Healing Oppression, Honoring Ancestors, and Watching the Leaves Change
Original publication, December 2021, Denver Urban Gardens
Winter is coming, and the leaves are painted with their imminent death. A patchwork of orange and red, flashes of green overtaken by browns, greys, and spots of black.
We give dying flowers as a sign of love, not flower buds. We give flowers closer to death because that is when they are most beautiful.
I live in a society that fears death; thinks it’s ugly and unclean. We do our best to hide it and hide from it.
Despite our fear, the process of transformation that includes death is so beautiful we are mesmerized by it; enchanted by it; drawn to it. We drive for miles to watch the leave “change.” To watch the leaves die.
Dying leaves are in process, in movement. As orange overtakes green, we hear the whispers of ancient stories of cycle, change, and transformation. We are soothed as we watch the leaves die. Soothed by the truth of their story. Truth is beauty.
The truth is that life will change and transform.
It may hurt or take me to an outcome I do not understand, like death. But something is going right when life changes, not wrong. The leaves remind me of the beauty inherent in the aspects of life I do not like or understand.
Despite my protests, life changes and transforms. To life, change is movement and movement is good. Stagnation, the lack of movement, might be considered bad. If such binaries even exist.
Stagnation is putrid; the place wounded skin turns green, and slime gathers. My unhealed trauma cannot see this. To my unhealed trauma, stagnation feels safe. I slow life down. I freeze it. I keep it still. I keep an eye on it...
Change and transformation are alive. For my trauma, aliveness is too wild. It is uncontrollable and unpredictable. Aliveness appears threatening inside a traumatized worldview. A colonized worldview.
Inside this worldview, I do not trust life; I fight life. I do not trust change; I fight change. I do not trust transformation; I fight transformation. I do not trust death; I fight death.
Fighting life has been my way of life. I fought the reality of loss, the reality of my own humanity (my feelings), and the reality of other human beings (their free will). I fought and I won.
I won is climate change, systems of oppression, and tension and inflammation in my body. My body called Leanne. My body called Humanity. My body called Mother Earth.
My shoulders sag under the weight of my trophies.
Recently, I have noticed the leaves of oppression are changing. Change and transformation are doing their sacred work; they are healing.
Healed is wonderful. Healing is a tender, pus-filled, inflamed, and scary endeavor.
Everywhere I look, I see healing. People are inflamed. They are tender and raw. They are digging into their wounds to remove the debris. They are allowing the healing process to transform their wounds into scars.
I do not always remember that we are healing. Sometimes it looks like something is wrong. I root around in my own raw and tender flesh to pluck out the shards that prevent my healing. The pain is unbearable. Something must be wrong.
I keep digging because I know that something is right. I am cleaning the wound so the process of change will seal it closed completely. Later I will marvel at how smooth the scar is. Barely noticeable.
Today, the shards I find in my wound are my fear about the fragility of my human body, my shame that I am not good enough and never will be, and my panic that I am utterly and unfixably alone.
Today, I am with family. As someone with an unhealed wound full of piercing shards of fear, shame, and panic, I become a dangerous and oppressive person in an instant.
Living with glass in an unhealed wound is an intense way to live. When someone innocently touches my arm, I yelp in pain and smack their hand away. I feel involuntary and intensely defensive.
I promise myself I will stay calm. I mediate. I am going to succeed this time. Then, it happens: someone shares a belief.
The argumentative and self-righteous tone of my voice is deafening. I barely hear what happens next. I watch the trainwreck, bewildered by how quickly I lost control. My ears are ringing.
When I find myself again, I am sicked by my aggressive expressions of pain. I retreat to a dark, quiet room to sort out what happened. I sift through the wound, find each shiny splinter, and cry.
My defensiveness feels involuntary. A family member tells me what they believe about life and I yell before I notice I am yelling.
Over time, as I remove the glass and the wounds begin to heal, I become less and less injured. I am no longer reactive when people share their beliefs.
When the wound is healed, there is nothing sharp in me to poke. I do not yelp when someone’s life touches mine. A loved one believes something and I am unharmed.
There is no shard of panic to be poked. I do not feel unbearably alone so I do not feel desperate to force agreement and avoid the pain of isolation.
I have a spacious and rational inner dialogue about how I want to respond. Sometimes I respond simply by feeling the grief, fear, or alienation that arises when I notice that they believe what they believe.
This is a shift out of my oppressive behavior into liberatory behavior. In the worldview of trauma that was institutionalized into oppressive systems, I seek to control anything that I view as more powerful than me.
It looks as if someone else’s belief makes me lose my cool. It looks like their belief is stronger than me so I fight it, control it, suppress it.
I only seek to dominate, control, and suppress that which seems more powerful than me. I never oppress kittens. I am not afraid of them. But when a lion walks by, I begin to ponder the value of cages.
Maybe I grab a whip, just in case. Hurting others is justified inside this worldview. Hurting others feels like a defensive action and any defensive action is justified. Worse still, any offensive action looks like a defensive action inside this worldview. A preemptive strike is valid, justified, and clearly a good idea.
I see how we arrived at this point in human history. There is still glass in the wound so it does not heal. As a result, everyone looks like a threat.
The time, space, and safety to heal was not available for my ancestors, or yours. There was survival to do and kids to feed. The losses, grief, fear, and shame were overwhelming. It takes time in a dark, quiet room to sort out what happened and begin to heal.
Our ancestors could not heal quickly just because they needed to. They could not stop the movement of life just because they were not ready. They did their best. They stifled their feelings and needs and slaved away. They became tough as nails.
They offered their labor as a human sacrifice. A living prayer in exchange for a future blessing: A better life for their children and grandchildren.
It worked. We reaped the blessing of time, space, and safety that they sowed. A cushion of privilege they never had. We used it to heal and become artists instead of doctors.
They do not understand us now, and we do not understand them. As children and grandchildren, we see our grandparents' toughness and their refusal to accept help and we think they are too hard. Our grandparents see our expressiveness and our ability to rest and they think we are too soft.
May they remember that this is what they wanted for us. May we endlessly sing gratitude for their living sacrifice. May we all benefit from the time, space, and safety to bring movement to stagnation, pick the glass from our wounds, and heal.
I see now. It was my grandparents’ job to be unbreakable, and it is my job to break in every way that they could not. To rip off the bandages, dig into the unhealed wounds, and feel every last sliver of feeling they could not feel.
I give honor and respect to my ancestors and yours.
May our healing bring you healing. May our softness wash back through time to cushion you. May you be at peace knowing you accomplished your goal, and we will accomplish ours.
The leaves are changing and I am grateful and terrified to be alive.
What is the glass in my wounds?
How can I honor and tend to these wounds?
What boundaries can I set to keep myself safe, without trying to dominate, control, and suppress others?
How can I honor my ancestors’ sacrifices with my joy, rest, and softness?
Until next time... Heal. Embody. Repeat!