A squirrel leaped into my line of sight just now, clinging and half-hidden on the shadowed side of a redwood tree. It twitched its little head around in that way that most prey animals do, but as it moved, its skull seemed to change shape entirely and it became a grotesque confusion for a moment as my brain sorted out that it was not actually a squirrel but a jaybird.
This was a random occurrence, a trick of the light more than anything, but it made me think of how many times in my life that my perception has changed like that, suddenly and unexpectedly. I'll be humming along, thinking a thing is a thing, then suddenly I make a connection or see the thing from a different angle and the world shifts, everything is akimbo, and I've realized an entirely new set of parameters by which to judge whether things really are things. Atheism, existentialism, vegetarianism, socialism, feminism; these are ideas that clicked with me in a flash of understanding and before my respective epiphanies, I was a half-hearted christian, absolutist, capitalist shill for the patriarchy, without ever really thinking much about those beliefs at all. Instead I blindly accepted the opinions of the people around me as truth and found ways to justify and defend those beliefs, even if they didn't always ring quite true to me.
And that was the problem, turning a blind eye to the things that sat wrong with me, ignoring them or excusing them, more interested in staying comfortable and keeping the peace than challenging the problems I might see. Until one day, one moment changes everything and I can't go back.
I see sexism, racism, ableism, classism, etc everywhere, in the everyday speech of everyday people, in advertising and media and our clothes and even our food. Rich people get richer, poor people get poorer, but it's always the poor who are abusing the system, somehow. Unarmed black citizens are being shot by our own police while white men with guns demand their right to carry them into grocery stores. Anti-rape nail polish is a thing. Most of the meat available on supermarket shelves is from factory farms, essentially large-scale animal torture operations, and yet it's the vegans who are accused of being extreme.
I sometimes wish I could unsee it all, but that's not practical, or fair. Besides, no matter how hard I look at (or away from) that jaybird, and no matter how it may still vaguely resemble a squirrel if I squint at it out the corner of a half-shut eye, ignoring the reality won't ever change it.
And I do want to change it. I want to change it all.