Walk Like You Matter

            When people have been beaten down by life, which extends to everyone emotional and physical blows that are demoralizing and debilitating, their despondency comes through in the way they walk.

            There is no bounce, no “swag,” no lilt, but, rather, a plodding along, the result of the steady placing of one foot in front of the other, as if each step is painful – which it often is. Their gait seems to be saying, “If I can just get through this day …” or in some cases, the prayer and hope is to get through the next five minutes.

            If you look, you see it. Their shoulders are slumped – not drastically, but enough to indicate that they are carrying something within themselves that is heavy and weighing them down. Their chins might be slightly lowered or jutting forward, as if the chin is fighting the entire rest of the spirit and body of the person to keep his/her eyes up, being in position to see and thus grab any tidbit of hope that is available for them. 

            The eyes are open, but not seeing. They don’t see colors. They don’t see the cute and adorable antics of a beloved pet as it works to get attention. They don’t see the dust on tables or dirt on walls. They see that it is daylight, but their eyes also reveal that daylight is no pleasure to them.

            But it’s the walk that I’m noticing. It is a walk that reveals one’s fatigue, one’s exhaustion with fighting. The fights are in so many areas of all our lives. In these people, I see people tired of fighting for justice in many cases, but in others, fighting to keep one’s head above one’s grief, fighting against being lonely, fighting against feeling worthless, and fighting against being dehumanized in a world that can only be its best if all of us who are human claim that status and milk it for all it is worth. Some are fighting against a stubborn addiction, which is holding onto them like syrup sticks to one’s fingers. Some are fighting domestic violence, others are fighting feeling like nothing as they work a job where they don’t even get a working wage, let alone a fair one.

            It is a challenge to live sometimes; too often, we merely exist, as many of us are doing now. The pandemic has taken its toll. The rancid politics has likewise taken its toll. The fight to be heard seems to be futile as lawmakers and the nation’s highest court seem intent on shutting completely down the mere thought and concept of democracy, a place where everyone matters.

            But however heavy is our emotional load, we have to begin the process of claiming our lives, and that process begins with an internal declaration that we matter. We matter. No matter what society says, what the pundits and politicians say, what the pastors and preachers may say or not say, what parents or spouses may say – we matter. 

            And we have to walk like it.

            If we begin each day by opening our eyes and muttering “thanks” even when we are not particularly thankful, we begin the process. If we continue saying “thanks” throughout the day, after a while, that tiny word will begin to enter into the very pores of our spirits. We won’t notice it, because gratitude does its work privately, without our intervention. After a while, though, our emotions will begin to respond. Slowly, the blinders will come off of our eyes, and the plugs, out of our ears. We will breathe in a different way and we will begin to really “see” what we could not see before. As we see what is outside of us we will also begin to see what is inside of us, truthfully, and we will accept ourselves for who we are, weaknesses and strengths alike.

            We will realize that we are not so bad. We will realize that what “they” have said or done to us in an attempt to squelch our joy has not been correct, nor has it worked. Our chins will breathe a sigh of relief because as we see and hear more, our heads will naturally begin to lift, letting the chin rest from the work it has been doing for such a long time.

            We will walk like we matter.

            Because we do.

            Walk like you matter.

            Because you do.

            A candid observation.

When Dark Nights Come

My mother used to say, all of the time, that life isn’t fair.

It isn’t.

I keep thinking of the “newly homeless,” people who used to have jobs, good jobs, who are now homeless. I think of the parents and family of people who have been killed by senseless gun violence in this nation within the last year. I know a family whose son was a good student and athlete and was headed to college ….but who died during basketball practice. In a historical sense, I keep thinking of Solomon Northrup, the free black man who was stolen and sold into slavery, as depicted in the movie, Twelve Years a Slave.”

Talk about unfair. Dark nights do come, no matter who we are.

When I watched that movie, I kept wondering how Solomon did it? How did he …well, how did any slaves …make it through that horrific experience? How did he keep from going insane or losing hope? I wondered if he woke up every day thinking that this would be the day of his deliverance…and how he kept going when the day at hand turned out not to be that day.

What did he tell himself? What did he do with the feeling of life being unfair as he was beaten and almost killed and treated like a brute?

I can’t even imagine.

But stories like that are good to know; Northrup’s story is as compelling for me as was Nelson Mandela’s. How did he stay sane and hold onto hope for 27 years? I read his book, Long Walk to Freedom and was reminded that within us all there is that strength given to us at the moment we were created.

If we can remember that the strength is there…and if we can turn our attention away from our angst and toward, perhaps, the suffering of others, it seems that light begins to seep through.

Even the tiniest bit of light in the midst of darkness gives hope.

It seems that, when dark nights come, we need to look up and out…and remember that dark nights are not unique and that they are temporary – even if temporary is a long time. Darkness, eventually, is overtaken by light …which is always moving toward us.

As my mama would say that life wasn’t fair, she would also say, “this too will pass.”

So true, dark night, so true.

A candid observation …

 

Knowing Your Strength

The late Whitney Houston sang a song that moves me every time I hear it. “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” is a powerful exclamation of self-affirmation, set to music, a kind of “in your face, tribulations!” rendition offered by a woman who had been through a self-created and self-imposed hell but had come out standing.

If only she had truly believed what she sang, enough to have left the drugs and alcohol alone.

Though I mourn her exit from this life, her song resonates with me. Several people I know have said that 2013 was a horrible year; the latest article in The New Yorker about President Obama written by David Remnick says that for the president, that was certainly the case  (annus horribilis, writes Remnick).

That phrase apparently applies to more people than I originally thought.  My best friend nearly died and was on life support for two weeks. Two good friends of mine lost their mothers; another acquaintance lost her grandchild in a tragic and horrible accident.  A woman I know lost her husband of over 30 years suddenly. “I had no time to prepare,” she said to me one day, tearfully. “I don’t know what I will do …”

So many people shared with me how 2013  rocked their worlds…and my2013, well, let’s just say that “horrible” is an understatement.

But in spite of bad (or horrible) times, it is amazing that all of those people I mentioned, as well as myself, are still standing. We have not lost our minds or our will and resolve to live and thrive. While every one of those people I mentioned could relate to my experience of being so hurt and shattered that it hurt to literally breathe, they made it through. They, as well as I, didn’t know our own strength. It is bad and/or difficult times that teach us that.

Some years ago, I heard Deepak Chopra say that “bad” times are not bad; they are actually “good,” he said, because from them we learn our most valuable lessons. It is from bad times that we become stronger and we recognize the strength within us that we just do not think about and therefore cannot tap into.

The more we push against the adversities in our lives, the more we push the unmovable, the more muscular our spirits become. Our spirits become “toned” by the hard work of pushing against that which wants to take us out. The late Nelson Mandela pushed forward, though he was imprisoned for 27 years because he dared stare apartheid in the face and become in a movement to bring it down. I talked with a young man who withstood being wrongly arrested and convicted of a crime he had not committed. “I made it, Rev. Sue,” he said. “I made it.” He doesn’t know what his life will look like from this day forward, but he withstood an experience which he would only say was “horrific.”

Life was never meant to be easy; unfortunately, we all learn that. Life is meant to shake us to our cores…Tears are necessary from time to time. Depression caused by bad times must, I think, help in the strengthening process. The good thing is that not all of the “trials” we are to go through come at the same time; they are merciful enough to spread themselves out. Theoretically, by the time the “next” trial comes, the strength we have gained from the previous one has kicked in.

When I think of Whitney Houston, I think that perhaps the strength she had within her hadn’t kicked in yet; it was new. She was coming face to face with it, and getting to know herself in a new way. She was a stronger Whitney who had faced the lions of adversity and come out standing. That was her strength …

But her legs were not strong enough yet. She could stand up but couldn’t remain standing.

My prayer is that the strength I have come to realize I have is sufficient to keep me standing …as well as the strength in every single one of the persons I mentioned above. Every single one of them were knocked down by life. What they went through took the breath out of them. They …and I …found out how hard it is to breathe, let alone stand, when a tsunami overtakes us.

Knowing the strength we have inside is only the first part of surviving trials and pain. What we must do …and perhaps what Whitney did not do …is nurture and feed the new self that emerges with new strength. Otherwise, we might fall down, like Whitney did.

That would mean that the pain we just got through was wasted. That, somehow, is unacceptable. The experience of annus horribilis, though distasteful and unpleasant, is a gift. To not stand up in spite of it …just doesn’t work.

A candid observation …