“I chose a spot near the river. There I prepared the seed to go into the ground. I gave it a thick, nutritious coating, then brought it out of my body through my right sensory hand. I planted it deep in the rich soil of the riverbank. Seconds after I had expelled it, I felt it begin the tiny positioning movements of independent life.” – Octavia Butler, Imago
Something that I found myself having to learn this semester was how to adapt to new and different environments. This pandemic has taken a toll on every individual and has affected everyone differently; it has taken away so much so quickly, which can be a lot for people to handle at times. With everyone experiencing these struggles and stresses, it can absolutely bring and bind people together. I have noticed this binding in my personal life by observing social media and the people around me. I also learned that it is incredibly important to care for yourself and others at a time like this; mental health matters just as much as physical health does. This is something I absolutely struggled with myself, living on a college campus during a pandemic is a big change and something that took a toll on my mental health. I realized that there is still room to grow, despite the changes that had been made to everyday life and learning. My growth through this semester has been different than any others, and after this class is finished I will take what I learned and move forward with that. In Octavia Butler’s trilogy Lilith’s Brood, people can be bound forever to the Oankali species. This kind of binding is not so different from binding we may see in our society today; people with similar struggles are brought and bound together and so are the humans and the Oankali. The Oankali version of care is also much different than how humans care for each other and themselves, and that is something I found interesting in today’s circumstances as well. For myself, I learned that growth does not happen unless you do something to encourage it. You must water the seeds that you plant in order to see growth and change; without water a simple seed cannot grow.
I think something that I learned about bringing and binding people together this semester is that everyone is in the same boat. Everyone is struggling with school work, family issues, and the general gloom of a pandemic. This sort of general struggling to do the best we can when times are the hardest is something I have had to learn how to do and also something I have been able to observe for quite some time now. I think that people with similar struggles and issues are drawn together, and this is a common theme that can be seen in Butler’s trilogy. I also feel as if another binder is familiarity; such as the humans and Oankali not truly being familiar with one another. The Oankali can physically bind themselves to humans, but they can’t understand what it is like for the humans to be going through the gene trade. The humans, specifically the resistors, find it difficult to even be around the Oankali because of their appearance. The resistors take in Akin simply because he looks more like them than the other Oankali. They “liked him simply because he looked like them”(Butler 385). This familiarity allowed Akin to be trusted and accepted by the resistors. In the beginning of the trilogy, Lilith can’t even bear the sight of Jdahya. When she is first introduced to him “she found herself still unable to take even one more step towards him”(Butler 13). She was repulsed by his “alienness, his difference, his literal unearthliness”(Butler 13). This familiarity is just something that the Oankali simply can’t have with the humans, which stifles their ability to bind together. The struggles that the humans have versus the struggles that the Oankali have in the trilogy also offer nothing to bind them to one another. The Oankali can’t understand why the humans would not want to participate in the gene trade, and the humans can’t understand why the Oankali want it to happen in general.
When I reflect back on this semester I noticed that since all my friends and I were going through similar struggles, we were all willing to help each other as much as we could. Whether it was for a paper, or we had to pack our bags and move into the quarantine hall, we were all there to support. There was this beautiful mutual understanding that we were all trying to grow and learn despite the circumstances, so we all needed to push each other and help each other a little more than usual. This in itself was growth I think; acts of selflessness during a time when it is so easy to be selfish. It was wonderful to watch this happen and wonderful when I realized I had grown from this as well.
Something that we analyzed this semester was that the basic roots of harm and care were not so different. This was interesting to me and I remember earlier in the semester reading the definition of both words and being surprised that they were incredibly similar. Someone may perceive something that is harmful as caring, and vice versa. This is similar to the Oankali seeing the gene trade as something that will benefit the humans, but the humans wanting absolutely nothing to do with it. “The only thing they can’t do, it seems, is let us alone. Let us do it in our own way”(95). The humans, specifically the resistors, are incredibly upset when they hear the plans that the Oankali have for the human race, yet the Oankali can’t seem to understand why they would be upset; they believe they are saving the human race and the earth from extinction. Something that I am reminded of when thinking of harm and care is the acts of good faith we talked about earlier in the semester. Practicing good faith sounds easy, but when put into practice it can be difficult. These acts of good faith are important in truly understanding that slight difference between harm and care; it is the act of actively thinking about other people and their well-being. I think that this is especially important right now in today’s climate, students from all over are dealing with their mental health in different ways and it is important to check in with friends and family right now. This pandemic has been particularly straining on everyone’s mental health, so practicing good faith along with care is incredibly important right now.
While working at the elementary school I worked at over the course of this semester, I remember having a particularly bad mental health day. In a professional environment such as this one, it is important to remain calm and not let your emotions get the best of you. This day was particularly difficult for me, and one of my second graders had noticed I was a bit off. Even at their age, they realized I needed a break and asked me to sit and help them finish their craft with them. This act of care was in good faith and was extremely helpful to me this day. They did not judge me, just simply offered me a quick break from the stress of the job. Another necessary component to offering care in good faith is doing it without judgement. The second grader did not question me, they just simply offered me a break without any judgement and in doing so they practiced something that will come in handy for them in the future: good faith.
I think personally I have definitely gone through some changes throughout the semester. I learned a lot about myself and the limits my mind and body have, especially with online schooling and living during a global pandemic. I learned it is okay to take breaks and step back from reality for a second to keep my mental health in check. The changes that the humans went through in the trilogy I feel are similar in ways but also incredibly different. Lilith went through a mental change; in the beginning of the trilogy she refused to work with the Oankali and relentlessly found ways to go around them, but by the end she was having their Oankali mixed children and found herself becoming nurturing and motherly towards these children that she swore she would never have. Another character that went through immense change was Akin. They seem to be in some sort of limbo; not quite belonging with the Oankali and not quite belonging with the humans. He looks more human than a normal Oankali would, so they resent him for this and the humans resent him for looking even remotely Oankali. “No one came for him. No one would take him home or let him go. He felt both unwanted and wanted too much”(365). Akin was trapped, and he was aching for a change. He soon realized that he wanted to look into his human side more, and decided to spend time on earth to learn and grow from them, “I want to know the human part of myself better”(406). It is here he learned that change is an incredibly important part of his growth as one of the first Oankali-human hybrids. Akin was basically a child at this point, and I think he found this limbo he was stuck in very difficult. I have absolutely felt the same way as him before; lost, alone, and unhappy. But when I was feeling this way, I always knew I had to make a change, much like Akin did.
Realizing I had to make a change for myself this semester was a major part of my growth. I was in a “rut” of sorts mentally, and online classes were not good for my mental health. Something that helped me out of this was that I realized everyone is in the same situation. Students are exhausted and lost in their course work, so realizing that we all are in the same situation helped me come out of my “rut” a little bit each day. I made the most of the situation I was in, and decided that enough was enough and I made the conscious decision to add some water and “grow” myself. Once I did this I noticed that my mental health got increasingly better, and my academic growth followed in suit.
Self-growth is not something that just happens when it happens. It is something that you must work for, nurture, and bring out of yourself. My own self-growth this semester taught me many lessons that I will personally carry on in the rest of endeavors at SUNY Geneseo and throughout my life.