My sweet and dear friend, Colleen, sent me this beautiful card of encouragement about women of fire. I taped it up at my desk. Ironically, I had just read this story by one of our favorite artists, Flying Edna/Brian Andreas Studio, a few nights before as I was scrolling through inspirational quotes, a meditative pastime in these times of quarantine.
Over a decade ago, my apartment building caught fire and I almost got trapped inside. That fire literally and figuratively forged me the way a blacksmith forges iron. I developed intense PTSD as a result, and went into weekly therapy with Brian, a wizard of a therapist.
I sat with Brian every week for 3+ years and looked at every dark corner of my mind and past. It was a brutal, painful initiation. I had to do that heavy work on myself. I had no choice. I ran out of places to hide. I ran out of coping mechanisms. The fire burned them all away. All that was left was me. Not what I do or who my friends are or where I went to school or any of my accomplishments. Just the iron core of who I am.
It was messy, dirty work, and I’m so grateful for it. I didn’t do it because I wanted to. I did it because I had to. I’d never wish it on anyone; I also wouldn’t change it for myself. I’ve been into the darkness of my own mind, heart, and past. I lived there with a powerful flashlight in-hand, shining it into every hidden place. There, I found my own light. There isn’t anything I don’t know about myself. I know exactly what I’m made of, and how I’m put together. It’s powerful knowledge. It made me courageous.
That courage informs my biomimicry research around plastic. People’s reaction when they hear about my work: “How depressing!” and then they continue on with their single-use plastic loving lives. It is depressing. And if I can make a positive change in that field, it has an oversized impact. Solutions in dire situations are like that—it’s possible to make huge leaps forward because there is no other choice. So I get to work trying to make a difference with what I have—my science, business, and writing.
That courage also informs my reaction to coronavirus now. Another friend of mine asks, “How are you today?” They don’t wait for an answer before saying, “NYC is so awful right now. You must be so depressed and terrified that you can’t even get out of bed.”
No one needs to tell me how awful the situation is in NYC or send me the stats about it—I live here. I know all the stats. I’m surrounded by them. I read every official news report and listen to every press conference by every expert. And not once has it crossed my mind to leave NYC or stay in bed. Not once. Our essential workers need our support. I’m here for them. Thanking them, donating money and time, checking on my neighbors, and signing up to volunteer with the city when and how I can in a safe way.
What’s happening in NYC now will happen in many cities across the country. I’m here to learn, and to help my neighbors, essential workers, businesses, and government improve this city for all people. And then to help other cities that go through this when this disease shows up on their doorstep. And it will, and soon, and I’m sorry about that, and I will help you when the time comes. Personal therapy prepared me for this work, too.
NYC is in a dire state, and the circumstances of our essential workers is horrific. Just as I came through my fire a far better person than I was before, we have the chance to come out of this dark time a better community that helps many more people, especially our healthcare workers on the frontlines. To do that, we have to do the hard work of transformation. Together, we have to be committed to finally fix and heal and reinvent the many broken systems that have been broken for decades. We have to be committed to make all this difficulty mean something. I’m committed.