Our shadows are powerful things. Our shadows can guide our actions if we allow ourselves to chase them or we can reckon with them. Our shadows can be reminders of what we are afraid to feel and what we need to forgive ourselves for in order to stretch and grow. As my friend Rebecca taught me, our shadows are the things we hate about other people because they are the reflections of what we hate, fear or are most ashamed about in ourselves. Shadows are powerful things.
My entire political framework is based on convincing people to move past their shadow, show up as their greatest selves and walk with vision. For someone who uses organizing to push the existential dread of the ultimate meaningless of life out of my mind, this is a terrible political moment. It feels like all the world is in my shadow and our collective vision is clouded with shame, fear and pain. There is still work to be done. The work has not changed due to an election. Yet here we are, caught in a cycle of hurt and longing and fear; passing trauma back and forth.
There is a fear that has been creeping into my mind over the past few days. There is an anxiety at the base of my skull that feeds on my need for belonging and love turning itself into dread. It is a fear that strikes me so deeply at times that I manifest it into the world. It is a fear that before the oceans rise and food riots begin, before the camps and the cleansings, before the inaugurations become bloody affirmations of power we will tear each other apart while we wait for the other shoe to drop.
I see that I am not alone in these kinds of fears nor in my manifesting of the coming dystopia in my interpersonal relationships. As a dear friend recently put it, we are all expecting the repressions that are surely coming and living out our nightmares of them in real time. For some of us, for the marginalized and the oppressed, our fear is amplified by the real trauma caused by the pieces of the dystopia we have already lived through. It is amplified by the knowledge what though we might “have survived worse”– many of us didn’t. In this amplified state, we are so afraid of economic insecurity that we are fighting over money with our friends and family. We are so afraid of being alone, of our friends leaving, of being deporting or being killed that we are pushing them away before anyone can take them.
Some of us, I suspect, are just so hurt that we want to watch the world burn. Some of us are so afraid that we will turn to the devil to keep our communities alive. Some of us are merely shouting vitriol into the universe hoping it lands on someone who deserves it. Some of us are retreating into our intellectual conclaves hoping to protect ourselves from the things we are afraid to feel. We are fortifying our echo chambers with shame hoping to create a world in which even if we are afraid and hurting we are not wrong…we are not to blame for this. Yet still, we are in pain. Our world is on fire. We are on fire and at some point, we have to admit that we are doing this to ourselves.
Of course we did not start the fire. The history of racism, sexism, genocide, classism and xenophobia are the tender. Our material insecurity and emotional pain is the fuel of course. The spark came from the rusted gears of empire turning as they have for centuries. No, we did not, as individuals, set this fire. Even the men in hoods merely lit the bonfire America built for them. Yet, this flame, this context, this system, and soon this rapist Klansman in chief is killing us. We have to recognize that regardless of who set the fire, we are burning and we are allowing ourselves to burn. We have been consumed by shadow, by what we are afraid to admit to ourselves that we feel. We are letting ourselves burn in hopes that those people in our shadow die first as we take a sick pleasure in the screams.
That is what we are doing when we point fingers, when we shame others. We are taking pleasure in the pain of those who are more at fault, more to blame, more ignorant, more privileged, more poor, more fucked, more of what we hate most about ourselves. It is a pleasure that corrupts. It is an addiction to cynicism. It is an emotional crutch that keeps us from feeling vulnerable. It leaves us feeling dirty and alone in our shame. As MLK stated, it is a guilty broken act that we double down on in an attempt to drown out our sense of shame. That is how addiction works. It is a pleasure dipped in the most profound pain. Yet it is the only pleasure we can see for ourselves. We are so blinded by hate, fear, hunger and loneliness that we have convinced ourselves that this pain is all there is. Now, I know our pain is not the same. In many cases it is not even similar in degree or kind, nor are our reactions to it. There are some people responsible for this pain and they must not escape justice. Yet we are passing bits of this pain around. This pain is shared by all.
It is the pain of our hunger, abandonment, victimization, confusion, violence; it is the pain of vulnerability, the pain of hypervisibility and invisibilization, the pain of domination and forced submission, the pain of expropriation and exploitation; it is the pain of privilege and oppression. The causes of our pain are as dissimilar as their degree. Yet the existence of our pain is universal. It connects us. It ties us together in web of death. It is the black shroud of mourning for the joy of our highest selves, of better days, or another possible world, that even those in pickup trucks screaming racist slurs at their shadow wear. Yet it is not all that connects us and not all that can.
I am not writing this to convince anyone to love their enemies. I am not writing this as an attempt to unify with words rifts that have been caused by genocide, conquest, enslavement and deprivation. This is just me shadowboxing my pain. It is my plea to the universe. It is me asking that those you are able to close your eyes and remember that we deserve something better than this. Remember the joy we felt when we embodied our greatest selves. Remember that love can connect us and that light can push away the darkness. Remember the cracks in your soul that you have been told are weakness but are really how the light gets in…and shines out.
Share your light with me please. It’s cold and dark and I’m in pain and more pain is coming. I need your love. I need your light. I need to get rid of my shadow. I need you. Share your light please.