The Impotence of Individuality and the Strength of Us All
My 6-year-old wanted to know what I had wanted to be when I grew up. I told him that I had wanted to be an architect. He asked me why I didn't become one. I explained that there's a difference between admiring beautiful buildings and really doing the math that came with designing them.
When I think back, I was enamored with the tilted desks and staring seriously at the long lines on impossibly long paper and then looking up and staring into the distance with a skyscraper appearing in the background. It was a romantic idea of design that I saw on TV. I continued my explanation to my son. "At a certain point, I realized it might be better to do things that I might be better at," I said. "And math was not my strength."
That said, it turns out that I did end up being in a job requiring that I stare out into the middle distance while I work and think more about what I said to him, and more about what I didn't say.
I didn't tell him how much of what you envision for yourself as a child isn't something you can readily access, no matter how hard you try or how good you are. Plenty of life is left up to immutable circumstances of birth: who your parents are and who they aren't; where you grow up and what your community looks like.
What isn't shared over Happy Meals is how much of life is feeling impotent while you watch the world around you and reconcile how little power you have in that world. There is so much out of your control and recognizing and nurturing your strengths is the only thing within your grasp.
It's been a hazy couple of weeks, a fog settling over everything like at the start of the pandemic. It felt like a rerun, going back to watching long stretches of news clips in the kitchen. But this time it wasn't listening to my governor speak and hearing the changes that would immediately affect my life, like businesses shutting down or new mask mandates. This time it was waiting for the president to explain that while what we all saw was very tragic, let's worry about our economy. Another leader on the other side of the world asked for our collective help, but there isn't much we can do. And plenty of us just want to be able to do something.
I watched the footage of Ukrainians who could already leave. I'm still thinking about a brief image: a woman standing in the crowd gripping her two kids, waiting. She could be me. I could be her. And there is nothing I can do for her.
And there had been nothing I could have done for the mothers with their kids in cages in the city down the road from me either. Those mothers hold on to their children just as tightly. I could have been them as well.
Millennials have been told that voting is the key to change, but there's severe disillusionment when we watch the system behave in the same manner over and over. One war ends, another begins. There is so much we cannot do, will never have the money to do or the power to change. See Ukraine. See inflation. See the hearts of tyrants with impossible amounts of money and power and the urge to see a legacy laced with flames.
And yet, it's only the power of us all united in action that can enact change. We do have the ability to stop the world if we all sit down in the streets together. We have the power to design a future that scrapes against the fog of stagnation but doesn't rely on individuality and instead relies on us as a community. It's a future that would force us to piece together our strengths as individuals and then selflessly lend them to a cause, and to be the winds of change that can blow away circumstances beyond our control.
Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.