Is it selfish to step away from a memorial because the program made me think too much about myself?
I would've stayed. Really. Everything was so heartfelt and inspirational.
But I was hungry and had too many thought swirls.
I left to get a cappuccino and black sesame donut, and write this thing on my computer at Cafe Dulce right now.
It was halfway through the Los Angeles memorial to celebrate the life and legacy of the incredible Asian American, human rights and Black Power movement activist Yuri Kochiyama. I've never really done well with sitting in grief. (Does anyone?) I wish there was a training program on how to be good at sitting through a memorial.
I have had relatives pass away when I was a kid, but it wasn't until I graduated college that I attended a funeral or memorial. It was for a Los Angeles labor leader and I bawled my eyes out. I didn't even know him personally. Even the circumstances of his passing were (allegedly) scandalous. But it didn't matter. I mourned because I worked in the labor movement and we believed in the dignity of workers and working families. I cried because we can be imperfect and still help. We can be flawed and still be great. What mattered was being in the arena and working everyday to be of service.
It wasn't just the grief. Yes, death is heavy. A memorial is a beautiful and somewhat strange ritual we've created to mark the importance of a person's life. It's a full account and review. The auditors are sent in and we are gonna make sense of it all. We engage in this public weighing of a human's worth while the rest of us figure out what ours will be.
The weight of Yuri's legacy began to feel just so much. Yuri's grandson spoke about how common it was for people to go up to her grandchildren and say, "You're grandmother is a badass." In the dark, chilled air of the Japan America Theater in Little Tokyo, every speech, story, poem and song honored her fierce and humble spirit. Every word, note and breath converged onto a single razor-thin point right in my face: WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO ABOUT IT?
I am sitting here with a knot in my gut. This knot is the swirled and rubbery mix of sadness, anger and determination. The ball of energy in my stomach defies gravity; it has not compass. Suspended in space and without navigation. It's this feeling I've known since I was in grade school. It's the feeling that has driven me to get upset at injustice and unfairness. It is the feeling of seeing my own mother treated with a lack of compassion and humanity in my family and in the world. It is the feeling I get when I contemplate why there are so many problems in the world and how I can't fix all of them. It's that very basic feeling at the root of my most youthful attempts at speaking out or taking action as a college student activist.
Unshaped, this ball of energy is what drove me to overextend myself as a student activist. It was mixed with ego and pride when I eventually worked for the labor movement as a young adult and attempted to lead in that arena. It knew no loyalties. All it knew was hurt and it just wanted to feel better. It felt heavy but it had no mass. It was ultimately empty.
It was empty because inside of it was just a scab. And every time you poked at it the wound re-bled and the scab re-formed.
I no longer work as a staff member of a labor union. It was the hardest decision I made in my young adult life. I quit that career four years ago when I left the stress of office politics to become self-employed, write, and pursue standup comedy.
This choice has made me the happiest I have ever been. An existential question persists, though. Was this choice doing enough for all of those social justice and political ideals for which I worked most of my life?
So far, this is my thinking: It doesn't matter if I am a labor organizer or a writer and standup comic. There is plenty of work to go around in this business of righting injustice. I'll do my best to improve in my craft as a communicator, performer and event producer. I'll do my best to use these evolving skills to be of service. That is all I can do. And it is a lot.
I stare at the cover of this memorial program. My eyes are drawn to the single quote from Yuri: Keep expanding your horizon, decolonize your mind, and cross borders.
Even when she is gone, Yuri is still agitating and organizing us to serve the people. Bad. Ass.