Here in these End-Beginning Times

Here in these End-Beginning Times

By Laura Johnson

During my pregnancy, my midwives lent me a book that suggested parents-to-be engage with birth art, using art-making to allow them access into deeply held beliefs, emotions, and insights surrounding their upcoming birth. A month or so from my early December due date, I gave it a try, putting pastels to paper, keeping my hand moving and just observing what emerged.

I drew a sunset – yellow and red, purple and orange, black and blue – over a red ocean, a sliver of deep orange-red sun still visible at the horizon, with a rupture through the center of the sea. When finished, reflecting curiously on what I’d drawn, it occurred to me that the sunset could also be a sunrise, that the rupture could also be a passage, that endings are always beginnings, too.

We found out we were pregnant in the early spring of 2019, a year marked by ever-deeper descent into climate chaos – glaciers melted, temperatures broke records, carbon dioxide levels spiked, species blinked out. We spent the days leading up to our daughter’s birth in the midst of Northern California’s wildfires and accompanying widespread blackouts, experiencing a few days here and there in the dark and the cold, candles lit as we huddled around a wind-up radio, listening for news, realizing with sharpened clarity our unpreparedness for disruption in an age of disruption. My version of nesting was gathering survival gear, storing them in a bag we could grab at a moment’s notice.

It wasn’t an easy decision, having a child in these times – what will her life be like, we wonder. But I don’t subscribe to apolitical population narratives, and it felt, for us, like the more hopeful thing to do; plus, I’d read somewhere that raising an ecologically conscious child may contribute more to just alternative futures than having no children at all. So there was that. And ultimately, I think, life wants to live.

I’d spent my first trimester nauseous and exhausted, physically and emotionally; everything dimmed. Not only did the world seem to be descending deeper into darkness, I was also fearful of letting go of my pre-child identity, my fixed sense of self; my ego got loud, I clung and got stuck, dwelling in thoughts of endings.

But endings are always beginnings, too. Life is movement and change, yet we cling fearfully to illusions of stability and control. As Buddhist nun Pema Chodron writes, ‘our attempts to find lasting pleasure, lasting security, are at odds with the fact that we’re part of a dynamic system in which everything and everyone is in process.’ Everything is forever in flux, impermanent and uncertain; change is spaciousness and possibility. In times of clarity I remembered this, breathing it in, breathing it out.

When our daughter was born at the end of November – a cesarean birth that was a rupture and also a passage – our hearts broke open. As I spent those next few weeks, the last of the decade, healing and learning and growing faster than I perhaps ever have, I fell deeply in love with this magical being we made. From our cozy cocoon the tragedies of the world seemed far away, unimaginable as I gazed into the face of sweetness and innocence and love.

When I did read the news – Australia was burning, Jakarta drowning, ruptures everywhere – it hit harder, it seemed, than before; the enormity of grief flooded in like a king tide, thick and deep, and I felt the old pull to wall it off in some flawed attempt at self-preservation. But to turn away from pain is to turn away from joy, to dull grief is to dull love, and this love is too great for that. With my baby sleeping on my heart I chose to keep it open; the shift that must happen now can only stem from hearts broken wide.

Cordelia was born at the end of a year, on the eve of a new decade, one tied symbolically to clear seeing. She was five weeks old when we watched the decade’s last sunset and rang in the new year from the warmth of our bed, while across an ocean doctors quietly treated cases of pneumonia of a then-unknown cause. A few short months later this creeping virus would stop the world in its tracks and pull the illusion of ground from beneath our collective feet, slowing us down and opening our eyes and breaking our hearts.

But yet. And still.

Sunsets give way to sunrises.

Ruptures are passages.

Disruptions are doors.

Change is spaciousness.

Endings are always beginnings, too.

And spring would arrive on schedule.

Now, here in a changed world with a broken-open heart, I look into the eyes of beauty and invite in the fullness of it all, the grief and the love, the fear and the hope, the pain and the joy. Softening my grip, I surrender to change and give way to flow while deepening my resolve to help transform the world for her, for our more-than-natal kin, for all beings made of innocence and sweetness and love.

For now, I do this when I show my daughter abundance instead of scarcity, when I honor and grow her trust and nurture her joy, when I teach her that the world is alive and related. For now, I do this when I shelter and root in place, when I tend the earth in my own backyard, when I share seeds with neighbors and support local farmers and check on friends and family from afar. For now, I do this when I practice the loving work of care and connection that must become central in all we do, here in these end-beginning times.

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