I posted this to Facebook yesterday and am a day late in posting it here. Here’s what I wrote on birthday #28, Thanksgiving Day 2016:
I’m thankful to my friend Dan for an idea he shared with me last year, a concept as powerful as it is simple: He tries to see everyone as a cousin of his. Walking down the street, on the subway, in stores and restaurants and everywhere else, he imagines all the people around him to be his cousins. Some of his cousins are warm, friendly and kind, while others are rude, tormented, or even cruel. His cousins have good days, and they have bad days. Some of his cousins are better people than others, and he likes some of them more than others. But they’re all his cousins.
This struck me when I heard it, but I didn’t appreciate how liberating it is until I put it into practice. The first time I did, it had an immediate and intense effect. Seeing strangers not as people foreign to me and my concerns, but instead as family—maybe distant family, cousins I’ve never met before, but family nonetheless—generated instant affection, tolerance for foibles and nuisances, compassion for differences and limitations.
But trying to feel familial affection toward every person in New York is a lot like trying to meditate on the street in New York. It’s hard. It runs counter to so much of my socialization and learned behaviors, and it feels like it tests the limits of my brain- and heartpower. So it requires sustained focus, effort, and rededication, all of which are tiring. As powerfully good as it feels when I do it, I still make the effort infrequently.
New York City may be large, but the world is vastly larger. And if it feels hard to see every New Yorker as my cousin, trying to see every human that way is understandably more daunting. But the effort is imperative.
This Thanksgiving, I’m trying two things: stretching my heart far beyond the people around me, and taking action informed by my care for my cousins. For me, that means finally, far too late, taking the kind of action I would have taken months ago if I had then seen the people at Standing Rock as my cousins. Tomorrow, I hope, it will mean continuing my support for them and seeing if my heart has room for more cousins.
A few days ago, a friend of a friend ended a post written from Standing Rock by saying, “Folks support their people all over the world.” What a simple, powerful, and true statement. Folks support their people all over the world.
If the 29th year of my life will be worth living, its value will come through consistent work to define “my people” ever more broadly, and through the corresponding support I must show my people, my many cousins.
To everyone who loves me; to my friends; to those who see me as a cousin, those who support me, and those for whom my security, my dignity, and my happiness is important, thank you. I owe everything to you, and on this Thanksgiving and birthday, I am thankful, most of all, for you. In the year to come, I hope to honor you by reflecting back to you all of your care, love, and support, and by showing the same to our cousins around the world.