I cry every day. My tears are tears of anguish but also tears of the most intense joy.
I don’t think I am depressed. I think I am responding appropriately to our contradictory and often terrifying world of conflict and violence. I think I am also in a constant state of amazement and wonder at the many quotidian miracles I witness…and how astonishing is Mother Nature’s delicate balance. Recently my husband and I saw a tiny baby black bear chasing a newborn spotted fawn dashing precariously across South Atherton Street, just before the town of Boalsburg. We still cannot believe it happened.
I have discovered that some of us have been nourished by a profound sense of beauty and empathy at life on Planet Earth. This doesn’t mean I don’t also feel repelled by institutional racism, rampant cruelty, indifference, and denial.
It’s hard work, but I am learning to reconcile these extremes and keep repugnance at bay—enough so that I am still under the magical sway of precious life. I believe the more empathy we express, the more we reach out to connect. I feel acutely tuned in to the remarkable courage refugees and immigrants manifest in order to reach for freedom at all costs – and I “welcome the stranger.” With defiance I work for their survival, and for our survival as a nation. For 45 years I have made life-size sculptures and paintings of people from mixed racial and ethnic heritage, often gender neutral, that celebrate people being many things simultaneously, in an attempt to undermine intolerance.
I’ve made sculptures memorializing those who died at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, Tree of Life Synagogue, and in the Yemeni and Rohingya crises.
Our culture seems to breed tribalism, spiritual suicide, rancorous division, depression, and a dependence on numbing panaceas that are intended to dull our mental and physical pain. I believe we must shift our gaze from our addictive and isolating smart phones and social media, and open our eyes and hearts to the realization that we are a critical part of something vast and meaningful and ancient.
I trust the uncanny intelligence of all things being interconnected – and I accept our collective responsibility to protect each other from the horrors of domestic terrorism—from the Mother Emanuel Church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, to the El Paso Walmart shooting. There are no excuses: it’s time for legislators to commit to serious gun legislation so these murders will never happen again.
We can choose to wake up and change the self-destructive, convenience-culture habits that undermine our abilities to live healthy, sustainable lives. When we see ourselves in others, we are more likely to find solutions to seemingly intractable problems. And, by welcoming the stranger, I believe we can learn to love ourselves.
Micaela Amateau is a professor emerita in The School of Visual Arts and Women's, Gender, & Sexuality Studies at Penn State.