I find myself in a perpetual state of shock. The emotions swirling inside of me block any attempt at words leaving my mouth or fingertips. When I do think of something to say it feels like screaming into hurricane force winds caused by the hundreds of thousands of voices shouting the same pain. I never expected to be living in this is version of the United States.
I’m first-generation American and was raised to believe in the land of opportunity; where you work hard, aim high, and can achieve any dream you desire. Instead what I’m seeing, on a daily basis, is a dystopian future creeping into our current events. Freedoms are eroding. Doors which were once open are now slammed closed and thoroughly locked. The inclusive spirit that made America a melting pot has now been replaced with blatant xenophobia. If my parents had been fleeing a communist dictatorship in this day and age there’s a strong chance they never would’ve made it onto American soil.
Some will say our newly enacted policies are a form of protection against those wishing to destroy our country. I say that we’re on a slippery slope and in banning a country of people wholesale—under the guise of national security–we’ve laid the groundwork to start banning other “undesirables” from our shores. Which can easily transform from restrictions to expulsions and we’ll see our country diminished like a balloon leaking air.
I noticed the us vs. them mentality festering in our culture around the same time we started labeling each other red states and blue states, but the reality is that life is much more nuanced and complex than a binary classification. None of the people foaming at the mouth for our borders to be closed and the refugees sent packing have ever met the people they’re railing against.
I’ve broken bread with a university educated Afghan man who fled his war-torn country and was working in an English kebab shop because the UK wouldn’t recognize his degrees. He just wanted to live a normal life like anyone of us. Same for the Lebanese kid I met in Northern Virginia who was studying medicine at Georgetown University so that he could join Doctors without Borders. His family would’ve been flagged under the new “extreme vetting” simply because they’re Muslim and fleeing a country under siege.
Change their countries of origin or religions and the stories would sound just like the ones you hear from the people in your town or family. The hopes of those searching for a better life are universal.
Sadly, this is just one small part of the inferno that’s threatening to engulf this wonderful country and its kind-hearted people and I fail to understand why a fire fueled by hate will make anything great as opposed to reducing everything in its path to ash.
Photo by Gabriel Novo of Niatron at the Women’s March. Sign quote from the Maya Angelou poem “Still I Rise”
I spent many years of my life in a constant state of travel between cities, states, and countries which gave me an unprecedented look at people across a wide spectrum of life. Many folks who I never would have bumped into if not for our paths momentarily crossing as we got from point A to point B. Time and time again, I marveled at the complex lives around me. The solemn woman in Tampa who was on her way to unplug her comatose sister and dreading that she might have to adopt her nephews. A gregarious Czech man in Dusseldorf who plied me with beers and espressos till the AMs as we suffered through an overnight layover at the airport. 70-year old traveling buddies who drank me under the table on Belvedere martinis, straight up with a twist, while regaling me with tales of Reno, Hawaii, and San Francisco.
All it takes are a few moments amongst the people sharing this world and you quickly see that humanity is a beautiful tapestry of grays. Not the black and white, us versus them, 0 or 1, divisive categories we’re so often corralled into. It’s what makes me hate labels the older I get. Not once has a person I’ve met, and made the effort to converse with, ever been solely defined by a label or demographic. The few words I use to describe myself are merely entry level descriptors for the social chameleon that I am.
I hate individuals who treat others as talking points instead of human beings. Life is fluid, people are fluid, ideas and viewpoints have more nuance than news sound bites and internet headlines lead us to believe. You can’t tick a series of boxes on a checklist and have it equate a person. That’s a fantasy held by those with no desire to expand the boundaries of their limited worldview.
Let’s try disposing of trite labels and getting to know one another. I guarantee you’ll be surprised.
Image by Christiaan Colen on Flickr.
It’s interesting how the human mind shifts gears whenever it approaches the end of something—a time period, a struggle, a relationship—reflecting on the moments leading up to its conclusion. An attempt at understanding is made even when no chance at comprehension is possible. Then, like sifting through tea leaves, we try to predict our futures based on what came before.
I’m incapable of predicting my future even more so than the average person. Uncertainty has lodged itself permanently into my way of life. Medical uncertainty, geographic uncertainty, and a multitude of other variables that refuse to be solved. I always sucked at the “where do you see yourself in X years…” question and it’s only gotten worse. I’ve given up on trying to map things out and will instead roll with the punches.
That being said, this past year has left me punch-drunk. I’ve been battered within an inch of my life, but I’ve learned a valuable lesson, one that I’ll be using in the coming new year. My natural inclination in life, and social media, is to share my intent. Whether it be a new undertaking or a goal I wish to reach, I’ll shout it from the rafters hoping to connect with the like-minded while holding myself accountable to a nebulous them. 2016 has repeatedly shown that this method doesn’t work leaving me with ashes in my mouth and a trail of broken ambitions behind me.
Rather than continue on my loop I’ve decided to make a change. A small shift in my being which I hope will yield huge benefits. Every personal project will be a secret project. Every life move will be revealed after the fact. I’ll focus on the doing and not the announcing of things. Perhaps this will help me avoid God’s laughter. Yes, I understand the irony of broadcasting my desire to stop public disclosures, but I am still a writer and oftentimes need to work things out on a blank page before an idea makes sense even to myself.
Photo © HBO, edits by Gabriel Novo