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Activism, Guest Posts

Interdependence Day: A Letter on the Occasion of my 37th Birthday

April 12, 2017

By Chris Shorne

I have been loved from the time I was small. Before my sight was unblurred I was seen and touched. Someone picked me up. Then another. Lips kissed my forehead. Before I knew what was forehead what was mouth. Before I knew there was a body and its inextricable parts and that this part was mine, I felt the sensation. Something new, something already. All the organic wires of a body were firing and firing together when eating came with touching, with the warmth of another human body spreading through this that I would come to know as my own, separate, human body.

It is not my mother who is the writer, but me. Still, she writes some abstract things in the form of dark lines on a white page and it aches me. That center spot of my chest—what is that?—grips. And so, compelled, I write. And I’m not sure it is me who is the author here. I’m not sure there has ever been a singular author. It hurts a little, to be loved like this. I don’t know why. Everything I’ve ever learned has led me up to this: I don’t know why it is I who have been so blessed. But I’ll take it.

Here I go. Yes, this is the biggest thing I’ve done. Being an international human rights accompanier in Guatemala. Standing alongside people walking into harassment and threats and jails, walking anyway, to maintain their land, to claim their culture. It is my big and it is so much less than the work the Guatemalans are doing. But I get to stand with them, walk alongside them for a little while. And, for me, it is big. “This is huge, Chris,” my ex-girlfriend used to say. I loved that. Even when it wasn’t huge, I loved it, because it meant what was happening with me was important. It meant she saw me as important.

The short of it is just that I don’t know why so many magnificent creatures—more stunning than TV stars, more intelligent than world leaders, more effective than CEO’s, more good than I could hope for—why they’ve circled around me my whole life, gathering in a slow spiral that has built itself into a thick cloud of beloved community. I am a separate human body. Yes. And I make choices to move my body here or there: to Guatemala and back again. And, also, I am made warm and made aware and ultimately, I have been made a hundred times more wise and more kind by these arms and these hands and these chested hearts that enfold me.

I used to think I should be strong. And independent. Only. And at all times. I thought it was unsafe to need and to be weak and vulnerable. It scared the shit out of me to feel that way. And yet: here I am making a trek to the countryside of Guatemala for a year that will likely be filled with stress and discomfort and all these people from the U.S. are telling me I’m brave and big-hearted and doing good work and all I can think is that I am nothing, but for you. All I can think is that if my community left me, if this light of human life had never gathered around me, I would flop over like a wet noodle. I would spend days staring at my shoes. I would have nothing but my belly button to write about. But even a belly button tells the story of at least two.

Somehow, 37 years after the day my tough-ass mom pushed me, naturally, folded up and butt-first, entirely out of her body, I feel far from cut-off, far from independent. Not that I ever was. Not that anyone is. It is not the way of human bodies or of social animals. Sure, I’ve known that I’m not independent. But to know something, really, to feel it here on my dear dear friend’s couch with her cat in my lap with an iPad from another loved one, reading an email from my mother, this is a different knowing of interdependence. A knowing at a place below my head, my heart, down below my gut even, that I am small. I am so small. How strangely powerful it feels. I don’t know why. Because it has always been the truth, or, at least, for 37 years it has been true that I am separate from, yet dependent on, other humans and on land and sun and water and all the animals and small creatures that make all the things that become what I eat and breathe-in and build and wear.

In the community of Nuevo San Jose in Guatemala, like so many communities, they decided to own their land collectively, not individually. So that if one person goes into debt or wants to leave for the United States, they can’t just sell it to make money for their own family alone. And in this way, they do not lose their homes to pay the coyotes. Each person is tied in in this way to the whole. And the whole is responsible for each person. I write to you to say I give up. I tie myself to you. I let it be written, you through me, a different American story. If I ever have pulled myself up by my bootstraps, and I’m not sure I have, it is because you made boots; it is because you—literally—fed me the food that converted to muscle tissue in my bony arms; it is because I wanted to get up so that I could see you again.

I want you to know that in your example, you have demanded of me that I be better. I am so much more than I could have been if I were isolated and lonely the way, I think, many, if not most, of the people in my country are. And it is not dis-empowering to need you. That very need—that craving for human touch that began the moment I slipped from the warmth of flesh to the empty shock of air—is what compels me, constantly, to be a good human. To make myself worthy of the affection I am given. To make myself in the image that I see reflected in those around me. And the brilliant and paradoxical truth is that it doesn’t matter. Even if I fail. Even as I fail. Even as every day I prove myself again and again to be not quite worthy of your love—not quite as good as you make me want to be—you still love me.

I do not have to prove to you that I am good. I was loved even before I was born. And mimicking that love, spreading out what I have been given, trying to be better and listen harder and love more openly, that is just another gift. It is a thrill to try with you, to grow in this blessedly unrestful world with you.

I woke up 37 years old this morning and I thought to myself: I’ve made something here. This is contentment. Every tingly part of me, my cheeks and toes and clenched chest, wants to keep on doing this thing called living. For a very long time.

When I woke up this morning I thought: I made it. I thought: If I do die, today, whatever day, from now on, I feel I’ve done something required of me. I don’t know what it is, exactly. I can’t name it. But there is this sensation, like my lips on the forehead of a small and precious thing; an overwhelmingly, bodily gratitude. A life. A living.

Photo by NISGUA

Chris Shorne’s writing has appeared in The New Engagement, Sinister Wisdom, and Make/Shift Magazine. Shorne holds an MFA from Antioch University, Los Angeles and is an international human rights accompanier with Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA). You can follow Chris and sign up for updates from Guatemala at https://fb.me/ChrisHShorne.

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