By Margaret Ao
2nd Place, Prose, Create | Encounter 2020
Here’s the thing: I know that if I spoke about my sadness—the numbness—the days when despair reached so deep that the seabed seemed a finger brush away, when it seemed as though a stifling silence made everything in my life still, there would be people who’d support me. Who would tell me to live. Who would say, “Every life is worth living, no matter the circumstances. Don’t let other people’s opinions define you.”
And this would make me happy. Truly, it would. For those are words that I believe in, and they would be said with such conviction, such confidence, that I’d know the people who said them believed in them too. And perhaps that’s why it hurts so much that I know that many of the people who would tell me to live, whether they knew me or not, are the same ones that’d say that others should die. It sounds weird, because from a logical standpoint those two beliefs contradict each other, but the older I grow the more I realize just how many people live in contradictions— to the extent that the history of injustice can really just be summed up by sets of people saying, “You deserve rights” to one group of people and “but not you” to another. And sometimes I think about that, the ways we divide ourselves and hurt our own kind—hurt people with faces like ours, so alike in pain and relief and joy that they could be us, in another life. But we turn our backs on them for so and so reason, each one more meaningless than the last. We forget the mistakes our ancestors have made, and make them again, and pay for them again.
When I was younger I tried not to dwell on those things, out of fear that the despair would overwhelm me: reach deep into my chest, flood my lungs, drag me down into the depths of the sea. I flinched away from words like prolife, despite knowing that that was what I was, technically, because I thought facing the horrifying reality of abortion would be too much, and surely there was nothing I could do anyways. I didn’t say anything when a classmate mocked people who disagreed with embryonic stem cell research by claiming that “it wasn’t a baby yet.” I said I didn’t know enough to take a stance on issues I had stances on, all in an effort to remain liked. But that was a mistake. It didn’t stop the horror. It didn’t stop the death, or the yelling, or the words coming out of peoples’ mouths that advocated for violence. Shadows still lurked inside my head, crowds of citizens still clamoured for war, people still called for blood to pay for crimes—and soon enough the words became a downpour, then a flood, with tides that came in and crashed against every wall in my brain. The sound made the words echo over and over again like a video on loop, until they were one voice only.
The most shocking thing about this was not that it was one voice, but that I knew it so well. I’d heard it, and felt it—the hatred lingering in the air, a palpable itch against my skin—and wept because of it, because in my greatest times of sorrow, one of the things that would hurt me the most is the idea that my worth could be taken away. That I could only ever be loved if I met certain conditions: how I looked, what I did, if I were good enough. And I hated it, this feeling that I was worth only what I could do for someone else. And sometimes I felt like shouting: Isn’t it enough that I’m here and alive? Isn’t that enough? Haven’t I done enough for you to love me? Lull me to sleep, please. Be a bit kinder.
And other times I wanted to shake the voice and say: What would it take for you to quiet? What would it take for you to pack your things and go?!
And other times still, when I calmed a little, I would ask myself: what would it take for me to stand in front of the mirror and say “I want my life” in a way that I could make myself believe it? And another question, that I still sometimes ask myself: How can I genuinely believe that I have any kind of inner worth unless I believe that everyone does, and believe that without advocating for the lives of everyone else? And I don’t think I can. Humans have always tried to connect with each other—it’s science that we long for companionship. After all, they say what gets to people lost in the wild most isn’t the hunger or the thirst or the danger, but the loneliness. And there’s something poetic in that, I think, that if humans don’t have love we go mad. And maybe that’s what’s wrong with us, if there’s so much hate in the world. Maybe that’s all hate is—being driven mad by a lack of love. Because what is causing each other so much pain if not some special kind of insanity?
Just look: Every life is worth living, no matter the circumstances. Don’t let other people’s opinions define you. Have you ever thought of a concept so beautiful? Can you imagine the pain of being the exception to those words? I think of my fear in the darkest days that I would be the exception to love and so I make none: the moment I say but is another day the voice speaks on.
And here’s the thing: I know we have a long way to go. We are a culture of buts and maybes and excepts. We act as though the value of lives can be measured out on weighing scales and compared and traded when they can’t—because there’s nothing as valuable as human life. But for the world to see that, then the voice of violence must be replaced by another, so that one day the sounds in our world can change from shouts of hate to exclamations of love.
The majority of my friends and family are pro-choice. While a few know that I’m pro-life, most of them do not. Navigating this emotionally has always been rather complicated for me, because while I believe that they are all good people, I also believe that they (as well as the majority of society) are inconsistent with the way they approach human rights, supporting some nonviolent causes but opposing others. I wrote this piece partly as a way to express my complicated emotions on the issue, but also to show that although we like to draw lines — pick and choose which humans actually matter — that it is impossible to stand for one of us unless we stand for all of us.