He would have loved his weekend.
He really would have.
He would have loved the people and the paddle out. The hugs and the laughter. The storytelling and the filming and dancing and the howling. He would have loved seeing folks come from all corners of the world, and he would have loved the healing that’s taking place between us.
Damn. He really would have loved this last weekend.
Alexander is a man I’ve found myself hard pressed to put into words. I wonder if that’s because he never really felt like flesh and blood to me. Of course, he was. As all the tears shed these last few weeks reveal, he was very much, flesh and blood. But the truth is, I always received Alexander as spirit more than body. As light more than the shadows. As flight more than the ground.
Alex had a capacity to make everyone he met, feel as though they had been mates for decades. He certainly did for me. The stories that have poured through social media, have often been variations of one another, each saying something remarkably similar to the other - the moment we met, I felt we would be friends for life.
Alex was perhaps the first person to treat me like an artist. Like a writer. To believe that maybe just maybe, there was something beautiful within my soul, waiting to be born. That if I would just sit down and focus the mind, words might come out. That if I reached into the depths of heart, it might pump an energy through my veins, up my chest, across my shoulder, down through my arm, and out through fingers fiercely gripping a pencil, ready to share on the outside, all that lay within. That maybe, just maybe, we are each organic beings and our spirit contains the medicine necessary for each of us to heal. And that maybe, just maybe, if we had the courage to share what was in our insides, we could heal that which was invisible within you as well.
Alex was a pied piper, leading us all in song and dance, even when nothing was said at all. He made you feel as though life was a parade, and how could we possibly spend parade day simply sitting around? We must be up on our feet my friends, up on our feet, alive and dancing. For what is death to the body, but laying down forever ? The living must stand and run and move and shake dear ones - if for no other reason than to keep the worms at bay.
Alex was a revolutionary. For nearly a decade, he criss-crossed both the country and the world, rallying his generation to demand an end to a war a world away. He believed deeply in the equality of humanity. That our lives in the developed Global North, are worth neither more nor less, than the billions of lives in the continuously colonized Global South. That violence anywhere should be treated with urgency, and that injustice elsewhere demands the same response as injustice here at home. He was a man of expansive empathy, who saw people as people, regardless of circumstance or the geography they happened to be born within. And while much has been said of the roaming tours that belonged to Invisible Children, I’ve always believed they were this generation’s John The Baptist - those who were privileged enough to come first, and stir the people for the revolutionaries yet to come.
Alex had trauma. For too many of us, the events of our lives while we are helpless and vulnerable, collide with abuse and violation. At times it can be a benign behavior that has implications long after, but often it is not. The melding of our hardest attributes In violence, and our softest attributes in our passions, can often be disastrous in the depths of our psyche. The wounds of our formative years, often take the longest to heal.
Get up and go.
When I heard the news, I felt it in every small, star-speckled fiber of my being. As though his star-speckled being had burst into billions of pieces, and traveling through space and skin, had simply entered me. I felt his light crawling through each and every dusty corner within, opening that which had been closed, forgiving that which had been held onto, and healing that which had been wounded. What does one say to such light. To such power and beauty. It was his truest essence in body form - that of a healer. A carrier of the light. And whether you were a pre-teen on warp tour learning about war for the first time, or a friend who simply needed one person to say they understand your pain, Alex brought the light. So while I don’t know what others have experienced since his death a few weeks ago, I can say with some confidence that his light is now airborne. Capable of traveling great lengths, and finding its way into all the crevices within us, that he tried so hard to gain access to, with conversation, laughter, music, dance and poetry. Oh how he loved poetry.
When the news began to circulate the internet, folks began posting their favorite stories and memories with him. And while each was beautiful and inspiring and devastating, I couldn’t help but see the common themes. Every time anyone needed the kid, he has a once in a generation talent, for simply showing up. Alex was get up and go. Every time, all the time.
Friends in Philly celebrating a birthday, and he happens to be in New York ?
Get up & go.
Friends in Nashville are opening a new business and he happens to be in Memphis ?
Get up & go.
Friends in Gulu, celebrating the opening of a new school ?
Get up & go.
Friends suffering from depression, with nowhere else to turn.
Get up & go.
Friends mourning the loss of a loved one.
Get up & go.
Friends welcoming a new child into the world.
Get up & go.
Alexander was go go go, and hungry for all that life had to offer. Willing to kiss its pain and dance with its confusion. To explore its questions with courage, and expand our understanding with curiosity. To inquire and seek. To pursue and discover. To listen and learn and to read and to listen. To watch and to see and to feel. Good god, he felt. Everything and all of it. Our suffering and our joy. Our divisions and our ever-so-rare moments of unity and togetherness. The kid felt it all. Like a great receptor, allowing the energy of the world to come through him, and then sharing it with all of us.
I can’t stop thinking about the nature of it all. Of what it means to take your own life. To come to a moment within, where your options for tomorrow seem so profoundly unacceptable, that you decide you no longer want to see it.
I keep thinking about him, feeling so alone in those moments. When his insides couldn’t be reached, by the hundreds and thousands of hands who loved him so damn much. When the far away corners of his mind were confronted by layers of wounds so expansive, he could not see the other side. When the knots that burn through the stomach, had become so entangled and confused, he could not even consider them releasing again. When the fears and hesitations that afflict us all, had become so limiting, he could no longer see himself as brave. When the ways in which the world makes us feel small, do not feel like feelings at all. When the ways in which our phones make us feel alone, do not feel like feelings at all. When the lie of separation becomes so pervasive, it does not feel like a feeling at all.
When our feelings become so heavy, we simply cannot take another step. When our feelings become so hard, we don’t know if we’ll find softness again . When they calcify, and begin to block us from ourselves. Keeping us from feeling love. From seeing the vast and infinite ways in which each of us are unique and necessary and worthy. Worthy of love, healing, forgiveness, redemption, relationship and life.
I don’t know what to do with the tears that keep coming, except to allow them. There will be moments when they’ll come so hard, I’ll pull off the side of the road, remove my helmet and hope their passion heals the concrete below. But what has felt true each day since the news spread across the web, is that none of us could any more stop their flow, than we could stop the headwaters that create our rivers and waterways. I don’t know where the tears come from, any more than I know where the emotions that burn through our insides, come from. The only thing of which I’m certain, is that trying to block them or suppress them or delay or shorten them in any way, is as adverse to the ecology of our souls, as a dam of concrete is to blocking the flow of life. Like the rivers, feelings must flow. The salty water of our tears must run free. Whether in this moment, or tonight, or tomorrow, or a hundred years from now, feelings are meant to be felt, and tears are meant to be cried.
I had never done a paddle out. Lost too many friends over too many years, but never been able to heal in that way. I was struck by how different the pain felt in the water, than on the concrete. As though before they had stuck to me, like the oil and grease and tar that allows us to get where we wish - but that out here, in the tears of Mother Earth, surrounded by that which give us each life, the water cleansed far more than our skin.
Mni wiconi. It took me a long time to reconcile what often felt like the frivolousness of the beach, with the intensity of the sea. Indigenous people everywhere, have always considered water sacred, and alive. From them we learn an understanding so much older than dominion, its makes our attempts at hierarchy seem immature at best. We now know through modern science that water is older than the solar system; perhaps older than the galaxy itself. But native people have always told us - water is life. It is sacred, and is in so many ways that which animates all that is alive. Alex loved the water. Who knows if even he knew why or how. But without question, his journey away from the interior of the country and toward the sea, brought with it great openings and freedoms within his soul. Like so many of us, he was drawn to the ocean. To the impossibility of its size, and the challenge its crossing presents. But as a boy raised in Michigan who found his way to Tennessee and around the world, it is a testament to the life he lived that so many salty dogs would come out to the sea and honor him in this way. He had lived his own life, paved his own path, and created his own way. So much of that way, had led him west.
I saw a video on Sunday, of Alex rubbing the pregnant belly of his wife, singing at the top of his lungs, and dancing as he so often did. It was as beautiful a visualization of fatherhood, as anything I’ve ever seen. If you knew him, it’d be impossible to see it and not be overcome with emotion. What happened man. What the fuck happened.
There are too many questions. Too many mysteries. We will never know the torment that rages within the sea of our souls. Amidst the confusion that has swirled through these last few weeks, the one thing that I keep coming back to, is a deepening awareness that the ocean is infinitely grander and more complex than the shoreline. That the initial slap of water as you plunge from the air to its depths, is simply the initiation. We are no more the faces we show the world in our photographs, than the ocean is its surface. Each of us are a sea unto ourselves. A vast and infinite galaxy, of life and tides and forces, interdependent with all other forces.
Perhaps the redemption in this, is we begin to use our eyes with some skepticism. The smiles we present are often our strongest armor, as we ferociously protect the shadows within. As someone who has also relished in the hiding and hibernation, I wonder if the only way we face the darkness, is by simply exposing it to the light.
He was as beautiful a soul as I’ve ever encountered. Sometimes we just gotta shine shine shine and then give ourselves to all that is. Now he is everywhere, in all of us, forever.
Thank you Andrew Collins, for taking the time to read these words, and offer your blessing. Thank you baby brother Breton Carasso, for showing up with wetsuits, and a camera for the community. And thank you Jonathan Oligher, for being a poet of image in motion. Everytime we pull over on some street corner, and let you touch buttons for a few hours, somehow something is created that welcomes all of us into that moment. It’s a gift and honor to support your craft. And thank you to all those who have shared your love and stories across the Internet. We may all be in different corners of the world, but it has been a profound journey to hear so many stories of our dear friend, and a life well lived. May we all become the uncles and aunties and cousins and family, that surround this coming baby with love and support, for all of his days.
We love you Alexander Collins.
Be at peace.