I can’t swim. I know. It’s bad. It’s an important life skill for non-drowning purposes and leisure. But I can’t. I love to look at the water, wade in it safely, sit on the shore, but I’ve always preferred the solid ground of a mountain summit. I’ve always loved being held.
Lately, that feeling of being held feels less and less possible as the terrifying and racist murders of Asian women in my hometown of Atlanta still haunt me, as well as the mass shooting in Boulder, a city I once lived near and called home. There’s a really beautiful phrase that has become somewhat of a mantra to me in these dark times: terra firma.
I don’t know where I first heard it, or why, but it means solid ground or dry land. It reminds me of sailors lost at sea, and a Tennyson poem: “Courage! This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon!” It reminds me of the little sailor in that bucket that hangs on the sail with the telescope yelling “Land ahoy!” That relief, the feeling of being held by the earth after treacherous, stormy, uncertain, endless days at sea.
Like I said I can’t swim, so I’m for damn sure not going on some ocean-wide sailing trip any time soon, and the idea of being lost at sea is literally making me palpitate as I think about it, but lately I’ve been relating a lot to those sailors. The familiarity comes from everything going on around me. Actual human lives lost due to hatred, people with families, people who are loved. It’s because I’m hard into my Saturn Return and it’s no damn joke. It’s because the ongoing work of being an aspiring anti-racist is one big “wow I don’t know anything.” Maybe it’s because the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel has forced us to reckon with so much that has been wrong for so long. Regardless of what it is, I’ve been feeling lost at sea. And I’ve been seriously looking for terra firma.
Uzma, what do you need? What do you want? I ask these questions, that’s for sure, but more often than not it’s one big “I don’t know.” Which is totally fine. It’s allowed. Pause. Breathe. It’s ok.
But sometimes I want more. “I don’t know” sometimes is enough, but it’s also not solid ground that helps me steady my footing. Sometimes I need to be held by something that isn’t me. Sometimes I need to set foot on solid ground that isn’t of my own making.
Community is where the ground is. Whether it’s the community of your closest friends, or a one on one relationship between you and someone you work with (my otherworldly friend Maddie described our community once as “a sweet, little space”). Community is a place to hold and to be held, to rest your load, to learn, to grow.
There are lots of different kinds of communities, but when I think of one that is where I want to step, with all of me and everything I hold, the gifts and the pain of my ancestors, when I’m windswept and tired and hungry and the sea has been stormy, I want one that is firm and solid ground.
It’s also hard to build a community like that. A real one. When I say real I mean we’re all loving on each other and that means keeping it a buck, telling the hard truth, saying the scary things out loud that we can’t say, and not running away from the reaction of others. It means hearing the hard truth, being an invitation for someone else’s scary thing they feel like they can’t release, and not running when they do. It’s terra firma. It’s not going anywhere.
For me, my terra firma has been the relationships I’ve formed in the tiltForward Fellowship, our 8-month virtual fellowship that brings brilliant people together who want to reimagine a more inclusive and anti-racist world. In this community, we have imagined what’s possible by reflecting and collaborating and healing and moving forward together. I’ve also found community by supporting my community in my local Buy Nothing group, and cooking and baking good food to drop off to my neighbors and friends. Of course there’s my friends and family, but I am reminded every day, that community is everywhere, terra firma, is everywhere.
I’ve found it in these resources that I want to share with you: