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Don't Be A Meme

a  color photo of the forest floor with an unaltered, unphotoshopped heart-shaped leaf poking out of some moss
Love is under there and sometimes it pokes out

In Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World, Barry Lopez, lifelong humanitarian, naturist, author, and lover of the earth and all of its inhabitants observes, “evidence of the failure to love is everywhere around us.”

He’s not wrong.

I’m open to the possibility that humans were designed to do exactly what we’ve done and continue to do. Perhaps we are fully intended to ultimately engineer our own destruction, ruining the planet and each other in an inexorable, inescapable cycle of ignorance. It’s not entirely clear to me why that would be a thing, but I’ve always rejected the comfort-grasping perspective that “things happen for a reason,” so I’m not perturbed by the elusive wisdom of that possibility. Even so, I will go down trying. I will not go gentle into that not-so-good night.

I am admittedly pretty late, at the ripe old age of 47, to the liberation and transparency party that lots of Black, Brown, fat, disabled, gay and otherwise "outside the norm" folks have been having for centuries, but I’m showing up and I brought some amazing dip—free of allergens and ingredients appropriated from other cultures. (In fact, dip may be one of the few things in American cuisine that’s both worth replicating and not stolen from tastier cultures.)

I embarrassed to admit when I joined a Zoom screen full of briefly-disturbed, vaguely enraged white people in the summer of 2020, who nodded in the affirmative when one of us ventured that George Floyd was a martyr, I nodded, too. I was doing a thing. Right?

(I’m gonna pause here so all ya’ll can throw rotten produce, shake your heads, sigh audibly, and bless mah heart.)

George Floyd was murdered. Full stop. He did not sacrifice or volunteer his life to awaken a country that continues to show its unwavering dedication to the nasty provisions of oblivious comfort. And listen, George Floyd is just one of thousands, honestly millions, of folks who have been murdered for being Black, gay, fat, disabled, trans…"other."

(NOTE: If you’re bored reading about this “again,” take a deep breath. You can do it.)

When it felt like the world erupted in May of 2020, I had no skills. No language. No way to understand or explain what had begun to awaken inside me. I tried to find my place in the rushing river of protest, fear, anger, sadness, and brokenhearted rage. I nodded because I wanted to be seen and counted among the outraged millions.

Since that clamorous summer, I have read, watched, and listened to so many of the things that can begin to hint at catching me up on literal centuries of evidence of our failure to love. We have been hating each other-- actively--- for so long.

Lama Rod Owens teaches us to welcome and acknowledge our rage as we remember that love is what makes it matter. I am working to be a good, real, and self-responsible friend to my (mostly new) Black friends, disabled friends, fat friends. I'm making gay and trans friends. (Even though I am both trans and gay, I have never sought out members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community for friendship. Thanks, culturally inherited self-loathing.)

I have begun to reckon with the decades of unwitting (and sometimes intentional, but still oblivious) harm I have perpetrated against so many in both direct and indirect ways. I no longer entertain the story that I am not a person who has harmed and still harms others. It's kind of amazing how much space that frees up for noticing the amount of harm of which I'm capable. Woof.

It’s me. I’m the problem. I’m the problem. It’s me. And there is less than no time to wallow in my own personal dumpster fire.

“How can I love?” the answer is, “I can.”

Krista Tippett hosted Pulitzer Prize winner, Isabel Wilkerson, author of Caste and The Warmth of Other Suns on her podcast On Being in March of this year. The episode is called “We all know in our bones that things are harder than they have to be.” And don’t we? Don’t we really, really know this? Aren't we so deeply bone tired?

I read Caste in 2021, but I didn’t have anywhere near the context I needed to allow it to create a seething, action-oriented love in me, but listening to Tippett and Wilkerson talk about the book, I was reawakened to, among other things, the simple wisdom of it. Of all the beautiful metaphors and gorgeous ways Wilkerson lays bare our fear-oriented othering and hate and the unflinching truth of our dastardly history of lovelessness, the piece that continues to reverberate inside me is her reminder that, above all else, we are the same species.

Every. Single. One. Of. Us. Humans. Full stop.

Failing to love.

When the planet burns, when the rivers dry up, when the air is so polluted we can’t breathe—we will all burn, we will all suffer, we will all suffocate. We are made of the same stuff. We are fomenting consequences that will not be convinced to abate by our invented differences and the distractions of division.

We thrive or we go extinct. Together. The whole species. Maybe white folks, not-yet-disabled folks, thin folks, and straight folks die last, but they die just the same. And they die, as we all will, because of our consistent choice to do other than love.

Today, while I was driving in the mounting Northern Virginia heat of late June, I found myself deciding. Rest. Wait. Love. So many ridiculous things happened on the road in front of me, but you know who was perpetrating those ridiculous things? People. People in a rush. People who may have lost children, spouses, jobs. People who experienced struggle the moment they walked out their front doors; maybe even before they walked out the door. People who hate the heat and don’t have air conditioning. People who were thinking about themselves and how to get where they needed to go. People in pain on a burning planet without enough time or money to do the things they believe with every inch of themselves they need to do. People full of love smothered under the weight of separateness and fear. People just like me.

We live our lives like memes waiting to happen. “Tell me about your failure to love without telling me about your failure to love.” When what we love more than anything is our own comfort, we’re sunk. When we see that every moment is an opportunity love beyond our own imagined world and in ways we never imagined, we might just float and maybe even fly.

So, my friends, how do we get closer to the conversation we need to have?

I don’t know, but that conversation involves as much crying and hugging as it does shouting and pushing. It’s a conversation of surrender. We will set down things that we never needed and realize they were too heavy carry in the first place. We will apologize through exhausted tears. We will ask questions and wait thirstily for the answers that we’ve dreaded with a readiness to receive their truth and then, we will do differently because our bones, our hearts will know that we can never again do the same as we’ve done.

We must embrace fearlessly this burning world. Let us make it impossible to find evidence of our failure to love.


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