Defiance By Submission

Photo by Fikayo Aderoju on

Once again, it seems like we’re living through a moment where the phrase, “I can’t remember anything quite like this,” is used frequently. It’s a scary time for sure. In my new job, I work with individuals who have HIV. The last month of my life has been spent learning about the virus, it’s history, talking to experts who have studied that virus for years. Many of those individuals have been fighting the virus and following the twists and turns of the AIDS epidemic. The other half has been really learning about the human side of the epidemic from those who lived through it. I marvel at the heroism in these individuals and their care providers, who in the face of major adversity were beyond brave. Just as my work there began, the Coronavirus 19 panic started. It has made it easy for me to see why precautions need to be taken. Not only, do I work with individuals who are immuno-compromised, I am also (as a diabetic). I have a mother who is a bone marrow transplant survivor. I have friends that have lived through cancer or their parents are elderly and frail. In truth, we probably all know someone who falls into the category. This is why it’s so important for everyone to take pre-cautions. I hear people say all the time, ‘this is crazy or this is nuts! It’s just like the flu.” The truth is we don’t really know what it is. Virus’ can start out one way and also become different things as they grow. This is totally new. That alone makes it scary. Also, maybe you’re not in a statistical demographic that is at high risk, but it doesn’t mean you’re not at risk. Plus, public health isn’t always about us and our own risk. It’s about the safety of others too. We have a responsibility to make sure we’re doing what is going to keep the most people safe, so I encourage everyone to follow the guidelines and lay low, take precautions, and hopefully it won’t be as ‘bad’ as some are predicting and that will just mean, ‘we did the right thing.’ It’s hard to find words in times like these. I was searching through poems, and I found a poem I wrote called “Defiance.” It’s a poem I wrote at a particular time about a person reflecting on how this other person would describe him. He’s at a point in his life where he’s a bit lost and the world is chaotic and confusing to him, and he’s thinking about all these things she would say about him (sort of in the negative). As he thinks about it, the list goes from things he talks about missing to the fact that ”he never laughs.’ Suddenly the individual who is the narrator enters the poem and you begin to hear him fight back. He doesn’t necessarily disagree with her outward perception of him, but he gives light to things she is not seeing. As he reflects on all the negative things he thinks she would say about him, it reminds him of these positive things he notices within himself that contradicts everything she says. In a way, by admitting to himself that this is what she sees about him, he becomes defiant and starts to see himself differently. He almost does a little bit of therapy on himself. It’s similar to in therapy, when I will strongly agree or almost over-empathize with someone and they will get a bit defiant and fight back against the sadness or whatever it is that I’ve just over-empathized against. I don’t know why it felt like the right poem for today. It just did. I think, maybe, in reading it, it reminded me of how powerful of an ally we can be to ourselves when we are self-compassionate. Sometimes it takes leaning into an emotion of discomfort to draw it out. The narrator of this poem, leaned into the discomfort of what people see of him and say about him, and it led to a sort of righteous anger, that allowed him to re-discover that those things might be what people see on the outside; however, there’s a whole lot of other stuff that’s pretty amazing going on inside. I think in times of uncertainty, it’s ok to lean into that emotion. In writing, frequently I loneliness is an emotion I will lean into and accept. It’s an emotion that’s hard for me to ‘lean in,’ in many other ways than writing. When I lean into it in writing, it often brings about other emotions that are there sometimes sadness… Other times, it brings in self-compassion or beauty. I guess in times of uncertainty, it helps to let yourself feel what’s going on, it can often lead to clarity. Often by just naming a feeling when we’re overwhelmed, we begin the process of taking ownership of it. Once a feeling is owned, the fear subsides. These are incredibly uncertain times. I pray for everyone’s safety and that everyone remember ‘we’re all going through this.’ I encourage everyone to lean into what they’re feeling and own it. If you’re not afraid of a feeling, it can’t own you. I hope you enjoy the poem and stay safe.


She might tell you I missed the willow trees by the end of the first week,

She might tell you how I talked about the neutral wool of a sweater constantly

About the glared illumination a pond in the middle of woods gives to a self seeking identity or quiet reflection.

She’ll probably casually mention, I never shut up about the leaves that used to pile up on my steps.

She might tell you I cursed them and then came to miss sweeping them up,

Soaking in all their colors. She might even tell you I have begun to absorb the colors,

Somedays a maddening red, others a blunted yellow, others a green so ripe

It’s hard to believe anything could touch or change its absoluteness.

She will definitely tell you, I speak about everything that is broken

And describe my desire to “kiss it and make it better.” She will say,

I cannot tolerate the frustration, the loss, the chaos of uncertainty.

Yet, in the next breath, she will tell you I live in a world where all of that is truth.

She will tell you I miss things all the time and question whether I ever had them.

She will say I am always seeing mists, and maples, and cancer patients,

But she will not tell you what they whisper to me….

She has no idea when she talks my fingers are almost always poised in a collective prayer.

She will say I have no borders.

I am lost.

“I am a man who has not yet discovered his boundary waters.”

I might tell her, “when you see something beautiful, just once in your life,

you must always look over shoulder hoping you might catch a glimpse of it again.”

She thinks I am a man who is on this quest to discover arson,

A master at throwing some fuel down and lighting match as his world goes up in flames.

I would reply by pointing out little has come into it’s great fruition without spending some of its history in flames.

There are things she is right about.

I would die and go to hell for autumns.

In the tropics without them, I cannot feel death,

Which makes it hard for me to feel rebirth.

Everyone has the right to grieve and be sad,

She will tell you that.

She is right, I don’t laugh often or obviously these days,

But when I do she has no idea how to describe

Just how holy it feels.

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