You, you in particular were made for this time.
We need your helplessness & your broken heart.
My parrot friend Zee had a rough couple of months: she lost her toenail in a traumatic accident, laid an unprecedented 2 eggs (sore, swollen butt!), began a major moult, then collapsed. Zee in limbo for 27 days, slowly recovering or slowly deteriorating. I could not tell. The vet didn’t know, and exploratory tests can stress small birds to death. Prayers are safer.
My familiar Zee sings in the shower with me. Assists me with somatic work. Meditates with me. Her Linnie Parrot quirks keep me laughing: walking forward instead of sideways, burrowing under my clothing, hiding in my sleeve. This Zee was mostly absent. Withdrawn from the world, sleeping like the dead in her warm retreat cave. Eating less and less. Some days she was better, other days much worse.
Me on the Zee rollercoaster.
Me by myself, with plenty of time to write. I wrote to friends. “Zee is okay with this. She rests in her cage, content to nuzzle her turtle. But I am not so gracious.”
“How Are You Going to Embrace Helplessness?”
I wrote to the universe. “Everyday Zee drags me into my scariest places. Into the unknown, where her health goes mysteriously up and down. She insists I confront helplessness and uncertainty, that I face dire loneliness. Either face it or numb and shut down to me–and Zee. I refuse to abandon her. So I tremble and holler. Shake with terror and rage: it’s not fair!” Death is certain, but she is too young. It’s too soon, it hurts too much.
Two weeks into limbo, my brother asks falling-apart-me, “How are you going to embrace helplessness? When you do, how will the peace that follows affect Zee?”
This koan and I grappled reverently. Violently.
I made an appointment for Zee to get $800 worth of tests, and tried to summon the emotional energy to crowdfund. A few hours later I cancelled the appointment. I wrote to the avian vet, “I watched Zee get a lot worse today after I started gearing up for the Friday vet visit and obsessing about possible outcomes. That instant feedback was sobering, a great contrast to yesterday’s mutual spaciousness and presence after I decided to trust her and her journey.
I see my efforts to control Zee’s health and conquer the unknown create distance between us. I have decided not to pursue these tests (with their potential chain of interventions). I am committed to staying present with her. Surrendering to whatever unfolds is the only way I know to do that. Thank you.”
And so I stepped into the abyss.
Helplessness, a Flint Sparking New Awareness
Soon after I wrote, “Beginning to make room in my mind and heart for Zee to die if that is what she decides to do. Making room for her to continue in her strange limbo (this is the hardest). Making room for her to turn a corner and heal.”
Determined to respect and trust her agency.
‘He (sic) that I love I wish to be free, even from me’ (Anne Morrow Lindberg).”
Our private drama unfolds while the news breaks in wave after sickening wave: refugee children ripped from their parents, never to be reunited. Toddlers alone in courtrooms, in cages, on concrete floors. Siblings forbidden to hug. This helpless trauma-healer witnessing trauma in-the-making wreaked upon little ones.
I cannot bear it. Those children. My Zee so far away. Is there any difference between helplessness and despair? I don’t know but I cannot get out of bed. I’m no use to anyone like this. So I do all the trauma healing things.
Healing trauma is a movement from contraction to fluidity. Releasing into fluidity means sweating, sighing, yawning. Or moving the whole body.
Swimming has been a life-saver, as has singing and spiritual practice. My soft critter body, so afraid to lose one small bird, seeks comfort. Cries. Cries and cries some more. Somewhere in the crying, love shines up and out, reconnects me with Zee. Readies me for action. Not strategic action. Just my heart moving toward her heart.
We create the way forward. Wherever that is. I’ve stopped fighting and straining for answers. I’ve finished screaming NO! I am dropped, gently, into Zee’s zone. Into the moment. Into love
Wake Up and Feel
This anguished heart, these burning eyes turn to face the unspeakable.
I write: “Realizing now how fully my animal body understood the significance of the 2016 election: for 4 days after, my urine stank of fear, my dreams were relentless torture scenes.” My body knew a nightmare had invaded that would try to infect us all.
It took weeks of self-healing practices for me to move from terror-paralysis to creative, fluid action. To shake off the nightmare.
It is time to wake up and comfort one another, to awaken our fierce love, a love that will not permit merciless nightmares to come to life. 45 is trying to bring his hideous inauguration speech to life, to inflict his American Nightmare lineage (MAGA) on the whole country, the whole planet.
This is an opportunity to say NO to the atrocities of the past: genocide, residential schools, slavery, internment, lynching, persecution.
To say NO to the recent and current forms of genocide, slavery, internment, lynching and persecution, incarceration, detention, torture, family rupture, surveillance and deadly policing inflicted on refugees, immigrants, and people marginalized because of their class, race, ability, gender…
If you have forgotten, or if you never knew these truths, I invite you to remember.
In remembering, you reclaim your own history, your own back. Your backbone.
Wake up, remember.
This is an opportunity to wake up and feel what such atrocities have always felt like, have always meant for tender children and bonded families. This is an opportunity to say NO to the revival, celebration, and amplification of America’s cruelest deeds and attitudes.
Trauma ruptures safety and connection.
But you can thaw out and reconnect to the ancestors. Yours and theirs.
Let’s take this opportunity to thaw out, to wake up, to feel, to grieve, to love and to CREATE the compassionate world we long for. We can re-do this country, we can ground it in truth-telling, fierce love, and action.”
Comfort One Another
We need to comfort one another.
Are we still critiquing “call out culture”? Pleading for our movements to “call each other in?”
It’s way too late for that.
This threshold is dire.
Your beloved is dying right in front of you.
We need to COMFORT one another! We are to be healing contexts for one another.
Nothing less makes any sense.
Collective abuse, collective trauma is rending our steadiness and connection right now. It intends to dishearten and debilitate us. Callous fascism gloats while we cringe and snap at each other over petty differences. Can we not find a way to love each other? Even now?
A little bird–literally! told me: when we love, our creativity is unstoppable.
What have we got to lose by loving together? We are already suffering together! We are suffering collectively and oh-so-intimately:
“Just as the 2016 election plunged many domestic violence and child sexual abuse survivors into PTSD paralysis for months, the plight of immigrant children at the border is throwing many of us with attachment and other childhood traumas into ancient despair and helplessness. I have observed this in myself. And it calls up my ancestors’ trauma as well. Both inner healing work and outer action are necessary to sustain this marathon of resistance.”
When child abduction and detention is carried out in my name, my suffering is instantaneous and personal. I remember how my beloved grandfather and his brother were swept up in the Home Children movement, a series of mass abductions of British 12 and 13-year-old boys by British fostering institutions.
Their destitute mom had placed them in *temporary* care. Britain shipped them and hundreds of other boys to Ontario, Canada without parental knowledge or consent, where they became indentured farm laborers until the age of 18. My grandfather was a kind but often mute doormat; my granduncle never shook his depression or made any friends.
That wounded grandfather was my only ally when I was a child. If I cannot now turn my eyes away from the suffering of asylum-seeking families, perhaps it is my ancestor looking through my eyes. When you see child abduction and detention carried out in your name, what do you remember? Who remembers their suffering through you?
When I go back and make these personal connections, it links me to those families and children being torn apart at the border.
As I feel into my grandfather’s suffering, and remember his love holding my heart, I stop freezing. I start breathing. Who knows what I will do?
When you make your own personal connections, when you start breathing again, who knows what you will do?
Resilience is not the absence of trauma. It’s feeling and fluidity. The ability to create.
When we respond to scary fascist stories with thawed-out, spontaneous hearts, who knows what we will do? Who knows what collaborations will arise?
Like Laura Bush and the Methodist Church and psychologists and national guards and breastfeeding moms and sidewalk cleaning services declaring their unstoppable love for immigrant children. Like political opponents joining together to say no!
Beyond the Known, Beyond Hope & Fear
Are we still trying to be rational?
Drawing familiar lines of us and them? Drop it.
We are all sitting ducks unless we love, love outside the lines, love ceaselessly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFam9Tkmeug
Are we still looking for hope? Stop it. Remember T.S. Eliot said, “Wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing.” We don’t know what the right thing looks like!
[I don’t know what Zee’s path looks like. I can only follow her.]
Beyond the known, beyond hope and fear, is love. Love for ourselves, for each other, for people we disagree with, within and without our movements.
After feeling it all (you must feel); eventually, after comfort, after containment; after expressing unbearable helplessness, grief, rage, dread, confusion; after collapsing in exhaustion; a new kind of doing arises. Doing from being.
Once you land, you will be led, as Zee has led me, to your next move. You may find yourself protesting at a detention tent camp for children. Or calling your representative. Comforting your despairing friends. Or writing to folks. You may find yourself praying, tears shuddering out of your chest. Or sending money to RAICES.
Your fluid, creative body responds to the moment. Who knows what you will do?
You don’t have to figure it out. Follow your critter body; watch yourself unfold. Your particular suffering contains the same potent magic as mine. Your particular contraction can, in any moment, dissolve into a we; a soft fractal unfurling of connection and momentum.
Resilience is not the absence of trauma. It is feeling and fluidity. Creativity that transforms trauma. Our resilience is awakening fresh responses to stodgy-cruelty, institutional permafrost. Together we create the merciful world.
Would you like to be coached by Dr. Vanissar Tarakali? You can make a remote or in-person appointment here.