what if…

Eleven years ago today, my oldest nibling was born. It is one of my greatest joys in life, witnessing this human’s being, and becoming. She is funny and creative and caring, and wants, always, to have a good book within reach. One of her first words was “bug;” she taught me about fairy slipper orchids and has kissed no small number of worms. Each time I see her, these days, we stand back to back to see who is taller; one of these days, but not quite yet, she will be.

I delight in her delight. I wonder at her capacity for wonder. I am fascinated by her fascination with the world. I encounter the world differently, because she is here to share it with. I do not know how her life will unfold, what beauties and griefs she will encounter, how she will love and be loved, what unique offerings she will contribute to our collective life. I do know I feel so very lucky, to get to love her, for life. My love for her is eternal. The hopes and fears I carry about the world she inhabits, is part of, are, too.

For her birthday, I am giving her a copy of the graphic novel trilogy March, an autobiographical account by John Lewis of the civil rights movement. John Lewis invited us to live imaginatively, to live into the world we want to become, and become part of. What if, he entreated, the beloved community is already real? I hope that she, that we together, can imagine–and practice–living as if.

Living in the conditional, imaginative tense is a practice of faith, an investment in the futures we yearn for and urgently need. Marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson imagines the ecological futures we might invoke by honestly witnessing the juxtaposition of horrible and wonder-full potentials–destruction and regeneration, catastrophe and creativity–unfolding in our present, and asking, “What if we get this right?” Animated by her love for the ocean, and for human beings, and for the natural world of which we are a part, for Johnson, “getting it right” means doing, collectively, what we already know how to do, and saving all that we can save. It means, Johnson proposes, “running full-tilt towards what we love and what delights us.” What if we put our collective energy toward that?

It might look something like what Mary Oliver imagines in her poem, “How Would You Live Then?”

“What if you suddenly saw that the silver of water was brighter than the silver of money? What if you finally saw that the sunflowers, turning toward the sun all day and every day–who knows how, but they do it–were more precious, more meaningful than gold?”

Or it might feel something like what Ayisha Siddiqa imagines in her poem, “On Another Panel about Climate, They Ask Me to Sell the Future and All I’ve Got Is a Love Poem:”

“What if the future is soft and revolution is so kind that there is no end to us in sight…The future frolics about, promised to no one, as is her right. Rage against injustice makes the voice grow harsher yet. If the future leaves without us, the silence that will follow will be an unspeakable nothing. What if we convince her to stay?”

Convincing a future to stay might look something like convincing us to run full-tilt toward futures soft and revolutionary and kind.

It might require something like what Claudia Rankine imagines in her poem, “Just Us:”

“What if what I want from you is new, newly made / a new sentence in response to all my questions, a swerve in our relation and the words that carry us, the care that carries…justice and the openings for just us.”

It might mean remembering what Andrea Gibson imagines in their poem, “Every Time I Ever Said I Want to Die (–I meant I am willing to do anything to live):”

“What if we don’t have to be healed to be whole?”

It might be something like practicing what Sonya Renee Taylor, adrienne maree brown, and Jessica Lanyadoo call “joy in the time of apocalypse.”

“What if joy is already here?” Taylor wonders. And, because what’s here and real and possible is horrible and wonder-full, both, Taylor continues, “and, what is asking to be grieved such that I can make room for joy, such that it surfaces, such that a clearing can happen for it to arise?”

New patterns of relating. Swerves in our relations. Beloved Community. Structures newly made with a plumbline of care that carries. Trust, and trustworthiness. Healing, and already whole. Grief that is eternal, because love, and joy, is too.

Anna Blaedel (they/them) is co-director and co-founder at enfleshed, where they tend to the theopoetic intersections of spiritual, academic, and activist engagement. Anna chaplains University of Iowa students, and is a doctoral candidate in Theological and Philosophical Studies at Drew University’s Graduate Division on Religion. Waking before dawn, lingering in poetry, being an aunt, retreating to the woods or their basement woodshop, tending the garden, sharing silence, and feeding people delicious food are some of Anna’s favorite things.

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