We shall revel in the abundance of each other | #31DaysIBPOC — 2021

This is a love letter that somehow transforms into a grief letter. This is a grief letter that still hopes to be a love letter to you, dear reader. This is a poem disguised as a call to action and a call to action that makes space for your joy and sorrow as a conversation between the two.

I bear witness to the complicated emotions that we are grappling with as we approach the end of an unprecedented academic year like no other.

I have a desire to reach towards you in shared grief, Unknown Stranger — you whom I consider this heavy thing called Family I have not yet met. This is a grief that cannot be expressed in words, especially in this particular colonizer’s language…but if we were to make eye contact, you would know and I would know. We would name this grief silently as if we were not speaking, and yet somehow find a way to honor our shared humanity still.

We shall revel in the abundance of each other.

What have you lost these past 14 months?

How much has been unveiled that was once hidden?

What relationships have been further fractured by a global pandemic that continues to disproportionately impact Indigenous, Black, and Hispanic people?

As Emily Hauser writes, what are we to do with all this grief?

In the midst of all this, what did we cling to as people of color? Who did we reach for? What did this teach us in where we must go next if we are to, as Dr. Betina Love (@BLoveSoulPower) reminds us, do more than survive?

How can we flourish if we cannot name this grief and metabolize our pain?

Names are powerful. We know this. And so — when we name systemic racism for the death machine it is — what bell hooks names as white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, it is unsurprising that the response is always so swift and severe from those who benefit under these structures.

And yet. And yet.

We shall revel in the abundance of each other.

My father passed away from a heart attack in December 2020. It is hard to write here but our relationship was complicated. I have written elsewhere in more detail about our dynamics, but in short he was emotionally (and sometimes physically) abusive and suffered from psoriasis, depression, and intergenerational trauma. He was also kind, had the biggest belly laugh, and shared a mutual love for Chicago public libraries and conveniently halal fish-fillet sandwiches that he also passed onto both my sister and I.

As someone who was diagnosed with Complex-PTSD a few years ago, the following quote has resonated deeply as I try to make sense of a world I want to more than just survive within —

Pain travels through families until someone is ready to feel it. ~ Stephi Wagner

Therapy is helping. I am teaching myself to shower love and kindness to my inner child. It is slow going but I have faith that we will get there. Two twinning selves that have been crouched in protection — the shuddering child, the shattered adult. Both clutching a fear further exacerbated by what feels like a tenuous, permanently breaking world.

  • Fear of abandonment and erasure
  • Fear of being too loud
  • Fear of being too quiet
  • Fear of being hurt — professionally, academically, personally for being too loud or too quiet. Never knowing until it was too late, but always stuck
  • Fear of being Othered — a Muslim surname that marks me from Elsewhere
  • Fear of deportation under the Trump-era Muslim ban and/or losing citizenship
  • Fear of not knowing where I belong, truly belong, both within my own community and under Whiteness externally

The pandemic has only exacerbated these insecurities — a feeling shared by many mutual BIPOC friends, daily texts sometimes humorous, some days a bit darker, but always the feeling that this is not right. None of this is right. I am not sure why I feel so shaken, but I do.

What if we were honest enough to bear witness to our pain?

Do we even have the time to do so?

To name it?

To learn from it?

To be curious about its origins?

What if we recognized that this metabolization can only occur in the collective?

I recognize that my struggles as a South-Asian/American immigrant cis-woman is deeply intertwined with the liberation and freedom dreams of Indigenous, Black, and other peoples of color. It has taken six years of intense doctoral study to begin developing an understanding of what it means to practice solidarity as a practice of freedom, what Paolo Freire calls an armed love. If I’m being honest, I wish this had been somewhat easier but I am grateful to be on this journey now.

I am still afraid, but I am choosing not to center fear. But this is not so easy, we know that fear is difficult to let go. It is a survival mechanism, after all — one our lizard brains know intimately. Some days are better than others, but forming a community through Twitter has helped, poetry has helped, writing and dreaming with other people of color has helped.

I am choosing to grow and expand rather than shrink into this relentless anxiety. I am grateful to the #EduColor, #MisEducAsian, and the #ClearTheAir communities for the thoughtful conversations we’ve been able to have collectively. I am grateful to #DisruptTexts for helping me interrogate my own internalized elitism and biases built around whiteness and Asian model minority myths.I am grateful for the space to process and learn with people of color and white co-conspirators. These are spaces that are committed to building deeply loving and generous communities and I am thankful to be a small part of a greater collective whole.

We shall revel in the abundance of each other.

Poetry has been a lifelong salvation for me. Audre Lorde writes the following:

I sought poetry especially in these long months of isolation and worry, of teaching day after day to rectangular boxes on a two-dimensional screen. The words buoyed me; they helped me find a way back to myself especially during my more frequent panic attacks these past few months.

These ancestors, both Living and Elsewhere, acted like a warm hand on my back, guiding me to process and reflect. They taught me love for others and self along with how to bridge these quantum entanglements of grief and joy.

A few lines from a Kahlil Gibran poem keep ringing in my heart these days — in a time of so much loss for me personally. The lines are a reminder on how to navigate the in-between of sorrow and joy. They gently inform me that we are more complex than we give ourselves credit for…and that this is okay.

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

I owe a great debt of gratitude to poets — Lucile Clifton, Eve Ewing, Kahlil Gibran, Audre Lorde, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Mary Oliver, Fatima Asghar, Rumi, Langston Hughes, Lawrence Ferlenghetti, bell hooks and more have been lit pathways — a welcoming beacon to find my way home again. The home that is me. The me that is home.

Urdu, my first language — that long khaaa sound in my first word bathakhhhhhhhh (duck) which I am told I delighted in repeatedly (and loudly) quacking as a tiny being. This language, forgotten on my quest for assimilation that I am now slowly and puzzlingly re-learning again, is famous for its poetry as well.

And so, this is where I close. A call to bohlo, to speak by Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

So, reader, speak whatever must be said. Speak for what you know is true. Speak when your body tells you something isn’t right. this…isn’t right. Speak even if you are conflicted (maybe especially so). Speak and release this energy that threatens to consume you. Speak because you know that ultimately this action is fundamentally one of armed love.

Speak. And know that you are not alone in the telling.

For we shall indeed, revel in the abundance of each other.

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