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There’s a question, I confess, that sometimes surfaces in my thoughts as I absorb what’s going on in our world.
It comes from the depths of me, unbidden. It both begs a response and is skeptical of an answer. It arises from fear, from grief, from weariness, but also, from steely resolve and a burning desire to live purposefully.
It is this:
“Why the hell am I alive during this exact moment in history?”
Or, for those who believe in some divine plan for their lives,
“Who decided this was the best time for me to be here?”
The question is emotionally charged precisely because my being alive at this moment in time feels like I’m being forced to live my worst nightmare, vastly multiplying as it unfolds. We all have them. Mine is this—watching the destruction of Earth and the mass die-out of all the beings I love, which amounts to living in perpetual, compounded grief. Grief that fills every cell of my being.
In my less constructive moments, some part of me wonders if this is a sick cosmic joke. Like someone, somewhere, is getting some masochistic pleasure out of making sure my heart breaks and rebreaks in a million pieces, in a million different ways, over the course of my lifetime, all so I can become the “best version of myself” through suffering.
Believe me, I know how messed up that sounds. But I also highly doubt I’m alone in thinking it.
As nerdy and lofty as it sounds, I’m reminded of a conversation between Gandalf and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings:
Frodo: “I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”
Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
Circling back to this reminder, whenever the question sends me in a downward spiral, is a quiet restabilization. From here, I can begin to offer myself a response that is not rooted in despair or helpless resignation. I can begin to reclaim my agency, my power, my hope—through intentional work.
I take that weight of grief and I keep stepping outside to pick up trash, feed squirrels, plant trees, free gulls tangled in fishing line. I take that despair and I paint, I write, I create on behalf of the ones I love. I take that sense of helplessness and I show up for strikes, send emails, call governors, engage in politics, seek community, and reach out beyond my comfort zone.
The truth, as I see it, is this: yes, we are living in dark times, with challenges beyond what we feel prepared for. Yes, choosing awareness over ignorance is an act of courage and resistance. It affects some of us more deeply than others, and therefore, may ask more of us to remain hopefully engaged.
However, that is only one side of the coin. The other side of this darkness is the opportunity to witness and be part of a collective fire, reshaping the narrative of humanity’s relationship with the Earth, each other, and all living things. We not only have to witness humanity at our worst, our ugliest, our most tragic; we also get to witness all the strength, raw courage, fierce and tender beauty of some of our own at our finest.
To be alive now is to be invited to labor for our own rebirth.
I’ve never given birth to another human being, but I know something about the process of birthing new life, dreams, love, stories. I know the contractions preceding the delivery; the active process of moving with (instead of against) the immense pain; the intense concentration and measured breathing; the sweating and swearing, screaming and tearing; the exhausted relief and rush of love that follows the birth. The way our hearts will never be the same again.
I think our collective contractions, our birth pains, are growing stronger, coming closer together. We have shifted into active labor and soon we will be pushing, pushing with all the strength and breath our bodies possess—and more than we ever imagined possible.
The question, now, is will we be mere observers of this birth, or will we be mothers? The question, now, is not why are we here at this moment in time, but how are we willing to labor in light of the world we long to birth?
I can’t promise I will never be tempted by despair. I can’t predict how much grief I can bear before I feel myself breaking. But I can promise this: I will keep showing up. I will do my damnedest to always return to the fire of love that keeps me rising each day. To my small, mindful purposes. To the tasks right in front of me.
I have a few responses on hand when despair comes knocking, words I have tucked in a pocket of my mind to read when I need the strength to rise. I recommend you find yours, too, and tuck them away in an accessible place.
Here are a handful of mine…
“What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take everyone on Earth to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.” ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estes, We were made for these times
“Hope only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful.” ~ Paul Hawken, commencement address
“No matter how hopeless things are, we are going to wake up in the morning and do our best to save one little piece.” ~ Waylon Lewis
These words are enough for me when my own are temporarily swirling in chaos. They help ground me long enough to return to my purpose. Find whatever words, whatever actions, help return you to your purpose. To your power. Dig your nails into these and hold on, breathing with the contractions.
We cannot birth the whole new world ourselves; we can only lend our bodies, hearts, and minds to the collective act of labor.
And one day, perhaps we’ll have the immense privilege of looking back on our lives, however long they are, and saying, “Look at this world now…I helped give birth to this. Isn’t she beautiful?”