4 min read

It is my birthday.


In last week’s newsletter, the late great Cicely Tyson reminded us the best way to heal moral injury is to trust your truth and the amazing Alicia Stewart wrote to remind me Tyson’s autobiography, Just As I Am, is an incredible read. I am always here to push a good reading rec so never hesitate to send yours to me!

What lessons did this week recall for you?

It is my birthday.

Today is my birthday. It may seem surprising, given my track record of inspired and epic viral birthday cakes with shout outs from Hillary Clinton, but birthdays are not my thing.

The days around my birthday are markers connected to tremendous losses in my life I still and will forever and ever carry with me. There is a loneliness that comes with grief that is isolating. Your life has changed and the world just continues to breathe as usual. For many years, I usually tried to avoid and would wake up to texts from close friends, “What are we doing to *not* celebrate this year?” Eventually I figured out faith is how you get unstuck and grew to source strength from these losses and memories. I won't ever call losing so many loved ones a gift but grief has given me perspective that has become my secret weapon for ruling.

When my birthday rolls around and I'm low, when I miss, mourn and dwell, I do not feel like I'm ruling. I feel stuck and frozen in time. My lifehacks are channeling my father or repeating lines from Samuel Beckett (also hella dead, but hella wise) like a cadence:

"You must go on//I can't go on //You must go on //I'll go on"

But what if we shouldn’t go on? Not after another Black child has been murdered by the state. Not as we endure yet another surge of pandemic deaths. Not after yet another mass shooting. Adam Toledo was 13 years old. My kid is 13. I do not want us to go on like this anymore.

These events are not happening in isolation, they are part of an expanding long-running timeline of collective traumas and collective grief, which is only expanded and compounded in loneliness and isolation. Grief is healed in community, in breathing together and in bearing witness. In a pandemic where we cannot physically be in community, technology is the chief proxy for facilitating connection and care. But instead we are visually assaulted by murderous video autoplays and cruel merciless timelines. The absence of intentional technology and social media experiences that accelerates healing rather than scales dehumanization is one of the reasons I do the work I do in the world.

"You must go on//I can't go on //You must go on //I'll go on"

More death and murder, more Black pain and suffering, more vicarious traumas delivered over algorithms. We are changed but it all feels the same. The world breathes on, yet there is no relief in the exhale.

Last week, I caught up over Zoom with an old friend who has known me through so much life. I love long old friendships and this one, sparked in Libya and sustained across random European cities, is one I particularly cherish. She is Irish but lives in France now and we met as globetrotting journalists and technologists. Our running joke from Before Times is that we only seemed to hang out in cities we both don’t live in. A few years ago, she texted me to see if I was in New York. I was! At the time I did not live in New York. After canceling whatever it was I was going to do to go hug my friend in some tourist trap bar, I sat down and was like, “You know I don’t actually live here, right?” and she said in a very thick Irish accent, “I know. But I had a feeling.”

I love this story because this was the night my friend taught me a lesson about grief and healing. We were talking about the impracticalities of working in war/conflict. I was feeling unrooted, stuck and craving a different life and she was telling me how much she loved France and how she came to call it home. She said: “We go around the world and we have these intense experiences that very few people can relate to and it can wear on your spirit. I’m not ready to walk away and do something different but I knew I needed to understand how to carry this for myself. I decided it is important to come home to a place where you can breathe. So when I look out over my desk and I see the Mediterranean, I feel like I can breathe. That is my wish for you— to find a place where you can breathe.

What a beautiful, generous wish.

This year, my friend's wish for me is my birthday wish for all of you— in these difficult times, may you find a place to breathe.

And may we work to build a world where this is not a wish that is needed anymore.Exhale

  • Learn more and support The Breathe Act.
  • My friend Hayes Brown wrote this piece that I think everyone should read: "I can't tell anymore whether I'm numb with sadness or just numb at times like this." same, same.
  • Spreadsheets and good governance are my love languages. Each year, I send around a birthday survey to source collective wisdom from my favs (Last year, one friend wrote in their response, "I'm gonna call, but I know that spreadsheets are muy importante to you so prioritized this one" 😂). I'm opening it up the practice to this list. (Yes, I celebrated virtual birthdays way way before Zoom began to power the global economy and our social lives). Have birthday advice for me or wisdom to share?" Drop in this form!

What are you reading?

You are reading Sabrina’s personal newsletter.

I decided to restart my personal newsletter, it’s been a minute and you may not remember signing up for this and want to opt-out. If so, that is cool! If you choose to stick around, great! The forthcoming newsletters will be moving off Mailchimp in solidarity with workers there and delivered via Ghost. We're just doing some spring cleaning over there first.

I hope you feel cared for and supported right now.