death & hope

a child looks through a small hole from within a cardboard box. light comes through the hole in the box.

cw: death, war

I have been in a struggle with myself, looking at the world from my own eyes, which are by definition inside my own head and whose sight is imperfect.

The war in Ukraine is the first war that I have intentionally immersed myself in, which isn’t saying much — this is not the first war in my lifetime. When I was young, I was afraid of what might hurt me, terrified of unknown danger, believing that damage without justice was inevitable. I no longer believed in a just world, even before I could articulate it. Now that I am older, I am still fearful of what might hurt me, but I also fear what damages, kills, and wipes out people who are not me.

Thanks to messages written and shared on social media, I have been given a glimpse into the terror and fear and death of people who are not me. I want to look away, but I am constantly in disagreement with myself: I should take a break, I should keep my eyes open. I should remember that this is not about me, I should remember that until all of us are free, none of us are free. I should turn my selfishness inside out and step directly into the hurricane of loss. I should acknowledge this burning presence of genocide, even as I look away to close my eyes and rest a while. I should keep my mouth shut so that the voices of others can be lifted higher. I should speak because silence is fraught with injustice.

The sound of death, its grinding relentless force, is so loud these days.

Death brought into being by people that have the ability to stop it but choose not to.

Death brought into being by the young and misinformed. Death brought into being by those who know better. Death rained down on children.

Death brought into being by occupiers, by apartheid, by cruelty, by an abundance of pride and ego and the inability to admit that they have chosen violence.

My spiritual belief and understanding includes the concept of reincarnation, rebirth, being given more chances to get it right this time around. I believe that most people will be reborn, some with baggage, some without. It is its own horror to contemplate the idea that eventually, some people will no longer be given the opportunity to live another lifetime.

The kind of death that is happening right now sounds to me like an endless silent screaming and a darkness that brings no peace or rest. This is not to say that this is a unique time in the world’s history for death like this; I am only now able to look at a beast that consumes, even though it has existed for as long as we have also existed.

It’s that old recurring dream where you’re drowning
Flailing your arms out, fearful and frantic
And black waves are curling and pounding
Down onto your head somewhere in the Atlantic
Through the fathoms below you a shadow
Is gliding up towards you with singular purpose
And hundreds of thousands of gallons
Of ocean froth and foam as it breaks the surface

Its black eyes find you almost at once
You can’t hide, swim away or take air into your lungs
To scream for help that won’t come

from ‘Black Eyes‘ sung by David Wirsig

I cannot stop listening to this song; it has been on repeat in my head for weeks now. It feels to me like a snapshot of the terror and finality of death. Of understanding and then accepting that there is nowhere left to go, no more choices available.

But: there is hope.

Like Mariame Kaba has said, “Hope is a discipline.”

I believe that death and grief and hope can exist simultaneously. We are complicated creatures and hold paradoxes within us.

Yesterday I had the privilege of listening to Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg give a lecture on The Torah of Reproductive Freedom (tweet about it is embedded, if you can’t see it the link is here:

At the closing of the lecture, she said “Step by step, we will bring the new world into being.” Then she read the following poem aloud, and I wanted to share a bit of it with you (along with the link to the full poem; emphasis added):

Say these words when you lie down and when you rise up,
when you go out and when you return. In times of mourning
and in times of joy. Inscribe them on your doorposts,
embroider them on your garments, tattoo them on your shoulders,
teach them to your children, your neighbors, your enemies,
recite them in your sleep, here in the cruel shadow of empire:

Another world is possible.

… imagine winning.  This is your sacred task.
This is your power. Imagine
every detail of winning, the exact smell of the summer streets
in which no one has been shot, the muscles you have never
unclenched from worry, gone soft as newborn skin,
the sparkling taste of food when we know
that no one on earth is hungry, that the beggars are fed,
that the old man under the bridge and the woman
wrapping herself in thin sheets in the back seat of a car,
and the children who suck on stones,
nest under a flock of roofs that keep multiplying their shelter.
Lean with all your being towards that day
when the poor of the world shake down a rain of good fortune
out of the heavy clouds, and justice rolls down like waters.

selection from ‘V’ahavta‘ written by Aurora Levins Morales

Death and hope are forever intertwined. We cannot understand death without also holding the feeling of hope, even if it is buried so deeply that we cannot find it within ourselves.

Grief needs its time. War needs to be seen, because there is no way to choose differently if we do not comprehend the consequences of choosing something else.

We must take these lessons and let them make a home in our hearts, so that we never forget; and when we do forget, we take turns telling the stories that remind us. If hope is the thing with feathers, give it space to soar high overhead. When the hope of morning is overshadowed by the darkness of the night, remember that the light always returns.

Hope is the way home.

featured image is a photo by Dmitry Ratushny on Unsplash

Nix Kelley
Co-parent to multiple kids. Writer. Death doula. Member of the Order of the Good Death. Seeker on the Path of Light. Queer, non-binary, & trans.


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