on Independence Day’
My family is First Nations from northern British Columbia, but I grew up in Hawai`i, and have an American passport. These identities are more than present for me, from July 1st through the 4th as Canada celebrates its Confederation Day and America their Independence Day. As I’ve become an adult, these four days have also become all the more confusing for me. I didn’t grow up with a nationalistic sense, as my parents were always honest with me about the history on which this country was founded. My mother, an African American woman, had us watching Roots at an early age so that we would always understand how the color of our ancestors skin was linked to the inequity of the ‘American Dream.’ I remember having serious doubts around the age of 10 about the daily standing in school to observe the flag while pledging allegiance to “The United States of America”. So much of my ancestry and present reality did not lend itself to comfortably believing in this pledge. Hawai`i is geographically isolated from the mainland of America. We were literally, not united with the rest of the states, and culturally we were being raised with what seemed to be a very different mentality than those raised on the mainland.
The Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement has been present my entire life. On the side of the highways are homemade signs that state just this: "Reinstated Kingdom of Hawai`i". I couldn’t always comprehend the full immensity of these signs as a child, but by the simple fact of being native, there was a deeper sense of knowing. I often sit with myself now and ask, “What does it mean to be native?” For me the answer is tied up with an understanding that at some point, invaders arrived on the land of my ancestors and took over through any means necessary. Today we use words like colonization to sum up the before history of massacre, disease and religion, when really colonization is only possible after indigenous populations are left decimated, hanging onto the bare threads of survival. Assimilation is also a part of this process. Through the use of shaming the native or Indian out of populations, total control can be taken, as cultural identity is lost to the larger mass identity of nationalism.
A few years ago new language began to rapidly move around me in the islands. “Occupied by the American Military” was suddenly a way to understand the deeper ‘why’ behind Hawai`i as a state and the large military base that is on the island of Oahu. “The Overthrow” of the Hawaiian Kingdom became a focal piece of history as the general public started untying the knot between water issues, the shipping industry and our extreme dependence on food and other resources from the mainland. People started understanding their place in it all. The word settler, became commonplace as those non- Hawaiians accepted the actual history of the place they now inhabited. We were not Native Hawaiians, we were from somewhere else, but that didn’t mean that we couldn’t work together. As it was most recently explained to me, if you are not native to the land you are currently living on, then your responsibility is to support those who’s ancestors are of that land in their rightful fight for sovereignty. Part of this process is supporting the re-framing of what was once commonplace. I don’t write any of this in an act of shaming, but I do write in an act of honesty. Simply put from my perspective, the celebration of Canada Day and The Fourth of July are a celebration of continual land theft and most importantly, the celebration of Indigenous resiliency in the fight for survival against all odds.
I am aware that there are many other perspectives that one can bring to my viewpoint, but as our “democracy” unravels for all I am sure many more are beginning to feel into this loss of “independence” that native peoples have felt for hundreds of years. There are ways forward, and together, but they will not fit into our conventional sense of business as usual. As The United States takes pause to observe and remember false histories built upon slavery and war, I ask you to take a moment aside from the usual agenda as well. Ask yourself, who are the original caretakers of the land I live on and where are they today? How is their history wrapped up in the one that America is celebrating? And lastly, what do I want my place to be in it all? That might be the most important question, because against all desires of our government at hand, you still have a choice in how and where you bring your voice.
I’ve been watching dandelions spring up within my yard over the last months. At first there were just a few, lone yellow topped stalks that budded closed at night and wisped across the yard over the days, seeding the barren soil. Now they are everywhere, covering whole areas with their thick dark green leaves, I can’t help but look at them and think, “against all odds.” Dandelions are incredible. The plant itself is a token of resiliency, a reminder that even where seemingly nothing can regrow, there will be life again. When used medicinally to treat inflamed livers, they whisper, “this too will heal.” I decided that for these thoughts I wanted to sit with these plants as a way to provide healing for my own anger and pain. The prayer that wanted to come forward was one that asked for wholeness.
I collected petals that had fallen from their stems over the last week and began to weave them into the base of dandelions, re-forming them into a larger flower. I thought about how many of us are scattered from our true places of origin, how many of us hurting in our search for a place to call home. There is so much that cannot be rebuilt to replicate what was, but that does not mean re-building cannot happen. The reality is just that what will be born will look different than what was. I don’t think its wrong that it hurts to come to that realization, because it does hurt. In matters of reconciliation we ask, “What is possible?” Sometimes the answers seem futile, not enough for all the wrong that has been. But then I have to ask myself, “Will my anger feed me and those around me into further right action?” I know that it won’t. I know that the real injustice is to live my life out of anger and the only real possibility of reconciliation is to define my own healing.
This is my own prayer for healing from the roots up.
This video clip has been haunting me.
Stephanie Woodward, a disabled woman protesting Trumpcare, is literally ripped from her wheelchair while being arrested. My immediate response is a tightening in my throat as I watch the footage from the comfort of my bed. Everything that created this one instance is wrong and I am struggling to understand how this can be okay. Simply put, it is not okay. Just because it is happening, does not make it okay. Sometimes I have to say this aloud to myself so that I don’t forget. Disabled peoples, whose lives are being placed on the line by a proposed $800 billion dollar cut to Medicaid, should not be arrested for stating their right to stay alive. As Woodward writes, “I mean to live in freedom. Because the liberty of so many Americans with disabilities is at stake, we laid our bodies on the line last week. We chanted loudly as we were taken away from the office and into police custody.”
I went and sat out in my garden after watching this clip. My baby greens have bolted and I harvested the last bits from a plant before pulling it out of the ground. I outlined a circle in the earth, where the roots of the plant had once been. I wanted to ‘plant’ this prayer in my garden bed. I had carried from the house a bowl of purple flowers that I had dried a few months ago. My original inclination was to make something with all of them, but once outside I only felt like using a few flowers and nothing else. Nothing so big wanted to be created, because within me I felt small. This actual piece itself only took about two minutes to put into place, but once done I sat with it for quite some time. I lay my hands down alongside the edges of the circle I had traced and closed my eyes. I realized that as much as this was about those directly impacted by Medicaid cuts this was also prayer of forgiveness. I thought about what it would feel like to be one of those policemen pulling disabled people from their wheelchairs, and my heart broke for them as well. As Woodward had put it in an interview with Democracy Now! the ADAPT activists and the policemen were both doing their jobs, it just turned out that on that day, those jobs directly confronted each other.
- Parker J. Palmer
In the face of social, environmental and political unrest, Parker J. Palmer’s words have become my compass of compassion and grounding. While thinking about what I wanted to offer to the LOAM community, I referred again and again to the feeling that these works evoke within my being. “Somehow, through it all, there could be a way to exist within the chaos,” they seem to be whispering. This idea, that I could feel whole while living within so much fragmentation seems far-flung and nearly impossible. I decided that for my artist-in-residency I wanted to explore deeper into this contradiction.
Most days people refer to me as an activist or an environmentalist. I like to call myself an educator on earth stewardship. My personal life is as much my work as my work is personal, as I am always seeking to live into what it means for me to be an active steward. For most of my work and projects I am asked to take in an incredible amount of media. This media more often than not comes in through screens and sometimes through radio or actual printed publications. I love my work and the relationships that have been built through these spaces, but staying updated on all that is going wrong in the world often leaves me depleted. I think many of you out there might feel similar. We live in an age of unbelievable connectivity and at our fingertips lay an endless string of ways to get involved amidst the devastation. As Kate Weiner of LOAM writes, “There is a tremendous pressure within the mainstream climate movement to work yourself to the bone. I've written before about how the pressure to perpetually act conforms to the same capitalist measures of productivity that so many of us are fighting against. But it can be difficult to bring it on home— to believe that it is not only nourishing but also necessary to provide pauses in our day; to trust that sitting some things out can create the space for beautiful things to bloom; and to know that rethinking our everyday actions can be as healing to the world as advocating for broad policy change.” This is the space from which I wish to share and offer an invitation, and LOAM as a publication is the perfect place to offer from. Here, the concept of sustainability is understood as more than just an outward application. Sustainability must first and foremost begin from within if we are to talk about this being the work of our lives. And so I ask myself, “What will be the soul quenching practice of pause that will nurture me for the long- haul?”
The times are urgent; let us slow down.
- Bayo Akomolafe
Pause Within the Chaos is an art project that works with imbuing prayer and ritual into everyday life. Inspired by Asumund Seip’s book, 100 Days for the Earth, which explores 100 days of writing to the places we hold dear, Pause Within the Chaos, will channel this same exercise of dialogue with the earth as a daily practice of active prayer. The practice will follow three steps, which I’ve outlined below.
1. In-taking media: This project is orientated around finding new ways of working with taking in and digesting media. The daily ritual of listening to or reading the news will remain a crucial part of this process.
2. Giving pause: Often I let incredibly dense news wash through me unconsciously. I realized that an important piece to keeping my own sanity is to create moments of pause after learning about something particularly maddening or upsetting. Often it is only a few minutes, but those moments allow me to build the capacity in myself to hold this new information. I noticed that when I fall into the unconscious space of letting news hit me, while say I am preparing and/or eating food, that my body’s ability to even digest is limited. Giving pause is a part of how I integrate.
3. A breath & a prayer: From this place of pause, small earth prayers will then be made from natural materials like sticks, rocks and petals. The idea is not to illustrate the media but to find a way to work with creating a healthy cycle of inhalation and exhalation; Inhale media, exhale a tangible prayer of grace. While facing “the mounting violence in our time” I feel dedicated to finding a new response to that reminds me of my own humanity.
Simplicity is key to this project. Like many of you, my life is full, and I am often looking for practices that can be easily incorporated into my routine. This project is also an invitation into a conversation with each of you. Perhaps you work with a practice that proves to be sufficient in holding space for the pain of the world, or maybe you are seeking one. Over the coming month, I would like to support a dialogue around what feels enriching, nourishing and soul- giving for you during these wild times. I am also curious how can we begin to become even more creative when thinking about ways to bridge our personal lives and the work of our lives. Your thoughts are eagerly welcomed as we continue to recognize and harness the power of our collective minds.
In Deep Gratitude,
- LOAM is an environmental arts magazine dedicated to promoting the work of pioneering individuals and organizations in the realm of sustainability. We see creativity and sustainability as symbiotic. -
Claire Eve Margaux
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