Day by Day
Once again, a rifle was aimed at my skull by a man behind body armor. “Well ain’t that some shit,” I think to myself as just a few hours prior in the same location, I was cooking and serving food to the kids at camp.
The location was at an immigrant led occupation set up in front of an I.C.E detention center in Centennial, Colorado. My friends and I are a part of the Food not Bombs Fort Collins chapter, and when an undocumented mom of four put a call out for allies while they occupy public space outside of an I.C.E facility, we knew we had to be there. Not only are there always hungry mouths to feed, and perfectly edible food to salvage before going to waste, there is always a hand to lend in the ongoing battle for basic human rights.
A long, seemingly never-ending road of learning and fulfilling life’s meaning just like everyone else is what led me to be there on August 2, 2018. You’d think that someone would have to commit a really terrible action to have a rifle pointed at their head, especially in the land of the free. They say psychological warfare can defeat a whole army, but how about just one person? One mind? A student, a son, a brother, a friend… someone who was raised with love and freedom to explore my own self. Someone who was one of the privileged kids who didn’t have to worry about violence, compared to a kid who grew up in Baghdad. A high powered automatic weapon where the single flick of a finger can end your life, aimed directly at you, has got to do some damage even if that round didn’t fly.
As kids we were told of opportunities. A whole world out there to become a successful, and happy, individual. After all, we live in the United States, the movies and history classes train us to believe that the government are the good guys, and we live in a democracy with a perfectly functioning justice system.
You are also taught to create and grow within personal relationships. Between your family, close friends, neighbors, educators… meaningful relationships are a pillar for a happy life. There was a point in my life where as I was growing from a teenager into a young adult, I wasn’t necessarily happy with the people I was surrounded with. When a relationship sprouted that I thought could last a lifetime, it in some way or another became engulfed in flames. I only had a few friends and family I could lean on, and they were all spread out across the world. As an empath, I kept spinning in the wheels of life crying out for love, not in a desperate ‘ME’ way, rather, I was giving too much and not receiving back. Then one morning, back in 2016, I woke up and opened my laptop. I usually start out my mornings in a more simple way, like sitting outside and watching the birds and bugs, but on this day I felt a need for instant information.
“Find your warrior spirit, and get here.”
I still remember those words echoing through my broken laptop. They rung through the chambers of my body and sang through the crevices of my soul. My blood was running, I could feel it. About eight hours north from Fort Collins, in North Dakota, an indigenous women spoke to me through a computer screen. She was perched on a bulldozer, with a large lockbox wrapped around her arms connecting herself to the machinery. She was at Standing Rock, protecting her water and treaty rights from a multi-billion dollar corporation threatening to run a pipeline through her land.
A week later, on November 20, 2016, my car was packed up and I was headed to Oceti Sakowin. A camp I had only heard stories about, but was thriving as a community right in the middle of the Great Plains, complete with a school, medic area, and multiple kitchens. I went because I am in good health, young, have two working legs and two functional arms, I simply wanted to answer the call and lend a hand. No expectations, no ego, just running off of love and the distaste of staying complacent. Within two hours of being there and setting up camp, my neighbors who I had just met took me up to Backwater bridge to pray before they left back home to Massachusetts. That is when love met with terror.
What happened that night, the ways in which human beings, natives to this land, were treated by other humans, is still something that haunts me every single day. There is a reason, however, that I am able to pick myself up with a smile on my face. Because I am still full of love, ambition, and hope. I have seen the absolute greatest in humanity, the people I hold closest, the ones who I cook food with, the ones who I laugh and tell stories with, are mirror images of how my own family raised me. Why let the negative people drown out the positive?
A lot of my friends have turned their backs on me, they think that because I have found myself in situations that scare most, I am some crazy fool who has changed too much. The thing is, I am still the same Cullen that they knew and loved. I have stayed positive despite being faced by evil so twisted that words can’t even begin to describe. What you will not understand is the reason I found myself in those places, was because I have stayed true to myself, have been guided by the right people, been an honest person with good intentions. Yet the rifle directed between my eyes is by a person, or system, that begs to differ.
To describe myself, or my life, is not something I desire to do, but I find it quite simple because I myself am a simple person. I enjoy happiness, laughs, and connections. Yet, if I begin to tell people about recent endeavors I have found myself interconnected with, a lot of initial judgments about who I am get thrown across. Almost all negative and inaccurate, or wildly fantasized. To change up the system in which the society under it casts viscous judgments is something I fancy about almost every minute. What to do about it however is a conversation for the hours, until then, sharing my story and continuing to add to it by learning and living is how I’ll continue. Continuing to rely on the little things to keep me going, and staying compassionate and determined in the way I walk, the way I have operated my entire life. Keeping it as simple as I can, this is a lot-a-bit of who I am.