How do we go on?
#25: On making hope/endurance come alive
I’ve been traveling for the last month. First to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts where I worked on my novel & then to California to celebrate my sweetheart’s 35th birthday among old friends. I carry through these days the disorientation & cognitive dissonance of genocide being committed in front of all of our eyes whilst being dubbed a holy war in the name of Jews. I call my representatives, I go to protests, I process my feelings with friends & my therapist, I hear myself say the same things over & over, pleading for a Ceasefire on the phone & in the streets, exhausted day in & day out by empire’s ongoing project of unbudging brutality.
Even writing to you now, I struggle: words feel insufficient. 10,000 Palestinian children have been murdered or are lost under the rubble. What more is there to say? How am I supposed to listen to yet another pundit warp language to justify (support) these murders? While the majority of the world agrees that this is genocide, a small powerful fraction wants to use language to distort mass murder.
I open Instagram, my eyes swallow yet another death, I scroll to see an Israeli soldier dedicate exploding a building in Gaza to his two-year old daughter for her birthday & I am rendered speechless. Yet I need words. I love words. Catalyst, unbutton, grove. I love language even as my heart breaks. I need poems. I need a song in my bones as I continue to gaze injustice in the pupils. I need to dance. I need laughter. I need life’s multiple & resilient dialects of hope, unity, & love.
On the day we traveled back from LA, Angel & I sat waiting to board our plane. As we scrolled, chatted, & chewed overly priced airport sandwiches, an old Jewish couple standing behind us was growing audibly aghast at a brown teenager seated nearby wearing a keffiyeh. They began huffing & puffing, making a scene, conjecturing loudly about Hamas. Quick as lightning Angel unzipped her suitcase. She took out her own keffiyeh & wrapped it around her neck. We turned around to face them & with just a glance let them know that we had been hearing their racist fear-mongering. The couple grew immediately quiet.
In moments like this, cloth is a language. Hands, a gaze, they are languages. What Angel did that afternoon was wrap a dialect of solidarity around herself. The cloth was a dialect of no, of enough. She didn’t have to say a word. The girl, seeing what Angel had done to disrupt their entitled escalations, couldn’t hide her smile. It too was a language.
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In my speechlessness I continue to turn to poems. In her poem Lecture on Loneliness Claire Shwartz writes:
In his New York Times featured poem The Palace Kaveh Akbar writes: “There are no good kings, / only burning palaces” and “There are no doors in America. / Only king-sized holes.”
In her poem litany, Mahogany L. Browne writes:
This January session of ISL I’ll be joined by Claire Schwartz, Kaveh Akbar, & Mahogany L. Browne. All three writers are incredible examples of living justly, writing justice, & using language to touch what is unlanguaged. Their words continuously move & change me; they evoke whole dialects of care, survival, & grappling. I am so thrilled to be in conversation with them & for our students to be able to ask them specific questions & curate our learning hours together. There is only one week left to sign up for this New Year session, so be sure to sign up today.
One night in Los Angeles, Angel & I spent the evening with an old friend, L. L works as a professor at a prominent university. L is Black & queer & the only Black professor in their large department. The three of us sprawled across the couch, talking about Palestine, the equation of anti-semitism & anti-Zionism afire on campuses, & the censorship of the Free Palestine movement under many guises. After hours of conversation, L asked in earnest, “How are we supposed to go on?”
In a beautiful call & response with herself, she answered by conjuring her family history. Her ancestors were slaves. They couldn’t have fathomed her reality today, her accomplishments, freedoms, & path. She spoke with so much love & respect, with the animation of her hands, with the emphasis of deep pauses & loud praisings, building in front of our eyes a raw blueprint for hope/endurance. Angel nodded, viscerally understanding, her own history catching the flame of L’s, sharing the fire as one. I spoke of my grandfather, who lost 12 family members in the Holocaust & survived a prison camp where he literally ate horse feces to survive. The three of us braided our histories.
Here we were: three women, two Black, one white & Jewish, all queer, survivors of survivors of survivors. We go on by understanding that the lives we live today couldn’t have been imagined by our ancestors, even as they were fought for.
A few days later, back home in Brooklyn, I found myself talking about Palestine on the couch again; this time with Angel & our friend Julia. Julia’s immediate family (all white Jews) have been anti-Zionist for as long as she can remember. Julia was recently arrested during an action attended alongside her parents. Their bond & shared path toward justice moved me profoundly. I felt as if I were staring at a rare insect of shimmering, purple-white wings, one I’d only heard mythical tales of. This is how rare it is for me to hear about white Jewish boomer parents being anti-Zionist. In this world, their existence is no small feat.
While she was at the action, Julia reflected that she felt filled with love & hope – but also a streak of powerlessness, fury, & hopelessness at the fact that real people were suffering in Palestine at the very same second of the action. Implied in Julia’s words was: Is this even enough? One could even hear a faint under-question: Compared to the change that is necessary, is what I’m doing a joke? Angel seemed to sense these implicit questions, Julia’s wranglings with helplessness, & began to speak to them. I’m summarizing, but what Angel said was:
We do not do things because we will see the results. We do things because they’re right.
Her sentiment echoed the conversation between her, L & I back in Los Angeles. Angel emphasized to the the 2 white queer Jews beside her now: Don’t let whiteness or white savoirism sneak into your acts for justice. Do not superimpose the expectation that you will see results in our lifetime. Do what you can because it is right. She added, My people have never had the privilege of seats of power. We have never expected immediate results, or even to be listened to.
How could I not put my hands & heart to use in service of a world I probably can’t even imagine?
Our ancestors didn’t live to see the freedoms we’ve reaped from their struggles.
The dream is freedom for all, is never again for all. The dream must be upkept, the freedoms being precarious. My hands, my heart, they were built to push the dream further up the hill until it becomes a sun.
The sun does not pick & choose who to shine on. Freedom must be this egalitarian. It must shine down on us all, or it is not what it proclaims to be.
I am collecting parts for my hope/endurance engine. I need this engine to help me keep going. It is fueled by my partner, friends, teachers both living & passed. I want to leave with you the voices of some of my teachers:
(Aracelis wrote a beautiful letter of solidarity with students sitting-in at Stanford, where she is a professor.)
Palestinian lawyer and scholar Noura Erakat “speaks off the cuff to an intimate audience on the media’s dehumanization of Palestinians, the lack of recognition for their suffering, & the ongoing justification of Israel’s atrocities in Gaza, despite the mountains of evidence provided by Palestinians on the ground:”
In line with L’s practical question “How do we go on?” & Julia’s implicit questions about effectiveness vs. hopelessness, one of my favorite thinkers, Buckminster Fuller comes to mind. How do we resist apathy? How do white folks resist whiteness’ seductions & traps? How do we all become active engineers of the future? “Bucky” says:
Thank you for being here with me, reader. In the shifting shadows & the orange light. Through distances, we are carving closeness. I am alongside you in your grappling & in your action.
With ample maple syrup,