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Taking Cover: a place to hold our grief

To live, we must die every instant. We must perish again and again in the storms that make life possible.” — James Baldwin

Here’s some of my story to this question of remembering care:

I  have flashes of taking care of others from the past 57 years, including caring for the nonhumans in my home and around me, but these memories are fractured in a way that doesn’t feel good… the stories begin to blend and blur as I remembered more, and I realized taking care was often about managing my parents’ moods. As someone who senses everything in and around me, I also learned how to remain calm, even in turbulent times. When I was unable to subdue my anxiety, usually when someone else (or my dog) was being hurt, I would say something. This wasn't always met with action to stop doing the thing that was causing harm. So, I learned at a very young age that adults are often wrong but won’t admit it. And, I also felt and knew in my bones that us kids, being less likely to lie about the realities we are encountering, almost always know what the fuck is happening! When we (they) don’t know the exact ins and outs of a situation they very much know how it is impacting them. Feelings may not encompass all the “facts” but they are an alarm bell ringing a truthful response to what is happening.

The etymology of the word care means to grieve, and as a verb care literally means anxiousness, to grieve, to lament, and to call out… These anxious care feelings are often internal, taking hold in our bodies, causing cycles of pain for ourselves. So, what can we do with the constant caring and empathetic feelings moving through our bodies? I am not sure. It might be different for everyone. But I do know doing something helps.

When I was young, when care-feelings erupted, I usually fled to take cover. Part of this pattern, or access to this kind of care-practice, is because I have lived my entire life in a country where we were not being bombed or under the threat of being bombed. Taking cover has a very different meaning under different circumstances. And for me sometimes it was about running away from violence in the home. 

But once there, it was under the covers where I could have a respite from the fear. I first had to deal with uncomfortable-bigger-than-life-feelings of fear and grief that moved through my body. A composition of feelings that were travelling from ancestors' bones across time and intersecting with what was happening in my current days. All at once my anxiousness would be heard and I’d drop into my body like a warm bath. After tuning into these scary feelings, usually with a cry, I  sometimes fell fast asleep, but most of the time I would begin to create wild and otherworldly places beneath the covers, making up stories that were beautiful and kind. Imagining joyful futures. 

Sometimes, this fleeing to take cover was also about escaping an unstoppable loneliness brought on by the kind of neglect where the outcome was an unrelenting despair, a feeling of not being seen or heard. But, imagination always sees me and hears me.

I know I am not alone with this kind of care-tending — for sure most kids do this. And, at more joyful times, too! I loved the times that taking cover was about play; the kind of dates with your best friends where sometimes those very covers were thrown up in the air to help build structures of care, a blanket fort to safely hold our dreams, where we’d dance and sing, falling into laughter, even for one afternoon. 

These private imagination filled cocoons are where I went so I could truly feel held. 

This is an act of love: an embodied act of cosmic-care by taking cover. And, to be honest, I still do it, but now it’s more of an anti-retreat version of it; one that isn't so much about escaping, but one that takes me into deep realms of listening, profound healing, listening some more, and then rising up to offer support and love where I can.

Under the cover is where I go to discover more possibilities and tune into visions of better worlds. So, yes, taking cover has walked with me all my life, but it’s a care-action that has  moved me towards creating tangible spaces where a foundational sense of belonging is part of the ecology. The kind of belonging that is infused with care — being with the messiness and beauty that makes each of us up.

with endless care,

carla joy

art: Hilma af Klint: "Svanen," 1914 via Wikimedia Commons


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