During the first class I ever took about birth, the exchange I remember most clearly came when we were learning about transition. Transition is the final phase of labor before pushing the baby out. Transition is often when a birthing person will start to give up, or say, "I can't do this." They've been in labor for many hours, or days. Contractions are closer together than ever. As our instructor told us, "Their body has burned roughly the same number of calories they would running a marathon. The baby has started to descend into their pelvis, so it's physiologically impossible to be comfortable. They've had it. They want out. They're done."
One of my classmates raised her hand. "So what do you do? How can you make the unbearable bearable?"
Our instructor paused. When she spoke again, there was a fierce current in her voice that struck a powerful chord in me.
"You can't fix it," our instructor said. "So you look them right in the eye. You see their experience and you let it touch you to the core of your being, to the place in your heart where your own vulnerability and rage and despair and greatest radiance lie. You surrender into that place in YOU, with THEM. And you say, with your eyes or your hands or your words, 'I know. I see you. I've got you. This experience you're having is simultaneously completely unacceptable and also totally healthy and normal. You can't, and you can, at the same time. That's why I'm here to hold you.' And you ride that edge, together."
That. That right there is what fellowship and belonging, at their core, mean to me.
I believe we all have tremendous power to create our core desires, whether they be:
Families of richness, color, healthy boundaries and fierce tenderness
Partnerships that are the right kind of "hard", where we feel both safe and empowered
Words, music, art that expresses the song inside of our souls
Communities of inclusion, pleasure, connection, and accountability
Careers that serve the world so that when we depart, we leave it better than we found it
A sense of HOME in our bodies, our psyches, and on our Earth
Intergenerational healing of old, old traumas and oppressions
A more balanced relationship between us and our ecosystems and societies
Like birth, or grief, the creation of our core desires is hard and honorable work, replete with both joy and pain. And, like birth and grief, we ultimately cannot do it alone. So we provide and receive physical, emotional, and spiritual support with our families, our friends, and our communities. We are the bodies, hearts, and souls walking side by side through the storms. We mutually sink into the place of exquisite, attuned, holy witnessing to remember and reconnect with our human divinity, our emotions, and our wisdom.
Birthing those desires of our soul out here onto the Earth also requires us to be willing to surrender, to make and remake ourselves, to live and die and live all at once, to let burn the old structures that are less true to that core within us. This is the process of grief, and birth, and creating. So we hold each other while we burn, and exalt each other as we rise. We help each other trust the fertile process, even when it feels unbearable. We say to each other, "I see you. You can't, and also you can."
We dance. We sleep under the stars. We giggle under the covers past bedtime. We chop vegetables side by side while chatting about the mundane or mourning the profound. We complete the nitty, unexciting, unsexy tasks that need doing. We hold each other fiercely accountable, not to some arbitrary external mandates or codes, but rather to the inner voice that stirs or howls from within. We do not try to fix each other.
In the words of the eminent, heartening, clear-eyed Maya Angelou: "The price is high. The reward is great."
We keep showing up.
We keep walking.
We keep burning.
We keep rising.
And I hope with every fiber of my being to keep doing so until my last breath.