As the late summer sun shines on each and every one of us this month, it illuminates the innate power we can harness as individuals — and en mass.
We harken back to the words of the National Women's Hall of Fame matriarch Maggie Kuhn, a founder of the Gray Panthers, who said, "Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind, even if your voice shakes." Yes, thank you, Maggie, we shall.
Here at Brash, we are here to hear you, to feel you, and support you as a place of refuge when the world turns upside down.
Always have been, always will be.
Far from being a weakness, our interdependence on each other is what creates the foundation for the freedom of independence we each enjoy. It’s the union we practice as yoga.
We are not in this alone. We were not born self-sufficient. We did not drop out of our mother’s magenta-hued birth sack and land on our feet like a gazelle on the African plain and get about the business of making breakfast.
We were not meant to be independent first. We are wired to be interdependent first. We had to suckle, be carried about, taught to get along with others. Come on, I know we get this.
But somewhere along the line, we learned that to be worthy or valued we had to do stuff on our own. Dependency became a codeword for “weak.” And codependency, yuck! That probably snuck in about the time of AA and Al-Anon. An idea used to support people with addiction overreached its step. But I’d argue it happened well before that.
As a nation, we were raised on the bread of rugged individualism and the butter of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” A feeling of being free from the tyranny of monarchy gave way to a misplaced sense of our own abilities. And tea and biscuits, Batman, did we ever need that at the time. No other people had ever challenged the British empire and succeeded. We needed an inflated sense of our own autonomy and power to convince ourselves it was worth risking the hangman’s noose. So we crossed the ocean. We crossed the mountains and crossed into other lands they didn’t even consider theirs. (How convenient.) The redcoats and the environment kicked our collective asses, and yet we prevailed. We. Did. That. WE.
Ideas are insidious. Ideas move men. The idea of individual liberties and rights ignited a firestorm of global change. We wrote a declaration of independence but failed to address its obvious failures in the light of its obvious successes. Because we had to. We had to pick our battles. We chose to leave some folks out of these freedoms to gain the forward momentum we needed. The founders knew it. They saw the hypocrisy and counted on future generations of educated and compassionate Americans to complete the tasks they could not — and took that regret to their graves.
Our founding documents are living documents meant to expand liberties. They are meant to be challenged. So I’m challenging the title. It was not a Declaration of Independence but a Declaration of Interdependence. We could’ve never achieved our independence without others. Hello, France, and thank you. Without treasonous, tenacious English folk. Without each other.
Our Bill of Rights was not meant to be absolute, that's tyranny! It was not meant to give some people total independence at the expense of others’ lives. Your right to carry an automatic weapon is not more important than my right not to be decimated by it.
Today our Constitution — as interpreted by a politically motivated Supreme Court — is being used as an instrument of tyranny, as a weapon to create absolute rights at the expense of Blacks, still; women, still; and the very immigrants that built this country, still. It is a document that, though it may have evolved to enfranchise some, has now devolved to execute the will of those with the biggest super PACs.
We do not have a democracy. We live in an economic oligarchy. One man, one vote, ya right.
Add to this the idea of the “cult of individualism” or “rugged individualism” that developed in the 19th century as we “settled” the continent, and we have a collective national identity that whispers isolating lies in our subconscious ear.
A Declaration of Independence for a child is a death sentence. “I did this all by myself” and “I can only count on myself” are lies that create a kind of isolation that destroys our very bodily cells. The remnants of rugged individualism have left us with sharp edges that cut the connections around us that could be used as lifelines. Because with “I don’t need you” and “I’m all alone” running in the background, it’s easier to understand the sense of isolation that precedes mass shootings and suicides.
Independence says, “I can handle this.”
Interdependence says, “I’m sure you can, and why do you need to?”
Independence says, “I don’t want to be a bother. What’s the point? I can’t count on you anyway.”
Interdependence says, “I don’t even understand what bother means. Life lived together is the point. And you’re right, you can’t count on anybody — not like you can count on everybody.”
So when the only person we’ve allowed ourselves to depend on — the precious partner or the beloved grandmother — passes and the proverbial rug (ironically constructed of various interlocking fibers) gets ripped out from underneath our feet, interdependence says, “We will pull you into our arms and onto our backs and carry you until your tender soles (souls) can touch the earth again.”
Independence says, “Toughen up. See, it’s better not to get attached. It hurts too much. You couldn’t even count on them — you can’t even count on life itself — so what’s the point.”
Just before Independence Day one of “my girls,” a young woman in her twenties I took into our home for two years, took her own life. “But she was so beautiful,” people would say, as though the beautiful are immune to the terminal pain of undiagnosed and untreated serious mental illness. “Yes, yes, she was,” I’d say. Alivia walked into my life as a high school student and walked out of my life in a way none of us could control.
I hadn’t seen her but once in the past 4 years. One night about a year and a half ago, she walked into my yoga class and afterward apologized for how she’d treated me in the weeks leading up to her leaving the house. When she left the house, she pushed me away and told me my support and guidance were too “mothering” — so I stepped back. I wanted to respect her choice to be independent. I thought I was a “season” of her life meant to rise up and then fall away.
Today, I regret that. I don’t know if I could have changed what happened, but I do know the very next thing I did after I was told she took her life was reach out to another one of our “spirit daughters.” She too had been estranged from her bio-family and used our home as a launchpad for her twenty-something life. I’ll never know if I gave/give too much or too little space to my girls — something I suspect parents out there can understand. Whatever words are coming out of their yet-to-be fully developed prefrontal cortex that says “I want to be left alone,” I’ll honor cuz that’s part of their human development. And I’ll also take the chance of having them get pissed at me and feel a little crowded to remind them their independence rests on the foundation of their interdependence. On me. On us. On all relationships. I’ll stand in front of someone I fear and speak my mind even if my voice shakes. Cuz millennials can be scary lil’ turds. They might think they want to be left alone, but I know that’s the old myth talking, and I’ll be damned if I’ll let a national lie damn another beautiful, vibrant, hurting human being.
When someone is in pain they lash out. They say emotionally hurtful things to push us away, then they say reasonable things that make us think letting them go is the “right thing to do.” I will never again make the mistake of banking on the brain of a twenty-something to tell me what my nearly fifty-year-old gut says needs to happen. A gut is a community of microbiomes totally dependent on each other. It’s this interdependence (we are now finding — thank you, science) that allows our whole human body to survive and thrive. A brain is just some asshole at the top who thinks it got there on its own and deserves to run the show.
If you know someone who is in that push/pull of life, wanting to push you away but silently needing you to be close, trust your gut. Don’t let the myth of independence send you into doubting and dismissing the nature of who we actually are. We are flesh that begets flesh. We are a heartbeat, connected to an unbroken line of heartbeats, that has been beating together since the beginning. We are the conscious expression of nature's interwoven wildflowers bound together underground, often unseen, by the same root system.
May we not need to be plucked prematurely from the earth to see this simple fact.
“You belong among the wildflowers. You belong in a boat out at sea. You belong with your love on your arm. You belong somewhere you feel free.” — Tom Petty
May you be free my wildflower, my wild child, my beloved Alivia.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with suicidal ideation or thoughts of harm to themselves or others, there is help. Please lean on the people around you including the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline; call or text 988.