By Kassie Hartendorp
It is not enough to have the right ideas. Don’t get me wrong. An idea can be a light in the wild. A beacon in dark and stagnant times.
But what we so achingly need, is not just the lightbulb, or even the light-giver. It is the work of strengthening ourselves in that light together. It is in striving to be in relationship with one another. We need the work of binding ourselves back together.
I can almost hear the logic-workers, the commentariat and the Marxists exiting a tab window as I speak, but I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t think it was necessary.
As Toko-Pa Turner says, we need to remember ourselves back into belonging. But I think we must go further. We need to remember ourselves into active, powerful belonging that challenges the forces causing harm to our world, and everyone in it. It is not a soft skill, or nice-to-have, or an add-on to a social justice shopping list. It is crucial for making the change we need.
Binding ourselves together begins with the quiet intertwining of threads. Ghostlike at first, as whispers and awkward uncertainties, until they are woven thicker and stronger. Silky bonds start to gather around our bodies with every small act. A greeting, a gift, a tiny kindness. Woven patterns start to form in the pulling and pushing, the giving and receiving, the commitment to being in relationship. The patterns can be traced around the street corners; the footpaths we walk together, the bus stops we wait at or the places we meet. They are woven from unlikely fibres; the voices of children playing, coffee beans and cups of tea, heirlooms and taonga passed along, or home-cooked meals after a funeral. If anything, the patterns are a picture of trust, whether the slow unfolding of it, or the abrupt moment you realise that someone else can hold your life in their hands.
It is in these bonds that we find answers. Hidden truths laid out in the sun prompted by a well placed word. We become bound in time and place. And in doing this, we leave imprints on the world around us. A well bound couple or group leaves an impression. Like a plaque on a park bench, marking where Mr and Mrs Someone spent their time holding hands and looking over an ocean they so dearly loved.
But they also leave much humbler ripple effects. The too-loud-laugh across a supermarket or the quiet glance between lovers at a restaurant. The smile after a text message that can’t be hidden. The mauri left lingering behind close friends as they shuffle past you, just by living in their comfortable togetherness.
Once these threads keep winding and growing, we form cocoon-like nests between each other. Cocoons are said to be comfortable hiding places from the world, where you can bury your head in cotton wool and soften the blows of the world around you. There is nothing wrong with seeking a softening, but the cocoons we weave are very different.
They are incubators. It is where we are permitted to change shape. Bones merge together, and wings start to grow from our backs. When we are bound in togetherness, that is when we truly grow. And the threads (which are now sturdy, seafaring ropes) are like the safety net we never knew we needed. Sometimes catching us when we fall or bouncing us back up to face the world again.
And in the cocoon, magic things can happen. I can’t even begin to detail all of the shimmerings of silky relationships, but probably and hopefully you know of them firsthand. And if you don’t yet, remember this. Everyone is as scared or guarded or hurt as you. Everyone fears rejection at some point in their life and that is why it is crucial, that you must always offer something forward. Do not leave a person hanging on a thread! (Unless they are awful and you need to cut all rotten ties, of course). People try so hard, all of the time. And if you reward that trying, you will certainly be rewarded in return.
Beyond shiny metaphors, all of this is to say, we need each other. We need to remember what it felt like to be connected – as neighbours, as friends, and even, as family. Many of us have forgotten how to be together in family. I definitely have and I’m ashamed to say it, but I think I must, to be honest with at least myself, if not with you.
We have forgotten how to be deeply bound to each other. And I’m not pointing fingers and placing blame. Because besides the fact that I am guilty myself – we have jobs we must seek, and bills we must pay and sometimes wars to flee, and rising tides to survive. There are a million reasons why we move and move again, and each time, the threads grow a little more weak – or at least disorientated and needing some care to stitch back together.
I once had resounding panic attacks triggered by loud noise and loneliness. An osteopath said I may be disoriented, and I should seek the familiar. He didn’t fix my aching back, but maybe he helped my dizzy soul because in that moment I remembered that I had lived in 12 houses in 10 years, never settling down long enough to know the people I lived with. I had stopped unpacking my boxes because it would save energy in a few months when I inevitably moved again.
In a city of short-term leases, rising rents, parasitic property managers and fickle landlords, it is no wonder that many jump from room to room as I did. And how does that leave the threads of your relationships? Well, it was hard to keep the ropes strong or roots deep when you are moving so often. And even if you have the time, your mind starts tricking you: no need to say hi to the dairy owner or smile at neighbours at the bus stop when you’ll be gone soon anyway. Again and again.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a freedom in that life. But is freedom really worth it when you are so alone? Have we been taught to believe that personal freedom is what we all strive for, and its jurisdiction ends where you end, and before someone else begins? When did freedom become so singular? So finite and dry.
But the freedom I crave is bound! It is wrapped in loving yarn and connecting out to five billion people. It is thick and juicy and life giving, like tree roots soaking up nutrients from a thousand underground networks. It is ancestral and holy! It is the threads of thousands connecting me forward and back! Every forgotten family member, or unborn child is counted and present. The freedom I seek is the sigh of contentment of sinking into another’s arms or armchair and knowing I am loved and love in return. It is the ability to fuck up and know that love remains. It is the freedom to be my best possible self! It is the responsibility to free others along the way, not as a chore, but a joy!
And in the warmth and life of those cocoons and nets, the threads, ropes and roots – is the embryo of possibility. Anything can grow in wombs like us. Anything can be fed and nourished, and eventually birthed. Yes, it will be painful. Human connection always is. In fact, it is excruciating. Because our heart hangs on those threads, and sometimes, through no real intention of our own, those hearts are left to drop or smash or splinter.
But we can’t give up. We can’t because our world depends on it. Believe it or not, our rivers depend on us being bound. They rely on us working together to remember where they flowed from, at what point they were dumped in and how to clear away the pain. Our mountains depend on us to tell stories of their holiness. Our forests, our oceans, our islands. They are begging us to remember how to be bound – before it is too late.
I wish I could tell you there was a template. A ten step program or a WikiHow to teach us how to be rebound. But like all noble and and deeply frustrating efforts, it must be done by doing, and in our own unique ways. There is no master pattern.
For me, it started with reaching out to family members I had avoided for stupid reasons. It started with introducing myself to my neighbour. It started with making friends with people I felt jealous or threatened by. With unearthing whakapapa. With hand-making gifts. With making an effort. With listening. With learning how to receive love. With choosing to be myself because to butcher Oscar Wilde’s words, I was shit at anything else.
I have only started, rather than succeeded (but maybe those two are more closely bound than we thought). Because every beginning is magical. I am not rooted and tethered like the kauri I dream of, but years of weaving has started to produce cocoons of which I believe to be my greatest shared achievements. To repeat, the relationships I have strengthened are the best parts of my life. They give me life.
And sometimes I imagine if we were all so bound and connected like the roots of the greatest kauri in the forest, or the finest woven mat – what could we collectively achieve? If we were bound in magic, and holiness, safety and security, love and acceptance, reflection and accountability – what would we be capable of? Probably we would weave masterpieces over dinner tables and spark revolutions at bus stops and find goddesses in our lovers’ eyes.
I don’t know. But I do know that it’s not enough to just have the right idea. And most certainly, not on your own. That sounds like a burden at the best of times. I think we owe ourselves something deeper. Something that brings along all of us. And draws on every strength we have to weave it into something bigger. And then we all know in our hanging hearts and aching backs. We all know how we got there. We all know what it took, where the path veered, at what point the darkness swallowed us and the moment when we came out the other side. We all know the roadmap to a more fulfilling kind of freedom. When we do this work together, we all know how to find and bind ourselves forward and back again, should we ever need to once more.
Every idea has a whakapapa, a geneaology, a root system. Nothing comes from nowhere. This piece was written at 1am, in half dreamland, by Kassie Hartendorp and it was influenced by the work of Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Toko-pa Turner, Moana Jackson, Nadia Abu-Shanab and every trusting space and relationship I get to be a part of. Thank you to MZ for the illustrations and proof-reading. He mihi nui ki a koutou.