I realise that a lot of what I write about deals directly with loss and longing.
There are the immediate losses — the deaths, the heartbreaks, the opportunities that slip away. But then, as a nomad, as a warrior trying to disentangle multiple generations of pain, there are losses that span across many lifetimes. Losses that our little selves, and our children, and some day their children, are burdened with the minute we (and they) join the world of the walking. This is what people don’t understand when they tell you to ‘just get over it’. It’s not so simple. How can you tell someone who carries several generations of pain within them to ‘get over it’? Do you even understand what ‘it’ is that you expect them to get over?
My parents say that I had a keen sense of justice very early on. I was arguing politics by the fourth grade, outraged at Pocklington and Getty and Mulroney and Klein and other local/Canadian politicians who seemed to be exploiting the poor, profiting from questionable structures. I think somewhere in my genetics is a fierce determination to challenge injustice, because it was locked in by the struggles that people before me fought throughout their whole lives. Maybe we’re old souls. Maybe we sit with our ancestors before we’re born, and they tell us everything we need to be prepared for. Survivors. Warriors.
In the fuzzy manifestations of epi-genetics, we have the tantalising promise of science to explain to us what so many already know: what my grandmothers, grandfathers, all those before me experienced, has concrete and tangible impacts on me today. I know this from which foods make me strong and which make me sick. I know this from how my body reacts to stress. I know this.
My academic and advocacy work is not simply an intellectual fascination. It’s my soul’s attempt to make sense of the incomprehensible. Try explaining to your five year old self: ‘well, people in power decided (some) of your ancestors were less-than others. And they used this belief to justify stealing their land’. Try explaining that as the city dismantles itself and re-writes its stories with the same impermanent stucco and vinyl, that you will ache to find yourself and your family amidst those mocking buildings.
I think about young people out on the street. Surviving. Dispossessed on the streets that once belonged to their ancestors. I think about how the criminal justice system disproportionately incarcerates non-white bodies. I think about my sister and years we spent in despair as she was lost to those all-too-familiar cycles of addiction, anger, chaos. I think about how my Dad grew up, poor, in a city intent on pretending that Metis and Cree people were traitors and victims, rather than sovereign and strong nations that had their own powerful beliefs in how to govern themselves.
I think about people who make excuses for violence.
I keep dreaming of nohkom. And my grandmothers from across the northern hemisphere. They survived. They nurtured. They fought like hell to keep above water.
My little losses, my little stumbles, in the grander scheme of things, seem so humble and small.
But these daily struggles still matter. And when I feel a bit lost, I sometimes come back to things I wrote before to help find my ballast. To remember that even the keenest of losses teach us things.
so, if you too are feeling the keen edge of loss and longing rise up in your throat, and it is sitting there like an unwelcome guest, then maybe the things I’ve written before will help. In some tiny way.
this song by the weakerthans has brought me comfort in many moments of loss and longing: