A time to mourn – on activism and staying present

img_7864It will soon be two years since I “became an activist.” It was a label that until recently felt like a bad case of mistaken identity. Before coming out as trans, I was working hard on building my life and career in science, hoping to teach some day. Nature was, is, and always will be the love of my life, regardless of my occupation. But I never thought that I could find myself in something so completely different from the path I was set on, and discover work which I am at the same time passionately and hopelessly dedicated to, and which might cost me my sanity or even my life some day.

First off, what do I mean by being an activist? Well, first there’s my job description that explains what I do in a regional organization fighting for the rights of trans, inter and gender variant people. And then there is a description of what it all means in my life: showing up, learning, figuring out, questioning, reaching out and reaching in, creating spaces, connecting, nurturing, admitting my own ignorance, changing, pushing, taking initiative, taking leadership, following, enduring, and loving. In short, staying present, being active.

Those things can get pretty rough when the bad news just keep pouring in, and you feel utterly helpless. Death and violence streaming into our consciousness in HD from all directions, and there is no time to breathe. No time to mourn.

All those lost to violence wait to be fully received. How can the mind bear the weight of people being murdered because of their gender or the way their bodies are? Because of who they love? Because they are children? Because of the color of their skin? Their beliefs? Because they were sent off to war by someone, or someone was sent to wage war against them? Because their bodies belong to the state, to religion, to parents, to partners, to strangers, to companies, to jails – anyone but their own selves? How do you make sense of that? Often, disconnecting can feel like a life-saving move.

If I were to mourn every single person lost to violence the way my heart tells me I ought to, I would need to mourn every person as a loved one, as my family, as my child. The fact that I never met someone, that they live far away, that we had no interaction whatsoever and that we weren’t even aware of each others existence – none of those things change the fact that we are the same. I believe that anything that makes another living being abstract and distant is an illusion – albeit sometimes a necessary one. Because we can and we do break.

I don’t know how to always stay present without burning out. Maybe it’s not even possible? But what I do know is that I needed to make space in my own life for mourning. So I do something that seems to make sense in my own little world, and does help me get through the day, most of the time.

At the end of my day I take some time to let it all soak in. All the pain and fear, all the loss. And I let it be, acknowledge it, breathe with it. The more it hurts, the more determined I am to love, to keep going, to keep opening up. The deeper it cuts, the more I feel a need to push out of my own heart any hatred and violence that might be there. Because as impossibly hard as it sometimes feels, it works. Even if I can’t help anyone, I can at least be there. I can bear witness. I can stay open and present. In those moments I feel my heart beating uncomfortably, it hurts, the adrenaline can feel like too much. But it beats. And I can’t think of a better place to start my work.


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