Finding Myself and Losing the World

Finding Myself and Losing the World

Finding a sense of purpose is a powerful thing. It’s a feeling some people spend their whole lives searching for. The sense that what you are doing is truly important can be life-changing. Overwhelming. Exhilarating. Terrifying. Fulfilling. Even euphoric. Some find that purpose in their faith, others in service to the community around them. Some find it in standing up and fighting for what they believe in. Some, like I did, find it in times of crisis.  No matter where we find this greater purpose for ourselves, at it’s best it’s a high better than any drug – a positive force with the collaborative power to change the world. At it’s worst, it’s the pavement on the road to hell – a force hateful and destructive enough to fuel genocides. And telling the difference – especially within ourselves – is much harder that you might think. When the twin towers fell in Manhattan, I began to glimpse the direction my life would take. And for a little while, despite all the good work I was able to do, it turned me into someone I never wanted to be. I’ve written so much about the beauty that existed in Ground Zero among the 1st Responders and our work there. It was an extraordinary time. But there is also something else worth talking about that’s a little more personal. And of all the things I’ve written about that time, this is the most difficult.  Running Backwards, Towards a Cliff On the 13th of September 2011, standing in the gas station that used to be on the corner of Canal and the West...
The Night Osama Died

The Night Osama Died

I was in bed when my phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number, but I picked up thinking that good news never comes at night. It took me a moment to recognize the voice. Instead of hello, he said “We got him.” I already knew. I’d been watching the news anchors speculate as they waited for Obama’s press conference before I’d gone to bed. The voice on the other end of my phone was Chris, a fellow worker from New York’s Ground Zero of so many years before.  Despite the family that such tragedies fuse together, he and I had never been particularly close. But he wanted to make sure I knew. He said that. “We got him. I’m calling everyone. We did it. We finally got him. I just wanted to make sure you knew.” There was triumph in his voice – if not outright joy, then giddy, satisfied resolve. Celebration. The air of long-awaited justice, finally served. Cold but still delicious. I thanked him for calling. I wasn’t sure what else to say as I pulled myself away from sleep. I wasn’t sure what I was feeling. As I hung up, my husband yawned “what was that about?” “That was Chris,” I replied, “part of my team at Ground Zero. He wanted me to know that Osama Bin Laden was dead. It’s been confirmed.” “Really? He called just to tell you?” My husband is from Montreal, and wasn’t a part of those years in my life.  He understood, of course, why people would be relieved that Osama Bin Laden was dead. It was the immediacy and the enthusiasm that...
The Peace We Seek

The Peace We Seek

Shakespeare understood that we are, all of us, hypocrites – a series of contradictions. My newsfeed confirms that no amount of evidence can stand up against our ability to rationalize. We form most of our beliefs by working backwards – by first holding a belief and then fitting the facts to suit whatever our conviction might be. Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance revolves around the idea that humans will seek to eliminate dissonance in their lives. This dissonance would be defined as any set of conflicting beliefs. He hypothesized that this dissonance creates distress that people will seek to reduce. While I believe this to be true, I would argue that we do not typically seek to reduce the contradictions in our beliefs by carefully and openly evaluating them to determine what holds the most truth and value for us.  Instead, in a modern world driven by polarizations, we more often reduce intellectual contradictions through acrobatic rationalization – by redefining our realities and shaving off the edges of the puzzle pieces to make them fit together. Known by many names, including “confirmation bias” and “selective perception,” this well-documented process of rationalization has been the subject of decades of study in psychology.  And these days, it’s an epidemic. A Rationalized World This hypocrisy of convenience can be (and is) applied to everything. If I choose to believe (for example) that the people of Palestine are all terrorists, then no amount of logic will be able to dislodge that belief. We use this internal technique – some cognitive alchemy of self-righteousness and apathy – to dehumanize each other every day....
Romancing Our Stones

Romancing Our Stones

We are a culture obsessed with facts. Or worse – with the truth we believe is hidden within them. We act like facts are a thing to be extracted – carefully framed and selected pieces of historical data, distilled and hardened into raw materials. They are the material we use to build our reality. We pile them up around ourselves. They are also our weaponry. On every side of every conflict we cling to our facts like stones that we can hurl at each other to justify more violence. I’ve heard “get your facts straight” spit out across arguments and comment sections over and over again – as if the most complex wars could be remedied by correcting a flaw in someone’s quantitative data set. If we have any stones left we stick them in our ears so we don’t have to listen. And through our soliloquies masquerading as debate, the only thing that becomes clear is that the more of these “facts” we think we have to throw around, the less we value the lives and experiences of others. I can savor my pride and my vengeance while believing you will choke on yours. But our fate will be the same. The Emperor’s new clothes were stitched with the threads of our finest facts. We build our walls with whatever variety of stones we have at hand that can create the most distance and make us feel safe. With morals, with religion, with nationalism…anything that can divide us so we feel superior to the injustice we witness, as opposed to understanding our part in it. It’s much too terrifying...
The Everyone Elses

The Everyone Elses

Cheers echo all the way around our small world after all But I can’t see the game I see shadows and show Sponsored lights and Fosse feet Where those who worked the hardest are shields held up by monsters Because it’s all about the game Who would deny them The lights Those boys who worked their whole lives for this moment in the light But I see shadows and ghosts of the everyone elses arrested, displaced, evicted, and silenced I see them still No lights bright enough to wash them out No fires of nationalism hot enough to burn them up No celebrity whose glittered endorsement can erase them Because it’s all about the game Except the winners won before they brought the ball Every cheer their victory song Their pledge of allegiance Imagine those cheers In the ears of the everyone elses arrested displaced evicted and silenced Echoing through their cells and alleyways Because it’s all about the...
Organize, Strategize, Act – Repeat

Organize, Strategize, Act – Repeat

Anger is a vital place to begin.  But we cannot simply point our fingers and aim our profanity-laced Facebook messages at a ‘system’ that has failed us.  We cannot blame ‘the racists’ or ‘the media’ either. If you know what the words ‘by the people, for the people’ are referring to, then you know it’s we-the-people who have failed Trayvon, and we have failed each other.  We can argue about government and corporate power (both merit serious discussion and reform), but it’s our system, we agree to live by it, and for a very long time we have allowed it to exist and deteriorate this way. For a very long time we have rested on the victories of generations that have come before us. We could believe (or at least rationalize) that the hard work was done.  That racism, if not defeated, retreated to a few dark corners of the South while the rest of us – so enlightened and equal-ish – carried on.  Reality, of course, did not bear out that idea at all, but somehow we agreed to continue to pretend.  We were busy.  And so now, jolted from what remained of our willful blindness by a verdict on a gunshot that tore through our denial and our hearts…here we are. Gone now are the days when we can rationalize, however thinly, that the laws that currently govern us, however cold or complicated or corrupted, could produce some semblance of justice. Further diminished, with each such verdict and unpunished hate crime, is the political illusion that we are equal under the law. We are not.  Worse, we...
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