Monday, July 1, 2019

Word of the Year 2019: Action: Escaping Despair

Benson Sculpture Garden. Loveland, Colorado. May 2016.

It seems unreasonable to confess the despair that pulls me out to the deep water sometimes, like a riptide; hard to escape, easy to drown in.

Benson Sculpture Garden. Loveland, Colorado. May 2016.

After all, I have sufficient food, clothing, and shelter, income, and a general expectation of predictability in what will happen in my life tomorrow and the day after, inshallah. I am healthy. 

"Long Walk," by Shonto Begayl. Bosque Redondo Memorial, New Mexico. September 2013.

Fortunately, the despair hits only sporadically.

"Long Walk," by C Ortiz. Bosque Redondo Memorial, New Mexico. September 2013.

What is almost a constant, though, is this new-to-me chronic anxiety that pulses as it sips at my thought life, a surreptitious leech.

Child of slavery, by Woodrow Nash. Slavery Museum, Whitney Plantation, Louisiana. March 2015.

Have I grown more sensitive to caffeine? Not eating enough kale? Eating too much wheat? A part of the natural aging process? Maybe I'm dehydrated? Am I yoga-deficient? Delayed reaction to vaccines of my childhood?

No. I know from my research into and delivery of burnout and stress management seminars that we, as humans, tend to deny, discount, and dismiss the contributing factors, the extent, and the effects that prolonged stress has on our mental, emotional, and physical health.

"Coming Home," by Rod Moorehead. Slavery Museum, Whitney Plantation, Louisiana. March 2015.

There are those among us in the United States - some of our own family members, neighbors, colleagues, faith leaders - who want to justify crimes against humanity, both domestic and international. These folks want to blame the women, men, and children who seek to rescue themselves from danger, who want to claim their unalienable rights to liberty, justice, and the pursuit of happiness.

Dia de los Muertos, Mesilla, Las Cruces, New Mexico. November 2012.

The Americans who stand at the bridge and block escape or who actively hunt down children, men, and children to imprison or expel them, or who criminalize people who are using their good sense and courage to save themselves and their children from untenable conditions .... these Americans think their actions affect only those they block, grab, detain, or expel.

The Wall, Columbus, NM-Puerto Palomas, MX. April 2013.

But these actions by our fellow Americans are toxic clouds that rain poison upon all life, including themselves, their mates, their children.

These actions change us, whether we are perpetrators, collaborators, bystanders, or upstanders.

So. Sometimes I get pulled into despair.

Action is necessary to escape despair and to alleviate chronic anxiety

The riptide model

I borrow from this fine video on riptides, which offers a summary about surviving a rip current:
  1. Stay calm. 
  2. Conserve energy. "If you attempt to fight the current, you will just expend all your energy and strength. Which will lead to tragic consequences."
  3. Just relax and go with the flow. (Note: In the context of these dark days, I translate this as it being my role to walk alongside those who suffer - not to "save" or "solve," but to take actions as an ally to support others' self-determination.) 
  4. Keep afloat, weigh your options, and don't exhaust yourself.

"The 187," by Carlos Flores, Chamizal National Monument, El Paso, Texas. October 2016.

Remember my place

It is an action of mindset to honor others' self-determination and self-rescue. It fixes my role.

In El Paso, I learned from a group of Catholic sisters that:

As sisters (they said):

  • It is our job to go where no one else wants to go and do what no one else wants to do.
  • We work on the margins.
  • We try to live as though there is no border. Those of us who can cross, should cross and behave as if there is no border.
  • We need to tell the stories to those people in the country who don't have the privilege to live here, on the border.
  • It's not important to [the mothers at the Santo NiƱo Project] that we solve a problem; it's important that we accompany them

Recently, I received this open letter from the IFCLA in St. Louis. It came on a day of despair. Excerpts from the text:
I know that many of you are worried, scared, angry, confused, and eager to take action in light of all of the news and information circulating regarding threats of increased immigration enforcement. .....

It is important that we actively work together against the fear and hatred that are already traumatizing our communities. ....We must not contribute to fear, panic, chaos, or trauma. We must remember that immigrants and their families are the ones who should make decisions for their own lives. Whatever those decisions may be, as allies, accomplices and people of faith and good will, we are called to honor their integrity and liberty in ways that are supportive, respectful, and selfless. This is how we honor the dignity of all, especially in times where our own drive to be saviors, fixers, helpers and healers can misshape our good intentions into harmful impacts.

In the St. Louis region during the last several decades, immigration enforcement has not stopped, waned, or ceased to impact immigrants and their families, loved ones, colleagues and friends on a daily basis. Raids are not new. Targeting immigrant families is not new. Threatening massive deportations is not new. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is present in St. Louis, in Missouri and in Illinois. Local police regularly collaborate with and facilitate immigration enforcement in our region every single day. The latest flurry of public statements, news articles and social media turmoil regarding the Administration’s call for mass deportations in the coming days may be indicative of a new wave of enforcement operations in select cities, but this is a continuation of everything we have been fighting against for decades .....

..... Please be prepared to show up, support, interrupt, and disrupt whatever may happen. .... make sure you are spreading accurate information about your rights and the rights of immigrants. Trust your relationships, trust your colleagues, and trust the individuals and organizations that are in deep relationships with immigrant communities in St. Louis. Trust that if there is a need and an opportunity for allies and accomplices to show up, you will be informed and instructed, and that call will be rooted in the needs and demands of our immigrant neighbors.

As we consistently have done for years, we still urge you to speak out against ICE, against all immigration enforcement, and all actions that violate our shared values. Please call your elected officials at all levels of government to denounce the targeting of immigrants and their families. Please call your members of Congress (210-702-3059) and demand they cut all funding from the Deportation Force. Please call the national office of ICE (888-907-6635) and denounce the Administration’s statements, any operation that would destroy families and individual lives in our communities. .....

Please do not spread fear. Please do not sensationalize tactics that are always present in our communities - regardless of when the news, the President, or other leaders speak of it directly. Stay the course, my friends. Our community needs our calm, non-anxious presence now and always. Our community needs you to commit to changing the systems every single day, not just at the moment of chaos.....

I read a quote from Scott Warren, in which he referred to "self-rescue." That the women, men, and children trekking into the United States are rescuing themselves from insupportable conditions at home. The moment I read this, it solidified further what the sisters and IFCLA say.

It confers full respect and dignity in the individuals and families making the best decisions they can based on the information and the resources they have on hand.

My bouts of despair and worry do nothing to serve others. To paraphrase a quote I hear via 12-step meetings:

"It's easier to act myself into new ways of thinking than to think myself into new ways of acting." 

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