It is close to two months now since I lost my father. Just writing those words, acknowledging the finality of them, is an enormous and dreadful act. It is beyond a doubt the hardest thing I have ever gone through, but this blog post is not about grief exactly. It just starts with the fact that death and loss affect us more than almost anything else in our lives. In a sense they change everything.
I am almost ashamed to say that what I feel now makes pale the intensity of all previous mourning; my father died far too early, and don’t think I don’t blame the insane hours he once worked, or the stress and hardship of his life just a little. He built a house to hold us, but there were debts and our home was taken away. He worked to provide for us, but it never seemed to be enough. His death has made me look back across my years, remember just how many people I have lost. Age and illness have taken their few, but given the sorry segregated desperate state of the US, I have grieved too damn often for those taken by the daily violence of poverty and the street. Even one kid shot is too many, but it is not just one. Even one death from lack of a roof is too many, but it is not just one of those either. All on top of the daily violence of rats and cockroaches and dingy depression, the necessity of working yourself into the grave just to get by, grinding poverty and worry, racism and fear of deportation, unjust imprisonment, eviction, loneliness, harassment and condescension and abuse. I speak only of the horrors that I know, in an industrialized nation that has nothing on the slums of Mumbai or Manila or San Salvador.
Our world is a truly terrible place. It is a place of immense suffering, where the majority of people fight for survival rather than happiness. This is an important truth: one that the privileged are allowed to forget as they please. But it is not the greatest one.
The greatest truth to me? The capacity of people to love and take care of each other in the face of this, to help each other get through these things, and to fight — even die — to change them. Ultimately this comes down to love. I reject utterly the mawkish, sentimental kind of love that is too often hawked and proselytized. Nah, this love is a fierce and a beautiful and a tender thing, even in its anger against injustice in all of its forms. When surrounded by those who love you, your grief is as terrible but you can bear it more easily. Your surroundings are as grim, but they cannot define and distort your sense of self. Your struggle is as difficult, but it is as full of joy as it is of pain. This is where our true strength lies. There is only one good thing to come out of tragedy, and that is how it calls forth the beautiful kindness and generosity of those around you, in turn building and strengthening community itself.
Those who surround me, and those who surrounded my father, have touched my own heart so deeply in the past two months I do not even have words.
This to me is one of the key meanings of movement — the proof is that mine is hardly a universal experience of tragedy. I do not think it at all coincidental that most of my friends should shine so brightly when I need them most, and that we have also struggled together for a better world. More than struggled, we have taken the time to enjoy together all that is good and wonderful in it. It is a truth often overlooked that these relationships, built over months and years of sharing good times and bad, are the deepest and most important foundations for all of the work we do. They have to be solid and critical and nurturing to create the world we dream of; they are required for us to remain whole and lifelong contributors to the struggle. How else can we escape the pull of self-martyrdom and ego and inflexibility and despair? How else but through the communities we build are we to remain both unblinkered and unbroken in a world such as this?
Although my dad didn’t exactly share my own radical politics, he exemplified this kind of love in the way he lived and the many things he was involved in. Funny and critical and generous to a fault, there could be no more beautiful testament to the man he was (or the person he helped me become), than the outpouring of love and support in return that has helped myself and my family try to come to terms with a world that no longer holds him in it.