“Who, me confused? Ambivalent? Not so. Only your labels split me.”
—Gloria Anzaldúa, in "La Prieta"
This past summer, I was the only “out” Queer and Afro-Boricua chaplain intern at a hospital. Our frenzied daily routine included taking a wellness survey and donning face shields. Like something akin to a dystopian scene, we were preparing for battle. Images of those in the throes of the virus were seared our minds while we were waiting for temperature checks to be cleared to work.
My sensibilities as a freethinker and Unitarian Universalist were heightened. My fellow chaplain interns often made references to God, or a Higher Power; some referred to abstract notions of salvation, feelings of being complete, or finding the Truth. As a humanist, I believe we can harness the complexities of our human narrative to inspire reparative imagination in the here and now.
During my chaplaincy, I found that many people could not feel, dream, or imagine being fundamentally whole. In one pastoral encounter, I visited an older patient—frail and despondent—who was experiencing isolation from their family and community. They lamented, “God is punishing me for being an awful partner. I am alone. Where did I go wrong? Why am I broken?”
I sat down next to their hospital bed. They lit up when I began to speak in Spanish. They recounted their values, fond memories with their kids, and the grounding rituals from their Roman Catholic faith. They described struggles with their partner’s alcoholism and being chided after multiple drunken stupors. They remembered his constant refrains: “You’re an awful partner. You’re broken.”
I looked intently at them and replied, “You are not broken. You are beloved.” Trying to conjure something that would be impactful, I said, “I don’t believe that human beings are broken. I think that things, systems, and institutions might be broken—but not people.”
Broken implies a fundamental flaw. It reminds me of a common saying I’ve heard: Mi alma está rota en mil pedazos. It refers to the soul being shattered into a thousand pieces, or a belief that our past was so bad that there could be no hope.
However, to me, hope is not aspirational. It’s something that we should cultivate in our actions every day—not to reach some sort of enlightened state, but to illuminate possibility.
I invite you to speak to yourself compassionately and gently. Recognize that even our wounds and scars serve as reminders of how far we have come. Embody and live out this unique and whole authentic self. You are not broken. Go and live unapologetically in freedom.