Forever Young

This is dedicated to my friend and brother, Azal Lockett; to our friends who’ve become Ancestors young; to Black mamas and babas who’ve buried their children; to the entire Lockett Family; to Oyá who governs change and assists us in transitions; and to those who remind us of the yumminess that is love.

I am not unfamiliar with death. Since I was a little girl, I have stood at my Mother’s side as she bereaved the mourning, held hands of the elders and family members transitioning. I have been to tons of funerals, home going services as we call them, and cried tears for people I have never met. I have watched people take their last breathes. I have felt their spirits leave their bodies. 

I have known when the moment was coming. 

My Daddy and my maternal Grandmother are my closest Ancestors. I was there when they both transitioned. These experiences don’t haunt me. They are great honors.

I didn’t know that I was meant to be a death doula until the last few years. I had intended to become a birth doula for a while, but wasn’t empowered with the language around helping people transition. I didn’t know it was a calling. 

Even though this ushering, this stewardship is an honor, it is a heavy one. 

On December 16, 2020, I was reminded of my friend, my brother. I played a song that has made me think of him for over a decade. I played that song over and over and over again as I was driving. I thought of him every single time it played. I felt his spirit come over me. I remember smiling. I remember going home and saying to myself, “I miss him. Let me send him a text,” but getting caught up with the day and never finding the moment. 

I remember when my Mother told me that I wouldn’t get that moment. She said, “My heart is broken.” I asked with confidence because I am used to her saying that, I am used to her heart being broken by the news of someone passing, “Who died?” She said, “Azal.” 

I felt heavy. I felt overwhelmed. How could he have passed when I was just visualizing, remembering him so vividly. He lived in my mind and on my heart, in my spirit all day. How could he have passed? How could I really never have a moment to text him again. 

It was then that I realized why he had been on my spirit so heavily. It was then that I was reminded that my Mother always had “that feeling,” “that sense,” but she couldn’t always put her finger on it either. I wondered, what time did he begin his journey into Ancestorhood. Was he taking that last breath that I had seen before while I was smiling and remembering him? 

I felt the need to cry. Deeply. But, I didn’t. I was just…stuck. My 28-year-old childhood friend was now my Ancestor. I had a graduate research paper do the next day. I couldn’t even work on it. I was stuck. For hours. I showered with Florida water hoping it would help me feel better. It didn’t. It only made me feel like I needed to cry more, to purge. I didn’t have the time to intentionally pause. If I started crying, I’d weep. I’d exhaust myself. So, I lit a white candle for my new Ancestor and felt the weight of his transition. My friend, my brother, Azal Lockett died in Atlanta, Georgia December 2020. I lit that candle and it became real for me. I returned to my body, leaving the out-of-body experience of a silent panic attack behind and realized that this was real. Very real. 

I hadn’t seen Azal in years, but we touched base every now and then. If we had run into each other, it would have been all love. His eyes would have slanted, and if this were pre-Covid, I would have seen all of his little teeth when he smiled. He would have hugged me too tight around the neck and said that he loved me and I would have known it to be true. That’s who he was, always. 

We probably met when we were toddlers. We had memories that we couldn’t even remember. He was family to me, to us. He was full of life, personality, talent, promise, and he just had this way of making people feel special. Beautiful. Bad. *lip smack*

I loved the way he loved and showed affection to his mother, Mama P, one of my favorite people on the planet. I loved how he was a heart first kind of man. I loved that I didn’t even realize that he too was a Virgo, because I never thought him to be preoccupied with over-thinking the way most of us are. I love that he just did him. 

When I began to process his passing, I had to hold space for Mama P. I prayed for her comfort. I prayed that she would be kept. I was pained for her. I looked at my daughter’s face and said a prayer that I compulsively say, “God, please. Let my children bury me when I am old and gray and have given them everything that you would have me give them. I pray to never bury my children.” I meant that prayer even more as I stared at my baby girl’s face knowing that this was, is, and will be the reality for some mothers. You share your body with these tiny humans. You use your entire essence to shield them, protect them. You share them with your village and recognize them to be their own beings but you KNOW in your heart that they are and will always be your babies and it makes the possibility of grief taste even more of vinegar.

His passing reminds me of physical mortality. It reminds me that we are not invincible. It reminds me of the violence and suffering Black people continue to endure. It reminds me of the many pandemics we’re facing, that we must be more concerned about a global pandemic while also navigating global anti-Blackness, health conditions, gun violence, car accidents and other “regular shit” as my brother would call it. His passing reminds me of Black mothers whose hair isn’t gray and who bury their children. His passing makes me full of energy. Just full.  

But oh, his passing also reminds me of joy and life well-lived. It reminds me to be present. It reminds me of divine assignments and the everlasting impact of those like him who embody love. His passing reminds me that God is. 

Mama P wears God all over her. Her faith is something I’ve never experienced before but she is a testament that peace is possible, healing is possibly. 

A tiny woman, in height and size, she is also a mountain. She is an elephant. She is an ocean, a majestic mother of many. Her fortitude and faith reminds us all to rise in the love that she so powerfully poured into Azal.

But Azal’s passing reminds me that though our bodies won’t be young forever, our spirits can. Wiser, stronger, but still young and full of life. His passing reminds me of intentionally pausing, allowing ourselves to be overcome with spirit. 

Azal was effervescent. 

Azal is eternal. 

Azal was an is an embodiment of love. 

His eldest brother recently shared a powerful meaning of his name, “the foot of the mountain.” I’ve searched for others and I’ve found: 

-Eternity

-That which does not have a beginning

-Very near

Love transcends and that’s who I knew Azal to be, love. Its transcendence makes it eternal. Because of his expressed love and his family and community’s love returned, he will live on forever. May we remember his light and keep his love very near. 

To the Lockett Family – Mama Portia, Baba Walter, Asa, and Ankur – I love you. I am grateful for your family. You have my sincere condolences and I thank you again for sharing Azal with us. May God’s peace reach your hearts. 

2020 has been filled with grief, loss, tragedy. But it has also been filled with joy, love, the strengthening of spirit, and the realization that people have fulfilled their assignments, purposes. 

On this fifth day of Kwanzaa, Nia, I celebrate Azal’s purpose and leave you with these words from another brother who embodied love, Chadwick Boseman. 

“Purpose is the essential element of you. It’s the reason you are on the planet at this particular time. Your very existence is wrapped up in the things you are here to fulfill…. Remember the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.” 

Thank you, God, for friendship, for love, for purpose.

Azal, I love you, brother. Thank you for being you, and you know exactly what I mean. 

I promise to do my work. I won’t run away from it. I will walk toward my purpose heart first.

Village Baby Mama

This post is dedicated to my daughter, Zaheera, who called me to start strengthening the village for her from my womb and to my first great-nephew, Chase, born this morning. 

I recently decided to start opening the day with deep breathing and reflections. I do this with my 3-year-old daughter. After engaging in our new ritual this past Thursday morning, I recognized something that my counselor shared to be absolutely true – to children, Mother is God, the one who meets all needs. 

With my hands on her knees to keep her calm and centered, I asked my daughter the following questions and these were her responses: 

Me: Tell me one thing that you feel. 

Zaheera: Mommy! 

Me: Tell me one thing that you see.

Zaheera: Mommy! And water! 

Me: Tell me one thing that you smell.

Zaheera:  Mommy! 

Me: Can you tell me something that is making you feel happy today? 

Me: Mommy!!!

She then leaned into my chest for a big, life-affirming hug. 

I am not arrogant or entitled about her affection. I am honored to have it. But…I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t also overwhelmed by love for me at times – it is so BIG! Rearing my daughter as a single mama who is learning to build, strengthen, and lean into the Village has been quite a journey. Before children can conceptualize The Source, they know Mama to meet their needs. The gravity of that is sometimes hard to accept. 

This pandemic season has magnified a lot of what we individually and collectively feel, how we individually and collectively show up. My story is the same as that of many single mamas right now – we are mama, full-time employee, creative, counselor, educator, chef, bug-killer (or screamer for help if you’re me), constant cuddle buddy, nurse, playmate, and more. I’ve found myself feeling guilt and shame in being exhausted by trying to be all the things for my daughter while also exerting a ton of physical and spiritual energy to protect her. I had to work through this in counseling sessions and had to be reminded to extend myself grace. 

I have guilty-parented even more in this season than usual and over-compensated for her lack of peer-interaction coupled with her father not being consistently present. It’s a shame I have to say this, but this isn’t about bashing him. It’s just fact. I came to terms with our relationship ending a long time ago. It was best. I have no regrets. Yet, people were hopeful that we would end up back together because they deemed it best in God’s eyes, it was respectable, and would prevent our child from having…complexes *eye roll*

I’ve had moments when I was completely worn out and angry because there aren’t two of us in the home to share in the love but also the responsibility. My Mommy moved in with me in 2017 to help. I am eternally grateful for that, for her. She is Z’s grandparent. Sometimes, I feel lack because I believe it’s her other parent who should be consistently present and doing the work. I’ve felt like I’ve failed her by not providing that before. And yes, I felt shame for having a baby out of wedlock, at first. And I felt like she wouldn’t have enough with just me but…our children believe Mother is God. Say. It. Out. Loud.

Of course, I don’t rear Z alone. But…even though we have a village, sometimes it feels smaller than what I expected. My Mommy and Twin brother are the closest to us and I don’t want to exhaust them. This is an honest feeling but the reality is… we were never meant to do life alone. The more we try, the more difficult I think it becomes. It’s not a matter of apparent self-sufficiency. It’s about being wise enough to know when connection and support is needed. 

As I grow wiser and reject the static idea of a Black nuclear family, I recognize that many of the ways in which we live are counterintuitive and unnatural. Certainly, being a single mother is challenging but the social constructs we live in is what teaches us the lack. We should all be able to fully lean into our villages. All of our children should be taken care of and healthily shared. We should all be able to have our needs met regardless of marital or household status, and regardless of whether or not we’re with those we’ve created these lives with. 

I’m a radical, left Black Mama. The more I accept this identity and grow in it, the less support I feel I have. I’m working through this feeling but it’s new—er. A newer and freer way of being. In doing away with respectability politics, elitism, woman-shaming, and fully embracing who I am as a womanist, I recognize that my politic and beliefs don’t always align with the spaces I’ve been a part of. It can be difficult to navigate this reality and certainly creates feelings of loneliness at times but I have been reminded all week that – just as the teacher shows up when the student is ready, so does the village; we are worthy of love and belonging; we’ve been taught that hyper-individualism and co-dependence are unhealthy, but we were not meant to do life alone. We can and should be able to depend on one another; as I continue to work toward being my best and most authentic self, those who I am meant to be community will show up. 

I also recognize that I am a push and pull kind of mama, kind of person. I guess I could have said that I’m a Virgo for which your response may have been, “Say less, sis.” Haha. So, part of my work is in accepting the love and support as it comes and not pushing it back into the Universe, spitting in God’s face because it didn’t come from whom or how I thought it should. It’s in having firm boundaries, yes, but also using discernment and knowing when I can trust people to join our community. It’s in allowing my daughter to choose my partner the ways she does. It’s in allowing him to meet needs for her in the ways that he can. It’s in accepting help from my family more easily, taking breaks, and again, it’s in not being stingy with this Ancestor returned. 

Do you know how lionesses mate? They mate with multiple lions in a season. To be colloquial, this means they don’t know who the baby daddy is! But all the lions in the pride step in to help care for, protect, and love the cubs. Ain’t it beautiful? I honor their way of life and want to adapt parts of it for myself, for us. Zaheera is my baby, my cub. But if you’re reading this, she may be yours too. I am the Mama Lion but the village has to be a part of the Pride – a part of the caring, rearing, guiding, and loving. 

The point is, the family structure matters a lot less than making sure our children have everything they need to thrive and lead healthy, happy, robust lives. 

I recently created a new Twitter account after not tweeting for 6 years. It’s been overwhelming and a whirlwind to say the least, but I always find gems! Someone recently tweeted, “We are worthy of love and radical imaginations.” Delicious. We are. I’m going to hold on to that. 

My focus now is to keep curating a good and healthy life for my daughter, to share her with my community and understand that she is not mine alone to rear, guide, or love. I want her to always know that she belongs deeply to God and herself, but she is also OURS. 

I am a Village Baby Mama and proud. My pride in this will help my daughter to grow up reducing shame and fully embracing all that is meant for her. 

Let’s keep building these villages for these babies. They are worthy. 

My daughter often says, “It’s me and you, Mommy” because I’ve said, “It’s me and you, kid.” Now I’m teaching her that yes, it’s always the two of us but it’s not only us. We are not in this alone.

I give thanks for what is and what is to come.

Thank you, Zaheera, for making me commit to this. I will never be able to meet ALL of your needs alone, but you’d better believe Imma give you a village to make sure you have everything you need.

Daddy-Daughter Dance

Heather Nurse’s Recipe for Healing

My Daddy became an Ancestor 10 years ago today. Grief really ebbs and flows. Some days it is invisible, untouchable, flat. I don’t see it, feel it, or experience it. Other days it shows up in my heart, in the grinding of my teeth, in everything I smell, hear, it is dynamic, and all-consuming. Around midnight I felt the heaviness of grief. I remembered it was around the same time my Daddy began his unexpected transition. I cried around midnight and the grief felt like a weight upon my chest. But then the moment passed. The loss doesn’t get easier. It’s navigating the grief that gets easier over time. The song, “Better Days” by Dianne Reeves comes to mind. “You can’t get to no better days until you make it through the night.” With time, with healing, with self-care rituals, with compassion, with understanding, it becomes easier to make it through the nights of grief. 

Grief doesn’t just show up for us when someone passes. Grief shows up when we end relationships, when we are estranged or have strained relationships with loved ones, in the experience of a miscarriage, when we transition out of a job or into a new routine. I think grief can even be second hand. I grieve for my friends who didn’t get to experience that BIG, stable, forgiving, and steadfast love from their daddies like I did. I grieve for my daughter who doesn’t have that.

Each of us have to grieve. Each of us have to developing coping skills. Each of us have a different grieving journey that we must experience for ourselves. That doesn’t mean we have to be alone in grief. There is still community in grieving. 

My Daddy passed two weeks before I began my second year at Howard University. I was 24 days shy of 19. After writing his obituary and celebrating his life, I painfully returned to Howard determined to stack on track and graduate on time. I was grateful to have built family, not friends, at Howard. One of the most powerful and beautiful relationships Howard gave me is the relationship with my best friend, spiritual companion, sister in grief, turn up, and love, Heather. I interviewed her for the first official Recipe for Healingpost. She intimately shares details about her father leaving the home when she was 19. This was August 2010, around the same time I was beginning to experience profound loss. She offers her pain, her wisdom, and her rituals for healing in hopes of encouraging others who are navigating difficult relationships with their fathers. 

Thank you, Heather, for your openness. And though we may not have seen it this way then, thank you for grieving with me, for being in community with me. If it’s one thing we know how to do it’s survive together. As we continue to heal, we will thrive together. 

Thank you to the Daddy for protecting, loving, and guiding me from the Ancestral realm. Thank you for looking out for Heather, too. 

This post is dedicated to the girls who miss dancing with their daddies like me. It is also dedicated to the girls who never danced with their daddies. For those who aren’t daddy’s girls. 

I write these words to keep my Daddy alive. I write that they may bring healing to those whose fathers are alive but not present. I write this as a ritual of healing. 

Me: When you think about daddy– daughter relationships, what are the first things that come to mind 

Heather: I automatically think of a little girl on her daddy’s shoulders, that’s the image that comes to mind. Those relationships have a lot of meaning and a lot of power. They’re special, they’re important, and when I think about this image, I believe as a woman knowing that you have a man’s support and love is empowering. 

Me: I consider myself to be a Daddy’s girl even though I am extremely close to my Mommy and was extremely close to my Grandmother. Have you ever considered yourself to be a Daddy’s girl? 

Heather: I love both of my parents. I wouldn’t say I was not a daddy’s girl. I would say that I am my mother’s child but I’m aware that I’m also my father’s child even though we aren’t close. I do hope that in the future some things can turn around so that I can get a little more insight into myself through my relationship with him. I’d say I had a more healthy and consistent relationship with my mother and grandmother.

Me: Can you share a memory about your relationship with your father that always comes to mind? 

Heather: I think I was 5 and I had a ballet recital. I just remember seeing my dad in the crowd and I ran off stage. I don’t know if it was the beginning, middle, or end of the performance. I just remember my mom directing me to go back to the stage to finish. I ran off stage because I saw my father in the audience and I hadn’t seen him in a while. It was overwhelming. I don’t remember if I felt lack but that memory highlighted his lack consistency back then.

Me: Was your father more present for you when you got older? 

Heather: When I got a little older, he was there but not present. My mom did everything and showed up for us – school, recitals, extracurricular activities. I grew up understanding that my father was an entrepreneur and wanted to be autonomous. He came and went as he pleased. He’d be gone all day, get home, turn on CNN and sit in front of the TV until he fell asleep. There wasn’t much interaction is why my mom instituted Wednesday night dinners when I was about 12. She wanted to make sure that we had some kind of quality family time. If it wasn’t for that, there would have been even less time spent. 

Me: Can you share a meaningful or powerful interactions with your dad? 

Heather: I remember he helped me with homework once in 7th grade and remember him sharing some of his life stories at those Wednesday night dinners.

Me: Did you resent your father for not being more involved?

Heather: Hmmm I think the resentment set in in 2010/2011 when he actually walked out. I was entering my sophomore year at Howard and both of my brothers were in high school. Those were critical years. He abandoned ship. There was no communication.

Me: How did that impact you personally, spiritually? 

Heather: I began having irregular cycles and even though I didn’t call it this then, I was depressed. I didn’t have any energy and I remember crying myself to sleep at night mostly because I knew my brothers were struggling through this. They were in the home. I wasn’t and I’m big sis. I also hurt for my mom who hurt for all of us. I went home to visit and she shared some of the book she had been writing. She wrote down the number of days she knew I cried myself to sleep. It was almost a whole year and I’ll never forget feeling so loved, seen, and prayed for.

Me: Have you resolved those feelings of resentment? If so, how? 

Heather: I would say I have. Several years ago, around the time I started doing my therapy sessions at Howard in 2013. I realized before my parents were my parents, they’re their own beings with their own trauma, memories, healing.  But you know, it’s not about why you move. It’s how you move. It’s about being open and communicating. It’s about not making things more difficult than they have to be. I used to hold onto that resentment, that anger but I realize that parents are their own people, not just my parents.  Realizing that took some of the pressure off of me. 

Me: What was the experience like for your mother?

Heather: My mom would call often to make sure I was okay. She knew that I cried for about a year straight and she did everything she could to encourage me. First and foremost, she prayed with me and she never spoke bad about my father even though I know she was hurt. She coped by helping other people, by making sure her children were okay. She didn’t prioritize herself. In 2017, my mother suffered a stroke. 1 year, 1 week, and 1 day later, she suffered another stoke. She had been taking care of everyone, and everything, including the family business. She was paying bills that weren’t hers or weren’t hers alone. She was managing real estate property. My mom is also a nurse. She had a ton of her plate but was still gracious and stayed consistent in loving her family. She didn’t want us to get lost in the shuffle. I commended her and tried to understand her pain. I also learned what strength in the midst of hurt looked like, and that’s love.

Me: That fall 2010 semester at Howard so brutal. It was so hard to navigate grief and keep up with school for me. What was it like for you?  

Heather: Girl! I received first F in life my sophomore year at Howard, when my father walked out of our household. I remember calling and texting my dad before I boarded the plane for DC. He never answered. I cried between two men I didn’t know the whole plane ride. But I will say, because of my mama’s prayers, my will to succeed at Howard, and my late nights of various playlists and floor yoga/interpretative dancing with you, Raina – I came back and finished that year with a 3.0.

Me: What got you through? What were some of your coping mechanisms then?  

Heather: Wale’s “Ambitious Girl” Got me through.  When I was in the thick of it , music, blasting it, writing, songwriting, drawing, coloring, comfort of food, and tree got me through. 

I eventually picked up more energy and just started loving on myself. The affirming thought that helped center me was, “Get back to balance.” Even though it was necessary for me and I had to sit with these big emotions, deal with them, I didn’t like feeling forlorn and melancholy. I had to start doing something in the present moment to shift. I learned that even as was I was experiencing pain, I had the chance to experience joy. I had to manage myself and not focus on what was beyond my control. I also leaned into sisterhood and had sessions with my girls, including you, almost every night to cope. We were in that thang together, know what I mean? So…I retook the class I failed, got a B, my GPA improved, LOL!

Me: How did your relationship with your father impact other relationships? 

Heather: I first realized that my relationship with my father impacted me junior year. I had a huge crush on this guy! He actually became my first intimate partner. He was also navigating a painful situation and I was present for him. But I didn’t disclose my relationship with my dad with him or any man I dated. I didn’t feel like they tried to build a relationship with her to the point of inquiring. But I’ve grown so much in this ten year span. I recognize I was tolerating behaviors from men that I shouldn’t have that stemmed from trying to understand my father’s behavior including his lack of emotional presence. I didn’t have my first official relationship until after I left college at the age of 23. I had experienced multiple “situationships” up until that time, and exploring spaces with me on an intimate level was so new to me. I have learned much through trial and error. 

Me: What’s one of the greatest lessons your relationship with your father has taught you?

Heather: It’s allowed me to hold a space for compassion. Even though my experiences have been painful, I still want love. Through everything, I try to find understanding. I try to make room for love. My daddy leaving the home was catastrophic. I believe Black fatherhood can bring a sense of order and balance. I didn’t feel that. I needed that. I needed more time. I needed him to be emotionally present. But, I still hold space for what can come. I had a brief conversation with my dad recently. I needed some documents for car repair and I couldn’t get access to the building where the documents were because he changed the locks in 2017. I was diplomatic. I texted him and didn’t hear back until three weeks later. He responded, cordially, and said he’d mail the documents over to me. I can’t say that small interaction didn’t mean anything. It did. My father showed up for me in the way that he could in that moment. He didn’t give the level of visibility we needed him to through so many of life’s transitions. He should have been. But at this point, I’m all about finding solutions if we can and avoiding problems, avoiding pain. 

Me: What does your current self-care routine look like? What is your recipe for healing? 

Heather:  

  • 1 – At least an hour of sunlight a day
  • 2 – representing double the amount of water
  • 3 – aromatherapy with a few of my favorite essential oils
  • 4 – Shea Butter Babyyy *in my Ari Lennox voice* Rub downs and massages
  • 5 – Find at least 5 minutes a day to laugh
  • 6 – Time spent with family
  • 7 – Doing the things that bring me joy
  • 8 – Tree
  • 9 – Music
  • 10 – More conversations with God (prayer)

That’s my recipe.

Heather is a songwriter and musician. To hear her music and support her art, follow her on Instagram @itsnikeita or at Soundcloud.com/nikeita.

Ready Rock

How old were you when you became familiar with the word crackhead? When you recognized they were in your family? When you began using the word as a colloquial insult amongst friends or even neighborhood enemies? I was very young. I was young when I learned that my Uncle was a crackhead, a thief, an addict. But these terms and the conversations around his struggles really limited my understanding of who he was. They limited my understanding of addiction. They didn’t help me understand his humanity. I’m sure you can relate. 

On July 6, 2020. My daughter’s 3rdbirthday, my Uncle Willie Wood became an Ancestor. I didn’t know how to begin processing the emotions around his passing. I was trying to prepare the house for my baby’s masked celebration but took a seat in the living room after pouring coffee that I didn’t begin to drink until it was only warm. I sat thinking about the affection I wished I was able to show him, how I wished I was more understanding and patient, how I’d hoped he knew that I loved him. 

My Uncle had struggled with alcoholism and substance abuse for most of his life. When he was born, the center of his head was hairless. Hair never grew there and it remained soft until adulthood. Doctors called it a birth defect. Throughout his childhood, he suffered from chronic headaches and pain. He began self-medicating with weed and trying alcohol. 

My Mommy, his eldest sister, recalled an inconsolable episode when he was 19. She said he crawled from one end of the bed to the next, crying, screaming because he was in so much intense pain. Doctors said he had a brain a tumor. A brain tumor that they didn’t find until he was 19. He was so relieved to finally learn what was causing the pain he’d experienced for as long as he could remember. The tumor couldn’t be removed because every time the tumor was touched, his heart would stop. He was so proud to watch the video of the craniotomy on video. To address the issue and relieve his pain, he underwent radiation treatments and the surgeons placed a shunt in his head that required draining. 

My Uncle was working two jobs and doing well right before the surgery. After the surgery, he began drinking more heavily. Things took a tragic turn he was in his early 30s. 

There was always a lot of activity and traffic at my Grandmother’s home on Carter, off Dexter. My Uncle Keith had company one evening and a night of joking and laughter turned into a night of shooting and murder. My Uncle Keith was sentenced to life in prison for murder with no evidence. It was a benched trial. Uncle Keith is the youngest of the siblings. My Uncle Willie Wood felt helpless and guilty because he was in the house when tragic events took place. He was in the house, upstairs, drunk, and asleep. He felt like he didn’t protect his baby brother. Familial depressions wrapped its arms around the Davis family and crack found its way into my Uncle’s hands. 

I met my Uncle Willie Wood as an addict. I always knew he was smart, helpful, funny but sometimes those qualities were overshadowed by the functions of his drug addiction – not holding a job or responsibility, not taking consistent care of us son, stealing from family members, being inconsiderate, and sometimes not respecting boundaries in a way that made others uncomfortable. Made me uncomfortable. 

I remember walking to the store with my Uncle when I was a little kid very often. It was an adventure because he was so carefree and silly. I knew that he would make random outbursts on the walk, know everyone at the store, and just be really pleasant. But as I grew older, those walks became less frequent especially after my parents divorced when I was 16. My Mom, twin brother, and I temporarily moved in the flat above my Grandmother’s on Carter, off Dexter. 

My Uncle had been living with my Grandmother forever. It was living in that space that I became more acquainted with his addiction. It was then that I began to turn my nose up at his company coming in and out of the house at all hours of the night. It was then that I really started to disconnect, to judge, and probably felt some shame about his addiction. 

I developed more intimate relationships with people who struggled with addiction in my 20s. 

One of the most profound relationships I’ve had that truly helped stretch and grow me was with a young man who I grew up with. We reconnected the summer I graduated from Howard. I went to a celebration he was having at a park. As I approached him, I saw him drinking Vodka out of the bottle. It didn’t mean anything to me especially being only 21 and matriculating through college, college parties, free happy hours, and kickbacks. In my mind, he was young to accept that he was an alcoholic and also struggled from substance abuse. It just didn’t make sense to me that someone so young was addicted to alcohol and drugs. All the people I knew who struggled with addiction, like my Uncle, were older. Then one day my Mom said, “But they all started somewhere. They all started around his age.” 

I thought of my Uncle who began using drugs in his youth (harder drugs in his early 30s). I thought about how I’d paid attention to his behavior my whole life but didn’t see the pattern in this new relationship.

That relationship brought me a lot of pain. A LOT. But it also brought me a lot of clarity and brought me to my counselor who helped me to better understand addiction. Through her, I learned what a weekend and functioning alcoholic was. I learned about the residual effects of drug abuse. I learned how deeply I was judging him and the differences between accountability and judgement. I learned about the limited capacity people who are navigating and struggling with substance abuse often have. I learned that his behavior had nothing to do with me, that I wasn’t responsible for his struggle, and that I could not “fix” anything. All I could do was hold the space for him that I could. Needless to say, that romantic relationship ended after many fights that he doesn’t even remember, a co-signed loaned, broken promises, nervous breakdown (that’s what I’m calling it), many tickets, car accidents, infidelity, rehabilitation and halfway houses.

I remember crying to a mentor one day, barely able to formulate the words, “He’s sick. He’s just sick.” That’s what it is, all illness. He had it and so did my Uncle. But it can be so hard to see addiction that way. It isn’t cancer or multiple sclerosis. It’s a choice, right? I’ve come to realize that the healing and recovery are choices but addiction is much more layered, much more complex that we accept. 

I’ve often said that “addiction runs in my family.” This is the story of so many of us. But, I’m making a point to reframe that just as I’ve reframed my understanding of addiction. Addiction doesn’t run in my family. I have family members who struggle with addiction, specifically substance abuse. And aren’t we all addicted to something? 

Three weeks ago, today, I received the phone call about my Uncle passing. He was on anti-depressants and medication for his heart. But, he wouldn’t stop drinking. I knew him to be sober for about three years. Then one day, he just started drinking again. After the passing of my Grandmother, the drinking increased. She was his shelter, his refuge. 

We weren’t very close in my adult years but I still mourn for him. I mourn his life more than I mourn his passing. I am pained by the thoughts of him not healing. It’s sad to think about how he began doing drugs and drinking so young. It’s heartbreaking to think that he was in pain, in some way, all of his life. 

With Kanye West’s recent behavior and announcement of presidential candidacy, I’ve seen a number of posts on social media. Some people write about his mental health challenges and hold bipolar disorder responsible for his behaviors including anti-Blackness and misogynoir. But again, as I come to understand mental health challenges more, I understand that they are real, valid, but do not absolve us of personal responsibility, accountability, or healing. I’ve learned that not only is it ableist to blame all behaviors on mental health challenges or illnesses but it can also be inaccurate. Kanye’s anti-Blackness and misogynoir is a reflection of him. It is heightened, amplified, by his disorder. 

I remind myself of the ways in which our behaviors and the way we cope can be harmful. But as my counselor would remind me, “no one is coming to save us.” It’s on us. 

Two things can exist at once – my Uncle’s behavior as a result of his addiction could be harmful and unacceptable. But we also still honor his humanity not as an addict but as someone who battled addiction. We can still love. We can still extend grace. We can still see that people are more. 

My Uncle always wanted to do something “meaningful.” He’d brag about lending money or helping in any way. At times, it could be annoying. But he just wanted to be seen as important. I don’t mean that in a haughty sense. He just wanted to be valued, seen as contributory, useful, meaningful. It is human nature and a human need to want to be seen and heard. 

It makes sense that my Uncle wanted his body to be donated to Wayne State University’s School of Medicine for research. He said he wanted his body to be studied when he passed. “Maybe they can figure out what’s wrong with me? “ is what he said. My Mommy would joke by responding, “Your body’s gonna be fermented.” He was never offended but always laughed, showing all his teeth which had deteriorated from drinking cheap liquor. 

The day he passed, she called Wayne State. A representative offered her condolences, asked a number of questions, and shared that they would gladly take his body. It made her feel so good when the representative said, “We’ll call and update you on any findings and let you know when he’s teaching the class.” She was so honored and tickled by that. She shared that remark with everyone she talked to for days. I couldn’t let my distrust of institutions as it relates to Black bodies keep me from honoring that that’s what my Uncle wanted. He wanted to do something meaningful, impactful, important. 

Though he is no longer in the body, his teaching is a part of his work. 

My Uncle wasn’t perfect. He was actually a mess. But he was human. He was kind. He was community-centered. Sure, he volunteered at community service events, churches, and fairs. He worked at polling sites and helped seniors with grocery shopping. But he’d also split a dollar with you even if it’s all he had. He’d pay his friend’s rent before his own. He’d watch children in his building and buy them toys from the dollar store. He’d clean vomit if you puked and wouldn’t turn his nose or embarrass you. He’d give you a kidney – he actually donated a kidney to our Aunt many years ago. He was so honored to do it and proud of the scar. 

He had no superficial shame. He’d do what no one else would. But I know he felt shame internally. I know he wished he was more. I hope that he now knows that he was always worthy, addictions and all. 

Even if his body wasn’t donated to research, even if he hadn’t given our Aunt that kidney, even if he hadn’t gone to community college, even if he didn’t do lawn maintenance or love reading, sports, and singing off key, my Uncle wasn’t just a recovering crack addict. An alcoholic. A thief. He was a human. A man. The hood famous Willie Wood –– Junior, Wood, son, brother, father, uncle, friend who began calling himself Will-I toward the end of his life. 

He was more. 

He was a man who loved his family, who loved people. He was a man who laughed and showed all of his teeth. 

Rest in peace, Uncle Will-I. This is the only time I’ll call you that, LOL! I hope you know that you taught me when you were here. I am better, more understanding, more empathetic because of your journey.

I love you.

Niece 

Giving Birth to Purpose

A few weeks ago, I got a spiritual download – What I’ve been called to do. I’ve known that I was meant to write since I was in elementary school As I’ve grown older, I recognized that my work goes beyond writing even though communication, language, words, and powerful storytelling are a part of who I am at the core. 

Around 2015,  I really became interested in birth work. I love children, have been fascinated by the birthing process for many, many moons, and thought it would be an empowering way to support Black women and Black birthing people. I was also inspired by women in my community including, Mama Kim Boyd and Mama Mayowa Reynolds who helped to bring forth my daughter. I don’t know what I would have done if she wasn’t in the room, setting the atmosphere. I loved the way they moved. I loved the impact they were having. I loved that their work, like the work of Black women who didn’t call themselves midwives, doulas, birth workers, was an act of resistance. I loved that their work was an act of culture and tradition keeping. I loved that their work was spiritual. 

Even though I felt strongly about this work, recognized how poorly Black mothers were being treated and continue to be treated in the medical system, understood the statistics around the infant mortality rate in our communities, and knew that the work was sacred, I still sat on pursuing it for many years.

At the beginning of this shelter in place order, I told myself that I would not try to DO but to BE. I was already finishing my first semester of graduate school, looking for a new job, and of course taking care of my Little. I just wasn’t trying to add stress. I wasn’t trying to be hyper- productive. I wasn’t trying to trigger even more anxiety that what I was already managing.

Then one day, as a matter of fact it was April 14, my friend texted me about Black Maternal Health Week. She sent me some information and asked that I share it on social media and with my personal networks. In her follow up message she said, “I know you a birth worker so, sharing!” She doesn’t even know that in that moment, she drew me into one of my callings. She drew me in to purpose.

My immediate response to her was that I would share the information but that I had no doula certifications. I was reminded of all the Black women who delivered babies but had no documented certification. I was reminded of the women in Detroit who do this work and are led by spirit, tradition, ancestry, and their personal journeys in seeking out this knowledge. I thought about the women who still showed up, did the work, saved lives.

Before Miss Rona came to town (actually, the world!), I had planned to begin certification through a program in Ann Arbor but…divine order. In May, I learned about the Mama Glow Doula Homeschool. I knew that it was time, I knew that this was it. 

At this point, I was working full time at home while also being mommy, a personal chef, counselor, playmate, teacher, interior designer, maid, and working on launching Raina Rising. But this was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. I knew I would be able to connect with women from all over the US, Canada, and the UK. I didn’t expect to expand my doula community virtually but if there’s anything we can say with gravitas about 2020, it’s that it’s not what we expected.

I was so affirmed when I learned that the course would center…US! Black women. The Level 1 Homeschool Training was grounded in : 

  • Activism + Advocacy
  • Ancestral Tradition + Ancient wisdom
  • Birth + Breastfeeding
  • Evidence-Based Research + the Ethereal
  • Mindfulness + Movement
  • Rhythm + Ritual
  • Sacred Anatomy + Sex
  • Self-Care + Spirituality

Right up my alley. But, I wasn’t prepared for how transformative the experience would be. Sharing space with so many women, predominately Black women, who were deeply committed to this work and being led by Latham Thomas, a Black birth worker extraordinaire, was magical. Lots of things came up during the course – connection, love, rituals, autonomy, forgiveness, shame, healing, worth, discomfort, blockages, freedom, empowerment. In the early part of the training, Latham shared that each of us was brought to this work for a reason and that we were all healers. Heavy. Heavy.

I was empowered to learn more about my body, including the correct terminology and the power of reclamation through language. I felt rooted in self-determination and given permission to call my body parts by names that were more scientifically accurate but also names that I chose, not some white medical professional who didn’t even study the female body. I was at this point in the course that I recognized my path.

As a writer and storyteller, I deeply believe that language empowers community. I find great purpose and passion in my writing. I am equally purposeful and passionate about helping other people tell their stories, articulate their needs and experiences, name, identify, communicate. I wasn’t sure how to marry my love for writing and communication with birth work but, both paths come from the same place. That place is the place of creativity, the sacral chakra (also associated with emotional stability and sensual pleasure located around the lower abdomen).

I just want to birth beautiful things and to help others do the same – experiences, visions, ideas, programs, stories, poetry, art, traditions.

I’ve suffered from sacral charka blockages for quite some time. Signs of blockages and imbalances include, addictive/compulsive behaviors, sexual dysfunction, fear of change, emotional instability. In the body, the sacral chakra connects with reproductive issues –infertility, impotence, or menstrual issues – and lower back, kidney, or stomach disorders.

How ironic that this is the center from which all my work comes. This. is. God-ordained. Irony – in order to do the work of community, I quite literally must do my own work. I must heal, I must be clear, I must be open so that I can help those preparing to be their strongest and most vulnerable.

I know that God, my Ancestors, and guides on this plain ushered me into this work because it affirms that as I heal, I heal.

This is my work and it is revolutionary.

Doulas do not provide clinical advice or medical support. We are not OBs or midwives. But the work we do is still profound. We give birthing people permission and space to reclaim their bodies and voices, to incorporate tradition into their birth experiences, to move more freely and as the body says, we provide comfort and support, and we set the atmosphere because…

We deserve beautiful birth experiences.

We deserve safety.

We deserve to carry on the traditions of our ancestors.

I look forward to helping to bring forth more beautiful life. look forward to expanding my birth worker community. I look forward to helping to set and even shift the atmosphere for mothers – this includes supporting birthing people in prisons. No person should be chained to the bed while giving birth. No person should have their babies ripped from their arms. No person should feel like a criminal when giving birth. Though I plan to advocate for different and am a prison abolitionist, so long as prisons exist, I believe doulas will continue to create healthier, more beautiful, more sacred, and yes, more safe birthing experiences.

My current work involves bringing forth life. Eventually, my work will also include supporting families through death and ushering their loved ones to the light. Eventually, my work will be full circle and I will also be a death/end of life doula. Thank you, Patrece, for giving me that language. Thank you, Mommy, for your examples of compassion and bereavement that connected me to supporting people at the end of life even when I was a child.

Black. Women. Been. Doing. This.

I am so excited about this work. I’m exciting to marry my gifts as a writer with birth work. I’m excited to not only help those preparing to give birth but entire families, non-traditional, blended, etc.

For now, my credentials are ‘Doula Trainee.’ I have only completed the first level of the program. Although I am able to begin accepting clients, I look forward to completing Level 2 of the Mama Glow Doula Homeschool and then achieving full certification within a year.

My current standard package includes consultation and agreement for support, a Zawadi gift exchange – I provide prepared by an herbalist, an affirmations page, and The Four Agreements. The  birthing person provides the declaration that they will do their best to remain open to the process – and a home visit. I will meet with client and supporting people to develop an “ideal” birthing plan understanding that the baby runs the show, check in monthly either virtually or in-person, provide labor and birth support as well as two post partum visits and on-going phone support.  Due to the state of our world, most work is done virutally. We can still be in community even if virtually. We can establish a schedule or routine for check ins, text, and use various mediums to stay in contact. 

Allow me to support you in helping to usher in ancestors return, babies from the spirit world to this side of the Earth, and create the sacred atmosphere you want for your birth and delivery.

I will be a support person, coach, and advocate showing up however you need me.

For the purposes of equity, I offer sliding scale payments. I had no intention of charging for services as some of the birth workers I am most connected to do not. They simply consider this to be a part of their ministry. However, it was strongly encouraged throughout the course to charge as it affirms the work of other doulas, especially those who do this work full time. It is a labor of love but labor, no less. I am open to discussions of bartering. 

If you would like to contribute funds to support me in certification, with the purchasing of books, and/or supplies, feel free to send a blessing to $RaiEl2017 via Cash App.

I am generally uncomfortable with asking for and even leaning in to support but, we’re all about building community, right? If I tell encourage my clients to surrender to the process and allow themselves to be supported, I must also allow myself to be supported.

Thank you to the women and healers who’ve come before me, to the Granny midwives called “unheralded women who saved mothers’ lives before modern medicine”, to the birth workers in my lineage whose names I don’t know, to my Mommy for supporting me in my work, to my daughter for always making me rise, to my first client who happens to be my oldest niece, to the clients and community to come, and to you for reading and contributing.

Thank you to my friend, Yemisi, for calling me out and forth without even knowing it. I hope to partner in this work for her and that she might also help support me in the laboring processes to come (not in 2020 or 2021 because whew, Chile).

This is my work but it is also village work. Thank you, Village.

I can’t wait to give birth to more stories. Thank you, God, for using and choosing me.

For more information about this doula training program, visit www.mamaglow.com. Also, check out this amazing short documentary on the Granny Midwives. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGaW3yhfKN0

Before they know the meanings of their names

These words are dedicated to the Black bodies, children, young people who’ve lost their lives to gun violence and to Africans in America who’ve protected and served a country that does not honor them.

On the morning of May 23rd my Mommy asked me if I’d heard a shooting in the middle of the night. I hadn’t. Perhaps I’m so accustomed to hearing shootings that I can sleep through them. Or, maybe sometimes I assume the noises to be fireworks. I also always turn on rain noises for my baby girl. I’ve used the sound of the rain to help her sleep since she was a newborn. It also soothes me, an insomniac. I want her to hear the sounds of nature and peace at night, not gunshots. Either way, I didn’t hear the shooting but knew that it happened. I followed my Mommy’s question with questions – “Did somebody die?” Was it a young person? My Mommy shook her head and said, “Yes, a four-year-old little boy.” I became deeply sad and began to pray that the child didn’t suffer. I thought of my daughter and saw her face instead of the child whom I didn’t know.

I became anxious because the thought of someone just firing shots into shots into a home is a story I’ve heard before. I guiltily admit that I hoped someone wasn’t just firing shots for the sake of it accidentally hitting the child. That would make the likelihood of experiencing something like this all the more palpable. I hoped that they were looking for some adult who lived there and shot into the house without knowing the child was there. That, too, is horrific but easier to accept than the former.

I often have intrusive thoughts. The worst are about something happening to my daughter. I’ve learned that intrusive thoughts, even about our children, are a part of the normal human experience. It makes us think of survival and caution. Nonetheless, something happening to our children is often a parent’s worst nightmare. The night before the shooting, my daughter was sitting on my bed. She was close to the window. I’ve always had a thing about windows. My Mommy has, too. I’ve asked people to sit elsewhere or “scoot over a little bit.” I’ve had a long fear about someone being shot through the window. I fought my anxiety in that moment and likened it to me just having intrusive thoughts intensified by PMS (yeah, it’s a thing). I didn’t move her. I didn’t ask her to move. I saw this moment as empowering as I challenged myself to relax and not always think that something tragic could or was in motion to happen.

I wanted my daughter to just enjoy sitting on my bed. I wanted us to enjoy each other’s

company. I wanted to fight the urge to forbode the joy I was feeling before the thought.

My Mommy sharing the news about this baby boy’s death reaffirmed the affirmation I often hear from healers, counselors, and mental health practitioners – “All of our trauma is not our own>”

I love Detroit, deeply. It is truly a special place of resilience, creativity, innovation, fashion, and Black radical tradition. But it also a place often usurped of its power, riddled with blight, and consistently battling the cancer of violence – from poverty to police to bad policy; from gentrification to food deserts; from the violence of racism to the violence of residents.

I am not desensitized to gun violence. I am not used to it. I have heard hundreds of stories about gun violence, heard thousands of guns sound off in various neighborhood, and have witnessed the gruesome recoveries of family members, including my eldest brother, who were victims of gun violence. But nothings make this more real than hearing about children who’ve lost their lives to gun violence.

I can sleep through gunshots sometimes. But that doesn’t make waking to the news of victims easier the next morning.

4-years-old. I imagine a little brown boy with tight curls up past his bedtime, building towers with Legos and creating adventure the best way he could because “outside is closed.” I imagine his baby teeth and crumbs on his face from the snacks his grandmother gave him even though it was late. I imagine his being. I imagine him just being.

As my counselor and community continue to affirm me by normalizing my anxiety, I realize that this trauma, the way anxiety shows up for me, these intrusive thoughts don’t happen because “something is wrong with me.” All this doesn’t even belong to me. It makes me think, if my mental health and sense of well-being are informed by my immediate environment in such a way, what the hell does that mean for Black and vulnerable people navigating life in the context of America, a country that is perpetually violent? Beyond the US, we could ask the same question on a macro level. Anti-Blackness and violence against those belonging to the Diaspora is expressed. All. Over.

I am disgusted at the violence. I am disgusted about this baby losing his life. I am disgusted that his parents have to bury a child and cannot be physically comforted at the homegoing service because of COVID-19. I am disgusted that parents have to think about not allowing their children to play near windows or during typical shooting hours. During a time of isolation, we add an additional layer of restriction on our children and have to be concerned about another layer of violence against Black life.

We think about our children being hurt or even shot, because children are often hurt. Children are shot. The bullets may not have their names engraved in them but they belong to their bodies nonetheless. They should grow up sneaking tattoos not with scars with bullet wounds.

To make matters even more personal, the shooting occurred on my street just south of 7 Mile. Too close to home.

I pray for divine protection over my daughter every day. I pray that her life be long and fruitful. I pray that she is never a victim of this violence knowing that living life as a Black person in America is its own special kind of violence. Before I go to bed, I envision God’s spirit around my house, I envision the protection of our immediate Ancestors, I think about the cayenne pepper I’ve left at the doors, and I imagine that “All is well.” I want all to be well for these babies but all ain’t well. But we gotta keep working to make it so.

This Memorial Day Weekend, I want to hold exceptional space for our children. I want to pour libations for them. I want to honor their memories. I want to ask them, our new Ancestors we didn’t expect to become ancestors in youth, to protect our children here.

Nathanial Mesiah Roby-Townsend is the name of the 4-year-old boy who was killed. Nathanial means, “Gift of God.” That’s what he was. That’s what our children are. They deserve full and free lives where they are able to grow up and understand the meanings of their names!

This baby may or may not have known the meaning of his name. But I do. Now, you do. So let’s say his name this weekend. Let’s honor him. Let’s pray for his family. I will. And I think of you as my neighbor, Nathanial. I’ll be reminded of your sweet face that my eyes met in an online news article. I’ll think of your being. I’ll think of you just being.

As I hold my baby girl and type with my back towards the window, always thinking about shielding her, I am thinking of you.

To all the Black children who’ve died to gun violence in their neighborhoods, to the Black people who’ve lost their lives at the hands and bullets of police officers, to the Black veterans who’ve protected and served but were never protected or served within their country’s own borders, I salute you. I thank you for being.

This Memorial Day Weekend, be safe. Be smart. Be well. May you be divinely protected.

If There Is A Light That Shines

The past weekend was pretty magical. Intense for a number of reasons but also magical. Watching and listening to the conversation led by GirlTrek founders about survival, radical self-care, and freedom fighting featuring two of my favorites, Angela Davis and Nikki Giovanni, experiencing Erykah Badu and Jill Scott’s battle turned moment of sisterhood and nostalgia via IG Live, and then having a beautiful Mommy’s Day was awesome. I was so full and felt the best I’ve felt in a while.

In this moment, I am incredibly grateful but now I am also…incredibly anxious. A true to sign Virgo, it is so hard for me not to know what’s next, what the timeline looks like, what the plan is. It is often hard for me not to be in control. Certainly, we are surrounded by a lot of uncertainty and let’s keep it real, stupidity during this time. But, there are a few things that are certain. One of those things is that we were never in control.

Many of us have talked about the shift in our social media posts. We talked about entering a space where marginalized folks are centered with emphasis on Black people, universal healthcare, the dismantling of capitalism, food security, abolishing prison, and building community. Honestly, it’s beautiful conversation and this pro Black, pro Woman growing neo-socialist’s dream. While all of that is and would be beautiful, the impact of COVID-19 has already been grave. I can’t ignore that even though I hope for a more beautiful future.

As left as I consider myself to be, I have to admit that I am still an arrogant and entitled American working to radicalize myself. I mention arrogance because I never thought something like this could hit so close home – we’ve got too many resources, too much technology, too many delusions of grandeur and invincibility for this to ever. happen. here. I’ve never uttered those words. But, the thought has always been in the back of my mind. I empathized with people who were impacted by pandemics in the past but never really conceptualized what that meant. I’m an empath. Maybe I couldn’t allow myself to feel what I couldn’t fully understand. Maybe I was disconnected. Maybe I was trying to protect my mental health by not taking on trauma that seemed so distant from me. I’m having a hard time doing that now because COVID-19 feels like the monster under my bed. It shares the space with my daughters toys and my anxiety. With the underpinnings of social, political, and economic injustice, something makes me feel that my feet will pulled under when I get up from the bed in the morning.

I’ve had a couple of family members test positive for COVID-19 but they’ve since recovered. Most of my family seems to be doing relatively well, all things considered. There were moments where money was tight but we do what Black people always do despite the lie – we shared resources, money, information. Everyone has food, water, shelter, disinfectant, toilet paper. Haha.

While I have not been intimately affected by the virus (to my knowledge. Honestly, for the sake of already being anxious and speculating, I may have had the virus in January) knowing people who’ve had the virus is, to be frank, scary af. Knowing that friends have lost loved ones; that there are children stuck in abusive households not having their needs met; partners experiencing consistent domestic violence; Black, Brown, and Native folks being denied testing, protective equipment, and being treated indecently in hospitals; people who are quarantined alone; people trying to navigate this thing while also struggling with mental health challenges and addiction; parents, including myself, trying to juggle work and manage a household while being as present as possible for little people who are also anxious; those with Alzheimer’s or Autism who’ve had their routines interrupted and cannot wrap their minds around these rapid changes; exhausted front line workers; inconsiderate non-profits and corporations alike who continue to lead organizations like they are machines instead of people who are doing their best to live and breathe through this; an inept federal government and a racist, sexist, ableist, sociopathic idiot for president who I blame for these unnecessary deaths…And I mean, seriously, where are the checks and balances? Where is the accountability?  All of THAT is heavy.

We are individually and collectively mourning and grieving. While there is beauty in the fact that we are not alone in this grief, it is still heavy. I feel that energy right now. Right in this moment. And it is suffocating.

I’m sitting in my queen-sized bed with no room because my almond 3-year-old daughter likes to sleep right next to me, or on top of me. I really wanted her to start sleeping in her own bed before COVID-19. I wouldn’t dare start training her to sleep alone now. Now, more than ever, we need each other. It is the only way we survive. It is how we were meant to live. As I look at her beautIful face, I am pained for her. I am sad because she has not seen her daycare friends and we cannot go to the playground. I am sad because she misses her daddy and has made a pretend version of him to play with. I am so excited about her vivid imagination but the dialogue she creates around his absence is heartbreaking. He also has not made an effort to be creative and see her even though they can’t physically connect. That is also…heartbreaking. For weeks, my thoughts of that were probably rooted in judgement. I’ve tried to remove the judgement from this but it’s still a reality.

I’ve attempted to empower my daughter with language to help her understand why we can’t do so many of the things she’s used to right now – sharing space with family. Sharing space with her dad. She now says, “the Earth is healing” in response. She knows that we cannot hug people outside of our home right now. She knows that we cannot touch hands. She is happy to wave at people and draw hearts on windows. She is happy to go on car rides downtown at night. The lights at Campus Martius have become an amusement park. The MGM lion on buildings makes her think of the zoo. The flowers are the jungle. And she has noticed more green leaves on the trees over the last couple of months. On our rides now she says, “those trees have healed.”

The Earth is healing. We are healing. But sometimes those words, those ideas are not enough comfort for the lonely, the anxious, the depressed, the grieving.

Physical touch is one of my main love languages. Knowing that some of my peers have buried a mother right before Mother’s Day or a father right before Father’s Day but were unable to hug them in their final moments, unable to embrace family at the unorthodox service….I feel that. I hold space for that. In this moment, I am anxious because I cannot continue to try to hold space for all things. That makes me feel like I am betraying my community. It is a lie but I feel it.

Communication and sociological scholarship often defines America as having a masculine identity. Scholars write that masculinity deals with egocentricity, individualism, and competition. The long-lasting identity of America is antithetical to community. It is antithetical to how we get through this.

In this moment, I am trying to figure out how to support and lean into my community in meaningful ways and to feel deeply without exploding with emotion.

I’m also unhealthily trying to rationalize and theorize about how long life could be like THIS. I don’t want to go back to normal. I want to go toward better. I want to live in a country that is person and community-centered. A place that is not about economic competition but saving the lives of people!! Do you hear me? I want to go toward a space of love, not ego.

Love. I am surrounded by the love of my Mother, Brother, and Daughter. They are the great loves of my life. I am so grateful. We are quarantined together and driving one another crazy. But, we are alive. I try to let that be my centering thought often but I still myself longing for more human connection, longing to embrace my partner who has become another great love of my life.

He is my best friend. I have never had someone hold space for me the way he does. As one of my close friends recently shared, “He just seems to navigate you so well.” As someone who struggles with anxiety, managing empathy, and often just feels full of electricity, finding someone who navigates me well is a gift. In the past, I’ve tried to convince myself that I was too difficult to love and share space with because of how deeply I feel things but also, how personally I take them. My relationship with him is somewhat unexpected but what’s special is that even before we began dating, we always had a spiritual kind of intimacy. Physical distancing has allowed that aspect of our relationship to grow. I can honestly say we’re closer than ever. But not knowing when I can melt into him or just be hugged or kissed on the forehead by him…I feel betrayed by nature. Betrayed because all the great love in my life seems divine and I finally have it all in my heart but anxiety has made me replay different ways that I could lose them. I don’t want to lose them. I pray not to lose them. I pray not to lose myself. In this shit show. I will not lose them. Or me.

I just keep repeating this affirmations while feeling like a dope fiend, addicted to their magnitude but not fully satisfied by them.

My Love is not a worrier. I am. But I try hard to take on his calmness, his Obatala energy. I try hard to be present, to dissect information but not be consumed by it. But I feel this. I feel it in my shoulders and my neck. I feel it in my womb and my back. I feel it in my knees. I feel it in my knuckles. I feel it in my clinched teeth.

My Daddy, who was also a great love of my life, used to grind his teeth though I never remember him being anxious. If he were here, he’d tell me to “be anxious for nothing. The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” That is one of the last messages he left me with.

All of this brings me back to what seems to be the hardest lesson of my life, surrendering. I thought I surrendered to this in April. I was doing okay. But now, I am reminded of how much of a nightmare this is while also not taking the beautiful moments and the health of my family and loved ones for granted. I just have to continuously disclaim that.

I feel like there is no ground beneath my feet. For a Virgo, that is hell. I’m trying to ground myself in what I can control. I’m trying to listen for God’s voice. I am begging God to be gentle with us and to help us be gentle with ourselves and each other. I am just…trying. I’m trying like hell, like all of us.

I am praying that we’ll not only make it through this but that we’ll make it through this changed.

America is exposed. Holding its flag and wearing its broken systems and fallacies like hand-me-down clothes from wretched forefathers. Perhaps this is the reckoning or the start of reform or maybe revolution. Ideologically, that would be great. But my question is – can we protect our people and protect our peace through this? How many and how long do we suffer? Rhetorical question. No one has answers. So, I remain anxious and pray and try to surrender every day.

God, help me to surrender without suffering.  And if revolution soon come, help me to be fearless and fight like I’m anxious for nothing.

Update the morning after what felt like a storm:

I have hanging lights in my bedroom. I have them on a setting that allows the lights to alternate. They don’t all shine at once. These lights have been hanging for months. For some reason, my daughter noticed that all the lights were not lit for the first time this morning. She didn’t stretch or yawn before noticing. She noticed and was immediately moved because she thought some of the lights were broken. Then I became moved as I explained to her that the lights share their light with each other, they are not broken. They take turns. She stood in the bed and I told her to hold onto one of the lights that was not shining and wait a moment. When she saw the light shine through the star she held in her hands, she smiled and understood that they were not broken.

Sometimes we can’t all feel or be filled with light. It takes those around us to shine and share their light with us to sustain us, it takes a village, a community of light. These little lights not all shining at once doesn’t make the ambiance less beautiful because every light does their part. Every light shines at some point. Every light is still connected. Every light is still beautiful.

My daughter, whose name means luminous in some languages, radiant or brilliant of others, teaches me so much. I often say that she came to give birth to me…The spiritual download she shared with me this morning reminds me that it’s okay to not be okay right now. It’s also okay to not be sure what’s next. I’m not sure where we go from here. But I know that wherever we go, we must continue to go together, with each other in mind, sharing as much of our light as we can.

I hope these words will be some of kind of comfort for folks reading. And I pray that some way, somehow someone shares a little of the light you need to get through today. I hope you meet God in some form today. I hope you feel the spirit of an Ancestor or the voice of a young child who reminds you of our connectedness and our light.