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Between a Living and a Dying

With a collective grief rolling through our bodies – with a looming and questioning – with a reminder of our and our loved ones' impermanence – with a heavy illumination of the depth of systemic inequality and environmental degradation -- we are made vulnerable. In these moments, often without choice, we shed our layers of protection and our reasons for distance. What is revealed are innate qualities – for care, for compassion, for community, for creativity, for connection. We have a tendency to forget or to remove ourselves from these practices in the notions of everyday. We sometimes believe that we exist independently, outside of the living, breathing system that is our belonging to one another.

These dormant capacities, though, woken by the catalyst of crisis, are a calling back to our humanity. Times such as this are illuminative: they show us the true reality in which we have been living AND they show us the extraordinary potential we each hold to turn towards each other, rather than away. The junction of the two provide a meaningful space to shift. To act. Change can find momentum in difficulty. We could utterly refuse the world as it was and ride the wave of our revived capacities – for care, compassion, community, creativity, and connection—and dream a new way. What comes alive in us can carry us forward.

The Resurrection Plant, Selaginella lepidophylla, is designed to endure a harsh environment. In times of drought that sometimes last several years, they brown and desiccate into a closed ball. In this form, they can appear dead; in reality they are dormant and patient. They are adaptive to the challenge existing in their home… and then the rains come. The hidden vitality and vibrancy that had been stored away emerges, and hillsides become verdant as leaves uncurl and open towards one another. The Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura, are scavengers; kindly contributing to the cycle of life that is part of a greater ecology. Their presence may serve as a reminder of impermanence. As they teeter overhead, I hear the words "where there is great life, there is great death". Nothing can exist fully without its contrast: reflecting on death can encourage us to lean into our aliveness; grief and love are two sides of one coin; joy and sorrow always walk together.

What dormant capacities have been awoken in you? In your community? How can we transform crisis into the life-giving rains that will continue to remind us to be caring, compassionate, community-minded, creative, and connected? How can we carry an awareness of the tension of opposites (life:death, grief:love, joy:sorrow); how does this practice contribute to our aliveness?

(( Backstory: I'd been working on this piece since the beginning of the pandemic. When the stay-at-home order started, I was fortunate to be a part of an online workshop series on Connection & Vulnerability with 144 folks from around the world. We, as strangers, talked about what was happening in our neighborhoods, in our hearts, and in our minds. We cried together and shared remarkably vulnerable stories, moving through the shock of it all. We discussed case studies from times of disaster and catastrophe -- and how instances of such difficulty have the capacity to bring out some of the most beautiful and compassionate human characteristics.. I won't ever forget ending those Zoom meetings hearing the voices of 144 strangers saying goodbye all at once in an assortment of languages. It brought me to tears, until it was silent again and I was alone in my room, buzzing with hope and humanity. What I learned from them, from the larger living world, and from my dreams (there are always a multitude of "collaborators" that contribute to creative works) filtered its way into this piece. In times such as this -- unprecedented times -- I don't have any answers. I do hold wishes for connection, care, and kindness. I hope we can commit to one another and to the ground that we are living on. I hope that we can be soft and forgiving while we experience this depth of anger and sadness. To me, hope has never felt naive or unrealistic or as a way to disregard any suffering. Hope doesn't mean that we are closing our eyes, it means we are keeping them open and focused. Hope does not mean just trying to be more loving — it means both turning inward to do the hard work of reflection and unlearning as well as turning outward in recognizing systems of oppression and violence and actively moving against it. Hope has to be grounded in a deep sense of reality -- a painful reality that we can use to propel us into the *action* of creating something better, if we so choose. ))

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