WORDS & IMAGE: KAILEA FREDERICK
I don’t yet have a name for this moment that continues to repeat itself over the years, but it looks something like this. What starts out, as a conversation with an elder on today’s current affairs, quickly turns painfully honest as the elder speaks to what is likely in store for my generation. This last happening occurred on Sunday while at my boyfriend’s mother’s house for her birthday. It was a women’s only affair and I suddenly found myself in a room of white hair, the youngest by easily 45 years. While sipping tea and eating scones and clotted cream I found myself deep in a conversation with two other women on climate and politics. Two grandmothers dressed for tea were suddenly in the thick of their passion, struggling to keep their voices even as they spoke to the reality of our times. Berkeley's late afternoon sun poured into my lap while I sat mainly quiet, sandwiched between the two. I could feel where this was heading, and suddenly we had arrived at ‘the moment’, where the grandmothers had talked themselves out, and all that was left to do, was turn to me in sadness. “All I can say”, spoke one, “is that I’m grateful I was born at the time that I was.” The other woman silently nodded her head in agreement. “We’re sorry, we don’t have to talk about this any more, it’s too depressing” she finished with.
This is the moment that I have yet to name. I wonder about the other times in the history of humankind, when the passing of the baton to the next generation was such a somber ordeal? When elders felt more grateful for the fact that their lives were nearing an end, when looking into the eyes of those who still had so much life to live out. A few years ago when these odd interactions first started happening they confused me. I was used to looking towards adults for guidance and support, and it was a strange sort of societal initiation when I realized that I was now also considered an adult, in that I was no longer shielded from all that was falling apart. Perhaps what was most unsettling was the ease that sometimes accompanied an adult handing over ‘the world’ to me. “Here,” some would say, “we may have fucked it up beyond repair, hopefully you can make it better.” These dead end comments would leave me infuriated and struggling with myself when I couldn’t seem to create the capacity to internalize that we seemed to currently be living out some version of the end of the world. Now I realize, that this is a near impossible task. I am not sure that we humans are fully equipped to comprehend on an emotional or psychic level what it is we are in store for. We are struggling to realize in the midst of the unraveling, that we are unraveling. And we are struggling with the ability to take responsibility for our part in it all.
I’ve had a small collection of rose buds drying over the last weeks and I took them with me outside, with these thoughts in mind. I sat and slowly began to peel a bud open, petal by petal. “This is me consciously creating an unraveling,” I thought to myself. I picked up a second bud that was still intact and placed it in the center of the petals, and questioned the possibility of new growth from something old and decaying. Often I find myself feeling stuck, conscious that I am living and working within an old and dying system with the hopes of creating something new. I feel frustrated when I bump up against what seem to be immobile boundaries. “Will I to one day be an elder grateful for my passing time on this earth, simultaneously saddened by all that I could not or did not do? Will I give up early, and eagerly throw the baton of responsibility into the hands of my grandchildren?” I ask myself these questions and it makes me feel like a coward. I pick up a pinch of tiny dried petals and sprinkle them within a larger petal, “this will be a prayer for courage”, I say to myself. Moving to the next petal, I place a prayer within for belief. I desperately need to believe in something beyond our current environmental and political crisis. I do this 9 more times, moving around the center bud, laying down prayers for my own responsibility, for growing into eldership, for steadfastness even when I am scared. And then right as I place my last prayer down, a small gust of wind comes through, overturning a petal, sending bits and pieces of my thoughts into the air. An eternal reminder that we will never be in control and that everything is already in motion.