When I was almost six, a well-meaning, white female teacher, while attempting to engage me beyond the shell of extreme shyness, managed only to mortify us both. I had been mere months in this country from my original island home and it was only my second or third day in an American classroom. My startled eyes seemed ever-wide as I daily adjusted and readjusted to shockingly new surroundings — going from an all black environment of humans with my own dialect to one in which teachers who were white, spoke with a different accent, and a classroom full of black children, all of whom seemed to understand and speak in the same dialect as the teachers.
The grandmother who I had been living with was suddenly gone without ceremony or explanation, and now I was expected to address my real mother as “Mama,” because Mama/Grandmother stayed behind in our island home. New Mama and I would spend the initial years moving around each other like strangers, touching accidentally sans affection or touching intentionally for punishment. Papa would be a worse story.
Sidebar 1- Racial Differences
When I write about white people and/or black people and/or people of color, I am not suggesting a preferred alliance, nor am I suggesting any one group is bad and any one group is good. We are all human beings, Divinely made and our attachment to color differences are manmade. No matter which group we identify with in this human collective, we are all wounded and operating from various levels of healing or the lack thereof in these respective wounds. In other words, we are all flawed and living life as best we can.
That day in the classroom with Miss Teacher, while the other kids were playing, enjoying a break from the structure of class time, I was standing alone, wearing a belted red sweater which was buttoned up to my neck. The year was circa 1972, Brooklyn. Good-touch-Bad-touch was not yet a thing, although I was already familiar with both. I must have looked like a trapped rabbit because I remember how carefully Miss Teacher approached me, as she bent to eye level to speak her words softly so as not to add any more startle to those widening eyes.
Miss Teacher asked, wasn’t I warm in that sweater. I didn’t know how to respond because I was unaccustomed to conversing with grownups and even though I spoke English, I was ashamed that my accent was different from hers and the other students. I just stared at her, unmoving, unblinking. Miss Teacher slowly reached for the buttons of my sweater, saying, we can take this off and put it with your coat. I watched as she unbuttoned and unbelted until my red sweater hung open to reveal a child’s white undershirt. In a split second she saw her mistake and hurried to button the sweater back up. As she re-buttoned, her eyes trained on the sweater, my eyes were trained on her tense, blushing face, my arms never leaving my side. For those moments, we were both steeped in a kind of inexplicable shame, but I can remember feeling more sorry for her than I did for myself. I wanted to tell her it was okay, but I couldn’t think of what to say. I had no voice.
I have been discovering this lost voice in increments during many unfolding seasons and developing stages of my life.
There is a saying, a prayer really, among the Sufis, asking God to break one’s heart: “Shatter my heart so a new room can be created for a Limitless Love.”
—Women Who Run With the Wolves, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes
I came across that passage just yesterday, and yet I said a similar prayer three weeks ago at the beginning of my blog break. The words I used were, Crack me wide open, Goddess. My heart was pulling and stretching but I was conflicted about where it was leading me. So I did what I often do when faced with the unfamiliar, I froze in panic. And then I tried to run. But my heart exploded and there came all these emotions, so I took a blog break. Because I didn’t think I could juggle all the things there were for me to juggle— writing, podcasting, blogging and unpredictable emoting. And then I stopped the mad dash away from myself and said that prayer. I held my breath and prepared to dive in, afraid of the unknowingness, but trusting my angels to guide and cushion any fall.
The messages came. They said, It’s time to go deeper with Love. And so I did and I have. And I fell down with it, stumbling over a language I didn’t know I lacked, the language of Love. Of course! Why would I know about Love? How could I be fluent in a language I have only ever understood in spurts and starts.
Sidebar 2- The Patriarchy
When I write of the patriarchy, I am not referring to men versus women, rather, I am referring to a paradigm structure which benefits white men and often neglects and/or suppresses the opposite gender and all non-white groups. The patriarchy hurts all of us— whites, blacks and all people of color. Its systemic design creates division and fosters discord.
I have lived my entire life inside the patriarchy (including my original island home which was once colonized and developed under British rule). Navigating life through rape cultures and frequent acts racial hatred against blacks, I was more familiar with my own self-hatred than I was with self-love. My parents were too deep in their own unaddressed wounds to prepare me for life ahead in a loving way, instead they exacerbated any understandings I may have gleaned about love by inflicting some of their wounds onto me. What I have known about love all these years, I taught myself through books and media. And yet, the foundation of my love-learnings have always held dangerous fissures. Implosions were all but guaranteed.
Wherever love is nascent, the Life/Death/Life force will always surface. Always.
—Women Who Run With the Wolves, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes
I have died to myself repeatedly at numerous turns of seasons; depending on how aware I was during such periods, I may or may not have taken the time to mourn and grieve over my losses. When I failed to allow grief or mourning for myself and her losses I became toxic, self-sabotaging. So with intention, over time, I have tended to my losses. The death of an unlived childhood. The death of a survivor, steeped in victimhood. The death of myself as a hurtful and neglectful parent. The death of an alcoholic woman. The death of a self-loathing black woman. The death of an angry woman raging against the unfairness of life. There’ve been many deaths, deaths which came in order for me to be born anew, again and again.
So of course, I thought I was done with the Life/Death/Life process for a much longer while. Ugh. And then here came another message three weeks ago, prompting a blog-break: I am never done. As long as I live, I will walk through light as well as dark, knowing and unknowing, fire as well as rain. I am never done. And this new knowing made me cry with a helpless understanding, until I gave up and said that prayer, willing myself to trust, and became willing to have my heart cracked wide open. I thought that I had loved enough and opened my heart enough, but I am understanding that with Love, there can never truly be enough.
I am unlearning what I learned in the patriarchy, untangling my mind from its programming around Love. In the patriarchy, the love I learned about was more physical than verbal. There was little to no offering of language to accompany love expressions. Platitudes aplenty, but no actual love talk, especially in public settings.
The world needs more Love, as we all know, but how to give this mysterious more? Right? So here I am, leaning all the way into YOU, opening my heart further than I thought was even possible. Asking, if I show you mine, will you show me yours? And being completely okay with the potential, no or non-committal response, taking such a response as a maybe …. maybe some day. Or, let me think about it. Or, let me show someone I know, someone closer to me in real life.
In the meantime, I am going to keep showing up and loving this life and the people in it a little harder for as long or as much as I can stand it. I’m going deeper with Love. Is this easy-peasy? Hell to the no, it isn’t! I still have my shadow parts of self, of course. And different people on different occasions still piss me off in my less-than-zen moments. Am I scared to keep going down this road seeing how crazy, unpredictable and mixed up the world still is, seeing how worse it seems to get each day? Hell yes, I’m scared! But fear doesn’t get to be my boss …. not today. And I’ve already tried to live life driven by the fuel of hatred, self-righteousness and all-knowingness. That shot me in the ass and sent me scrambling for the anesthetic, vodka. And when I had to give that up I inhaled every sugary thing I could shove into my mouth. And when that nearly toppled me, my head spun, I became unbalanced and lurched into erratic choices— confusion reigned.
So Love. Yes, Love. I’m positive it’s the only way we all get better together in this life.
Sidebar 3- I Reserve the Right to Change My Mind
Not long ago I wrote that I would no longer talk about the podcast on this blog. Change of plans. I’ve come to realize there was a little bit of shame, fear and back-pedaling involved in that decision. There’s good information in the show episodes which lands differently on the ears than I can offer through writing here. The podcast takes the Love conversation a little deeper as it is a more accurate capture of my creative journey, live. Episodes 16 and 17 offer food for thought on the topic of Love that isn’t here on the blog. You might want to check it out.
Thanks for being here and sharing this creative space with me. Sending my love to you in whichever moment you take to be here.
Pictured: Me on the balcony of my childhood home, Brooklyn, circa 1979