heartbreak and community in times of genocide

Connie Chiu

February 15, 2024

written by:

being heartbroken is a skill or so i’ve been told. in these times of genocide, i’ve been thinking about community in overwhelming degrees. or rather questioning the community i’ve built for myself in the span of my lifetime. i’ve always felt grateful to be surrounded by the people i call friends and family, the people i choose and choose me back — i still do. my community has gotten me through heartbreak and loss, love and joy, transitions and landings — they still do.

they’ve also, overwhelmingly and devastatingly, been silent about israel’s settler-colonial violence and genocide on palestineans in gaza and the west bank. silent for over 100+ days of brutal death-making, starvation, imprisonment, displacement, humiliation, torture, loss of entire lineages, entire homes, entire futures. the silence is disappointingly loud, loudly disappointing. though truth be told, i’m not sure why i expected anything different. i know my people and community. i know their politics and the boundaries and limitations of how far they are willing to go. i guess i expected all of us to grow and stretch and risk beyond our own personal comforts from living for 34+ years. and even the little that we, average americans, can do in the face of this genocide we’re funding — it’s not risky. it’s barely a stretch. it can be as simple as not satisfying a craving for mcdonalds or starbucks, as short as taking five minutes to call our representatives, as mindless as hitting that reshare or like button on social media.

i feel unmoored by life happening that it’s been impossible to unravel heartbreak from community, grief from time, rage from reality. yet it’s the sharpness of how alone i am in being unmoored as my friends and family go about their lives seemingly untouched.

the petty part of me sometimes feels like i’m surrounded by people who are aging but not growing, and that has me questioning (perhaps even doubting) the community i’ve always felt so lucky to have. their silence has me spiraling, asking over and over: who have i surrounded my life and values and futures with? who are these people that seem untouched and unmoved? and what does that say about my community?

to be fair, i’m not sure what their silence means or how it looks in the spaces i don’t see. no one has to publicly perform their care or solidarity to prove anything. but performance or not, people live by their values even if not stated publicly and this silence has illuminated some of my community’s values in ways that sadden me.

it’s a sadness that is both selfish and self-righteous: selfish that my community feels farther from my own values than ever before, and self-righteous in the larger spin of this universe where palestinians are being executed on screen and none of it seems to touch the people i hold dear in life. as if loss of life doesn’t matter one bit. maybe because the life is not ours. maybe because the loss is over there. maybe because we’re living well and comfortably over here.

the harder part is that i’m not sure what i’d ask anyone to do in times of genocide. i’ve grown out of believing in the plausibility of forcing anyone to do anything that they hold no conviction for (i don’t even force my own husband to compost; i just do what i can). i don’t believe that we can hold anyone but ourselves accountable just like how we can’t control anyone’s behaviors. transactions mean little in the lifespan of change and enduring relationships. i’m not sure i’m doing all that i can in times of genocide and i’m afraid of how tangible that feels as a still fresh parent trying to raise tiny humans who do not look away. i’m profoundly fearful of raising children who stay silent, who find comfort in ignorance, who remain untouched by the grief and loss of a stranger’s safety and dignity, who disconnect their own humanity because our western world teaches us to be hyper-individualistic.

i’m so afraid, not of the possibility that my own children may experience genocide in their lifetimes, but of their refusal. their refusal to bear witness and be moved by anyone experiencing genocide. it’s been hard, at times, to be joyful about baby girl coming earthside in a short two months. i’ve been hiding my pregnancy to some degree. i find it impossible to reconcile bringing a baby into this world while simultaneously witnessing dead babies pulled out from under the rubble, premature babies left out to suffocate alone in a ransacked hospital, parents fiercely and tenderly grieving their most precious beings. how does anyone reconcile this.

perhaps that’s why some look away. if there’s nothing to see, there’s nothing to reconcile. and we carry on.

i know my wishes and dreams for this world seem impractical to my community. i’ve always been the most “radical” person in any group; it’s become a running joke amongst my family and myriad compositions of friends, even friends’ of friends and circles with several degrees of separation. i don’t write this hoping that anyone in my community reads it and feels compelled to change or be as radical as me. i’ve long accepted the running joke as a blanket to safeguard how alone i feel in my values. i don’t write this hoping for gestures of solidarity or sympathy, for expressions of anger or even mild irritation at our government for funding a settler-colonial project genociding its way into the future. as with all of my writings, i write to archive my feelings of grief and tenderness, to locate this particular shape of sadness in a moment of time that is so catastrophic and devastating. it is 2023 and we are witnessing a genocide in real-time, and we as individuals cannot stop it or do not care to stop it. i write as to never forget how to be human in a society that so easily disregards and discards people.

i’ve been alive for 34, almost 35 years now, and bearing witness has been my most profound and powerful act of living. i’ve had to learn and relearn how to lean into grief, pain, and loss with graciousness and tenderness. i don’t always do it well and i don’t always do it. but i choose to persist, to see and to keep seeing. i don’t know if it’s enough. i don’t know where that lands me or the precious futures of palestinians living and loving under genocide. nothing is ever enough yet some things collected together into massive everythings can be, surprisingly, enough.

experiencing and living with heartbreak is certainly a skill. it can tear us apart, ferociously and disgracefully; or it can weave us closer together as we pick up each of our sacred parts in solidarity and accompaniment. a skill, an endurance, a future—to know that “the broken heart can cover more territory.”1 let our hearts break in these times of genocide as we bear witness. it’s the very least we can do as non-palestinians, our smallest act of love and resistance for a future abundant with palestinian joy, dignity, freedom, and yes, even heartbreak.

i do, and will always, love my community and people. i can also wish for more from the people i’ve surrounded my life with. we can always wish for more.

free palestine, now, forever.

1 adrienne maree brown

Connie Ni Chiu has been straying & staying from Los Angeles to the Bay Area to New York City and back again. Her writings have appeared in Entropy Magazine, The Margins, B The Change, and The ReWrite’s Namjai Anthology. By day, she is a racial equity practitioner and facilitator of stories. By night, she dreams of second-hand bookstores, public transportation, and nostalgia.

Connie Chiu


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *