How bizarre is it that a moment of pure joy could result in a barrage of tears? Especially, when there’s no reason for it. I wasn’t particularly sad about anything in that moment. In fact, I’ve finally rested after quite some time and laughed so openly. Yet, immediately upon recognizing that level of happiness I broke into tears.
As I think about it, it might have been the fact that I get to be so openly happy because I’m free. There was a time and a place where I was terrified to openly express how I was feeling or to express the extent I felt something because it wasn’t accepted. I wasn’t accepted. Because of that, I held back my laughter. I held back my smiles. I held back my love. I held back the best of what I had to offer the world because the people who should have loved it the most were the ones that didn’t want it and reprimanded me for it. If I laughed too hard, I was told I was being fake. If I smiled too big, I was being too childish. If I loved too much, with compliments and hugs, I was trying too hard. The people that I put my love and trust in, and were supposed to love and accept me, were the same people that didn’t want me to be who I was, as I was.
It was like being trapped in my own body. A slave in my home already, and now a slave in my body. People often forget that freedom is not just the ability to move in the world with your own intentions. It is also the ability to live true to who you are. The moment others try and succeed in controlling the way you are, you are enslaved to their perspective of how you should be. This is similar to being enslaved to a place they determine you should be in. The difference is that if you’re confined to a space, you can still be yourself in that space. If you’re confined to a way of thinking and being, there is no room for your true self to exist. It is something I liken to being murdered while you’re still alive. It is such an unfortunate way to live, to know you’re dead inside, but all the while being able to watch life continue to play out from the confines of your seemingly living body.
The worst part is, you don’t fully realize that you’re dead because you’re technically still moving. You’re going about the world, living it the way your oppressors want you to. You’re doing the things you’re supposed to do, all the while knowing this is not your life. You’re not living it. You’re just observing it. A fate worse than death is living a life completely out of your control. It makes you wonder why you’re still alive at all. Why do they keep you alive? Why is this acceptable? Do they not realize that they killed you already? And yet they don’t. They continue living and acting and believing that you’re happy in this life, the way they are. Yes, they are happy, even though they know they’ve murdered every ounce of your being except your physical presence.
Maybe that’s why when I catch myself feeling things freely or recognize a moment where I’m doing something I couldn’t before, it overwhelms me. I feel all of the things I kept inside during my enslavement. I feel all the pain that I didn’t express or share. I unwillingly remember that the person I was had died, and the person I am now is my chance to live. I’m alive. I’m alive, not just because I am breathing and moving, but because I’m moving through life as me. I’m making my choices. I’m laughing as largely and as loudly as I do. I’m smiling as broadly and as childishly happy as I do. And I’m loving, as openly and repeatedly as only I can and do. I’m sharing my truest self with the world every day because I get to be alive and be me, and that’s the most freeing thing I can choose to do and be.
So, yes, I cry when I feel overwhelmingly happy because I recall my death and it makes me grateful that I’m alive. I am alive and I am finally, freely me.
I laughed Then I cried And at first I didn’t know why The past had came forth And it made me feel All the pain I’d hidden The pain that made me keel
I had died once I was no longer here Everyone saw me But didn’t see my fear My fear to be me My fear to live All because they controlled me Controlled the me I could give
What a way to be Alive and yet dead Seeing it all Yet nothing could be said I stayed confined Physically and inside Moving as they wanted Not a thought could be mine
They had taken everything Every ounce of my life Leaving a shell, a puppet Just a thing without life I was truly dead Moving, but not there Showing a smile And hiding the dread
Now when I’m free I know what that means I get to be alive I get to be me I make my choices I make my mistakes I choose my life One I’m free to make
We are often asked what we are grateful for and there are some usual suspects that folks answer with, as is customary, because we are expected to be grateful for certain things like family. Gratitude, by definition, is the willingness to be thankful for or show appreciation or kindness towards something or someone. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we are not equally blessed with people or experiences that we can be thankful for, and so we should be gracious to those who are grateful for other things in life because of what those things mean to them and their life. For example, not everyone has family or even should be expected to be grateful for them if that “family” has been abusive or disruptive to their life or peace of mind. Therefore, those individuals may be grateful for a great many things or other people in their life and that is absolutely, unquestioningly acceptable and I am grateful if you prioritize yourself and your peace of mind enough to recognize what is okay for you.
And so, with an open mind and an open heart, I welcome you to Day 5 of the Fast 5 of the Last 5 of 2020 as we count down to the new year! If you’re joining for the first time, please visit the introduction to this new year-end tradition, and then return here for the first activity below.
Without pause, quickly list 5 things, people, or experiences you are grateful for in 2020. Here are mine:
2. My Crew: Mommy & the Boys
3. The Family I Choose
4. My Health
5. My Freedom
Share your 5 things in the comments and on social media, and be sure to use the hashtags #Fast5oftheLast5 #F5L5 #2020F5L5 and tag me (@__akiti__) so we can be grateful together!
My list actually rolled off the tongue quite expeditiously because I realized what truly mattered to me after a traumatic period in my life. I often refer to that period as a previous life because it genuinely feels as though I died and was reborn with a second chance at the life I want and deserve to live. That’s not to say my list is not specific to 2020, but it just so happens that the pandemic reaffirmed for me the importance of these 5 things and why I am grateful for them.
Often people offhandedly mention they are grateful for life as a general act of respect for all that life encompasses. My appreciation for life is a bit different though because I have been close enough to death, had multiple near-death experiences, and experienced the loss of literally everything in my life to truly recognize that every ounce of life I get to live is a blessing. Every person, every object, every sense I get to experience is beautiful to me and I actually wake up thankful for this opportunity daily. This year in particular reminded me how quickly these things can be taken away and reignited my desire to live my best life, so I’m grateful for that realization and the opportunity to exist here.
My Crew: Mommy & the Boys
As a result of the 2020 pandemic, we were confined to our homes to be left only with those living with us. For many this was difficult, dangerous even, and an unexpected sentence the world delivered them – and I feel for you all deeply. Fortunately for me, I could not have been more ecstatic to get to spend all of my time with just my Mom and my boys (my fur babies – Scooby, Shaggy, Scrappy, Sparky, Sonic, and Shadow – learn more about them here!). Outside of the pandemic, the world had become so focused on the activities and people we needed to engage with to feel like life was being lived, but I have known and was beyond grateful to get to engage with the ones I love most in this world because they deserve my time the most. They are the core of my being, the why for my existence, and the ones I would venture to the ends of the universe for. There is nothing that makes me happier or brings me more peace in this world than being with my crew and seeing them happy, so I’m grateful for the time I had and continue to have with them because each moment is a blessing.
The Family I Choose
Everyone is born into a family (biologically), whether you know them or not, are close to them or not, or in whatever form that may be. Society tends to promote the expectation that everyone should strive for and hold onto the “nuclear family” because that is the “right” way to live. In 2020, I believe we’ve progressed enough to realize that the modern family is what you make of it. Your family is the culmination of the people who choose you and with whom you reciprocate that choice because there is mutual respect, trust, and love in those relationships. If those three elements do not exist, then quite frankly, you have every right to not want to maintain the relationship and should not have to.
I learned this the hard way in life, but have come out with a strong family I choose that is a combination of biological relations and beautiful souls that made their way into my life, both of whom choose every day to be active and supportive parts of my life, and I in theirs. I got to spend beautiful moments with most of these people (all within the context of the safety protocols of this year), and we made memories for life that I truly cherish. The pandemic also showed me the true colors of many individuals I thought to be a part of that family and had to let go of in honor of my self-respect, and so I am even more grateful for realizing who is meant to be here and chooses to be.
Over the past 6 years, there was an onset of many random and life-induced medical conditions that I struggle with even today. In 2020, whilst the world was battling a health condition that has taken the lives of so many and continues to bring strife, I learned to appreciate my state of wellbeing more than ever. I am an asthmatic and Covid-19 has been a particularly high risk for me, so coming to the end of the year without having Covid-19 and remaining in generally good health for the greater part of the year outside of a few natural hiccups, is astounding for me and something I am truly grateful for. I’ve realized the importance of healthy practices and intend to continue the activities I engaged in this year to build my immunity and strength to remain well in the coming year.
In America especially, we speak of freedom as our right but take it for granted more often than not, especially if you are privileged enough to not experience freedom-hindering actions against you. I have lived a generally privileged life as it pertains to my freedom because my parents maintained a liberal mindset by which I was allowed and encouraged to explore the world and myself with their full support. Even coming from an Indian background where the culture does not always support such liberal lives, my family has always been this way and are loud and proud of it. It is probably due to us being of Punjabi descent (from the northern state of Punjab, India), in which such liberal nature is quite common compared to other parts of India. That being so, I ended up in a very traumatic marriage where that freedom was stripped away entirely and I was a modern-day slave in a life I never could have imagined for myself. After being freed of that entrapment, I realized the value of freedom and recognized that one cannot fully appreciate it until that freedom is taken away.
In 2020, as we were forced to remain in the confines of our homes and the Black Lives Matter Movement exploded with the attempted eradication of an entire peoples’ freedom, much of the trauma from that torturous time resurfaced in the form of thoughts of what life would have been like if I was not thrust out of that life. In revisiting those experiences and working through that trauma, I realized that freedom is not just political with regard to what you can and cannot do in society. Freedom is the inherent right you have to live life the way in which is true to you without any impediment by others or in any way that harms another’s freedom or life. That being said, in 2020 I am eternally grateful for the freedom I have to wake up every day when I want, how I want, and to live the life I want.
Life is what you make it If you are able to do so Let us all be gracious For we reap what we sow
We hear you. We see you. We stand with you. No amount of empathic notions could amount to understanding the depth of the pain you feel. Centuries in the making, days in the breaking – it is a pain so deep and one we know you should no longer endure because your patience has been tried more than it ever should have been. The deaths of the past few months have been brutal, uncalled for, and yet are only the ones we got to see because we are in a world of technology where this brutality can now be captured for the world to truly know what you’ve been experiencing for far too long.
This past week’s tragedy and the loss of George Floyd is only one of the many that contribute to your fear of living truly free and fulfilled lives. You are deserving of liberation from this modern captivity – the seemingly “free”, yet manipulatively limiting existence this country has created for you post the Civil Rights Movement. You are deserving of the inalienable rights your very existence in this world grants you – rights that no other individual, let alone the nation in which you reside, should be allowed to infringe upon.
Our nation helped found an entire governing body for the acknowledgement and protection of those very rights, and yet that very nation has not abided by those declarations for your sake. I call upon those declarations now to empower you with the assurance that we stand with you – in full action, not words alone – and to remind all the naysayers that they do not get to choose when and how these declarations apply.
Your rights exist with your existence.
Let us begin unpacking this with that which all undersigning nations agreed to in the Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), as proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. It’s important to note that this proclamation was 72 years ago – before the Civil Rights Movement, and well before the murder of George Floyd. For whatever reason, we still need to educate our signing nation and its people on what these rights entail.
I start with this, not because it is in the Preamble, but because it is the first point I’d like to address. It has now been a week since the inhumane and blatant murder of George Floyd, and you have set ablaze the grounds of your oppressors. Good – we stand with you. As much as we agree with those who say “two wrongs do not make a right,” we also know that it has not been an equivalent comparison of “wrongs” to allow that statement to apply. The corrupt officials and individuals that have shuddered in your presence without cause, accused you of crimes without reason, unjustly incarcerated you for years without precedence, and murdered you blatantly under the guise of “defense” without evidence of your supposed brutality have wronged you in such ways for YEARS.
In those years, you have responded with peaceful protests, as is within your human, and constitutional, right. These wrongs upon you by these people have stolen from you that universally declared “freedom from fear” because you cannot walk this nation without the fear of what these people may decide they are allowed to do to you next without reason. You have spoken, you have silently kneeled, you have politically presented, and you have peacefully continued on. And it has been years. If this is not a last resort to protect yourselves from oppression, than I would like some of those people to please explain what is the definition of “last resort” since obviously the other, more peaceful, forms of protest were not enough to relieve you of their knees upon your necks.
So now let’s break down the last part of this Preamble excerpt a bit more. It essentially states that in order to prevent man from being “compelled” to act in the way you have now, which is considered a “rebellion”, against oppression, that it is essential “that human rights should be protected” by the laws of this nation. If that was not clear enough, let me clarify again. If this nation and the people that are upset with your acts of rebellion did not want you to resort to these acts, then those very people should have protected your rights in the first place.
Now let’s talk about those rights.
I love this first Article because it speaks volumes. Not only does it proclaim that all of us are “born free & equal in dignity and rights” – literally stating that our existence is proof enough of that – but it also declares that we have “reason and conscience” enough to treat each other “in a spirit of brotherhood.” It is unfortunate that this declaration assumes everyone is endowed with such characteristics because, clearly, that is not the case, but when the people who support the oppressors quote religion(s), the same religion(s) that encourage such brotherhood as well, I am appalled that they do not apply these beliefs accordingly in their actions. I do believe the readings of Sunday sermons are supposed to applied in life and not left at the altar.
For my oppressed Brothers and Sisters, you are entitled to your rights and your freedom IRRESPECTIVE of the color of your skin (you know this, and we know this). For everyone who does not know this or understand this, let me take you through a mini science lesson. The skin on a human body is an organ, the largest organ in fact. Everyone’s skin is unique to them, as defined by their DNA and impacted by environmental factors over time. If you didn’t notice, you have this organ as well (Congratulations! You are human and have rights). You didn’t have a choice in the color of your organ because, frankly, no one does. The same way you don’t have a choice in the color of your heart, your lungs, or your brain. Now I’d like to know if any of you confused folks have checked the color of these latter organs before deciding your level of fear of another human. No? You haven’t?! How absurd. Yet, you appear to be afraid, sorry I mean TERRIFIED, of someone simply because their largest organ that is visible to you is of a darker shade than yours. It is beyond my comprehension as to why the mere color of this organ compels you to disregard the aforementioned and shortly mentioned rights that are granted simply by a human’s existence, and you continue to allow the murder, abuse, unjust incarceration, and modern slavery of people accordingly. The color of your organ does not grant you the audacity to presume you have any such right to gaslight people on your whim or fantasized superiority.
As with the other Articles, let me break this down further. This states that as humans, we are granted the innate right to remain alive, to be free from oppression, and to be protected. I ask now of anyone that sits in silence during this horrific time – why do you not feel compelled to actively stand by our Brothers and Sisters of color at a time when those who have sworn to protect all of us and those rights, are the very same to have brought such brutality against them? Not all officers are bad, in fact some are amazing and carry their badge with the honor it deserves in the service and protection of the common people. BUT there are officers who irrationally believe they have the authority to eradicate the rights set forth in this Article for our Brothers and Sisters of color on a whim and in whatever capacity they see fit. It is because we have allowed them to continue to act in such a manner, without just repercussions, that we are in the state of rebellion we see today. Know that it is silence and inaction against such people that has led to this.
As most of us recall, slavery supposedly ended in 1865 with the end of the Civil War, but that was just one “form” of slavery, which most people do not acknowledge because the word has not been defined as such. So let’s get literal here. Slavery is formally defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “a) the practice of slaveholding; b) submission to a dominating influence.” Intriguing, I know. Although the practice of holding people of color in such a manner was stopped in 1865, I submit that the latter definition still applies. The “dominating influence” is clear by instances we have now seen and by the accounts of our Brothers and Sisters, which indicate that when they are in the presence of any governing authority such as police officers, they have no choice but to submit because even the slightest hint (or even lack) of resistance results in abuse, incarceration, or murder. By definition, “dominance” is the “exercise of control,” which the case of George Floyd, as with the others before him and even today, showed these dishonorable officers exercise UNDUE control over their passive captives, without just repercussions for the same. So I ask, is this not a “form” of slavery, all of which are supposedly prohibited by the aforementioned Declaration? By definition, a “slave” is “a person owned or entrapped by another” – are our Brothers and Sisters not trapped by the manipulation of the system, and thereby limited in their ability to live freely, let alone remain alive, as Article 2 supposes?
I’m already embarrassed to have to explain this one, but I will because it is obviously needed seeing the state that we are in. The manner in which the officer who murdered George Floyd acted was undeniably inhumane and cruel and was very clearly undue punishment for the un-convicted crime at hand. We have witnessed a cruel murder at the hands of the very badge that swore to protect this community. To protect the George Floyd’s of the world, even in the face of a crime. To ensure they receive due justice before the law, and NOT to take the law into one’s own hands and deliver such cruel punishment.
It is not just in this Universal Declaration, but even in our Constitution that we have granted such rights to all people of this nation. Even in the face of a criminal act, you are to be treated as a human, to be respected as such, and to be brought before the law to be justly tried accordingly. In no instance is it or has it been written that officers of the law are granted the right to murder a man for the color of his visible organ, and take the law into their own hands to decide what is the punishment for the accused – not even convicted – before the law is even applied. It’s basic. But apparently it is necessary that we explain it over and over again because a man of color will be treated like a pest to be battered or killed when accused of a crime with no visible causation, while others are dutifully detained and supplied hydration by the arresting officer’s hand when blatantly caught in the act of murder. Where is the justice in that?
This rebellion is not just for the acts against George Floyd, but also for the many who made it alive to the point of being presented before the law. They somehow made it to that point, but then have been, and continue to be, discriminated against because of the color of their visible organ to receive the utmost, and unnecessary, terms of punishment and years of incarceration. As aforementioned, slavery in its literal sense has not ended. Formally announcing the end of the sale, trade, and ownership of people does not end ALL forms of slavery. This Declaration was clear in indicating in Article 4 that “slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms” and it does not seem that all forms have been accounted for. Isn’t unjust incarceration of a person for most, if not all, of their lifespan slaveholding in a form of itself? Especially when such instances seem to only apply to persons of color since there are many cases, identically comparable, in which a person not of a colored organ is given significantly less, if not minimal, punishment.
We stand with you.
I call upon this Declaration because I want my Brothers and Sisters of color to know that we stand with you because you are human. You have rights for being human. You are to be respected in the face of any governing law for being human. And your rights come with your existence alone, irrespective of the land or nation you call your home.
To anyone who thinks otherwise, I offer you this: If you believe these rights are in fact granted to our Brothers and Sisters of color, then ask your officers and the law to treat you the same as they are treated. As Jane Elliot once said to a room of people just like you, if you want to be treated the same as they are, then stand up. And if you find that you cannot do this, then you have proven to yourself that you are consciously aware of what is happening, how they are treated, and how bad it is – so much so that you do not choose to ask for that same treatment for yourself. You should be ashamed. You should be uncomfortable. And now that you have acknowledged those feelings, you should ACT to change what is happening.
We need to act today in order to stop this treatment against the people of today, but more importantly, to stop the treatment altogether to prevent future generations from having to live in this fear and without the freedom and rights they deserve and are entitled to by their very existence. I implore you all to recognize that this is the hidden form of slavery in our world today, and if we chose to abolish one form, it is our duty as fellow humans to abolish all forms and truly grant freedom to all.
Stand with our Brothers and Sisters.
Stand for their rights.
Stand because today it is them and tomorrow it could be you.
Stand because, at the end of the day, it’s the right thing to do.
Hum mein jitna gham hain Pyaar usse bhi zyaada hai Humko maar kar jeet kahan Sirf unki haar hai
Shuruwaad hai yeh ek aise jang ka Jisko sadiyon se intezaar tha Ab aaya hai waqt muqadme ka Khauf se darne ka waqt chalagaya
Translation (adjusted for meaning): As much as there is sadness within us There is that much more love There is no winning in killing us Loss for them is what this path is made of
This is the beginning of a type of battle That for ages has been on the brink Now it’s time the outcome is decided Gone is the time for fear, don’t shrink
– Akiti –
For the full Universal Declaration of Human Rights, please visit the United Nations main page for the same. Only the first 7 Articles have been quoted here.