Compassion is that one fucking friend, you know the one.
They are always exhausted while somehow maintaining unconditional positive attention on your every word.
And you’re like, “Yo, I say this out of love — you need a break.”
And they’re like, “You’re so right. I just need to carve out a self-care day. Anyway, how are you? How’s your mom? I love her.”
And to yourself you’re like, “ugh this bitch makes me so mad” in that way that actually means, “ugh I love them so much I would take a punch for them in a heartbeat.”
Your relationship to this friend feels both deeply nourishing and draining as fuck. You question whether your relationship is actually healthy. You are obsessed with their well-being. You can’t help but Auntie at them to focus on their personal journey and growth.
You want your friend, Compassion, to understand that they are finite and must be cared for.
Thank you to Preeti (@write.with.preeti) and all the badass genius writers from the Spring 2022 “Our Stories, Our Voices” writing workshop series for inspiring me to write as me.
If my voice told you its history, she would tell you about all the times adults perceived child-her to be so very quiet. She would tell you how surprising that is given her velocity inside the temples of my mind and weight inside the depths of my stomach.
My voice would tell you, it was not the rec center youth theater plays or English Honors class presentations or Mock Trial Club events when she actually heard herself. That was just performance. Fodder. Production.
It was when my Dad asked her to reveal herself.
Sitting with my father and brother in a time of crisis. Modifying my body into the perception of my silent voice; slinking, hiding, invisibilizing. Dad directing a question at me, requesting my voice to enter The Room.
That is when my voice realized she had a tangible presence.
Honestly, I keep forgetting. Then I’m like, oh right his Twitter account was removed or oh hey those white militia men are still down the 95 or oh damn her middle name is “Devi.” Then I am brought back in to this pivotal moment. Ever so briefly shook.
In less than 12 hours I will likely feel more comfortable speaking the name of the President of the United States than I have in four years. In less than 12 hours the first South Asian Black Woman will be the Vice President of the United States. In less than 12 hours most people I love will be breathing easier. In less than 12 hours white rage might demonstrate even more violently. In less than 12 hours I will still be the same Brown Woman in the same Black City advocating for the same Basic Human Rights that this dominant white hetero-patriarchal society deems to be Radical.
It is extremely difficult to focus on less than 12 hours from now because I am still in the past 12 hours. For the past 12 hours, I spent an extraordinary amount of energy doing my harm reduction community organizer best for a bill hearing to decriminalize drug paraphernalia in Maryland. For the past 12 hours, I squinted through attempts to relax and restore for the evening, stealing glances (and straight on engagement) with social media about this hearing and the next police reform hearing and the next harm reduction hearing and the next. For the past 12 hours, barely a brain synapse addressed the Presidential Inauguration. For the past 12 hours, you could have told me those darn white militia men were at it again and I would believe it without a moment’s hesitation.
I want to give a shit. These past four years have been more horrifying than I could have anticipated. I am a significantly transformed woman because and in spite of this Administration. Maybe I have strengthened my survival mechanism to set all my shits on fire, because I have not a one to give.
Catch me in 12 hours and maybe I’ll have something else to say.
Life amidst death. Right now, this is how I choose to capture the year 2020. Within these three words — life amidst death — there is a universe. An ever-evolving, ever-adapting, beyond comprehension, heart-wrenching, heart-expanding, destructive, chaotic, sensible universe.
If not for 2020, it may have taken me far too long to learn — contrary to what I had been led to believe — life and death are far from opposition. In fact, life amidst death is truly a model for the fallacy of the binary. As mortals who can only exist in linear time, life can feel like a journey that moves us closer to our own deaths. Our hearts are beating and our brain synapses firing, and then they are not. That is mortality; that is not life.
Ravaged by the rapid fire coronavirus, our collective mortality has come much closer into view and humanity on Earth is forever changed. We tell ourselves to “keep on living” and hope that the deaths will end soon, as long as we trust in science and politics and all such else that in the same breath has historically proven to dehumanize and violate the majority of us.
Within this, we are actively and unceasingly in a process of grief. Within that, a vaccine is being injected into bodies deemed essential by the medical industrial complex. Will this vaccine bring back my community member who died of COVID-19 a week ago? Will it cure the cancer that killed my mentor who died in July? Will it bring back my beloveds who overdosed throughout 2020 and for decades before? Will it create a system that would have actually loved each and every one of the dead and living from the moments we entered life ?
I am angry. To be angry about death right now is an asset. It is an anger within love. I love my anger. To love. To be loved. On January 1, 2020 I ruminated on love. A readiness for walking in the power of my love. Abundance, transformation, revelations, and complexity.
I am now an angry, loving, living being in the future. I am living in the year 2021. My love has brought me here. My anger pushes me forward. I catalyze forward movement towards an ocean of life filled with radical love. I grieve the dead, I carry on legacies, I weep for joy as my Amma gets her COVID-19 pt.1 vaccine, and I use an invisible network to send silly videos to my chosen family and order frivolous gold shoelaces purely to engage with joy.
Life amidst death. I have lived amidst this deadly year, and I will live amidst the next one.
(Image below: a poem I wrote and published on social media on January 1, 2020)
I want for this quote to guide me — and us — towards liberation. I want for that. This statement opens up a flood of questions for me, though. I have come to realize that I have thought of liberation mostly in a binary context. You are either in chains or not. Thankfully I see now that the binary in any context is not realistic.
Is it possible for me to perceive life as many acts towards liberation and resistance?
On one hand, the system evolves — chains become more deceiving, incepting all aspects of mind and body. On the other hand, or maybe in conjunction, liberation evolves. Many might say that we can’t win because they are always moving the goal post. Yes. And. Our minds and concept of what is possible is also always moving. Freedom is relative.
Is it selfish to feel liberated, if even for a moment? When I also know that our liberation is tied together, I am not free until all chains are broken. Okay. And can I feel this feeling, though? Can I exist as an individual moving towards personal liberation within a web of systems that remain violent? Can my immense student debt have such power to keep me from liberation? Can I personally feel liberated when my family struggles? When I still get overwhelmed and lost? How will I know what liberation even feels like?
To be successful in whatever I do. What loaded, challenging words: successful and do. What a challenge. What pressure for us Asians and children of immigrants. What do I actually do and why? To move towards liberation, it feels right in my body to focus on what I do to be well above all other actions of do.
I ORGANIZE people and documents and meetings and thoughts
I YELL for fun and not fun and with friends and at myself
I WRITE to decompress and explore and remember and expand
I LAUGH because I am great at it and I surround myself with funny people
I IMAGINE a world beyond these exhausting structures and planet and galaxy
I LOVE my partner and my family and friends and people who love me back
I SET BOUNDARIES that are very hard for me to keep
I CREATE to sustain and react and destruct
I am grateful that much of this list above is done to earn an income via Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition. That also ties me to even more complications; who am I outside of my job? Is my job my only venue towards liberation and resistance? Yet if I were to work in a space not grounded in social justice, would I be okay?
What feels clear amidst this flood is that to better envision a fully liberated me, I must explore who I am during moments of doing to be well; my acts of liberation and resistance.
In order to be free…you have to look into yourself and know who you are, at least know who you are, and decide what you want or at least what you will not have, and will not be, and take it from there.
I have taken this year to better understand what I mean by liberation and then begin to build the pieces to achieve it. It feels hypocritical — and exhausting — to be a harm reduction and racial justice community organizer demanding justice for all people marginalized by state violence if I don’t necessarily know what I’m fighting towards.
When I posed this quandary to my therapist in November 2019, she offered, “well, in order to understand what you’re fighting towards on a structural level, maybe we should start with what liberation looks like for you personally.” In deep monthly-long reflection I have learned that for me, liberation is an abundance of creating, loving, imagining, laughing, breathing, exploring, community, and perspective. Above all else, it is a process of looking inward where we will find that once again, the personal is intertwined with the political. Therefore, my desire to liberate personally must be intertwined with work to liberate from political oppression: both as oppressed and as oppressor.
In working towards personal and collective liberationI must learn of and from the liberators in my community of South Asians. In deep gratitude to Equality Labs and the Allied Media Conference, I better understand that to attain liberation I must join forces to abolish millennia-old system of Brahmanical patriarchal supremacy.
To humbly step back a moment — when I began my journey towards liberationI was deeply disconnected from my dominant caste roots and ancestral lineage. My relatively recent entre into unlearning caste supremacy has opened me up in ways I could never have imagined. I now have a newly forming web/container/community of fellow South Asians in the U.S. and Canada working towards liberation for all South Asians. A community of South Asians also navigating the waters of abolition and liberation work.
In abolition work we talk about what we don’t want, but it’s a process of creation and creativity.