“It was in losing the fear of death that I began to understand faith and hope.”
DeRay McKesson ’07 writes these words in the first chapter of his book, “On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope.” He describes a time when he pulled into his driveway only to find an unfamiliar car at his curb. The driver exited just as McKesson did and then served him with papers. He was being sued by five police officers. Though he had received death threats before—an entire movie theater once had to be evacuated—this attack was different. It happened in his home. And yet, an incredible stillness washed over him where he lost the fear of death.
I think about these words often. The closest I have come to death is an almost freak accident. Years ago, my cousin went to park her car but hit the gas instead of the brakes, which very nearly hurled our bodies into a brick building. Luckily, she switched pedals in time, but in that moment, my heart raced like it never had before. The fear of death activated inside of me an intense desire to live. I wonder what it would be like to abandon this sensation and to lose the fear of death. What reason would you have left to live?
As I reflect on my time at Bowdoin, I recognize that my activism is not quite at the scale of McKesson’s, but it has produced comparable experiences. I have this sensation of being always “on.” I am seen first as a leader and only second as a person, and I’ve poured my whole heart into changing this institution, only to be rejected time and time again.
This year alone, I have been denied promotions and rejected from dream jobs. A month ago, I lost an election for Bowdoin Student Government, which I have served on for my entire time here. Further in the past, I developed deep feelings for a friend, and she told me she wasn’t interested in the middle of Smith Union. Just as nature is a familiar acquaintance, so too has failure become an intimate friend.
Like McKesson, who has lost the fear of death, I have lost the fear of failure. I no longer derive validation from others but instead look to myself for personal satisfaction. This column is proof enough. Though I will have no formal leadership positions next year, I am okay with this. I am now free to accomplish what it is that I want to accomplish. I can write again on my volition.
When I look back on this year, I am most proud of my work for the Orient. I made a decision to publish an opinion column and never once did I shy away from sharing what was on my mind. If this is to be what I am remembered by, then that is alright with me. I hope this column serves as inspiration to the activists who will come to challenge this institution. And I share with them this last piece of advice: speak truth to power always, and keep up the good fight. I will be here if you need me.