The hardest lesson we learn is what our true enemies look like. Not the bigoted, racist, nationalist ideas of an enemy. Real enemies. Cruelty. Violence. Ignorance. Poverty. Sickness.
The terror they inspire haunts us. It slides down our spines at random moments when our eyes first open to see reality and not merely our imagined world. When we hear a cough from someone we love that’s not a cold, but a deeper rumble of a disease we only hear in hushed whispers. When our best efforts and honest earnestness are laughed at and rejected by those we seek to engage. When a word becomes a projectile and first punctures our scarless heart. And we bleed our first drops of hate’s pain.
And finally we learn that our enemies were never people but the systems they made to make themselves rich, or safe, or famous, or powerful, or deathless. How those that first learn not only how to wield power but to engineer it into inhuman systems that manufacture these outputs with a machined consistency—when we see the bodies, souls, and minds crushed in the gears and broken by the weight of maintaining these systems. We are told to aim for the top, grind our way up the king of the castle game, the truest game we learn as children. That the meanest and most powerful will win, and you will continually thrust yourself into harm in your attempt to summit their worthless hill.
We learn our world is not made for us. It is made of us. Our flesh and blood and time and our literal lives construct the systems around us that wage war on us. On all of us. Even those who think they live in that castle, those who stand at the top of that hill. They are wounded at a soul level by the endless war they wage to stay on top simply because they bought into the rules of the game.
We can step off those childhood hills. We can stop playing games and start living lives only when we allow ourselves to fully see and know our real enemies. But sometimes that sight breaks our minds, hearts, and spirits.
How do we armor ourselves? How do we learn to wage the real war while still living, laughing, loving?