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We Need a Riot of Empathy

Kelly Hayes talks with Tanuja Jagernauth about collective grief and resisting the normalization of mass death.

"We need collective grief as a rebellion against the normalization of mass death because what we are fighting for is our value and our collective understanding of that value."

Part of the Series

Kelly Hayes talks with Tanuja Jagernauth about collective grief and resisting the normalization of mass death.

Note: This a rush transcript and has been lightly edited for clarity.

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Kelly Hayes: In a peak moment of tragedy in the COVID-19 crisis, our collective losses are mounting, and with each week more and more of us know someone who’s been lost to this illness, including people we love. Today, we’re going to talk about how we can help each other survive these times while not becoming desensitized to the horrors that are unfolding around us. We’ll be talking to my friend Tanuja Jagernauth. Tanuja is a playwright, organizer and educator whose insights on harm reduction, trauma and human connection are going to help us get through this.

But before we dive into that conversation, I just want to quickly speak to something I’ve been seeing a lot of on social media lately. When someone expresses grief over the number of people dying in this pandemic, they’re sometimes urged to stop looking at death tolls and projections. I’ve seen others express that people who are avoiding numbers and projections need to “accept reality” and more or less read the Imperial College study, and accept all of its grim conclusions. While I don’t doubt anyone’s intentions, I find this concerning, so I just want to lovingly remind folks that we are all grappling with this differently. There’s no right way. Some people cannot handle not knowing, and might imagine even more disastrous scenarios if they didn’t follow the numbers. They might even be consumed by an immediate sense of doom when available data might suggest otherwise.

Some people just want to know the bullet points and what they need to do so they don’t become overwhelmed. Some of us who read everything we can get our hands on may wind up stressing over what we learn. But we might still be better off agonizing over those numbers than dwelling on our nightmares in place of reality. Some people may just need to take things one day at a time for now, only focusing on what they can affect and control, and on keeping themselves alive. They probably also grapple with the anxiety of not knowing, but it may be that, for them, that anxiety is less harmful than a deluge of information would be. No matter what people do, they will likely be agonizing over something right now and need the support of the people they love. Some of us are just reducing harm and choosing how we will hurt, since not being hurt isn’t an option.

I’m not saying that people always know what’s best for themselves, but there’s a good chance they’re more aware of their needs than others are.

I know there are very important discussions to be had about what the future might bring. But in this peak moment of tragedy, I think we need to remember that surviving and holding it together look different for all of us. Does that complicate how we support each other when we’re on different wavelengths? Yes. Does it make it harder to discuss the future? Absolutely. Will we always be able to accommodate each other’s feelings? No. That’s just the messy place we’re in. And we need to wade through the mess together as patiently as we can.

Today’s guest is Tanuja Jagernauth. Tanuja is a Chicago based organizer and artist who I’ve been working with on some mutual aid efforts in recent weeks. One of the projects that Tanuja and I are part of is the Mutual Aid Mourning and Healing Project. The project is a team effort launched by a group of Chicago organizers, healers, and clergy that aims to connect people who cannot afford to pay for virtual memorial services, the clergy and other facilitators who perform services free of charge via video conferencing and chat apps. Tanuja, welcome to the show.

Tanuja Jagernauth: Thanks, Kelly. Thank you for having me.

KH: Tanuja How are you doing today, friend?

TJ: Well, you know, on top of the constant shock and horror feelings, I’m feeling a lot of humility and great gratitude for the mutual aid work that I’m able to participate in and observe. It’s just been really beautiful.

KH: So when this episode airs, we will be within a couple of days of the peak of this crisis in most parts of the United States. At least for now, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what the future holds. We know that business as usual is over and that for now we have to adjust to a completely different way of living and working.

One of the consequences of the socially distanced lives we’re living is that we cannot gather in times of loss, given that hospitalized COVID-19 patients are separated from their loved ones during treatment. Many people are losing their dearest loved ones without being able to say goodbye. We’ve seen those traumas compounded by painful but necessary public health guidelines that prevent us from gathering in person to grieve. Tanuja, you were one of the first people I talked to about the need for online options for people who needed to connect with others to grieve and how we could help people who can’t afford to pay for those services in a depressed economy. Can you say a bit about the crisis that the situation creates for people who are grieving and why you felt community action was called for.

TJ: Yeah, for sure. You know, dealing with the loss of a loved one comes with its own form of isolation and devastation. And so thinking about losing a loved one in the middle of a pandemic, when you cannot physically go through the very important rituals and do the things that are part of the love language of collective loss, that’s gotta be excruciating. And you know, what we’ve got in Chicago is a situation where, according to Natalie Moore’s article a couple days ago, you’ve got 72% of Chicago residents, those who have died from COVID-19, are Black. 52% of folks testing positive at this moment are Black. We’ve got a disproportionate impact rooted in health and access disparities.

At Stateville Correctional Center, we’ve seen two COVID-19 related deaths and the first death at Cook County Jail, and it’s beyond comprehension. Why they haven’t released everyone in order to save those lives and protect the collective wellness. In general, we’re seeing a situation where the death rates are literally unfathomable. We cannot wrap our minds around the magnitude of what’s going on. So we’re truly collectively sitting in a moment of collective shock and horror. Lots of fear and lots of uncertainty.

And so for me, these collectively devastating times call for collective methods of healing and grappling. So in this moment, I’ve been leaning heavily on my background in the work of healing justice, and so many lessons from every single disability justice activist and organizer that I’ve ever met in the entire movement. Their work is providing literal how-tos in this moment when there truly is no guide. I’m seeing so much beautiful material coming from Sins Invalid, Mia Mingus, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, the Transmedia Performance Group and so many others.

And I can give a brief definition of what healing justice is if folks haven’t already become familiar. Healing justice is a political framework. And I heard about it first from Cara Page, as part of the Kindred Southern Healing Justice Collective. And it’s a political framework that asks how we intervene on the impact of systemic oppression and generational trauma on our bodies, minds and beings . And so healing justice really asks us, how do we bring collective wellness into our struggle for collective liberation? And that includes disability justice, community care, self care. So what we know, and what I know from personal experience, is that grieving can be so isolating. In our culture, within capitalism, folks often have to go back to work or go back to school too soon. Even beyond this pandemic, I think about members of my own family and others who have had to grieve, for instance, the loss of a parent in another country. There are many immigrants and so many people who are separated from their families, either by choice or by force. And so, to me, it means a lot to be able to try and collectivize this experience that is so isolating, to create some sort of framework and model and option for others to reach out for and create mutual support.

KH: We were both part of the early conversations around this effort with people like Heather Lynn and Brant Rosen in Chicago. But as our listeners know, I got pretty sick recently, so I missed out on some of the construction work of this thing. So can you tell our listeners a bit about how this project was assembled in how it works? How are we bringing help to folks who are stuck, grieving alone right now?

TJ: So I love how this team came together, Kelly. You tapped on folks that you thought would be a good fit for it. And I went ahead and roped in a friend and collaborator who’s a death doula in training. Mariame Kaba referred someone to us on Twitter. And so very quickly, the team assembled, and we are currently a very diverse group of people with very different perspectives and skills. We have a rabbi, a death midwife, a death doula in training, a professor and author, yourself and me. And it really feels like we’re practicing that idea from healing justice, where we begin by listening. So we asked, you know, okay, who is out there that is able and willing to support others facing death right now? And we went about gathering their names. So there’s one form that is a request for death midwives, doulas, social workers, therapists, healers, and other support people to see who’s available to support and in what forms. We have the same form for clergy members. And then we have a form that is a request for support.

Right now we have death midwives and doulas creating videos for us to assist people doing this death support work for the first time. We’ve got someone creating an interactive infographic to help folks navigate our system easily so they can kind of point to what they need and click and that will take them to a form. And I just want folks to know, and this is such a heartwarming thing to me, we have over 200 volunteers, over 200 people who have signed up and said, “I want to support others in this moment.” Today, I’m really humbled, we got our first request for support, so within 24 hours, we’ll be connecting that person with someone who can help them sort through how to set up and execute a remote memorial service via Zoom.

Folks should definitely feel free to reach out with questions if you’re working on a similar project or want to hear how we put this together in greater detail, because we’re more than happy to pass on any lessons learned.

KH: We’ve heard a lot of comments about how many September 11th or Pearl Harbor attacks the death toll amounts to, but in reality, those events burn themselves into the public consciousness precisely because they were extraordinary within the scope of the American experience. Now we’re faced with a steady stream of disaster, the unthinkable heaped upon the unthinkable. Rather than reeling from one dramatic blow dealt all at once, we’re locked in separate battles with our own grief, illness, and isolation experiences that vary greatly and play out in an unsynchronized manner. In the case of September 11th a collective blow left our country reeling, and in that tragic aftermath, the majority of Americans supported an illegal war and cooperated with a massive rollback of civil liberties. So we know that collective grief doesn’t necessarily create the kind of energy we want, but in the case of COVID-19 we’re faced with another threat that we will disconnect from one another and experience human loss as being less consequential. So at a time when people who are already living under the divisions of capitalism and white supremacy, people could become even less concerned with each other’s fates as a defense mechanism. What are you yourself doing to stay connected and invested in other people?

TJ: Even before this whole crisis and pandemic started it was a practice of mine to be very intentional about where I put my focus. I am somebody with multiple jobs, trying to do creative work when I’m not at my jobs. And so, having to choose your focus when you’re, you know, trying to write and work multiple jobs is extremely important. And so for me, that’s a practice that I’m just leaning heavily on, so just choosing my focus. Sometimes it really requires, like ripping myself away from Facebook, or ripping myself away from some scandal on Twitter, or you know, ripping myself away from some shenanigans on Instagram, in order to do the work that I have decided is helpful and necessary.

KH: Some people may be feeling like they are experiencing a sort of empathy overload that might lead them to recoil when faced with other people’s pain. What do you think it looks like to strike a balance between caring for others and ensuring that you don’t absorb more than you can bear?

TJ: One thing that I want to lift up, Kelly, is that when we started doing our work together, you created a contingency plan and you modeled really well for us what it looks like to say, “Okay, we need to distribute and delegate the work, so that if any one of us gets to a point where we need to take a break, the work can continue.” And so I want to thank you and I hope that other people will do that too. So having a contingency plan for when you just can’t do it is so important. I’m a big fan of being like, “Hey, we all have a role to play. Where are you at? What do you have actual capacity to do? You know, what are the things that really only you can do? Cool. And then where can we adjust and get other people involved?”

You know, just to lift up and skill share for anybody who has not worked in trauma before, there are three commonly thought of levels of trauma. So there’s that primary trauma where you are directly experiencing something traumatic, something that is too big for you to contemplate or to make meaning from in the moment, that threatens your life, that threatens your safety in a very large way, right? Secondary trauma is hearing about it from someone else. And then there is a level of tertiary trauma, which is what I think we’re definitely collectively experiencing and systemically experiencing. And I feel like what I’ve seen since Trump got elected in 2016 is a super huge level of this tertiary trauma. I’m seeing an abusive person in a place of power… how tremendously triggering it is to have that as our reality. So I definitely wanna say, feeling numbness is normal when you’re facing any kind of trauma, whether it’s primary, secondary, or tertiary. And so, for me, what I’ve done when I’ve had that numbness is to try first and notice it and name it. Just to share a personal practice, I have a journal. So I write down, you know, feelings in the corner. Every time I notice myself having a feeling or anything, I write it down. It helps me to externalize what that is. So if I’m feeling numb, I write it down. It’s like, “Oh, I’m feeling numb.” Cool. Put a pin in it and then do whatever it is. And for me it’s helpful because to notice it helps me accept it and maybe make some room for something else at some point.

But I definitely — going back to harm reduction, you know — I just really believe in meeting yourself where you’re at. I can’t say that enough because it can truly be, like, harmful to yourself and ultimately to other people to be like, “I’ve got a need. I’ve got a feeling, [but] I’m going to sort of force myself into an emotional shape though, because of blank, blank, blank.” In my own experience, there are consequences to that. So, it’s definitely a huge tension to hold, especially when there’s work to be done. So I personally am like, “I’ll do what I can. I’ll do as much as I can. And then I know my limits. Now it’s time to get the fuck out of here and do something else.”

KH: I wrote a post on Facebook recently asking my friends what they were doing to take care of themselves right now. You replied with a photo of a small cloth square from a blanket you were working on. It was one of my favorite responses. Can you tell us a bit about the blanket and why creating it is a form of self care?

TJ: One of the first things that I did when we all started staying at home and social distancing, and I noticed I was just on 10 in terms of mental activity between, you know, reading the news and reading Facebook and panicking, basically. I was like, “Okay, Tanuja, what you’re gonna do, you’re going to order some yarn. You’re going to make yourself a yoga blanket, dammit.” I gave myself a task. And the act of crocheting, it actually for me, it’s very meditative, it’s somewhat grounding, it’s comforting. My father in law passed away in 2006 and when he was in hospice just in the living room, you know, I essentially quit school that week. Those two weeks, I just wouldn’t go to school. I was in grad school at the time for acupuncture. I was like, “Fuck that shit. I’m sitting in that room and I’m not moving. I am going to sit with Harry.” And I sat and I crocheted. And I would leave the room, you know, to eat, or to walk over to the yarn store, and come back and sit and crochet.

And so for me, crocheting has that association of, “Okay, you’re in a moment. It’s really overwhelming , it’s really fucked up , but keep your hands moving.” And I don’t know if you’ve ever crocheted, but you have to hold the thread with one hand and your hook with the other hand and you’re passing the thread through loops in between, from the left to the right. And it becomes this, like, rhythmic activity. It’s very slow. You cannot rush this. So if you’re — for me, when my mind is rushed, my hands are slow, and something about that interplay creates a little bit of balance. And I do notice my thoughts, they go from, you know, rushed and panicky to slower, and my heart rate even slows down.

This could be a moment to talk about, you know, when we are panicking, anxious, or even numb, we could be breathing very shallowly. We’ve got all these nerve endings in our lungs, you know. It’s a really interesting time to talk about lungs too. But anyway, in our upper lobes, we’ve got nerve endings that stimulate our sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous response is fight, flight, freeze. Parasympathetic, we can activate when we breathe into our lower lobes of our lungs. And the parasympathetic mode is when you’re able to rest, digest. You can literally see a physical shift in your experience when you go from sympathetic to parasympathetic. So for me, when I’m crocheting, I can see signs that I’m shifting out of sympathetic mode into parasympathetic mode. And that’s just one thing that works for me.

KH: Something I’m hearing right now from organizers around the country is that we need to do a better job of getting to know our neighbors. Even people who are very intentional about building community bonds are now, in many cases, seeing huge gaps in their connectedness to the people around them. I know you’ve recently connected with some of your neighbors for the first time. Can you tell us how it’s done?

TJ: Oh, yeah, definitely, and this is something that Twitter helps me with. Actually here’s what happened, here’s the timeline. So Mariame Kaba had a really beautiful webinar with AOC, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and they were talking about mutual aid and creating neighborhood pods. And up to that moment I had been really on the fence to be honest with you, about reaching out to my neighbors and starting to build a local neighborhood pod cause one, I’m really shy and I just have all these like narratives in my mind of like, “Nobody wants to talk to me, this is bonkers. What if there are weirdos out there?” You know, like, there’s all these really counterproductive scripts kind of running in my mind. So what I did was, I was following the hashtag #MutualAid on Twitter, and I saw somebody had posted, actually, a template of a letter that they wrote and posted in the lobby of their apartment. And I was like, “You know what, I can do that.” But even with that, what the letter said was very basic. It was like, “Dear neighbors, we’re in a moment of crisis, blahdeblah. I would really like to connect with you just in case anybody needs anything,” and so on and so forth. Here’s the major point: “If you would like to join an email thread to stay connected in this moment, you can email me at,” and you put your email. Other people are putting their phone numbers and texting and I decided for me as a harm reduction strategy, for now, I feel comfortable offering my email address, not my phone number. So I was like, “I’m going to do what’s comfortable for me.” So I hand wrote the letter, I don’t have a printer at home. And I posted it in the lobby of my apartment, right by the mailboxes. And then I was like, “Okay, we’ll wait.” Then I got one response, then I got another response. And you know, in my mind, I was thinking like, “Are we going to need to collectively organize a rent strike for our courtyard?” You know, that’s going to be really hard if I don’t know any of my neighbors or talk to them. So I was like, “Okay, let’s get talking.” And so far my neighbors seem to be okay, from what I’ve gathered. I feel grateful that I even have a line of communication open to them.

KH: In our last episode, I talked with Shane Burley about how this crisis is delivering on fascist objectives for the administration. Detention centers, jails and prisons have become death chambers through mere inaction. Greater surveillance and control of people’s movements are being normalized. Trump is also leveraging the distribution of medical supplies to tamp down on criticism from state officials. The more frightened people become, the more rights they are willing to surrender. Our ability to protest in person has been greatly complicated, but there’s another way in which fascism can benefit from the current situation, and that’s a failure of empathy. Some of these losses will be experienced simultaneously, but many will not. Even after this peak period of loss, we will continue to see mass death for some time. Some areas won’t see their peak death tolls until weeks from now, when many of us are trying to regain stability and normalcy in the wake of our losses. It’s entirely possible that this administration could effectively weaponize our desensitized state to normalize the mass deaths of people who lack healthcare, even under much more ordinary circumstances. To some extent that was already normalized, but I’m talking about scale here and the possible ramp up of those sacrifices made at the altar of capitalism. We’ve already seen that threat being made in a very direct way with Trump’s calls to get the economy up and running, while we should still be sheltering in place. But down the line, we could see Trump, or even a neoliberal administration, taking advantage of our disconnection by committing much more active atrocities against migrants and imprisoned people by creating increasingly unsurvivable conditions in detention centers and prisons. In a sense, the work of keeping people connected right now on an emotional level is resistance work, in the real sense of resistance, because we cannot ultimately defeat fascism without an enduring sense of empathy and connection to one another. We know that a sense of abject despair makes people more vulnerable to fascist politics because people who are doing poorly want to be told that that can change. And they are going to be vulnerable to charlatans and demagogues, and we already have one of those in the White House. What do you think it looks like to organize against despair as movement work?

TJ: I think that we need to think about what’s at stake. And so on one hand we need to get truly, deeply educated on what fascism is and how it works. And however folks need to go about really grasping that, do it. I really am hoping that, you know, to the best of our ability we can build a shared vocabulary now. And like you say, learn to listen to one another, and trust one another and really look to one another to say, “I’m seeing what you see.” If we can do that, we have a very good chance of creating that shared analysis, that shared vision and that shared way forward that helps us to really imagine that world in which we want to live, and then make concrete moves to build it. So if their narrative is, “We don’t give a shit about your lives,” how do our actions serve as a counter narrative to that? When Donald Trump puts a target on the back of Asian folks by repeatedly talking about the Chinese virus, how can our solidarity work serve as a counter narrative to that? I saw a call from Mariame Kaba, and the ask was to read “To Prisoners” by Gwendolyn Brooks, record yourself doing that reading. Honestly, the reading took about 45 seconds and Mariame’s ask was to post your video on social media and tag your governor with the ask to release all incarcerated folks for their own safety and the safety of others. And for me, I just appreciated that so much because all it took was the tools that I had, right? So I just think it was such a brilliant action. You know, we all have, most of us have, you know, phones, internet, a way to record ourselves. We’re here on the internet constantly reading news, reading social media, and the way that Mariame was like, “Cool, cool. Use that tool. You’re sitting there anyway. You know, take five minutes and do this collective action and invite other people into it with you.” I appreciated that.

KH: One of the things I think people are struggling most with about this situation is the unknown. We are all afraid of the unknown, and we all handle that fear differently. Some people log off of social media to get away from the constant barrage of bad news, and some of us obsessively consume information. What is helpful to some of us would be incredibly detrimental to others. Personally, I read all the studies and look at all the projections, and for the record, that has not led to me knowing any better than you do what’s going to happen. But, what I do think is certain is that this struggle doesn’t end when this round of quarantine ends. Until we have a vaccine, life will be tenuous. My greatest fear is that the intervals of this thing will allow Trump to sell a savior narrative and win reelection in the fall. If we get a break from lockdown that lasts through election day, I think he could win because he will tell people he saved us, and they will want to believe that they’ve been saved. There’s also the possibility that we won’t be free of the virus at all on election day, and that Trump will win because his death cult fans were the only ones who were willing to risk their lives.

TJ: You know, I’m going to just lift up the inspiration of folks that just keep me going. I read a line by Maxine Hong Kingston in 2001 that has just become my motto, and that’s “In a time of destruction, create something.” And, you know, I have been turning back to Toni Morrison. By the way, her book, it’s a whole compilation of her writings, essays and meditations, it’s called The Source of Self Regard and I just love it. And there’s an essay inside that compilation called “Racism and Fascism,” in which she breaks down in detail, as a novelist, and you know she does detail like no one else, she breaks down in detail the concrete ways in which fascists go step-by-step to criminalize and de-humanize and pathologize a target population. And everything she’s talking about in that essay is what Trump’s administration has been doing to so many groups and what we in this moment are seeing put onto Asian folks. It’s tremendous. And Toni Morrison [also] has this essay that she wrote for the nation, and it’s a little harsh. I’m not gonna lie. I mean, the title of the essay is “No Place for a Self Pity, No Room for Fear,” in which she talks about this conversation she had with a friend right after Trump was elected. And you know, she was saying to this friend, “I’m numb. I can’t write. I’m stuck.” And her friend was like, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. This is the moment when artists get to work.” And, you know, I want to completely acknowledge that’s a little bit harsh to say, it might sound harsh and… for me, I hear the truth of that. I have been very sensitive to, you know, so many of my colleagues who are posting memes that are like, “If you come out of this not having written your King Lear, it’s okay.” You know? I’m like, “Cool, cool.” Like, no, you should not feel some sort of capitalists like, awful, ugly nonprofit industrial complex, like grant driven pressure to, you know, complete that X, Y, Z bullshit. And these are moments when we need our artists, when we need the folks who feel so deeply and who observe so keenly. I want to know what y’all are thinking. I want to know what you’re seeing. I want to know the connections you’re making. I want to know the questions you’re asking because, for me, that’s what helps me cut through the numbness. When I turn to an artist, the work of an artist, and I see something that feels true and right, that wakes me up, that unfreezes me and I want more of that.

KH: This week, here in our Chicago, we also saw prison abolitionists stage caravan rides of cars circling detention centers and prisons with signs, making noise, honking horns and chanting, demanding freedom and safety for the folks inside.The caravan rides are one of the forms of protest that we are seeing out there right now as folks adapt to protesting during quarantine. And I just want to emphasize to folks that we are not powerless, even though it may feel that way. Action is still happening both online and in person, and there are ways to engage. I feel like one of the most dangerous things that could happen right now is that we allow ourselves to feel like we can’t fix anything until this part is over, because the people who want to take it all away from us, the people who don’t want us to be free , who don’t care if we live or die, those people have not stopped working. They have not stopped putting those plans in place. They have not stopped their death-making ways. If anything, it’s all being ramped up to the hilt and they are trusting that we will sit still for every last minute of it because we’ll only be concerned with ourselves. It’s really frightening because we were already living in a highly individualized society where people were caught up with themselves and constantly forgetting that their liberation is bound up in someone else’s. And here we are, on the spot, needing to imagine that in a really concrete way. This moment is calling on us to be more concerned with what happens to imprisoned people, to disabled people, to Native people, Black people and trans people — to all the folks who this society leaves for dead on a good day. We need to be more concerned right now, not less. But you know, I was talking to someone yesterday who insisted they shared my worldview, and that they are against the prison industrial complex, but they’re not so sure about decarceration right now because there’s no plan. “Where do all these people go? What if they have nowhere to go?” And I was floored. I was like, “Are you serious? You’re saying that because they have nowhere to go, you assume that we can’t help them, as opposed to saying, here’s a problem. We demand a solution.” But for right now, there are people for whom folks are willing to kind of throw their hands in the air and say like, “I don’t see an answer.” Whereas if it were their wellbeing, they would say, “We need a freaking answer.”

By creating these epicenters of contagion, we’re also hurting everyone outside the prison walls, but that just doesn’t register to people, because there’s some sort of cutoff line of immediate self interest that folks are struggling to think beyond. And so we’re seeing more and more of that pull back from people, to where other people’s lives become a question mark, or where folks say, “Well, I don’t know how you would address that, everything’s messed up.” And as we’ve abandoned each other more and more, I become more afraid for us. And it’s one of what you were saying about connecting people, connecting with others through the work, connecting with people through these acts of kindness, these acts of empathy, these acts of witnessing — to me, that was already the kind of thing that kept me going, that prefiguring of the world I want. And in those moments, that world exists. It exists between us when we create it. And so what I want most for people right now is for them to get to have that experience that was getting me out of bed long before this nightmare, and that is getting me out of bed now, which is to know that I can connect with other people and we can lessen suffering.

TJ: What you’re talking about is, you know, this deep community care that is grounded in the concrete. And, I will be completely honest with you and say, I have never participated in that in the way that I’m seeing people do it right now. That kind of community care, it’s not going to be written into anyone’s grant. It’s not going to be a part of any nonprofits work plan. It’s not going to be sanctioned by any kind of institution. Heather Lynn, who’s also working on the Mutual Aid Mourning and Healing Project, just released an article in the Quarantine Times, and the whole thing is beautiful, I really recommend folks read it. But this passage struck me as particularly beautiful and relevant, so I’m going to read that passage from Heather’s article. “I remind myself that more important than being useful is being present. I am needed. I am loved. My existence matters to the people in my life. My unique perspective and skillset can contribute. I may wish I could be doing more, but I will do what I can. But on the other hand, it is just as dangerous to believe I can ever be totally prepared. I must be ready to adapt. We’re all walking together into the unknown. We are collectively deciding what healing looks like, what is worth protecting and what we are willing to sacrifice. We are co-creators of a new world, and I need to approach this work with humility and listen to people who are more vulnerable and more experienced than I am. I am an erratic pendulum swinging wildly between these two extremes of self doubt and overconfidence, always in motion, trying to find joy in the dance as much as I can.”

KH: Something that I hope people take away from this discussion is what we need to disrupt. We need to rebel against the nature of our current situation, which is a situation that puts us in our own homes, living out our own little dramas in this disconnected way, waging our own battles without the strength of our communities at our backs. We need a riot of empathy. We need collective grief as a rebellion against the normalization of mass death because what we are fighting for is our value and our collective understanding of that value. We are talking about a battle over what death means and it is being waged right now. We’re all part of it whether we know it or not, and we all have the power to fight for what connects us. History is a chain reaction, and the tone we set this week will affect everything after. So let’s remember who we are and who we want to be, as well as who we want to be to each other. Tanuja, thanks so much for joining us today.

TJ: Thank you Kelly.

KH: And you can find that project that Tanuja and I worked on at and linked in the transcript on our website, We also want to thank our listeners for joining us today. And remember, our best defense against cynicism is to do good and remember that the good we do matters. Until next time. Be safe out there.

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