My People Hurt People by Morning-meadow Jones
The earth speaks to me each morning; I open my eyes and breathe. I stretch my thoughts up to the sky beyond the wooded hill behind me, give thanks because I’m awake now and aware that I’m alive.
I can feel the trees on the hill; they’re awake and alive as well. They’re good trees. They are guardians: strong, calm, benevolent, just. I often feel them breathe with me. Their exhale is my inhale; we pass this breath between us in a dance of lungs, we bow and curtsy, we dip and sway.
Sometimes I’m ashamed to dance with them; I know my people hurt the trees.
“Breathe, sister,” they admonish. “Don’t hide from yourself; we are one. Trees and humans are two branches of the same root. Grieve if you must, but take this breath from us. Heal yourself, and we heal together.”
“Don’t you despise me?”
“What a newb,” they chuckle, a dry rustling of leaves.
“Sister, we are of the earth. Our memory is as old as time, our knowledge is as deep. We support every life, accept every season. We fear nothing, envy nothing, resent nothing. We are eternal, we are love.
“It’s our power and joy to make the air sweet. What is your power and joy? Do it, and live this day with us.”
I breathe, I rise.
My love for my children is my power and joy; I prepare their food, I help my youngest daughter wash her hair.
My high school student needs to rant. She’s neurodivergent, pursuing her education in a system designed for neurotypical people. The stress is tremendous, relentless. I see the constant struggle grinding her down, causing her to internalize ideas about being Inadequate, being A Problem.
I listen, I commiserate. We discuss potential solutions, we dream of possible alternatives, we end the conversation knowing nothing will change. She’ll carry on white-knuckling and surviving until graduation. We have no money to access other services or systems. We hope the next phase of her education will be more flexible.
I’m proud of her. She already surpasses me in her strength, her courage. I dropped out of seventh grade, stayed under the radar, avoided high school altogether.
My daughter’s burden is a weight on my heart; my people hurt young people.
My adult son calls to ask a question about finding employment. We joke about the strange process of distilling one’s entire self into a few ticked boxes on an application. We mock this weird life, we laugh. My high school student teases her brother, he responds in kind. They pass this spark between them like a dance, lunge and parry, feint and block. She asks her brother if he’ll keep her company over the phone, while she does the school stuff that hurts.
“Sister, breathe. Of course I will. We are one family, your success is a success for us all.”
And I breathe too, I rise. Because my children are eternal, they are love, they are beautiful. They are my hope and comfort.
I pray. I feel life around me, under me, running through me. The earth is awake and alive. I close my eyes, see the spirits who care for me. I speak my joy, my truth, my longing. I see myself held in the world’s embrace, and the spinning world nestled in the arms of the universe. The universe is awake and alive, and sees me. I feel connected, I feel peace.
I feel thirsty. I drink water, prepare food for my family again.
The sun is shining. Outside, people are doing people things: walking dogs, watering flowers, watching phones.
Inside, I’m also doing people things. I procrastinate washing the dishes. I turn on my computer and work on a writing task instead.
Headlines stab my eyes. A politician was viewing pornography during an official government meeting. My people hurt people they’ve sworn to serve.
A war has separated families and orphaned children. My people hurt the vulnerable, the innocent.
I put on music. I breathe, I sing. My soul rises with each note. Beauty is accessible, it is real. Beauty is human, too.
The task is to create a biographical sketch of an ancestor. I smile and reach for my ancestors, I feel them smile and reach for me. I think of all our generations, stretching back to the first humans. I think of their names, their stories. I think of writing about great-great-grandfather Phineas, a veteran of the Civil War.
Then I know I’ll be writing about great-great-uncle Fred, veteran of the Illinois State Pen.
“Yes! Fred, Fred, Fred,” sing my ancestors brightly, insistently, so I can’t doubt myself or misunderstand.
I can’t feel Fred, we don’t communicate. But I see him stand with the ancestors, and we acknowledge each other. I know his face, perceive the outline of his life. His disturbing, painful life.
I think about his boyhood: destitution, dysfunction, disgrace. I think of his father, jailed for domestic abuse; his mother, dead in a mental institution; his sisters, taken away by strangers. Fred and his brother left alone, expected by their society to “shift for themselves” at the ages of twelve and fifteen. I think of his later life: his violent choice, the terrible consequences. Things lost and destroyed for his victim and himself.
My people hurt my people.
“It’s true,” says Lydia, my great-grandmother. She loves her brother Fred. “We are one blood, one spirit. When we hurt one, we hurt all.”
“How do we stop it, Grandma? How do we change?”
“Oh, my darling newb,” she says.
“Oh my darling newb, we are love!” sing the ancestors, swirling, full of light. Smiling, they encircle me all around, swaying me in their dance.
“Breathe, Child. Rise. You’re doing it.”