My name is Joe Van, and I am filled with absences, though that statement doesn’t track grammatically. Instead, I will simply say that I AM NOT most things. This line of thought is nothing new to me, nor is it new in general, nonetheless, as a kid I remember asking myself what would happen if I wished for everything. At first it would grant me wealth and fame, great things for any aspiring young boy to strive toward, but then I began to worry. It would grant me all forms of mental disorders. I would also become every person and every animal. Not just that, but every object, like a shovel, the dirt being dug up by the shovel. I’d be a balloon and the wind sucking the balloon away from a crying girl that would also be me. I’d be a bed where a couple would perform an affair. I would be a knife used by a serial killer, me slicing into other people who were also me. To be everything would be a curse.
The reason I’m writing all this now is because I’m reflecting on my own ignorance. I recently found out how to count in ASL. It’s not the typical way for those who don’t know. In the wake of my ignorance, I’m again thinking about what it would be like to embody more than myself, but instead of everything, I’m wondering what it would be like to experience everyone. In my attempt at mapping out this human-centric train of thought there will be general experiences too terrible to describe, and countless more I’ll simply miss, whether it’s because it slipped my mind or because I simply don’t know what I don’t know. The human experience is so vast that we can say with certainty, some experiences were surely had that would have made the greatest stories ever told, but it wasn’t recorded and thus lost to time. This vastness is why we can create endlessly new tales to put into books, podcasts, or films. So, without further adieu, let’s begin.
I’m not someone kissing the forehead of their newborn child for the first time.
I’m not an orphaned Indian child running from the hands of human traffickers.
I’m not a First Nations woman being harassed for her inherent traits.
But I’m also not opening my eyes after a gender-affirming surgery, knowing that I will finally feel at home in my own body.
I’m not believing a story depicting victims of gun violence as actors.
I’m not feeling the bliss of heroin come over my body.
I’m not at the cusp of finishing a gene sequence with my team of scientists after months of harrowing work.
I’m not the owner of a business shutting down due to the new global recession.
I didn’t just successfully land a backflip for the first time.
I’m not living in a nation under attack.
I’m not walking down the aisle toward the love of my life.
I’m not nor ever will be under the belief that my leaders are cannibals.
I’m not someone successful in the entertainment industry.
I’m not struggling with anger management issues.
I’ve not experienced the loss of a parent.
I’m not sitting by the beachfront of my new property.
I’m not fighting for my freedom to free my hair in public.
I’m not feeling the joy seeing my child find romantic love for the first time.
I’m not someone looking into the eyes of their parents that just accepted my sexuality after years of estrangement.
I am not most people. I have not experienced so many things both good and bad that are happening around the world to specific people, and likely never will. I have the privilege of ignorance to not know what I don’t know and not be affected by what I don’t know. Things like oppression, prejudice, and ridicule by others for inherent traits and innocent hobbies should never exist, but for all the other experiences humanity has to offer, some possible for anyone to have and others specific to gender, culture, language, interests like food, sports, religion, stories, music, social events, work, or ideas; they are all things deserving equally of admiration, representation, and celebration. Each are valid and deserving of presentation.
I haven’t travelled much in my life, and while doing so can broaden one’s horizon to countries and cultures they might never experienced before, stories too offer a glimpse into the vast world of humanity, and that’s why I love stories. Life is so short, and the world is so big. It’s hard for one person to live a full life on their own, but to know others is what makes this crazy thing all have colour to it. Life is a dance, and your partners are everyone you engage with. Family, friends, neighbours, commuters, co-workers, passersby. You dance with them all. And not just them, but the stories you hear, the animals you see in documentaries, the Earth you climb, and the fictional characters you root for. Every memory you make throughout your whole life is what makes you, and it’s all but a blink in the grand scale of time. It’s not enough to meet every person, share every conversation, or learn everything. But, with our fraction of time, we can just do our best to understand people in general and show them the respect you’d want in return. We can’t know what every person we encounter is going through, but we can know that they have had an entire life leading up to each moment, just like us, and that’s worth something.
In that commonality I will hang my hat and close this off. Thank you for checking this out and as always, I wish you nothing but love in your life, and ask you to remember to keep on thinking. Until next time, ciao for now.