It's January Again

December and January are tough months for me. Ever since I lost my father in 2017, I have hated the winter holidays. Every January 2, I wake up feeling lighter, as though a weight has been lifted. Or at least, that’s what I’m used to experiencing on this day. This year, that sense of relief did not come. I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that Israel is still waging its genocidal attacks on Gaza. Perhaps it’s the dread I feel when I think of all the other crises we can barely bring ourselves to discuss while so many Palestinians are buried under the rubble of an ongoing genocide. Perhaps it’s this disabled body of mine, straining to keep me upright on cold days when I am not getting enough exercise. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that we lost far too many people too soon in 2023. Maybe I don’t want to do the work of imagining the world or the work ahead without them. At least, not today.

My post-New Year’s wave of relief was always short-lived. Once the holidays are over, there’s another emotional time machine waiting for me, just around the corner. My birthday is January 15, and my dad’s birthday is January 19. Before I lost my father, I loved celebrating my birthday. In fact, I used to plan my birthday parties in conjunction with direct actions that my friends and I would put together. After all, I would already have a wonderful, rowdy group of activists assembled, so why not head to the expressway with a banner? It was all so joyful. Then, I lost my father, and that stretch of days in the middle of January was transformed into yet another time when everything inside me would slow down. In such moments, the body and mind seek no permission. They simply ramp down, like a machine that’s gone into power-saving mode.

Grief is not linear. It snatches us out of time, pulling us into a kind of slow-motion chaos.

During some of my collective’s busiest winters, after my father’s death, my co-organizer Delia, who is also one of my best friends, would kindly inform people that we were not available during that stretch of January. She would chime in with this response to any inquiry without me having to say anything. We should all be so loved and understood in our work and our collaborations.

This year, I took several weeks off of work in December. I planned that break, hoping it would leave me ready to charge into 2024 with renewed energy. Things didn’t work out that way. Again, there are many reasons this could be the case, but right now, I am more focused on what the moment calls for. What are my body and mind telling me about what I need to do and the speed with which I need to do it?

What I want more than anything is to break out of this depressive mode, to move at full speed, and to tackle my elaborate to-do list for the month of January. I want to exist differently than I do at this moment. But that’s not where I am. I am in the slow-motion chaos of depression and grief, and I have to figure out how to inhabit this space. I can’t afford to put all of my responsibilities on hold, but what I can do is honor the truth of this grief while extending myself as much patience and breathing room as I can. I will still have obligations, and I will still work to meet them, but everything will happen more slowly than I want it to, and that has to be okay.

In her wonderful book, Practicing New Worlds, my friend Andrea Ritchie talks about how abolition begins with how we talk to ourselves. It’s a simple idea but a deeply important one. Few of us extend ourselves the grace we feel others should be extended. Few of us nurture ourselves the way we feel others should be nurtured. Few of us speak to ourselves the way we feel others should be spoken to. So that’s what I am trying to do today: to talk to myself the way I think a person who is stuck in the slow-motion chaos of grief should be spoken to. I am telling myself that the world will wait. I am telling myself that everything that needs to happen will happen and that all of my efforts will be stronger if I don’t rush them into existence but instead cultivate them carefully, with great intention, even amid this haze. I am telling myself to put one foot in front of the other, mapping out what helps, and celebrating each tiny accomplishment along the way. I am telling myself to walk slowly into 2024 because that’s what I need to hear and it’s what I have to offer. I am telling myself that, for today, what I can offer will be enough.

If you likewise feel stuck in the slow-motion chaos of depression or grief, feel free to walk slowly with me. Just be sure to talk to yourself the way you think someone who is struggling should be spoken to. Extend the kind of love you want to give to the world to yourself. Nurture that energy in your own home and heart, and it will grow outward. Walk with me slowly into the new year with careful, tired feet, and together, we will keep moving forward.

In Solidarity,