Thoughts on Staying Connected

20200224_161221This is a sad week, y’all. The Universe has taken both Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor from us within two days. (I am slightly consoled, though, that neither died of Covid). I imagine they would get along with Omar Shariff in the afterlife, if they met.

Well, life is long, huh? It’s been over a month since COVID-19 precautions were put in place in the United States. It feels like the flavor has gone out of life. I used to think having a lot of down time would be great, but honestly, there is something missing when you have nothing but down time every day. I feel as if some piece of my spirit has gone to sleep. Where there were once sounds and smells and touch, there is only the memory of those things. I feel no desire any more. I used to live to eat, now I feel like I eat to live. Modern psychology would say I’m clearly depressed, to which my response would be duh. People are dying out here.

Sometimes I think to myself, the hardest thing about life is connection to other people. This might not be true for everybody, but for queer South Asian me, it feels like it is. The closer I get to home, the harder it gets. Somehow, in my adult years, I understand what it means to form a healthy connection and what it means for other people to respect who I am. I seek people with better communication skills. I have a solid group of people that I can talk to about my feelings. I have planned my escape routes for when things go wrong. It took a long time, but I’ve figured it out.

It was not like that when I was young. There’s this direction I get from my peer counselors sometimes, where they tell me imagine living as though you prioritize your life as a woman. I wish anybody had told me that even one time in the 18 years I lived at home. On one hand, I am so thankful to my parents for really going after connection with other Indian families. It has helped me resist assimilation in ways that other Indian descendants living in the US have not. On the other hand, I don’t think there was a single woman figure I grew up with that was not subservient to some male counterpart–whether that was her husband, brother, father, or somebody else. So I wholeheartedly believed I was doing the right thing in giving all my power to male friends and being small so they could take up space.

This is not to say I believe all men are bad and should be beaten down for being sexist. I think every human being is good, and the ways they hurt other people only shows the ways they themselves were hurt in the past. I think if we actually want sexism to subside, we need to look at how isolating it is to be a man. We make them be alone in ways we do not force women to be. In addition, men need healthier outlets for the crap they’re carrying around–and that should not include dependence on women to help them unpack emotions. They need to be given the tools to be able to figure it out among themselves.

But I have digressed. How does this relate to connection?

There is something about looking at something ugly and not running away. I think this is the thing young social justice communities accuse elders of all the time, but ironically have not figured out how to do themselves. (Like let’s be real, when we don’t like something, we run away from it. I would know. How do queer communities react when conflict arises? They vilify one another usually until someone can’t show their face in public any more. What do we do when someone points out our mistakes? We try our best to hide, or at least lay low for a little while.) We have inherited policing so well from our elders that now we do it to one another. If you are not 100% on board with OUR politics and OUR perspectives and OUR rhetoric, you are not one of us. You MUST practice our way or we WILL kick you out.

There is something about showing our feelings that we have forsaken. “Community organizing” among young adults has been reduced to an intellectual pursuit, a discussion about ideas where we barely acknowledge the presence of other people, barely connect with the humanity that is right in front of us. We talk some big talk about self-care and feelings and all that, but when it’s down to the wire, when was the last time you cried in front of someone else? There is something that one of the Jewish leaders in my peer counseling region says:

The key to courage is to weep and rage about the despair and hurt we see, never turning away even if it breaks our hearts. After each cry, we are renewed with deeper commitment, can take the next step and consider the next challenge with our full intelligence, flexibility and love. -L. Friedman

I have to remind myself of this frequently. As I reach for my own community again in my (not) old age, I have to let my heart break sometimes to know that nothing has changed. I have to look at these people I so badly want with me on my journey and weep that I might wait for the rest of my life for them to join me. And every time I show heartbreak, I am reminded that showing feelings is an act of courage, even if I am the only person who believes it. If I am really lucky, and if I do not run away, someone might agree with me.

I look forward to communities where we stick with one another even when things get hard. I imagine young people who remember of one another that we are good and that sometimes good people make mistakes. And at my most ambitious, I imagine that when things get hard, we show how it feels. We stay through the awkwardness and discomfort, because that is what it means to be resources to one another. There is nothing shameful about messiness. And there is the added bonus of strengthening our relationships, so that we are no longer living in pretense.

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