The Decomposition of Grief and Despair


I think about the sound of dry leaves rasping on concrete. By very virtue of once being alive, they turn color, drop with the cold, the batterings of rain. They scuttle across pavement with the breeze, with the kicking of feet, finally laying to rest in a pile at curb’s edge. Partitions of land where grass and trees are free to grow. This will be their final resting place. Heavy with dew, the condensation of morning. Here they will decompose. Here they will give birth to new life. I see it in the fungus that grows, its muted hues soft against a backdrop of red sodden leaves.


There were protesters in front of US Bank today. Out by the curb, careful to not obstruct the sidewalk. Brown eyes, brown skin. Vivid scarves. Signs held high—day glo. No DAPL! Divest Now! I felt foolish with my winter white sweater, walking by. How could I not stop? Hear what they had to say?

Earlier in the day, as my feet crunched on leaves, cracked fallen tree detritus like bones in the wake of my boots, the winter white of my sweater made my mind fall to people wearing white pants in the spring and summer. There is an air of audacity to wearing white pants. As if to say, “I know I will not get dirty.” I have no such audacity. But here I am, walking on a brisk autumn morning, wearing winter white because it is the only sweater I could find with a hood. Organic cotton, the brand Indigenous.

Back in front of the bank I look like a European cloud, wavering at the edges of these protesters. Mechoopda. These people are indigenous. I feel the eyes of the lady I am speaking to falling from my blue eyes to the bone white of my sweater. I am the most barren of color here. Maybe I am imagining the casual dropping of her gaze. Maybe I am imagining she is thinking I am one of those people who know I will not get dirty. Projections. I feel tethered to a ketchup bottle. My mother always used to say, “I am a Heinz 57”—too many ingredients to pinpoint a specific heritage.

Looking into the eyes of this woman, as we introduce ourselves, as she asks me how I feel about the results of the election, I feel overwhelmed by human connection. Since Trump was elected I decided to take a week’s hiatus from social media and reading The New York Times. I spent my spare time getting lost in books. A long overdue cleaning out of my inbox. I spent a copious amount of time on tasks that required my being alone with little thought, almost meditative. She asks if I have been keeping up with the Dakota Access pipeline? Yes. If I am concerned about the state of women’s rights, women’s healthcare, Planned Parenthood? Yes. Am I scared for the planet? Our declining environment? Yes. She asks how I feel about the about the Black Lives Matter movement, refugees, hate toward Muslims, the imminent deportation of illegal immigrants, the rights of LBGTQ? We have a lot of work to do. She says we need to get to know our community. She says that we are not alone. She says that we are not strangers. She says we need to unite and stand together. I feel a slow awakening. An unfurling. I realize she is not a protester. She is supporter. Of humans. Of life. Of hope. I realize that I feel this way too. There, at the curb’s edge, new life born of the decomposition of grief and despair.


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