As I started my Bush Fellowship journey, I came to understand that my parents’ fleeting time with me was a big motivator for a lot of things. I realized that I was spending more and more time working. And, in a Western environment that often valued the letters behind a person’s name more than the person who had experienced systemic inequities, people often disregarded my parent’s presence. So, I had this great desire to understand better how to create movement spaces where my parents, my daughter, and I could all be together in movement work.
I felt ready to learn and was excited about the things I had planned. I traveled to shadow several Indigenous, Asian and Black elders who’ve spent their lives working for social justice and learned a great deal from them about the multiple roles for elders. I have so much gratitude for having that time to be in deep reflection with the elders, and it renewed my energy to come home and begin to explore what it might mean for me to do my movement work differently, as well as how I could own my eldership and what it might take to launch an elders institute. The possibilities are abundant and I feel committed to figuring it out.
No one could have predicted the COVID pandemic. But, also the overall failure of national leadership that has led to so much suffering on the ground. Then, the blatant disregard of life in the killing of George Floyd surfaced, yet again, the ugliness of systemic racism. In these times, I was able to call upon my local and national social networks, and my leadership journey took a turn inwards. I had to make organizational, community and movement decisions all at the same time, and no decision seemed easy. I felt a lot of heartaches and the Fellowship resources provided me with coaching, healing, skills-based trainings in order to respond. I felt a preparedness that I haven’t always felt in the past.
In addition to what is happening globally, these last 12 months have also been the hardest for me personally. Amongst the very high of receiving the Bush Fellowship, I came to know loss in the most intimate and personal ways. Every child knows their parents will pass, but as much as I am logical about it when it happened, I felt utterly lost and unprepared. My father passed on in November 2019, and then my mother transitioned in October 2020.
Being a daughter in a patriarchal culture, I feel fortunate that I had a father who said very little to me about the world or what he expected of me. His silence allowed me to explore and learn for myself, and eventually, I felt some freedom to stray from traditional expectations. If there was pressure, it often came from my extended family, but my father seemed to understand that his children were now living in a completely different time than what he grew up in. I’m grateful I had his quiet presence.
My mother was my rock and guiding light. She was unphased by anything. Everything I experienced with her showed me that she was smart despite not having a formal education, brave despite not being a military leader, and exemplified what a natural, authentic leader should be even though she was often not viewed as one. She survived under the worst conditions during war and rescued all her younger siblings. Then, she carried her four small children through the jungles of Laos to safety, and in America, she knew she couldn’t be what she wanted, but poured everything into her children and watched with pride as we became our ancestor’s dreams.
I feel fortunate that I was the last of her children to have a child, so she spent the most time with me in the last decade of her life, helping me mother my daughter. When I had to travel, she came with me so that my daughter wouldn’t be away from me for extended periods. On those trips, I heard the stories of her youth. Hearing her stories helped me to understand where I get my resilience and grit from. It’s still surreal that the two most influential people in my life are no longer just a phone call away, but I feel fortunate to have been born their daughter and that they saw my life up to this point.
As I think about the journey ahead and what I will spend the next seven months on to close out the fellowship, I intend to make self-care an integral part of my fellowship. I recognize that for me, community care is central to my self-care. For example, I didn’t just bring a somatic coach to work with me; I got a somatic coach for our CAAL team. I feel like this kind of sharing will be important to focus on because the world is in a lot of pain right now, and returning to “normal” cannot be our goal. We must interrogate our participation in oppressive systems and work harder to rebuild a more just and equitable work. Along that journey, we’ll have to focus on respite and healing. So, I cannot do this just for me but I must do it for the community as well. This way of being is the legacy of my mother’s way of being, and I want to carry it forward. I will continue to focus on the “me” and the “we” self-care.