“Sure. Burn it down, easy. Annihilating it, easy. Razing things to the ground is easy. Trying to fix what's broken is hard. Hope is hard.” - Loki; Season 2, episode 5
Prelude: The season 2 finale of Loki ended over an hour ago, and yet, here I am, still crying. Obviously, the tears extend far beyond the character and the show, but if you were paying attention in season 2, there was a lot of talk about hope and several implied connections to the suffering we are currently facing on the global stage.
As I peeled back the layers of my tears from maybe never seeing one of my favorite characters on the big screen again, my thoughts were a scattered mess:
-This world is a fucking nightmare right now
-How many genocides are actually occurring right now (I can name 3)
-How and why are humans so cruel?
-Pain, and the thoughts of suffering at its hands, is terrifying
-What happens if this breathing issue/pain never stops
-Will I be able to travel again?
-I literally almost died in Indonesia
I, just like Loki, needed to stop time. However, I don’t have that option. But I do have his will.
For once, I don’t really know where to begin. Like Loki, there are so many timelines floating around me, but like him, I just need to grab one and breathe life back into it. So I guess I’ll start with Indonesia…
Scene 1: I was on a call with my co-workers a few days after the incident. I walked them through everything that happened — the promise from the kitchen staff that there were no nuts in the dessert, the phone called they made to the kitchen to be sure, the scratchy throat, the first epipen, my throat closing again, the second epipen, the realization I might die on the way to the hospital, the driver who risked his life and ours to get me there on tiny mountain roads in the jungle with no lights, and the life-saving treatment I was given as my O2 count kept dropping.
They say life flashes before your eyes in near-death experiences. Maybe I’ve never actually been that close to death because the few times I thought I had, this wasn’t the case. It wasn’t like the movies. I’d find myself searching for regrets — the things I should have done, the things I haven't done. But this time was vastly different. I thought about all the traveling I’ve done this year, how I fought my fears and backpacked Central and South America alone, how I met so many incredible people along the way — my chosen family — how I actually like my job(s), and how the Gorge setlists were SO good, that if it was my last time seeing Dave, well, that’s just fine.
Those thoughts may make you feel uncomfortable, but when Dar was holding up my phone, telling me to focus and look at the lock screen with Dave pointing at us in Gildford, I just found peace. This felt like as good a time as ever to die. 2023 gave me some of the highest highs. I made peace with all my gods.
The drive was quiet, and so was my head. But I kept reaching out to make it something more than it was, seeking some type of wisdom. There wasn’t any — just the realization that we truly do come into this world alone, and we will absolutely leave it alone. Honestly, I was more pissed off than anything that I didn’t make it to Egypt, Turkey, Easter Island, and most importantly, Iraq, to touch a few remaining rocks on my bucket list…
So on that call, as I was explaining what happened and debriefing the actual retreat, I said that the retreat itself was a dream. It was magical, and I had some truly beautiful moments with my group, my guide, and the land. This juxtaposed with a near-death experience, and one of my bosses called me “fair” in my assessment of the entire trip.
But I didn’t see it that way. I was just doing what therapy and rehab taught me to do — sit in the grey. Yes, I am angry at the people who didn’t keep me safe, who knew from feeding me for a week that I had a severe nut allergy. And more than anything, I was, and am, ENRAGED at the fact the resort back-peddled so much to cover their own ass, and essentially, gaslit me into thinking I just magically went into anaphylaxis for no reason. In that same breath, Bali was an incredible trip, with deeply powerful moments and beautiful connections to the group, the land, the culture, and our guide. If you know me well, you’ve undoubtedly heard me say multiple things can be true at once — because they can. Life is not a sporting event with two sides.
Long story short: This trip was deeply traumatizing, and it was one of the best experiences of my life.
Being in the grey doesn’t mean you don’t care or you don’t have an opinion or you’re repressing your feelings. Being in the grey means you’re not thinking in black and white terms. "That trip was horrible,” or ‘that trip was perfect.” Both of those statements are true to some extent. Sitting in the grey means you can hold multiple thoughts, feelings, philosophies, and opinions at once. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s not.
Do I think I was being fair? No. I think I’m a rational adult who can understand that a shitty thing happened, but I am alive. I’m not a litigious person. I’m still here — that’s all that matters. But there in lies the problem: what I think is common sense isn’t so common. And what I think is an apt assessment, people call it wise or brave or whatever. To me, it just is.
But the consequences of that fateful night have left me leaning more bitter and angry in recent days than I initially was. Having three shots of epinephrine really did a number on my body. That plus my already out of control asthma mixed with a whole lot of other life-saving drugs, and well, I don’t know how the fuck I’m still standing. Honestly. I was so swollen and shaking and man, I make jokes about that night because it’s how I cope, but I was in the roughest shape of my life, in a foreign country, so very far away from my home. It’s left me with inflammation that I just can’t seem to shake. (No, shit, Jenn, your body shut down…) Enter stage left: chronic illness.
Scene 2: Living with a chronic illness is the fucking worst. That’s really all I can say because you either know or you really fucking don’t. It’s doctors gaslighting you, it’s the insurance companies denying you, it’s able-bodied people telling you to drink green juice and shove crystals up your ass because science isn’t real…it’s cancelling your plans -- the plans you've waited so long to enjoy -- it’s eating really bland food, it’s not being able to show up for yourself with cooking, cleaning, or the little things, it’s people purposely and not purposely making you feel guilty you can’t commit to anything…all while you’re just trying desperately to get what you need for the month to stay alive, to stay in some form of fake equilibrium so you can go to work to pay your rent. And some days, to just get the fuck out of bed.
I am in pain a lot. I am tired a lot. I am uncomfortable a lot. And for the most part, I have to just mask it all and smile a lot. Because if I don’t, I don’t know where I’d be without the adage of “just keep swimming.” Because sometimes distraction is the key to emotional survival.
I think the hardest part of this current bout of shit is that it’s the devil I don’t know. I don’t know what this pain is, and I don’t know how to treat these symptoms. And that place is a terrifying one because your brain starts to play tricks on you. You start telling yourself this is the new normal, and I’ll never feel good again. Maybe everything I’m doing is actually making it worse. Maybe I don’t feel better, and I’m just accepting a new normal — a new baseline. But you just tell yourself to keep swimming, to keep moving forward because something has to give. Right? Hope and faith are double-edged swords. Loki is not wrong: Hope is really fucking hard.
Scene 3: Let’s put aside everything I just told you — those bodily experiences and emotions — and peel back another layer: I had to come home from this trip, with all of this new data about myself and the world, and accept the fact that my jobs are not conducive to having a food allergy and chronic illness.
How the hell can I be a food critic when I’m now terrified to eat new things? How the hell can I continue to travel the world fearing I’m going to have an allergic reaction, fearing I’m going to have a breathing issue, fearing the worst? How can I trust people to take care of my food? How can I trust myself to get back on the road when my body has just had enough? Enter stage right: Existential dread
And if you’re one of those love and light people who say, don’t live in fear — kindly fuck all the way off. I was in one of the most spiritual places having a truly magical experience and then shit hit the damn fan. You don’t get to tell me not to have RATIONAL fears. I am a human, and so are you. Grow up.
I started to slip into the pit, a place I’ve written about many times, a place I’ve sat in many times. But after the last visit in March - April of 2022, I VOWED to never return. And I won’t. I became a lot more disciplined after that bought of depression and have new systems in place. So I came home and did what I learned a long time ago: gave myself a temper tantrum time limit and put a lot of sticky notes around the house with reminders of eating, cleaning, crying, and playing.
Okay, Jennifer Lee, we’re going to stay home for 3 month and not worry about the future. We will focus on eating well — not flights. We will focus on good sleeping habits — not trips. We will focus on our meditation practice and reducing stress — not FOMO. We will do acupuncture and find any specialist we can. We will fight for health and our freedom once again. Then, we will reassess jobs and travel and fun and the rest of existing.
But the reassessing I'm supposed to be putting off is part of my current reality that I can't ignore, as work and bills don't magically stop. I made a huge career change in June 2021, leaving teaching after 10 years in the field. I was not and am not prepared to make a shift like that again. Damn, universe, I JUST started figuring shit out…and so it goes.
The last time I went to Bali was in the summer of 2018, and there were horrible earthquakes on Lombok that killed a lot of people, and it triggered a lot of earthquakes that hit Bali. It was scary, but the metaphor of an earthquake was one that triggered several other changes in my life. That’s when all the shit went down with coaching and I resigned, that’s when I blew out my right shoulder, someone stole my debit card, dealt with a small car accident, and it's also tied to the following birthday that sent me to the hospital with that horrible virus where I couldn’t break the fever and didn’t eat solid food for a month. Seriously, this planet has been trying to kill me for a long time. We have a love/hate relationship.
So as someone who looks at patterns, can I blame Bali? Rationally, no. Will I ever go to that island again? Not if I can fucking help it.
Scene 4: As the God of Chaos runs a muck on my life right now, he’s also playing his hands around the world. I think about the stories from my Polish relatives and watch in horror at what’s taking place, not only in the Middle East, but in several countries around the globe. And I just feel defeated.
How ridiculous is that? I’m home, safe in my house with my money and my cat and enough. But it’s how we all feel, watching and not being able to do a damn thing about it. The worst part? We’re funding it with every paycheck we get from our jobs, those tax dollars killing innocent people. It’s hard to acknowledge you live in the Capitol of The Hunger Games…
The child in me is so frustrated, asking why the hell people are killing people and why people can’t just sit down and shut the fuck up and feed the hungry and house the homeless and just give me my fucking albuterol inhaler each month without a godsdamn hassle. WHY. She’s just sitting here wanting to see the world and wondering why the FUCK other people don’t, instead choosing to shoot up schools and bomb hospitals, and terrorize their own people. And I don’t blame her for her frustration. Because in one regard, it really is that simple: stop killing people and take care of everyone — no matter who they are. Period. This is not and will never be a thing we are arguing at my table. If you can argue this, justify killing, you need to take a long hard look at your life choices. And stay the fuck away from me.
Now, the other regard… the adult in me knows I have to keep going to work, and ultimately, shop somewhere that does something horrible to the LGBTQ+ community or women or whoever because that’s capitalism. And if I think too hard about it, I’ll freeze up and jump in the pit. So I do my best like the rest of us, but it never feels like enough. Because it isn’t. Sometimes living in the US feels like Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons when he keeps stepping on rakes and hitting himself in the face. No matter where he steps, no matter where we step, there’s a fucking rake waiting for us.
And we can argue this a lot of ways. There are very specific places I don’t shop at and won’t patron, but for the most part, every company owns every company, and they are all greedy dicks. Buy local every chance you get. That’s my only real advice.
The older I get, and the more dumb shit that happens to me, I wake up on this planet, and I understand why Nietzsche said God is dead and we killed him. Because if there was a god watching all of this shit play out, I’d be expelled from heaven instantly at the shit that would come out of my mouth. It’s also cute I think I’d go to heaven. (Don’t at me on this: If your god is okay with children getting cancer and the greed/hate in this world and you can live with that — great. I’m the one who would help kill the god who set this world up if they purposefully continued to allow war and violence. Period. I did my therapy after being raised Catholic. Again, I will not rationalize or debate killing, and genocide, and oppression or your shame and guilt from indoctrination. I will give you my therapist's number, though.)
I am sick of watching kids die in schools, I am sick of watching kids die because of their religious beliefs, I am sick of watching kids die because of where they live — I am sick of watching kids die period. And for some reason that I cannot and will not ever fathom, there are people living on this planet defending it. Defending the deaths and the violence and the genocides. IS this The Hunger Games?
With a Babcia who screamed in Polish about Russia and Hitler, I fucking know better, and know that oppressing one group hurts us all. It’s not a difficult fucking concept. But hey, I live in a country with Holocaust deniers so…that’s cool. (*Screams into the void*)
How the hell am I supposed to wake up every single day and accept that? All of it. On top of the fact I am just trying to put a smile on my face and work/live through the chronic pain I’m in? I’m not trying to center myself here with that comment; I’m simply trying to reflect all of our individual stories that we are all facing and living while the outer world continues to happen around us. It’s a lot. And everyone’s story is valid and matters. Internal and external struggles make up who we are and force some of us to shut down, some of us to scream in the streets, some of us to take action, and some of us to fluctuate from one place to the next.
The problem is people want fairness and justice. They want those in power to do the right thing. They want people in power to sit in the grey. They want those people to actually be just that — human.
Scene 5: Here’s what I can tell you from 38 years of not dying on Earth — it takes a lot for people to change their ways. It takes a lot of will and compassion and trauma for someone to truly shift their perspective, and not only shift it, but enact new patterns of behavior. And that truth alone really grates at my hope and faith.
Old ways (repeating history) will never bring a new outcome. We need new people in power, we need new solutions, and ultimately, we need people to be good, to be better, to be kind. And that was really the message of season 2. Those last two episode where Loki talks about hope and finding another way…he makes the ultimate sacrifice to do so. He refuses to follow he path set out for him, and he refuses to believe there are no other options left. Because he’s the only one who can — he wielded the most power.
Who of us are truly willing to do that for people we don’t know? For even our closest friends? Who among us has that much power? #powerinnumbers
To design a new way of living, a new reality, we have to change our thinking and then change a whole heck of a lot of things about our daily lives. And we need to get everyone, or almost everyone, on board. I’m not sure how the fuck we do that. But I do agree with Loki that hope is hard. It’s so freaken hard. But it’s all we have. And we have to keep it alive inside us, and when that flame burns out in the people around us, we offer them our candle and light it back up. Because at the end of the day, all we have is each other. Strip away the material and the experiences, and you’ll find the majority of people out there are just like you -- even if they look vastly different, even if they live far, far away.
Epilogue: And that’s exactly what I’ve learned from traveling. Every country I’ve gone to, every person I’ve met and interacted with — the compassion, the support, the stories. It’s all the same. People are more alike than different, and if you travel a lot, you KNOW and SEE how the majority of people are good and kind. The stories you see on the news or the stories you’ve been told in your homes are just small pieces of the grey. Why are you making them black and white?
The sun is well asleep
The moon is high above
But fire grows from the East
And how is this
Hate so deep?
Lead us all so blindly, killing, killing
Fools are we
If hate's the gate to peace
This is the last stop
Oh is War
The only way to peace
Well, I don't fall for that