Updated: Oct 4, 2021
Toastee is especially excited to debut an extract from our Toastee contributor, and dear friend, Esther Ajose’s upcoming work on an anthology of female voices and experiences.
This is an ongoing piece of work, an accumulation of over 2 years of contemplation, a journal, passed from woman to woman to detail a stream of consciousness, creating a collective of women’s narratives.
This commitment, I do thus make, to hope. Verb. Not I am hoping, but that I have hope. To pursue the evolution of my moral imagination. To act as the lens through which light travels – for myself. To create the space for others to do the same. And with this, I start with my written consciousness, and hand over the pen, the keypad, and invite the voices of others to add to the stream. With that, I welcome you. To the many apertures of this work. Esther, Christina, Zainab, Ally, Lara, Kirsty, and the plethora of voices to come.
As I wade through the stream of queries in my mind, I travel and return back to the same destination: to bear witness. I think that we have mistaken empathy as walking in someone else’s shoes. Let us be clear, you can’t. But what we can do is witness, and accompany. Accompany, how do we accompany? The Jewish and Christian tradition have a supplication they render that I find fascinating; an emphasises on the “softening of the heart” or more directly, the biblical verse that says, “Give me a heart of flesh”, a heart that feels and is deeply open to experience, whether it’s joy or pain, finding the places where weeping and joy can come together or where yearning and delight can come together.
But what if we have been collectively living with undiagnosed arrhythmia? The culprit behind our condition - that for so long has caused our hearts to beat unnaturally - being the acceptance of the lie that guardedness is protection. If we are a collective body, and the purpose of the heart is to oxygenate other parts of the body, doesn’t this guardedness actually harm us? They say we live in a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world and that we must first look after ‘number one’. But if we are one as collective, perhaps it is time we start putting the collective first?
But that takes work. To be willing to elasticize the heart. Not the fidget around until the buzzer dings type of work – no--the roll up the sleeves, tie up the hair, and the double knot the shoelaces type. After our shared and collective trauma over the last year, are we finally ready for that? Have our values expanded to the extent that we see the humanity in others? What habits of the heart do we need to learn? To unlearn? The questions seem endless, yet – possess answers closer than we think. I’m willing to hold to the claim that it boils down to these short words ‘I like you because…I love you despite…’ That with each human we experience life with, we may do so, with a spirit of ‘because’ and a heart of ‘despite’. A human is a human because of other humans. Is it time to bring that closer to our fleshy organ in the chest.
How do we prepare the chest for such a heart? To ensure it’s not just cavity; a home for a heart but not a place for it to blossom. The beating of a heart - abnormal or part of a brilliant musical symphony - does not mean we all feel. As we experience life, how do we get beyond the thumping, the constant drumming reminder of blood flowing, and find what
bonds us beyond this bodily music. How do we exercise the muscle of the heart to care? To dare to put others before ourselves. To say and believe that our veins arrive at the same destination and “I would stop mine before I allowed yours to be cut off” And that “mine would no longer beat the same to know yours is unable to”
There's something of a dissonance between what we may pertain and what we act upon. Do we not spend our young female life in a kind of false consciousness? Are we not trying to grasp our true selves, and at what it is to be a woman before we even get to this quiet empathetic understanding of others? With our own edifice of emotional fecund, we in turn build a double empathy problem. We can point and say that others don't understand 'us' when it is ourselves who need to remain open, and to be ready to receive. It is only when we are truly still that we may feel that beating of our heart in our chest. Here the challenge is remaining in our own body and self, whilst being open to hearing the beat and flow of others. Bear witness. Listen.