On Grief and Truth 

New Year’s Eve for many is a time of renewal; a time for starting new; for reflecting and moving forward with new goals and ambitions.
 
I am not ready for 2017. Yes, yes I know, unless someone comes up with a new way to control or turn back time in the next few hours I don’t have much of a say in the issue. But I am having a painful and heart breaking time with the mentality of putting 2016 behind us and moving forward to newness.
 
This year has ripped me apart. I have hit rock bottom multiple times this year and in all honesty, I am still not ok. Serving in student government, while transformational and profound in very positive ways, depleted my mind, body and spirit to a point where I truly had nothing left in June when my term ended. My health deteriorated to a scary point, I mistreated people I love and my grades dropped dramatically. Even now, it is hard to admit this but there is power in truth. I gave everything I had to the work I did. I know now that my boundaries suck and I am not skilled at caring for myself through intense criticism, high tension and conflict. But despite all that I lost as VPIA, I gained something priceless. I found an authentic and intimate understanding of who I am in the most vulnerable way. I found that when everything is stripped away, I live for justice. But simultaneously I learned that living for justice requires health both physically and mentally. If I don’t eat all day and work for hours on end without any breaks on high intensity projects, I have little to offer to the justice work that is at the center of my identity. I have to love my work and my people enough to offer my whole and healthy self and nothing less.
 
Summer was spent resting and recuperating from a taxing school year. With the support of family, friends and a fantastic team of health care professionals, I entered fall quarter of my senior year at SPU feeling strong. I landed in a student worker position on campus working on structural advocacy to better support students with disabilities. My passion found its target in this role and I was able to apply all of the lessons I learned from student government in a new capacity. Constructive conversations were had and wheels started moving to change university systems. I was balancing well, finding my people and investing in my education with new vigor.
 
In late October, several of my social justice family were planning a trip to travel to Standing Rock, North Dakota to stand with the water protectors in the indigenous struggle to resist the Dakota Access Pipe Line. One of my best friends, Erin, and I started collecting donations and preparing to take four days away from classes to make the journey. On the morning of November 2nd, Erin and I in addition to two of our good friends, set out to make the 20 hour drive from Seattle to Standing Rock. We drove through the day and the night and arrived at camp on the evening of November 3rd. We set up camp, hunkered down and got some rest before jumping head first into volunteering in camp. We spent three days doing what we could to help the functioning of the camp including washing dishes (difficult to do without running water), serving and preparing meals, picking up trash, delivering donated supplies and participating in nonviolent direct action training. We kept our ears to the ground for any word of a direct action at the front lines where we could use our bodies to further the water protection efforts. We witnessed grass roots organizing that completely transformed our view of activism and protest. We met individuals and a larger community who embraced us as if we were family. Erin and I were inseparable during the whole trip. We worked and served side by side and burrowed into our sleeping bags and blankets together each night. We shared many life changing moments and conversations and grew even closer as friends as we worked to support a cause we believed in with every fiber of our beings.
 
Even though we seriously considered staying longer and disregarding classes and meetings back home, we set out from camp on the afternoon of November 6th with a fire in our bellies to organize in Seattle to make a return trip to Standing Rock with more donations and friends to join in the collective efforts. Before we left the camps, a native elder blessed us and our drive home. We also picked up a fellow Seattleite who was looking for a ride back west. We drove rather uneventfully through North Dakota and much of Montana. We listened and attempted to rap to Kanye West and laughed at food podcasts. Erin and I planned our action steps and decided we would try to return in December to work more in the camps.
 
Our seemingly insignificant drive took a turn close to midnight on November 6th. As my guide dog Wesley, our passenger Josh and I dozed, Erin drove while listening to music. At close to midnight, Erin fell asleep at the wheel and the car went off the road, flipping down a small bank until it skidded to a stop upside down. While Josh, Wesley and I walked away with little to no injury, my dear and precious Erin was killed on impact.
 
The tears flow writing these words as they have every day since the accident. Saying I am heart broken, lost and devastated does not nearly explain the depth of grief I am feeling. Erin was everything. She had an unflinching commitment to justice and hospitality that brought light to everyone who was blessed to know her. She was a devoted activist, loving friend, caring daughter and beloved sister. Erin embodied the wisdom, heart and humility known only by historic revolutionaries. She meant the world to me and to so many others.
 
I still struggle to sleep at night. The trauma of the accident and aching loss have made it nearly impossible to function. I catch myself in disbelief that she is really gone. Moments of anger, sadness, guilt and numbness remind me that this world has lost a remarkable human.
 
And as I sit here trying to wrap my head around a new year, I feel panic. I am not ready to leave Erin behind. I am not ready to bring in a new year without her. I still can’t believe that life will go on with her missing. How do I go back to classes with part of my heart lost? How do I carry on when someone so important is no longer by my side? We can talk about the magnitude of her legacy, the lives she will touch in death as she did in life, the principles she stood for and ultimately gave her life for. But that seems too final. It feels like searching for a silver lining when the cloud is too consuming.
 
So I sit here, watching as the minutes pass, bringing us closer to 2017. I am not excited. I am limping into January and it will be a long time until I run full force again. But as Erin so expertly taught me, there is power in truth and in being wherever I am. So in honor of Erin, I embrace the limp and the pain and the gaping hole in my heart because all of it is power even though it feels like weakness. It is power because Erin is in the limp and in the pain and in the gaping hole. And wherever Erin is, justice thrives.
 

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About Ali S

Please read more on my About page.
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