I Hand You This Fire

Photo Credit: Nayukami, Tumblr

I’ve been taking a break from the news again. Sometimes, when I read the news, I feel almost like livewire – as if all the energy in the world is suddenly coursing through my body and I can feel everything deeply. 

But, then again, I have the privilege to take a news recess. I have fantastic healthcare. My immediate environment, although it has its unpleasantness, does not banish me for my religion, require me to marry as a child, or force me into hard labor. 
So, yeah, I took a break. However, I’m also acutely aware of those who can’t and those who are directly impacted by the choices and legislation created in the United States. 
Que the guilt twinge. (Side Note: Noticing and Exposing Guilt, Black Guilt and White Guilt for another entry).
I find myself caught in the tension between my own privilege (and the guilt this affords) and my need to provide self-care. A racial-justice class I recently completed, encouraged me to begin a spiritual practice that includes intentional commitment to remaining in the present and noticing one’s body particularly in moments of stress. This practice includes naming and accepting feelings. So Anger. Ahh, okay, anger. Yes, to anger. So now I find myself saying, Guilt. Ahh, okay, guilt. Yes, to guilt and to sadness and to feeling contradictory yet equally important and valid emotions. Yes, to these emotions. And the funny thing is that I start to notice my body relaxing. I start to realize that I have a habit of suppressing emotions – or at least judging myself for feeling them. But, I can feel them. I can accept them. I can be. 
Ahhh, yes. I can be. And, I can use my body to speak for the marginalized amidst my own turmoil. I can use my power for those who cannot. I can use my voice for those who are not yet heard. I can learn to see those whom I still cannot.
When I was younger, I used to pray to experience God’s heart for the marginalized. Actually, this continues to be my prayer, and as I mull over my most recent adventures at the MCUSA Convention while struggling with the social justice ideology that for me, comes from a deep spiritual commitment to find the wholeness in the broken, I am more convinced than ever that this work that we do, this human stuff, this physical, mental, emotional, work is Jesus’ work. I must confess, that when I offer this body to Christ and expect the radical, I am often surprised/angry/frustrated when the work feels alienating, hard and requires a risk. 
Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. – Hugo Chavez

What happens when the risks that we are called into may mean losing our jobs? Our friends? What happens when I tell my boss/sister/brother/mother/father/pastor the truth of how I feel?
What am I willing to lose? Or, perhaps the question is – what am I willing to gain?
I must admit that I still find comfort in poetry. A habit that I began in 5th grade, poetry still remains my own constant – particularly, when I am in need to vocalize my own emotional turmoil. As my husband and I watch our friends begin to start families, I have been particularly aware of my own journey with family and wholeness. As an interracial couple, I find myself starkly cognizant of the ramifications for my own future children.
How do I empower them? What will be the stories they remember? It is with these emotions in addition to many others, that I found myself writing the following.
Peace as you go, my friends. Peace, and fire. 

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But, if you have come because your liberation is bound with mine, then let us work together -Lilla Watson (1985 U.N Speech)
i hand you this fire

i hand you this fire
“here take my hand,
here, hold onto my hand
we will cross the street
you & i stand in daylight,
you & me these
wild dark flames
they will see our smoke signals
& keep on coming
we must run together now
hold my hand
it will hold yours tight
“too tight”
you tell me &
“too tight
we are crossing in the crosswalk
we are eyes straight ahead
hands visible & breathing
we are safe here
we are walking here
we are in the bars of yellow
they can see us
see, we are wearing
white over these black bodies
we are truce flags still upright
we are not half-mast
today we are
still flames
still wild
still you & me.
“mommy we made it to the cement! see, itoldyouso
we can let go!”
our hands peel
back itching
sweat soaked fingers.
your face
looks back at me as you wring your hands,
eyes accusatory,
“too old to hold hands,”
you whisper, embarrassed,
waiting for me to agree,
waiting for me to promise
to never to hurt you like that again.
you blink back tears
sure that everyone stared
that everyone saw
that everyone knew
our sin

Just Baby

**This is a short story I wrote in hopes to process some of my own understanding of a culture of power. **

Baby is crying again. She been crying all morning, and I can’t hold her no more in my bony arms. She fuss too much and I been working on my patience but the good Lord didn’t fill me up this morning. I watch her fuss over in the rickety wooden crib by the door. Yellowing white paint hangs off the door in shreds, and I move towards it with a half a mind to pull off a long, dangling slice, but change my mind when I see sister peek her head through the side room.
“Pick up that baby,” she scolds, and I stick out my tongue at her, before scurrying outside. The sun is hot and there is a nook in the willow tree outside that is one of my favorite places in the whole world to go and think. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this new baby and what that means for me. Headache and responsibility I think, but nobody ask my opinion if those are two things that I wanted.
I climb up the tree, and curl against the scratchy bark. My body softens in the nook, and I peer down through the leaves at the grass below and frown at the house.
Baby was never just a baby. Naw, baby doesn’t have that luxury. Not that any of us did, I spose. But here, I see it so much that my insides sometimes curl up so tight, I wonder if there are soldiers fighting inside me.
When the ladies from Uptown come, with their hair flattened and smoothed into sleek ponytails, their lips reddened and eyes bright, they take turns picking up baby.
“Look at those spiral curls.”
“Those puffs.”
“Look at that nose so big.”
“Black and mixed babies are just the cutest.”
Mama said they didn’t mean nothing by it. Said they were trying. Said to say thank you, nod your head like you understand and then hurry up about your business. Mama said a whole lot of smoothing just to cover up for their whole lot of none-of-their-business. But that does something to a body, I think. That early on label. That qualification. Either you cute or you ain’t, but whose standards are we measuring all of this on? Have you ever heard somebody say something like, “Oh, your white baby has such a white looking nose? Look at that white baby hair, so cute?” 
Maybe I got you chuckling now. Mebbe you thinking, that would sound so strange. So why do I gots to hear it? Why? Aunt Mina says now we don’t sell ‘em on the stands, we slaving just by our standards. Just by who we believes tells truth, just by who we believes in our souls. Mama says she is just crazy in the head and that her words will land her right back smack in the ground, but Aunt Mina says at least the dust ain’t play no favorites.  You can only count on four things, chile, she’d say. Yourself, dust, taxes and God and then she’d flash that big gap-toothed smile and smack her knee laughing.
But who gets to just be a baby? Just toes and smiles and fat dimpled chin? Who gets to be baby? No nothing added on, no extra fancy, let me compliment you with no compliment? No worry that baby will be dust before you are dust, because baby was never just baby.

Self-Care and Healing

Some women fear 
the fire
some women simply 
become it…
– r.h. sin
****trigger warning: content includes sexual assault discussion****

After, you go on: picking up bits of your soul from the ground, and dusting them off while your dignity bleeds across the ground and you stumble over your body only to find redemption… and hell in your skin. It still holds you together. Your bones have not disintegrated. You have not ebbed into salt and sand and dust. People will smile at you and pat you on the back. They will look at you like they understand. Like they know. They will tell you things will be okay. They will expect you to stitch yourself back together, close your eyes and sleep and to button your shirt without shaking hands, to zip your jeans without breaking down. They will cage you in sympathies for a month, or two. And then, they will tell you to move on. Get over it. Wear something pretty. Get out. Go on a date. They will have forgotten that your body is a burning tree, a tornado, a hurricane drowning you from the inside. They will tell you that your too pretty to be so sad. Your skin is soft. They know just the guy…They will not see your flames. They will not see your blaze and ruin. They will not see. 
What they don’t tell you is that people expect the details. As if whatever horrors have been committed require justification. They will want to know: Where did they touch? How did they touch? How old were you? Were you drinking? What did you do?  Did you fight back? Where are your marks? Did you scream? Did you tell him no? Did you…?
They will want to know why it wasn’t your fault. They will pretend to ask questions under the guise of sympathy. You will hear them asking in the underlying pause, in the raised eyebrow: convince me why you are the victim. And, you will begin to ask yourself the same question. Did I do something wrong? Did I lead them on? What part of me was saying “attack me?” You will begin to doubt yourself. You will begin to believe that it was your fault. And so, you will tell no one. Or, maybe you tell people and they don’t believe you. They tell you to keep your truth to yourself. They tell you to keep quiet. They know who hurt you and they are silent. And their silence confirms your belief that everything was entirely your fault. 
I have wanted to write this post about self-healing for a long time, but have never felt quite capable of finding the words to write it. I used to think that good self-care required an end goal: healing. And healing, of course, meant that I would come to a place of complete zen where nothing could hurt me anymore. Hah. Needless to say, I’ve changed my mind about my definition of healing. However, I’ve amended it to the following practices: 
1. Be intentionally committed and present in, with and for the journey in its entirety
(show up for the process)

2. Notice my surroundings
3. Refute and name the lies
These practices probably sound easy, but being intentional with each step can be extremely exhausting, frustrating and overwhelming. 
The first step (although, lets be honest – all of them are hard) remains one of my hardest challenges. Staying committed to a journey that is often tumultuous, difficult, sometimes lonely, often painful and extremely intense often requires difficult truths. It means sticking with the highs and the lows; and naming my own questions and doubts while continually analyzing lies that I have believed about my own self-worth. This becomes particularly painful when these lies have only been compounded and reinforced by my community. 
I am a super Type-A type of woman, and I like to have control. For me, part of the process is letting go of control and just showing up; listening; affirming;  unlearning and being. 
Sometimes it is just saying something as simple as “today, I am going to __________ the process.” I usually use words like “listen to/be okay with/enjoy/feel, etc” And then, I step back. Self-care isn’t always about the destination (though, we all want to get there), but sometimes, I think that maybe process is the most important part. 

Sometimes the process takes me outdoors.
Image result for nature
Used from pexels.com, free photo stock. 
Sometimes the process feels a little rough
OBX 2014

But, try to find peace in the process. 

Life is always shifting, dynamic, intense and wildly unpredictable. But go your own speed.

Today, I affirm my own strength. 
Today, I am proud of who I am. 
Today, I made it. And, I will make it tomorrow. And the next day. 

I’m not sure that I think that healing is a end destination. Maybe instead it is something that we are all continually aspiring towards: becoming more whole, living more holistically. Perhaps, even healing doesn’t always require forgiveness. (Dangerous thought!) Or, maybe it doesn’t require forgiveness in the traditional sense. My journey has meant learning to forgive myself for not loving myself more kindly; for not being more gentle with myself; for not owning myself more completely. This journey has meant unlearning the lies about myself that I believed and it has meant unlearning the lies others want me to believe as well as learning to set and keep boundaries. 
This healing doesn’t mean that tomorrow, I won’t feel like I’m at square one. Sometimes, it does that. You feel like you have had all this progress and then something shitty happens and you feel like a basket case. I’m not convinced that healing doesn’t let that happen. But, I think that for me, knowing how I can not get stuck in some of the lie traps during those times feels like a damn good place to start.