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Rooted in Purpose

Updated: May 31, 2023

“When the hurricane of whiteness, power and associated accouterments bear down, I might get ruffled. But I will not be uprooted. I dig deeper into my purpose. Onwards. Keep going. We can do this.”

- Bina M Patel

My plane was delayed, again*. I just wanted to go home – leave behind all the noisy airports and conference rooms full of skeptical people; to go home where it was warm and I know my way around. I needed to let my inner introvert have a break from talking all day with strangers in unfamiliar conference rooms.

Maybe I’ll become a librarian – and not the helpful one at the front desk, either. I’d be the one in the back, shelving books; blessedly alone.

Instead, I am stuck in this airport on my way to lead a workshop for people who said they wanted to walk their own social justice talk, but whom I know will resist the actual painful work.

Am I getting through at all?

Is it even worth the effort?

Is this the life of service to the community I envisioned as a child, or am I wasting my time?

As these questions play out in my head, I hear a song. A bird perched high above. It is a bird singing her heart out. “She’d be a lot happier in the branches of a tree than in the ceiling of this terminal”, I think. But here she is and she is still singing.

An airport is not a good place for a bird – staying here might even kill her. And yet she chirps away. It is April and I wonder if this is her spring song. I wonder where she found the joy to sing in this awful place.

I think of that saying, “My labor is my protest” and I wonder, “Could I bring that kind of joy to my labor?” Could I revise the saying to say, “My labor is my joyful protest, my joyful service”?

That bird sings because, biologically speaking, she is rooted in her purpose.

My purpose is service; helping people transform their understanding of injustice, consider their role in perpetuating the systems that allow injustice to flourish and own their ability to make meaningful change. Like the bird, I literally don’t know what else to do with myself. This work is in my bones. It’s how I am in the world.

But I am so tired.

They call my flight number for boarding and I stand and gather my things. I think of how two things can be true: not either/or, but both/and. Both: It is hard. I am hurt and tired. And yet also: When I check in with my purpose, my heart calms and I know that my labor is my joyful protest and my joyful service.

*This piece was originally written in April, 2019.


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