Meditations from an Emergency
Where is the girl so assured of dramatic endings?
Where is the girl not convinced we’ll make it through the night?
Where is the girl so enamored of tragedy?
What to make of a world where he who leaves seems now to stay?
What to make of the ways I have been leaving myself?
How do I stay?
“I don’t want to be heartbroken, I want to be a revolutionary,” she said then. But what is the revolution but letting your heart break for the world, a thousand times over? Maybe what she meant was that she couldn’t imagine a heart strong enough to survive what one year brought.
But she was wrong.
The night after the first Women’s March, an hour before I wrote my first Women’s March piece in the Broadway Bar next door, I sat in the Orpheum Theatre, listening to Buddy Wakefield perform what is now one of my favorite poems of all time, We Were Emergencies:
We can stick anything into the fog and make it look like a ghost.
But tonight let us not become tragedies.
We are not funeral homes
with propane tanks in our windows
lookin’ like cemeteries.
Cemeteries are just the Earth’s way of not letting go.
Tonight, poets, turn your ridiculous wrists so far backwards
the razor blades in your pencil tips
can’t get a good angle on all that beauty inside.
Step into this
with your airplane parts
and repeat after me with your heart:
I no longer need you to fuck me as hard as I hated myself.
Make love to me
like you know I am better than the worst thing I ever did.
I’m new to this,
but I have seen nearly every city from a rooftop
I have realized that the moon
did not have to be full for us to love it,
that we are not tragedies
stranded here beneath it,
that if my heart
every time I fell from love
I’d be able to offer you confetti by now.
But hearts don’t break, y’all,
they bruise and get better.
We were never tragedies.
We were emergencies.
You call 9–1–1.
Tell them I’m havin’ a fantastic time.
I remember hope flooding my body in the fuck-yeah variety. I remember emailing Buddy Wakefield himself to ask for this poem later. I remember recalling it time and again, every time I needed to remember that my heart was never confetti. But it took two years of bruising and falling to finally believe what I know now, in the year I marched alone — hearts don’t just get better, they get stronger.
My once-friend of that original piece is still in past tense. There appears to be no end in sight for our radio silence — perhaps emphatically not, as I’ve now written a number of pieces on the matter.
My once-lover, of all things, now retains some permanence, a welcome presence in my life that grows warmer — and though I don’t yet know the shape of this presence, or how that will shift, I welcome it all the same.
I think of all the subsequent radio silences that have taken their place. Some losses that chasmed me, some at which I now barely flinch. How do some losses at once gut you and make you lighter?
I’m finding, as I write this, the temptation to sound like I’ve got some semblance of a thing all together. Let me be emphatically clear that I do not. I have no illusions about evading the possibility of heartbreak ahead. I know the crisis points will find me again. But I’m finding it less believable that they will shatter me. I can’t imagine myself in shards anymore. It’s hard to shake the hard-won feeling of being a whole person at last.
Sometimes I’m a lonely whole person, yes. Sometimes the world feels massively disappointing, yes. Sometimes I have to set aside a day to cry until all the water’s left me.
How am I different? Am I? I don’t know. Maybe I’m not. Maybe I’ve just stopped questioning my worthiness to be here, stopped asking what’s wrong with me every time love goes wrong. Not stopped hurting amid the wrong, no…but I’ve started asking new questions. What is all this for, after the theatrics die down? What is the deeper and quieter narrative at play? Where is my role to play in all this? And is it even so static that it can be defined in a day alone?
Two years ago, I walked the March fresh off mourning Carrie Fisher. A role model of mine forever, and fitting for the headspace I found myself then — writing beauty and wit amid the tragedy and darkness of my own head. My best friend has since given me an embroidery hoop that hangs from my rearview mirror and reads, “Make Carrie Fisher Proud”, lest I forget wherever the many roads of my life take me.
And then Mary Tyler Moore, just a few days short of that first march. Mary, who gave me Mary Richards for every season of life when I was nowhere near turning the world on with my smile — she held me in normalcy and vulnerability and career uncertainty and finding love and comfort less in the arms of lovers and more in the chosen family of friends, until I believed I might just make it after all.
Then, last summer, we lost the Queen of Soul. Aretha, whose anthems we sang two weeks ago in solidarity at the end of the rally. Aretha who, and I don’t know if this story if true, but apparently held fast to a deal her entire career that she didn’t walk onstage until she was paid in full, in cash. Aretha whose likeness now hangs on my rearview mirror too, in case I forget that she meant respect enough to walk away knowing what she was worth. I am learning how to do the same.
And this year — two days before the march, Mary Oliver. Mary of the wild and precious life, Mary of the soft animals of our bodies, loving what they love. Mary who lived well long after sixty, lived well even in the grief after the love of her life left this earth. And I hang Wild Geese in my entryway to think of how long and short life can be.
I think of these women — the saints I light proverbial candles to — the messy trenches they walked, the different paths they took. And I think of Carrie, then Mary, then Aretha, then Mary again, and how I don’t want to be a woman scrambling for fear of wrinkled skin, scrambling for the altar, scrambling for anything at all. I want to wander idly in fields and speak truth and stand firm on self-love and sing from the soul and think in my mouth and not shy away from the dark stuff and laugh as much as possible and live in community and write my own story and get started belonging to the world immediately.
I’m struck by how scattered this piece feels. I still ache to find a more definite container. But then I think that so much of this has been about losing the container entirely — so many miles from how black and white and fractal I began all this. Tragedy is easier, tragedy is certain — we all know how it ends.
But in a nation of extremes and division, everything worth following has pulled me into gray. Even my own gray — how was I to know that I could only love myself now by loving my darkest places? And yet amid uncertainty, so much simplicity emerges, so much letting the soft animal of my body love what it loves — listening to the soft animal of my body to begin with, giving it back the power and voice stolen by so many, allowed by me. And with this listening, I feel a bandwidth — a bandwidth made available by loving myself…
…A bandwidth almost immediately taken up by a world made harder to navigate daily. No longer the easy lines of Jesus only, of keeping your legs and mind closed. More the Padraig O’Tuama and Richard Rohr understandings of “Jesus-and”, of a spiritual plane that feels vast enough to spend the rest of whatever time I have alive wandering, never quite arriving, so much as deepening.
And I need that depth, because I’m fighting differently than I used to — more self-care, more hard conversations, more listening, more reading, more getting it wrong and getting back up again. More realizing how long a haul this whole business of world-changing is going to be. More trying to “be a good ancestor, stand for something bigger than [myself], add value to the Earth during [my] sojourn”, as Marian Wright Edelman so wisely advised.
Maybe it’s less plot points, more leaning in to the infinite texture of the ordinary. Maybe all of this has just been one long way of saying that I’m not living like tragedy, like an emergency anymore…I’m living like someone who knows they might be here a while. Someone who can finally say in earnest:
You call 9–1–1. Tell them I’m havin’ a fantastic time.