we all have chernobyl in our lungs

we all have chernobyl in our lungs

we children of catastrophe
cannot sleep
focused on fissures

who left us to die?
those close enough to slip away instantly?
those poisoned
coming apart in the cells?
those willing to risk it all?

the salt sea and fertile loam
can still taste that bitter
and radioactive dust

that slow, invisible ash:
our future

what cannot be contained
becomes us
what i mean is
we all have a cancer now
within us, or between us
in our own bodies
in our structures
in the bodies we love
in the structures we need

directly in our bones
creating rocks from our softest tissues
pitting thyroids and prostates against us
strangeness creeps into us
equal parts violation and colonization
flags of disaster
on each play

now, that contaminated soil
is on the road between the reckless
and the wreck
and in my body i feel the earth
wishing for respite

we all have nuclear bodies
in search of remediation
our bodies cannot hold
this much rage
this much greed

earth does not consent to the violation of war
we do not consent

touching the profound

recently, many times, i have touched the profound.

it wasn’t just a good day, but a series of days – weeks – where i felt interconnected, and on purpose, and vibrant, and met, and loved and loving and adaptive. of the world, literally, made of the substance of all that exists. and even when struggle and crisis arise, i feel able to meet it with that profound energy, which translates into curiosity and awareness.

it is not lost on me that this sense of aliveness coincides with a break from social media. and comes in the wake of a season of despair, facing the things which make me shudder with doubt about human purpose.

i read some things that brought me deeply into this wonder, and i have and will share those.
but this recent contact with the profound feels most deeply rooted in practice. and it occurs to me that i want to write a poem about this kind of experience:

love is this humbled crawl
from dirtself to godself
stripped of masks and pontifications
i find no difference
ask anyone, love unveils it
we are divine cells of earth

endless and special

i writhe in the soil
until a rhythm comes
i dance through the swampheat
oil spills rainbow my grief
burrow to the molten core of me
pounding the heart of everything

flame in our kiss

i love myself in cycle!
every day reveals the ongoing ritual
by which i show myself devotion
candles lit, i raise a bowl to my lips
give thanks for the labor of sustenance
and the body which can swallow it

we bow, flesh to concrete

to trust love i must surrender
to the awe of being human
even falling far from heaven
i am sacred, worth forgiveness
worth prayer, lust and tenderness
i am never separate from god

and she wanders in us

to trust love i gaze in mirrors
soft eyes recognizing my distinct life
by its flaws
i swoon for each wound and scar
i remember: i’m made of the same dust
as mercury and mars

we are constellation

i remember: when my lover worships me
it is the love in me for myself
that can receive it, can believe it
i remember: my first breath was like this
loving myself enough
to demand to be held

we emerge helpless

i leave no dark unturned
no vast expanse unexplored
no mystery ignored
i have only one lifetime in which to love myself
so i will be naked
and i will be known

we each live
a whole world in one story
– let it be a love story
we have only one lifetime in which to love ourselves
so let us be naked
and let us be known

something is ending

you want to argue with me on the internet
you feel judged by my coping mechanisms
it’s all misunderstanding my love, listen.
so many have died, but we are still alive!
argue all you want! you’re still here
I’ll defend nothing – I’m still here
we both know something of living
I promise I don’t know more than you
and I (mostly) don’t think I do, I promise
and you don’t know more than I do
about reaching for tomorrow from this
blessed broken bodymind or spiritheart
still, I am learning. every. day.
simple things like how to breathe
to love without controlling
to admit I have been wrong
I am learning. every. day.
not to apologize for each breath
or hearing the call of joy

even here in the ruins
I feel the thrum of life
even in your corrections and bickering
all I hear is each one of you saying
I’m alive I exist I want to live
and I hear you
all I see is how much you want to be seen,
vibrant, special, nobody’s fool, free
and I see you
all I know is death is not our enemy
time is no accident or prison, but the gift of life
being right is not a permanent state
it’s logical to be obsessed with living
and to be flooded with fear
crawl beside me back into our ancestors’ arms
do you argue with invisible strangers because no one else will listen?
look – even wrong, you’re someone’s miracle
we might all be a single sacred mistake

but we are still alive
every time I feel lost frustrated stuck angry
or overcome by despair and grief
meaning every day, every single day
of this slow and fatal endtime
I find my eyes in a mirror
and whisper: you are still alive
and to each loved one: we are still alive
our adaptations unfolding from our
undeniable need for each other
yes something is ending – but it isn’t us love!

the future is not something they can steal
or you can win or I can win
it’s at the intersection of every argument
it’s in the resistance to every oppression
it’s in the generosity that bursts thru hoarding
it’s the impulse to save each other
from the sharp corners of a full life
I see you trying, I hear you singing
in dialectical chorus
echoing our own kind of forever
we live/we lived, we live/we lived
we live/we lived

what if this body

ah but what if this is the ideal body after all
this body which once danced all night and still waited to see the sun rise
this body which caught mothers as they released babies from their bodies
this body which has known so many kinds of touch
from lovers who wanted and didn’t want it
from doctors who saw and didn’t see it
from children who did not hesitate to surrender tears or laughter or dreams
onto my bosom

what if this body has kept me from becoming a monster
kept me humble
stilled me from ego
with sufficient doubt

what if this body was the ideal protection
from the death throes of patriarchy
if this body was a lighthouse
to the lovers who knew
freedom was the arousing aspect

and what if this body
is the ideal body
for what is coming
when the food dwindles on the shelves
because all of us willing to pull it from the ground
and milk or slaughter the beasts
have turned to feed our own
or are too busy grieving
or gone quiet in the plague
of a nation that will always choose
pride and profit
over its people
when the rest of the world
is sick of indulging the bully
and the rich men are stabbing each other with phallic weapons
and we are all simply too sick
to apologize or be accountable

the farmers are sick
and the teachers are sick
and the babies are sick
and the soldiers are sick
and the nurses are tired
and the doctors are depressed
and the scroll is eternal
and the rest of us
are watching the end
muted on our televisions

what if this body was made
for an endless quarantine
as this dysfunctional nation collapses
what if this body is the promise of a lush future
perfect for holding on to
through another night of grief
that is not even shocking
because we all know
we all die

what if this body is the last to know hunger
unveiling the strength always there
carrying us through this wild life
while greedy bellies grumble in absence of the fat that fills one up
may mine swallow my thighs from within
delight in self loving sweetness
sustained by soft

what if this body
is the ideal body
for this apocalypse
what if?
what if the future
is simply all the fat girls
outlasting the fools

we who still alive

1. we who still alive
whisper to each other
‘forgive me
I did not know
what you was holding’

2. someone who loves you
needs to know
‘not trynna to fix you
dare not judge you
just here beside you
learning to live’

3. we who still alive
cup palmfuls of sea
offering each other
love’s enduring oceans
blushing with want
for our ghosts, living and dead
showing our shadows
falling for darkness

4. we who still alive
know the future
is a warping window
a dream coming true
among the restless

5. we who still alive
let no one try us
let no one cross us
let no one shrink us
in search of their
own medicine
their own magic

6. we who still alive
be whole against the knife
be wild against the cage
be silence in cacophony
be song inside the smoke
be of the many
be set on freedom
be so kind

7. we who still alive
put your hands on your body
your ancestors can feel you
touch that gentle
nourish that fire
love that steady
heal that self

let’s keep being

it is my 15,811th night. what is it for you? this cycle is within so many others. it matters if we want it to. the miracles are constant.

of the things I can change, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I am steeped in love in every direction.

one nibbling tells the other cool teenagers on the phone they have to go watch fantasy and action movies with their auntie. another says I always look fantastic and smell right, and we discuss our novels – i suspect she will outpublish me. another says that the love of a thousand buddhas is but a tenth of their love for me. my parents say they are proud of who and how I am. my sisters tell me the truth. my friends give all they can, and receive all I can offer. my beloved is steadfast in a way that makes me tremble with joy.

I’m making the love of my self, my body, my circle, a habit.

I am learning to trust the universe even when I can barely grasp how complex it all is.

I am beginning to understand how what happens in our lives is both impersonal and deeply interior spiritual work. some things you can only learn by moving along your own distinct path, but everyone has the possibility of such learning.

my heart beat is a thousand ancestors clapping the rhythm for me, singing “don’t waste it, don’t hoard it, don’t wait, be here now, don’t rush, it’s a dance, it’s your life, there’s enough.”

beginner’s mind is the only one I have capacity for.

let’s keep being.

in case it helps / bell hooks asé

hi beloved blog readers

i haven’t been writing here as often. i am writing so much, in so many places, but i haven’t forgotten you – i come here when i want to share something more tender than social media, more precise than a podcast, more intimate than an essay.

what i want to share with you today is that this year nearly took me out. it didn’t, i am still here. but the simplest truth is that i have been struggling. i am tethered by a close circle, and a set of small, repeated practices to keep moving through the days. i want to share, in case it helps. especially to those who follow emergent strategy and pleasure activism and maybe think i have it all together: i don’t. as far as i can see, no one does, nor is that a reasonable goal in this moment.

we are living, and this falling apart, stumbling, flying and feeling is how we live right up until the last moment.

i didn’t realize i was struggling until i was in the danger zone. i am a highly competent person just trying to live a good life, but it felt like those humbling moments when i have wanted to go for a swim in the ocean and couldn’t get past the break, instead getting pummeled by each wave, unable to find a rhythm, salt in my throat and eyes.

and of course, because i am me, i wasn’t trying to just solo swim, but to simultaneously teach others about swimming, call out tips on how to best navigate tumult, and occasionally save others from the breaking waves of loss, the encroaching trials of our bodies, the betrayals of our inner plans for forever.

which was hard, because i was upside down with sand up my nose trying to figure out where the shore went.

it wasn’t until someone dear snatched me out of the path of the next monster wave that i realized i was in trouble. i wasn’t swimming, i was flailing; i wasn’t really helping anyone, i was just wearing myself out trying to avoid my own big feelings. and i was in danger.

the moment i had a breath in my lungs i started crying and couldn’t stop. for days. for weeks. i kept trying to explain why, and the why was a tsunami that never ended, every pain that had poured into me, every loss, every disappointment, every fear, everything i had unconsciously been smoothing over as less important than what others were holding. it came out in a wall of weeping.

i am sitting on a metaphorical sand dune now, still catching my breath. the tears come less frequently, with much more ease. the breaths are deeper. the ocean does not look like a menace.

i have been meditating, centering, doing sun salutations and swimming every day.

i have let people who lean on me know i am rickety right now. more than rickety…i am the wave moving over and through myself. my heart overflows with grief and despair, and all my friends and healers agree that it makes sense to feel this way at this moment in history (i still need that kind of logic-based affirmation). i am, we are, suspended between pandemic and climate crisis and sharing the planet with so many death cultists. it hurts. it is ok to be overwhelmed during an overwhelming time.

i have surrendered to my emotional self, putting down the labor of repression and containment. i am taking a break from social media, so that the nonstop incoming crises are my own, or are happening in the lives of people i know. i turned off notifications on my phone for everyone that isn’t family/inner circle. i look when i have capacity. i trust that the news of the day will come from people who love me. i am growing my spiritual capacity to be with the griefs of my own life.

in the past two months there have been five six seven eight deaths that impacted my life, including that of bell hooks, which i learned about from my beloved friend toshi reagon as i was finishing up this writing.

when the big hits come, all that new and unexpected grief pouring into my overflowing heart, i have a small and sacred ritual i want to share with y’all, in case it helps.

first i sit with the true emotion – shock, tears, denial, anger, absence.

for bell hooks, i had a long cry of deep gratitude.

then i let the memories come, and i say them aloud.

when i met bell hooks, she delighted me so much that i couldn’t linger in the fangirl realm. i got to thank her for the permission to write my name the way i wanted to, to attempt to center my work over my recognition. i got to thank her for reshaping feminism. the fire in her eyes was that of someone willing to stand in her truth, uncompromising. i learned so much from her writing, her thinking, her critical mind. because of her i have restructured my life to be a writer who is able to read voraciously.

i light a candle for the transition, the journey my loved one is on, the path i have not yet traveled.

the candle for bell hooks joins the greg tate candle, and all the burnt down candles of dead friends and family on our ancestor altar.

if there is material support needed for the funeral or family, i make the donation with tears drying on my face, letting the felt sense of impermanence guide my giving.

finally, i gather with other grievers – telling stories over the phone and on text threads, sending messages with memories to those who i know also grieve, lingering phone calls where we tell the stories and honor the impacts. what i used to love most about funerals, the laughter of both honest and embellished stories, i now mostly do in a nonlinear and immediate way.

there is no sentence that can sum up or quantify everything bell hooks taught me. all about love alone gave me the keys to open my own heart. but i think that is the highest honor i can pay to her life, that her impact is beyond measure or expression.

so.

if you are feeling more than you can contain, i just want to say yes to that.

if you need to cry, yes.

if you can’t cry, it doesn’t mean you aren’t feeling. my therapist reminds me that even when we sit perfectly still, our hearts beat and our blood rushes through our veins – emotion is that kind of underground river.

if you know the feels are there but are struggling to let them move through, or if you don’t have people nearby who can hold you the way you need, write yourself a letter of compassion and permission to survive. if you tell no one else, at least be honest with yourself about what you are holding, and affirm to yourself that it is ok to feel overwhelmed by an overwhelming time.

if it’s all kind of breathless and messy and you can’t clean it up, or make it more palatable, or put any mask on other than the one marked oxygen – breathe. anything that matters will keep until you catch your breath.

if you need to land in yourself a bit more, take a break from social media. increase time spent in meditation and in the body.

if you need to ask for help, ask as if there is enough love and care in the universe for your needs to be met. ‘everyone needs more than anyone has to give right now,’ but also ‘no one can fill those of your needs that you won’t let show.’ i suspect the future will be shaped by all that we are feeling in the present. i believe that asking each other for help is self-love, and answering honestly is self-love, and giving what we can is community love. and love is what will reshape the pattern of humanity. even through the tears, i know that.

special shout out to the close circle. i am because you are.

exciting lessons from yes on 2

I woke up this morning thinking about the Yeson2 campaign in Minneapolis. The campaign, instigated and organized by people I adore, was a call to replace their municipal police department with a Department of Public Safety. It was visionary, comprehensive and timely. And they got 44% of the vote.

And I want to say as an outsider, supporter, and abolitionist why I am feeling so inspired by this campaign.

1. The center of the campaign is in movement and community, not in the electoral process.

I have said before that electoral spaces cannot be our political homes. One story of this year’s election is that at this incredibly high stakes moment for our species, the Democratic Party, in an underwhelming repeat of most of its existence, took the road most traveled by (run towards the center right!) and now expects people to be surprised that they ended up in the same place of lost political ground. We live in a corrupted electoral system meant to serve whiteness, serve our nation’s elite, and even as we watch this campaign we know others throughout the nation were shady. As India Walton said of the Buffalo mayoral race, “Every dirty trick in the book was tried against us. We knew that would be the case. When you take on the corrupt and the powerful you can’t expect them to play fair.”

But the heart of Yeson2 was not centered in the electoral process – the electoral process is a way to see tangible results from all the other culture shifting work to demand a humane system of care, protection and justice, work that has been unfolding for years, escalating in the wake of George Floyd’s May 2020 murder. This multipronged work will continue.

2. The campaign used a multitude of tactics and strategies that allowed for broad participation and alliance in solution thinking.

The same energy that took people into the streets last May, confronting the mayor and demanding justice, ran all the way through this campaign. That period of massive protest was informed by both lived experience and by excellent research and historical grounding on the 150 years of punitive policing specifically in Minneapolis. There was well-informed grief and rage in the uprising, and it was harnessed into cultural and political strategy. It was harnessed into visionary organizing that helped people see beyond the righteous NO at the root of last year’s uprisings, through to a possibility, to a YES that would actually make everyone in Minneapolis safer.

3. It was a locally grown experiment advancing a national conversation. The abolition of prisons, policing and punitive justice is a dream that has moved through generations, and Black organizers have escalated it in the face of this past decade of police brutality and killings. In order to take the next steps, we need to create a possibility for people to look at, practice, borrow from and be inspired by. The Department of Public Safety is such a solid proposal – a shift that allows for many experiments to emerge, that focuses on responding to those in mental health and economic crises with compassion and care instead of violence and punishment.

4. It was a pleasure. It was irresistible.

Again, I am speaking as a comrade from afar, but I couldn’t resist this campaign. Everyone I know was excited by it, and many people found ways to participate from a distance, or went to be on the ground. I supported a fun, well organized phone bank with my friends Junauda Petrus and Miski Noor, and, inspired by Junauda, I made a not-tik-tok. I watched well informed, creative videos from Lizzo and Ryan Ken and many others. It was an easy campaign to say yes to and support and to feel great about participating in.

5. The data is clear.

Now the organizers understand exactly where to focus their efforts, who still needs to be invited into this vision, and where the tendency to cling to a dysfunctional system is still stronger than the desire to cocreate something that works. The city is an organizing map, and the cultural shift will continue both in the city and all over the country. When we are working at the level of systems change, we don’t get discouraged by a loss in our first attempt – it’s data.

Understanding just how outstanding the organizers of this work are to have made all of this headway in such a short period of time, I’m thrilled to see what they will do with this data, what pleasurable visionary spaces they will invite us into next, what local experiments they will devise to practice in the here and now with that 44%, what complex strategic community they will build, and how they will continue to grow the center of transformative justice through and beyond the cycle of elections.

not busy, focused; not busy, full

this is a poem or a reset
you keep telling me you know I am so busy but…
and then you ask me for something
and I want you to know
I am not busy
no, with all of these boundaries I have space
to write.
to take care of my body.
to hold my loves tightly in my many many hands so we can somehow make it through the rest of our lives

I am so focused
on the imaginary world which is trying to whisper to me
how to write a story that unlocks a heart
to write a spell that makes us bored with punishment and immune to capitalism
I am so full of ancestors and characters and I can’t tell which is who
but they are a chorus
telling me humans are not the protagonist
and nothing I can say is more brilliant than a stand of trees or a mycelial warning
or a newborn’s first shuddering dance
or the grace of the blue heron in lustful prance across this pond
or the continuous sky flood always somewhere storming

and when the clouds are full with pending storm they are quiet
so I am studying that quiet so I can hold that storm
and when the riverbanks flood, the soil forgets it is earth and goes flying through the water and finds a new purpose in the deep or maybe maybe even the vast ocean
isn’t every stream a boddhisatva
didn’t Lao Tzu know it is humble to become the vastness beneath
I was running so fast and trying so hard but what I forgot was the wonder

now my body aches to remember when I was busy
when I was so capitalist in my anti-capitalism, that is to say so productive in my revolutionary performance
but now I am not busy
I am breathing
I am moving at the pace my body allows, ever forward, mentored by a tortoise
I am balancing my vibrant intentions with my bemused body – bones of betrayal, bruised by the busy I once thought was my worth
now I know my body is the sliver of earth I’ve been given
I am healing from the extraction
I thought gave me value
from the toxins I thought of as solace

the freedom I can experience is from the traumatic past and the dystopic future
into the miraculous now
in which I can still find moments of respite
moments to water the garden of my home
to skim the news stopping only to witness and feel the heartache and longing
the beauty of being so connected is that my boundless love has a field without horizon, my heart can gallop on, loving all the people experiencing and shaping humanity, without end

I hope to never be busy again
I owe this quiet breath to my grandmother
I am creating at an astounding rate
and some of it I even write down
some moments I get so still
I can sense how it is all connected
and that the tissue is love
and I know my love could never be wasted
or too small a contribution
I say yes when love leads
I say yes when there’s enough time to do it well
and sometimes even then I am not there
because life showed me another way to love
and it was irresistible

I Remember Everything

It’s been twenty years since I stepped out of the subway on 6th Avenue and heard an unusually close groaning in the sky and then a boom of glass thunder.

I still question myself, did I hear this? How do I remember this sound so clearly?

Coming around the corner and looking down the island of Manhattan from 23rd street I saw something I couldn’t comprehend, which is now one of the most familiar images in U.S. history: a building on fire. Not just any building, but a tower of the World Trade Center, where my crew went often because our friend sneaked us free sushi at her waitress job in the basement mall. There were flames pouring out the side of one of the skyscrapers.

Then a plane flew into the second tower. I knew in a way I had never known before that I was in the presence of mass death; in that fire were people who had gone to work and were now dead and dying. All around me on the avenue people were standing and staring, slack jawed or screaming, running, trying to call people.

I ran into my office building and tried to call my father, who worked at the Pentagon. I couldn’t reach him, though someone did pick up the phone and say in a harried voice that they didn’t know where he was. A few minutes later the news came over the radio that the Pentagon had been hit. I spent the rest of the day praying, trying not to even consider that my dad was dead. In the end, we were one of the lucky families. He was not in his office, which was destroyed. Before I slept I heard his voice with a flood of gratitude. I remembered this flood often over the next few years, which would test our relationship.

I still wonder about the man with the harried voice – who was he? Did he make it?

At the towers, people were running down stairwells, stuck in elevators, though I didn’t hear all of that until later. On the floors that were on fire, and above the fire, people were gathering on ledges, jumping, falling. I can’t remember how I saw this, but I remember it, people having to make impossible decisions, alone and together. I’ve never stopped thinking about this.

And then the towers fell. I began writing this today in that window between first impact and collapse, though perhaps like the event itself, it will take longer than that for the dust to settle.

I remember my baby radical brain thinking our empire was falling, and perhaps everything I called my life was over, and that made sense to me, felt expected in a way.

I remember talking to a friend in South Africa at the World Conference on Racism, who reached me by phone when almost no calls were connecting, who asked me if people were going wild in the streets.

I remember connecting with a friend a few blocks away who seemed far less shaken by it all, which lodged in my brain as something to pay attention to, as another option that I couldn’t quite imagine with my father missing and the world falling down.

I remember how quiet it was as we joined the slow moving crowd and walked all the way down the island, across the bridge, to a friend’s house in Park Slope. I remember not wanting to be alone in my apartment in Washington Heights.

I remember that everything was covered in ashes, including people walking in the opposite direction, some visibly injured; including my hands every time I touched anything; including the backyard Brooklyn picnic table where I, a vegetarian, ate kielbasa that night. Ashes.

We breathed these buildings in, breathed these people in, and they became part of us.
I remember everything.

This is unusual for me, my memory tends to tuck the most traumatic events of my life away in a soft dense fog that I need support to move through. But in the same way childhood photos can shape our memories with sepia tones of repeated exposure, this traumatic event was replayed over and over. This event was witnessed in person or on television by everyone else I knew, everyone had and has a story. People I knew lost loved ones. My memories are individual and collective.

And, of course, 9/11 was used as the reason we went to war with Iraq and Afghanistan.

I understand in retrospect so much more than I did then about how the U.S. uses conflict to avoid grieving, avoid growing.

At the time, I was naively wondering to everyone I spoke to: how could we, having lived through that horror, inflict it on others? Knowing how random the deaths were, how precious those lives were, how could we put others through that? Through so much worse than that – in our retaliation for the strikes on these two structures, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, we obliterated nations. We became obsessed with security, we reignited rampant and overt xenophobia and racism, we used overpowering violence in the name of American safety.

We went to war.

As a military child, this was the first time war felt visceral to me. I knew by then that there’s no such thing as a fair war with a superpower. There’s terror, chaos and narratives of justification. There’s bloodlust, and the desire for total dominance and control. And there’s an attempt to erase any memories beyond the ones that make us warriors.

But I remember.

I remember all the complex emotions of being a budding nonviolent revolutionary living through September 11, wanting us to be accountable, to listen to what the conditions we were creating in the world had produced. I remember wondering who could believe in such one-dimensional villainy.

I remember the American flags everywhere.
I remember the eyes on me, trying to place me.
I remember the armed soldiers in the subway.
I remember the smell of downtown, it haunted the subways. I remember the open grief that seemed so brief before the warmongering began. I remember acts of heroism and humanity. I remember the flyers with faces and heartbreakingly intimate descriptions of loved ones everywhere; going to Union Square which was part-bulletin board, part-memorial, and feeling an empathy beyond politic for these strangers.

I remember knowing that I was politically at odds with a lot of these dead strangers, that they were capitalists and soldiers. There were also those I saw as my people, as an antiwar, anticapitalist organizer, the workers. But in the wake of 9/11, my empathy expanded, and I could grasp that every single one of these people were parents, spouses, friends, beloveds and children of those who now grieved.

Our nation began gearing up for war instead of turning to face the grief and take accountability for the impacts of our foreign policy legacy. My young empathy easily expanded into action as I first protested the pending wars, then watched the bombs hit Baghdad and Afghanistan. The day that we launched the shock and awe invasion of Iraq, I started sending emails with news from the war to everyone I had an address for, pre-blog. Perhaps I am still writing those emails now – I knew then that those who were dying far away were also parents, spouses, friends, beloveds and children of those who would grieve them. I remember thinking about 23-year-olds there, going about their days under the threat of our vengeance. I remember knowing they had less to do with 9/11 than I did as an American taxpayer and voter.

As I remember all of this, I have to acknowledge to myself that 9/11 and its aftermath transformed my sense of nation. I stopped paying taxes as a stance against those wars, the largest and most sustained direct action of my life. I became a post-nationalist in those years – I wanted a way to be a connected human, and it occurred to me that the project of building a specific nation-state with borders defended by walls and weapons and greed that poisons integrity is the antithesis of being connected as a species. I wanted to live in the connected field of all that empathy sparked in the seconds, days and weeks after September 11.

Because I remember the empathy as clearly as the fear. I remember how I felt the humanity in all of us, the enhanced brightness, the awareness of all our choices. The empathy ran concurrent with that concoction of disappointment and rage that humans produce in me when we, over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again forever, choose violence. I remember longing to know what love could do uncoupled from vengeance and violence.

I still want that. I’ve seen a lot of numbers this week, placing September 11 deaths next to those of the global coronavirus pandemic. Seeing these numbers juxtaposed, I can’t help but wonder how we would respond to COVID-19 if, each day, it was a building of mostly strangers, altogether, taken at once, with an enemy we could other and blame. Instead we have this dispersed, intimate loss of loved ones we often can’t hold or see, with no one to turn to in anger but ourselves, our families, our neighbors, our elected officials.

Every day now, we lose thousands of people, more and more of them children. Each day in the U.S. alone, COVID-19 deaths are comparable to the numbers of 9/11. In a year and a half, we’ve had a total U.S. loss of life comparable to the total global lives lost in our twenty year 9/11 retaliation.

But this is not a surprise attack. We have known for over a year now exactly what is happening, and exactly how to save most of those lives. Our capitalist commitment to profit won’t let us hold the lines that would stop the spread of this virus, truly quarantine until it is contained, and shift the economy to support the people until that time. We have the resources, but not the will. It is thus left to individuals to make impossible decisions, alone and together, in crisis. The protests feel ridiculous – asking other adults to cover their mouths? Step back? We fight each other, and we die, polite and/or with violence, struggling with boundaries, logic and collective action right up until the end.

Ah, I didn’t expect to need to write this much today. This all feels connected to me, but perhaps the fog and dust and ash is too much for me to say it clearly, even feel it clearly…forgive me if I am wandering about, or doing too much.

I am sifting through the memories with this current lens of daily death, on the planet/species side of a vast chasm between belief systems around our human purpose on earth. There has been and is a war within our nation, just look at the casualties. It is a war of values and standards, and a war between individualism and collectivism. These days it feels like a war between informed boundaries and risks, and the myth of consequence-free, independent choices.

Stepping back to look at the patterns, the battleground is everywhere. It’s the plague, the profiteers, the police, the non-consensual pregnancies, the apocalyptic climate conditions – we are in the age of consequences for inhumane choices. We are still and always battling the culture of death. This iteration of war will determine how many days are left to millions of people, how many years humans will have on earth.

We breathe each other in, still.

For some of us, September 11 awakened an expansive and humble empathy that could have transformed our nation. The aftermath, however, fully unveiled the culture of supremacy and death that is as U.S.-American as any aspirational culture of democracy or liberation.

In the tenderness of my memories, I long for a collective shift into reality. We are just humans who need to find a way to empathize, feel compassion, grieve, generate love, and tether ourselves back to this abundant planet.

But can I still access that empathy beyond politic, that compassion beyond border, today? I can feel how my empathy is exhausted, bruised, stretched. But I remember when it felt like a limitless energy. And maybe that memory is what will help me, help us, survive this period of pandemic – not nationally, and not just physically, but collectively, and spiritually.