Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Pesach Kavannah: Reflections on Love, Solidarity, and Mirages

As an act of self-care, I want to express how much I care for you. I recognize that sometimes I come off as abrasive and demagogic It’s something I’ve always with which I’ve always struggled: finding balance. The balance between passion and paternalism; constructive criticism and destructive confrontation.

I spend my life fighting a tidal wave of silence. The only way I've learned to fight it is to scream. The only way I know to resist the sting of rejection is to push against it. But. as I turn 29 this year, I’ve realize how tired I've become as a result of it. I've realized that it’s time to make t’shuvah--to turn around, and to find a new path.

I revel in nuance. I’m wired to always see things beyond the surface. I see hidden meanings of things--the tendons between actions and words; the gaps between silences and broken promises. Lately, though, I’ve realized that that scares a lot of people. And that’s okay. It’s a lot to hold. The challenge I’m facing is: how do I talk about these nuances--especially when it comes to things about oppression and privilege--without pulling people into a space that they’re not ready to be in? How do I prevent myself from forcing them from having their click moment before they’re ready to have it? At the same time, though, I do think that conflict and confrontation can be beneficial. Both have the potential to make us ask questions of ourselves and our positions, and they may make us think in potentially new ways. They act as astringents--purging us of inaccurate assumptions and incongruent realities.

I’m talking about solidarity--of radical empathy. Support and solidarity are complicated, because we’re complicated and we live complicated lives. When it comes to disagreement, activism, coalition building, accountability, etc., the question, I think, isn't: "why are we fighting and not supporting each other?" But: "Can be support each other in multifaceted ways and still hold each other accountable to the ways in which we may still hurt each other? Can we affirm each others hurt, isolation, and truth, even if we don't understand it? Can we admit to ourselves that we may never understand what another person feels, but give them room to feel it, and help them carry it, so that their not suffocating it in the loneliness of it all?"

That, to me, is what activism. It's an act of bearing witness. That's what solidarity is. Because, at its root, solidarity is an act of love. And love, at its root, isn't a warm fuzzy feeling. It isn't always comfortable or safe. It often has sharp, jagged edges--and these edges are necessary for cutting down the barriers that prevent us from having authentic, mutually affirming relationships. It demands truth. It demands justice. But love also requires us, once those barriers are stripped away, to carry each other when we’re tired and weary. It requires us to recognize our limitations, our humanity, our fragility.

It’s Pesach (Passover) right now. The week in which Jews ritually recall the Israelites’ struggle for freedom and liberation from the oppression that they experienced in Egypt. They wandered through the desert, guided by hope and driven by despair, in search for a Promised Land. I so deeply resonate with this sacred story. How many of us experience the blistering heat of homophobia, ableism, poverty, racism, transphobia, depression-anxiety-other mental illnesses, and other forms of hatred and stigma? How many of us are tricked by mirage of normalcy, which promises us false and temporary refuge--at the expense of our unique and profound power and beauty? How many of us have swallowed our truths, forgotten our histories, our connections, to our peoples, and our many selves--all for the sake of an oasis that wasn't ever there in the first place?

Mah tovu ohalecha Ya'akov,mishk'notecha Yisrael.
How goodly are your tents, Jacob, your dwelling places O Israel.

These are the lessons I’ve learned on my journey thus far: 

Keep one side of your tent open. Provide shelter to those who wander through the desert, trying desperately to find a land flowing with milk and honey. Be the hidden well-spring that saved Hagar’s and Ishmael’s lives after they were cast out by their own people. Feed each other’s mind, body, and soul with mana--the essence of your being. Share your truth, your jagged, beautiful edges. Hold each other’s complexities and contradictions gently.

And when the dust storms come, and the inevitable downpours of pain shower down upon you, close your tent and take care of yourself. Learn to say “no” without guilt, or feeling compelled to explain yourself. Learn to say “yes” without guilt, or feeling compelled to explain yourself. Recognize your fragility. Praise your limits. Enter into a sacred covenant with your interior self--go into that secret, holy space that no one can enter but you. Rest there, and come back when you’re ready.

Dayenu. It is enough. It is enough that you got out of bed, got dressed, and left the house. It is enough that you couldn't get out of bed because of pain, anxiety, and depression. It is enough that you exist. In a world that, at every turn, attempts to deny your existence, dignity, and self-worth, the fact that you’re still here--learning, living, loving---is a revolutionary act.

Hineni. Here I am. Learn to accept yourself as who you are and not as what you do. You are made of flesh and bone, of blood and tendon. Your worth is not based upon your career, studies, or being a parent, sibling, or child. Let your soul pull you towards your destination, but recognize that life’s paths are never linear. And realize that no matter where you are on your path, you’re exactly where you need to be. There is no magical “there” where things will be better. There is only “Here.” Love those around you; and understand every choice, action, and inaction you make in this life has both meaning and consequence that ripples out far beyond imagining. But don’t be defined by them. There is only “I am.” “Here. I AM.”

Because, as we journey through the desert together, the winds of change are constant. You will lose everything. Life will break you, over and over. But you’ll realize that you posses a fortitude, a dignity, a grace that you never imagine you had. No experience, no feeling, no perception is final. Learn to treasure your sadness as much as you treasure your joy. Let both pass through you. Let both teach you secret knowledge as they guide you on your way.

Learn to value the inbetweeness of things--the sacred twilight of memory and forgetting, of resisting and resting. There is, in that liminal silence, a beautiful ebb and flow to everything. A chaotic peace--the tethering of connection and alienation. It’s the space between souls--the place where we can bridge the infinite gap between us and finally meet each other as our whole, fragile selves. We are, in fact, islands. But once we do the hard work of bridge-building--a task that requires commitment, love, and authenticity, we finally greet each other for everything we are; and we finally greet G-dess in and through each other.

Lastly, recognize that as we journey through the desert, with all its perils, traps, and turn arounds, no one will ever reach the Promised Land until everyone has. No one will ever find true liberation at another’s expense. Progress, in this sense, is just another mirage that the desert heat tricks us into believing. Queer, class-privileged cis men will never be liberated at the expense of Trans* Women of Color; physically Disabled people will never be liberated at the expense of people who are Cognitively and/or Intellectually Disabled; Jews around the world will never escape anti-Jewish hatred, or the haunting memory of the Shoah, pogroms, and mass expulsions at the expense of Palestinians.

As we (Jews) remember how our ancestors fled Mitzrayyim, the constricted spaces, we must also remember that we've been tasked with the sacred duty of Tikkun Olam (repair of the world) by collecting the the Divine Sparks. Traditionally, we do this by keeping the mitzvot (commandments). But, what if we interpret it in another way?

We (humanity), who are created b’tzelem elohim (in the image of G-dess), are the sparks. The sacred fire that burns within all of us, kept alight by ruach (spirit, breath). How would that change how we treat each other and ourselves? Would we recognize that that fire has the potential to both keep each other warm on cold nights, as well as burn everything in its wake? Would we recognize that we have the potential to snuff out another's fire--their reason and ability to live--as well as breathing renewed ruach into them when they've lost it?

חג פסח שמח

Chag Pesach Sameach
Interpretive version of the Ahavat Olam (G-dess’ Love in the Torah/Universe)
We are loved by an unending love.
We are embraced by arms that find us
even when we are hidden from ourselves.
We are touched by hands that soothe us
even when we are too proud for soothing.
We are counseled by hands that guide us
even when we are too embittered to hear.
We are loved by an unending love.
We are hands that uplift us
even in the midst of the a fall.
We are urged on by eyes that meet us
even when we are too weak for meeting.
We are loved by an unending love.
Embraced, touched, soothed, and counseled…
Ours are the arms, the fingers, the voices;
Ours are the hands, the eyes, the smiles;
We are loved by an ending love.
Blessed are you, Beloved One, who loves your people Israel and the entire universe.
--Rami M. Shapiro (adapted)

To whom do I owe the power behind my voice, what strength I
have become, yeasting up like sudden blood from under the bruised skin's blister?
To whom do I owe the symbols of my survival?

A Litany For Survival
For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed futures
like bread in our children's mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:
For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother's milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.
And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.

What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language….And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don't miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution." And at last you'll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.
-- All by Audre Lorde

All that you touch
You Change.
All that you Change
Changes you.
The only lasting truth
Is Change.
God Is Change. - Octavia Butler

I am looking for friends and allies, for communities where the gawking, gaping, staring finally turns to something else, something true to the bone. Places where strength gets to be softened and tempered, love honed and stretched. Where gender is known as more than a simple binary. Where we encourage each other swish and swagger, limp and roll, and learn the language of pride. Places where our bodies begin to become home - Eli Clare

Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes - Anaïs Nin
So stretch your practiced strengths between two contradictions.
For the g-d[ess] within you wishes to consult. - Rainer Maria Rilke 


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