I remember coming across a short story when I was about 15. It was called “Autopilot”. I don’t remember how I came across it, or where, or who wrote it, or if I ever actually had the mind to read it again. Perhaps I just skimmed over it. Perhaps I just talked about it with a friend. It honestly isn’t that clear to me now, 6 years later.
6 years. Sounds like quite a long time when you read or listen to it like that. But looking back, it seems neither close nor far. It seems unreal, actually. Like it never happened. Like the events of a few years past, or even a few months, weeks, days, did not ever come to be. As if the fight you had with your brother last month, or the regrettable fuck you had with your best friend over a year ago, happened to someone else. Someone not you.
And then you start asking, who was that? And why? But you’ve got no answers. Because the honest-to-God truth is, you just don’t know.
Sitting here now in broad daylight, my boyfriend asleep a few feet away from me, my dog asleep, as well, at my feet, I run these questions over myself again and again. Then I remind myself of the answer, again and again.
Over our lifetime, so many things happen. Things we see as trivial, but change the course of our lives. And only after a few years, decades too, perhaps, do we realize so. I guess I’m luckier than most, to be seeing this now at such a young age. And I know most people would say I’m entitled, or that I don’t know half the things I’m saying. But without a hint of self-doubt, I’d say, “At 20, I’ve seen things most people won’t ever see in their entire lifetime. And that says something.”
And it’s true. I’ve seen war at 20. I’ve seen death, and suffering, and tragedy. I’ve had to comfort a 11-year old kid I treated as a younger brother, because his older brother got shot in the head while giving out free vitamins to a community of poor farmers. I’ve stood beside a tribal leader as he got shot at the face twice because of refusing to surrender his peoples’ right to their land. I’ve seen students, like me, get beat up and chased with wooden and metal rods for asking for a peaceful dialogue with university authorities. I’ve seen death, and suffering, and tragedy.
At 19, I decided to be a part of a volunteer crew for a charitable organization that gives free medical help to far-flung areas. A charitable organization that gets neither support nor appreciation from the government. Instead, we received death threats, and the military, and guns to our head. And at first I was so confused, I didn’t understand. We were giving up our personal dreams for those who don’t even have the luxury to dream. We were doing the job the government should have been doing. And yet, there we were, thinking that each day might be our last.
Until it dawned on me. Dawned on me with full force, like that of the country’s military. This is the society we were born into. This is the kind of world we have come to love and embrace. This is the injustice that we smile at and romanticize everyday. This is us. This is the only autopilot that matters.
We were born into a society that puts the rich on a pedestal. No matter how abusive they are. No matter how exploitative their means are. Just because they’re rich and it makes a good success story. We love and embrace a world that turns its back on the poor and marginalized. No matter how vital they are to the economy. No matter how nice and hardworking they are. Just because they’re poor and they failed to climb a ladder that was never given to them. We smile at and romanticize the stories of suffering of the minority. No matter how difficult it is for them. No matter how much it hurts them. Just because they make our lives look detached and comfortable. This is us. This is the only autopilot that matters.
So today, being at home for 3 months and 10 days, after 16 months and 3 days of sacrifice and true service, I see. If there’s one thing I can do to give justice to what I’ve seen and experienced, that’s to break the autopilot in me. To break the chains I so desperately clung on to all this time. And I’m going to start today.
I’m going to start small, but I’m going to start.