i love our human markers of time – holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, vacations. not necessarily for the celebrations, though i love celebrating. but because they expose to me how much my understanding of myself and the world has changed since the last holiday/birthday/anniversary/vacation.
lately these markers generate an anticipation of the things i don’t yet know i don’t know.
i am in love again, so time feels well marked and special. it is such a lovely journey of unbecoming and unknowing. i am again discovering that the truth i can hold in both hands is a lonely one. life is so much more intriguing when i use at least one hand to receive, caress, explore, hold on, and let go. there are all the things i have learned, and then there is another human full of learnings. between us are infinite histories, approaches, wisdoms, worlds.
recently we had our first thanksgiving. we made a feast in detroit, interwoven with powerful conversations around our past holidays, reflecting on what we’ve brought forward, adapted and evolved from family and community.
when i was a child, thanksgiving was a day to celebrate the founding of the united states of america. in department of defense schools, we dressed up as pilgrims and indians and did plays. there was a sweetness to the stories we acted out that i now recognize as mythological. what i knew then was that it was a lovely thing the way the indians shared their corn with the pilgrims, and how everyone got along.
as i got older i learned about colonization, racism, genocide, the trail of tears. i learned the words native and indigenous. i learned of the violence with which this country was taken, and i knew that the same white supremacist beliefs that determined the conditions by which my black ancestors came here had shaped the way indigenous people were removed from their home. i started to call the holiday thanks-taking, and sit uncomfortably through the feasting, seeing it as yet another mass celebration of our national hypocrisy and lies. the righteousness felt good, knowing my politics were correct felt important – that of all humans i was amongst those who really knew right from wrong, and could lead amorphous ignorant others towards the light.
then i remember sitting in a meeting before a thanksgiving break. this was after i had started working with indigenous organizers on direct actions at ruckus. i said something about thanks-taking. and one of the indigenous organizers laughed at my righteousness, and was like, ‘man, in my family we just eat a delicious ass meal and give thanks for the year.’ and i knew then that there are many ways to perpetuate white supremacy, and one is projecting analysis and anger in the places where we ourselves are feeling some guilt, particularly the guilt felt when we are going to continue a behavior or tradition rooted in supremacist trauma.
in that instance, i saw that raising critique can be a kind of cover. i knew the genocidal history, and i was still going to have a delicious ass meal with my family. we weren’t there for patriotism, pilgrims, or even this country. we gathered in gratitude, abundance, reveling in the gift of time together allowed by our different jobs.
could i give up knowing the right way to sit between the past and the present?
because there is something important about balancing the past and the present for the sake of the future. we can carry the past around as such a heavy and known burden, it makes it impossible to experience the present, or imagine a future worth longing for. or we can try and pretend like the past didn’t happen, or has nothing to do with us. we can treat it as gospel or fairy tale. i’ve experienced how subjective even the most intimate personal history is, which casts a delightful shadow of alternate possibility on the entire past. and…some stories pile up to veracity. stories from the past titillate me, but i know that generally truth and history are unrelated.
so. how can i learn from the past, finding credibility in the common stories, while carrying it lightly enough to move forward and grow? how can i feel the present, and see complexity and possibility in the future? i have tried many things, including unhooking from the news and social media, forcing myself beyond the comfort of critiquing things outside myself, shaking off the socialized wikipedial tendency towards shotgun expertise which our information cycles encourage.
i am experimenting with feeling as a primary way of knowing. it’s opening up the world to me – i find i can feel history, my own lineage. and i can feel futures. i am learning.
for the past few years i have generally chosen to feel gratitude, and release righteousness. from a place of awareness, and with intention.
with regard to thanksgiving, after many didactic reflections, i noticed that i don’t seem to know anyone who actually practices the holiday as a space to honor colonizers and pilgrims. maybe my world has just gotten quite small. i do know that waking up at six a.m. to prepare parts of the feast with my beloved was sweet, and that what we were sitting in was a time and space to be grateful that we have found each other, that we are capable of doing the work necessary to grow into each other, to build new traditions.
part of what we are building is the capacity for radical and rapid forgiveness. we are imperfect, steadily human in our endeavor to love and learn each other. the missteps are myriad and relevant and hilarious. what we are developing is not a more perfect way of walking, but a more forgiving and compassionate way of dancing.
and i don’t know, but i wonder if that is actually the central lesson of now – forgiveness. ancestral intergenerational forgiveness, and immediate interdependent forgiveness. the faster we can forgive ourselves and others for what seems to be error, the more quickly we can be in the ease and playfulness of this game of life. i am fairly certain we each have roles to play – that there is some specific thing each of us can contribute. i am convinced that no one’s role is simply sacrifice, or suffering. i could be wrong, but i think the emphasis of our short randomized lived experiences has to be on the ‘play’, the creative and liberating challenge of finding joy in playing our roles.
i think mandela was such a powerful force and is such a bright light in history because of his capacity to forgive. yes, he fought, he risked and gave his whole life to the effort of shaping his world, his county. he was a revolutionary, he moved against society, he put his shoulder against the slow pace of human change. he was a visionary, he was able to adapt his strategies. and he was a human mess with imperfections. many of his peers were all of those things, many of you are all of those things.
the thing he did, which we somehow know is crucial even though it is the hardest thing to practice, is forgive. he grew his capacity to forgive and move forward with joy. he had laugh lines on the face of a life spent in armed struggle, prison, political transformation and family drama.
no matter the circumstances, we get to choose how to show up. in as much as life is anything else, it is also a game. encompassing all the mythology and emotion and memory and fear is a grand, iterative, co-created game. and it appears that the way to play is to surrender all the rules i was taught, to forgive myself for not knowing, to applaud my curiosity.
in this game perspective, as i mark the time of my life, sometimes i wonder: how many times do i have to give up knowing?
so far all i know is one answer: over and over again, until it is easy to be a beginner, easy to laugh at myself, easy to forgive, and easy to love.