Letter to Myself in Mourning

Dear Myself in Mourning: I am writing to you from the future to say that it is worth living towards. I know it feels as though the world has relinquished all of its joy and purpose. I know life feels … Continue reading

Mourn, Pray, Give

“Why does my heart feel so bad? Why does my soul feel so bad?” ~ Moby I haven’t slept through the night since the eve of the election. I have seen three a.m. and then dawn come and go just … Continue reading

Like Any Emotion

I’ve never seen my father loose his temper. I’ve never heard him raise his voice or witnessed his silent anger. Not once. Not ever. And while my mother was a more passionate presence in my life, I’ve never seen my parents … Continue reading

Fear Is a Liar

I have always felt different: I’m the shortest of my siblings. I was the only black kid in my class for six out of thirteen years. I was one of the few (if not the only) kid on my block leaving my neighborhood to attend a private school. I have often been (or felt like) the only Christian in the room. I have felt different because of how I look (veiny arms for a woman, too much weight and too many curves when I wanted to be a ballerina, my overbite). But mostly I feel different because of the thoughts that enter (uninvited) into my brain and the fears (though unwelcome) that I begrudgingly entertain.

Every now and again I will let an ordinary occurrence engender a dark daydream. For example, just the other evening I was walking down the street as two men smoking cigarettes were walking towards me. And for some reason I wondered the following: What if one of them decided to put his cigarette out in my eye? I don’t know where that thought came from or why, but there it was as they passed me by. Thankfully, worries like that are usually short-lived, but I wish they didn’t exist.

I’m afraid of so many things. I fear the call at an odd hour is bad news. I’m afraid of the dark—black hole dark—the kind of deep dark that doesn’t even permit shadows. I’m afraid of dying (especially painfully or violently), but sometimes I find the concept of living forever almost equally terrifying. I’m afraid of flying, falling, and crashing. I’m afraid of not trying, of failing, and of succeeding. I’m afraid of getting hurt—emotionally and physically. I’m afraid of never living up to my mother’s legacy—or of living a life that leaves no good mark—or one devoid of meaning. And given the fraught final years of my grandparents’ lives, I’m afraid of what my old age will look like. Mostly I’m afraid I’m getting it all wrong, that I’m wasting time, and that (given the missteps I’ve made) there’s no good way forward—no way to recover.

If I could set aside any aspect of my humanity, I would disown my fear. That emotion drives me in directions I do not want to go. It keeps me inactive or slows my progress to a crawl. It renders me distracted—preoccupied with potential pitfalls and worst-case scenarios (however unlikely or unrealistic).

Fear of what awaits prevents me from more fully engaging in whatever (or whoever) is before me in the present. Fear of embarrassment or failure stops me from taking more chances. Fear of being misunderstood, dismissed, or disliked makes me hold my tongue. I withdraw from certain experiences for fear of getting hurt.

When I don’t act or take a risk, it is usually because of fear disguised as wisdom. When I don’t dream—when I hang back from an opportunity, it is because of fear clothed to look like being realistic or practicality.

Fear stills my hands, binds my feet, and shackles my tongue. Fear turns my head away form my hopes and dreams and focuses my eyes on the worst-case scenario. It nails my aspirations to the ground. Fear persuades me to expect the worst even in the midst of the best. Fear denies me peace and sound sleep—it won’t allow for a moment of rest.

I have spent my lifetime learning how to undermine my fears—to shine a light on them until they disappear. At first they look mountainous, but in the face of faith and logic, few of them stand up.

All too often my fear is a liar. It pretends to be prudence. It acts insurmountable. But most of what I fear can’t or won’t ever be real. There is little foundation or substance to much of what scares me. Most of my fears are more rooted in dysfunctional imagination than reality.

Every time I set aside a fear I become a bit more free. Without fear, I enjoy things more deeply. Without fear I can more fully inhabit the present. Without fear, I don’t have to worry about what others think, and so I speak and act with more honesty.

Fear will come from time to time; it is a natural emotion. What I’m trying to avoid is giving fear too much control. There are a few fears that might save my life, but surrendering too much to fear will shrink my living down to an unhealthy size.

Gratitude Comes

Happiness is that temperate time when the wind doesn’t give me a chill and the sun doesn’t make me sweat. Gratitude comes on those frigid days when I retire to the warmth of my apartment.

Happiness is a good conversation that leaves me feeling heard. Gratitude comes with the thoughtful act or gift that helps me to feel remembered and loved.

Happiness is every shared smile, giggle, and laugh. I find gratitude in every pain or tear someone else takes the time to understand or recognize.

Happiness is the song that sings into exactly what I’m feeling. My gratitude is for the dance, the working limbs, the healthy body—moving.

Happiness is being fearless.

Gratitude is having nothing to fear.

Happiness has many destinations.

Gratitude is the journey there.

Unhappy Holidays

My thoughts are currently with those who are struggling this holiday season. Having a happy holiday or a merry Christmas will not come easily to everyone. There are those who are suffering more than celebrating. While some shop for gifts, … Continue reading

I Must Be Dreaming

My dreams seem so real from the inside. More often than not dreaming feels like a natural tangent (however abrupt) to living my waking life. Once in a while I’ll remember an old dream from within a new dream. Some of my dreams take root in my mind like genuine memories. Most of my dreams, however, are transitory. As soon as I wake up, the dream’s integrity starts to wane. The colors I thought so salient begin to fade. The tangible pieces begin to dissipate. Places that appeared authentic are revealed to be inaccurate facsimiles. If I dreamt I was in my childhood home, upon waking I realize how much of the dream house was wrong.

My dreams feel real because they elicit emotions. Sometimes that is all that remains once I’m awake—a vague sensation of sadness, fear, or joy whose origin I can’t precisely locate. Now and again I wake with a sense of nervous urgency—worried that I’ve neglected something vital. I used to have low-level nightmares that I’d missed the first day of school, or that I’d managed to make it through most of a semester forgetting to attend a class or do a particular course’s homework.

My dreams have their own chronology. And so now and again I will encounter the deceased in my sleep. No part of me thinks it strange to find them there. The real deaths of loved ones don’t affect my dream state memory. The limits of logic and science don’t need to be preserved in dreams. Continuity isn’t necessary. I can take an elevator to the beach. I can be here and then instantly there without travelling. I can be involved in the action while simultaneously observing it from a distance. Sometimes I can’t run. Sometimes I can fly. But no matter how extraordinary or impossible the experience, rarely do I think I must be dreaming.

Some of my dreams are realistic to the point of being boring. The contents of my dreams can be painfully ordinary. As a child I used to dream about sitting on a toilet. I had this type of dream quite regularly—usually because I actually had to pee while I was sleeping. And since my bladder couldn’t tell the difference between literally getting up to use the bathroom versus just dreaming it, these dreams greatly contributed to my bed-wetting. Fortunately for me (and every mattress I’ve slept on since) I stumbled upon a way to wake myself up. I don’t have to pinch myself to be roused. Sternly saying my own name is enough.