What Are You?

As an interracial woman, I have often been asked the question, “What are you?” A running joke between me and my mixed comrades. I remember telling a social media friend once that I’m going to respond “an alien” the next time I get that question. I am not offended by people asking. I am often curious about people’s backgrounds myself. But the joke is in the “what,” as though I am not human. That is what I am. A human. A woman who is very much still trying to find her place in this world. 

At 37 years-old, I continue to grapple with the question of not what am I, but who am I? This year of 2015 has been a very defining one for me. The biggest thing that happened occurred when I decided to take a leap of faith and leave my corporate job after 15 years of being in the professional workforce. I am focusing more on teaching Yoga and aligning myself with my purpose, which I know, above all things, is based in service to humanity. Leaving a corporate job, especially with not a lot of money saved nor a real plan outside of honoring an internal calling, is quite scary. More than anything else, it will show a person how they have defined themselves within a box. What’s scary is learning to think and live outside of that box. 

In many ways, I have pushed past boundaries that were either self-defined or created by others. This mainly relates to my spiritual journey, where I was raised as a Baptist but explored Islam in my 20s, ultimately deciding to convert and be a practicing Muslim for two years. From there it was Yoga and a completely new spiritual path opened up for me. I pull Angel cards and believe in Angel therapy. I consult with spirit guides, although I don’t know exactly who my guides are outside of some who have transitioned from this life and who I feel are with me. I light Palo Santo sticks and sit in front of my meditation altar when I write in my journal. I believe in Universal law. My present spiritual station is not one that is defined by religion, but after years of continuos seeking, I feel closer in my relationship with God than I have ever felt. It is not easy embracing such a path when you’re the only one in your Christian family who is doing so, but I am proud of myself for honoring the course that continues to be laid in front of me. Through all my years of constant seeking and asking questions, I was looking for a space where I fit. And when I sit cross-legged in front of my altar with my incense burning, I realize I have found that space. But the question of “who am I?” still remains. The following is what comes to mind.

I am a hippie girl and a Black revolutionary. I love people. I love my people. My vibe tribe scattered throughout the world, sharing their love and light and gifts with others. Helping to create a better, more humanistic global society. I am my maternal family. My mother. My grandmother. My aunts. My brothers, uncles, nephews, nieces and cousins. All shades of brown. Rooted with history in Texas, with an extension in New York and New Jersey by way of my mother. I am proud of my mother’s heritage. My Black heritage. 

I honor my father. His family with European roots and scattered throughout New York, the Midwest, Pennsylvania, California and now Tennessee. I have less of a connection to these roots, but an unbreakable bond with my father and the stepmother and stepbrother he brought into my life. It was in this world where I learned of Bob Marley, The Beatles, The Eagles, Bluegrass music, Classical music. Woodstock. Politics. Peace. Hope. Yoga. This world shaped my ideals and some of the core principles of who I am. 

Combined together, the love my mother and father once shared resulted in my existence. And with it came the elements that would open me to my world vibe tribe. It is all Love. It is all connection. It is all me. Who I am. A balance I am learning to embrace. An awakening and understanding that makes me feel a most subtle sense of peace and happiness

I have often tried to define myself as one of these things. A conditioned way of thinking that comes from living inside the box. But as I continue to grow and make choices that are more authentic and based in how I emotionally, physically and spiritually respond to things, I learn that I don’t have to be just one of these things. I am the sum of all my parts. Parts that I am learning are wild and beautiful. I am feeling myself living more and more on purpose. 

I am finding the one thing I have been always searching for. I am finding me. 

That is what I am. Human Me. Feeling and being free to be exactly who I am. 

Namaste. 

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Phenomenal Woman

“Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.

Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.”
(~Maya Angelou)

It is with a heavy heart that I dedicate this poem to my Godmother. A most Phenomenal Woman who saw, nurtured and helped to shape the light within me. She is the driving and inspirational force behind my journey as a writer. I will miss her dearly and deeply.

More to come when my heart has been lifted. But in the meantime, love hard, love often, love without limitation. As my Godmother once told me: “Take time to love and be loved. It is a God-given gift.”


35.

I turned 35 years of age a few weeks ago. For years, this had been “the number;” the age that when I was younger, would be a determinant of the level of success I achieved and accomplished.  I just knew that by age 35, I would be happily married, have my four children and would be at the pinnacle of my career, either as a lawyer or some sort of community activist. I would have a house comparable to the childhood home where I grew up; complete with a family-friendly neighborhood and an ample-sized backyard where my children would be afforded the same simple luxuries I was afforded as a young girl. Swing sets, family BBQs and even a doghouse.

As it turns out, I haven’t actually achieved any of these things. I did have a marriage, but now I’m divorced. I have a son, but he is my only child. I have a mortgage on my own home, but it is currently a one-bedroom condo with a loft that I share with my kid. Co-parenting and condo living is not exactly where I thought I’d be at 35, but strangely enough, I am completely okay with this. Okay…maybe like 90-95% okay, because I still want the house for my kid (and more kids, to boot). Yet for all the fretting I had done about turning 35 and what that would mean for my life, when the moment actually arrived, I embraced it. I stepped into it. I owned it and silently said to myself, “35, I am here.”

I was fortunate to have my big day land on a Saturday, so I spent my birthday weekend with a group of cousins in Texas. This is the state where my mother grew up and where I have traveled to every summer pretty much since I was born. With this birthday, I knew I wanted to do something different. To be some place different. It wasn’t until I was on the plane to Texas when I realized the significance of being connected with my roots on the day of the celebration of my birth.  What better way to step into a space and embrace it while also being embraced by those who have always loved and accepted you? It was definitely a full circle moment. It was like coming home to who I am. It also turned out to be one of the best weekends I have ever had in my life, birthday or otherwise.

About a week prior to turning 35, my therapist asked me to take some time and reflect on what has been defined as a monumental age. She wanted me to think of all the experiences that I’d had up until this point in my life and how I could use those experiences to shape my life from here on out. Again, what stood out to me the most is the ease with which I stepped into the space of turning 35.

I realized this comfort came from surviving all of the experiences, good, bad and ugly. I did not reach 35 unscathed and instead of running from the challenges or allowing the challenges to prevent me from being my best self, I accepted them as life lessons. Building blocks that would only serve to make me stronger. I know that without these challenges, I would not be the woman I continue to become. I’ve earned my stripes and I wear them proudly. I have quickly learned one of the most beautiful things about turning 35 is reaching (if you haven’t already reached) that place where you begin to fully accept yourself for exactly who you are.

If you lined up ten of my closest friends, they would probably all describe me in the same way. Headstrong. Independent. Stubborn. Unnecessary worrier. Determined. Compassionate. Devoted mother. Talkative. Passionate. Intense. Overthinker. Kind. For a long time, I shunned my better qualities while erroneously telling myself doing so was a form of humility. Yet, I’d also be offended by the pointing out of the not so great stuff about me. Now I understand I need to accept all of the things that make me who I am. I can be proud of the person I am and the accomplishments I’ve made, and instead of being offended about the not so great stuff, I can do my part to not let it adversely affect others or myself. This is where my work in therapy comes into play, as well as my desire of continually striving to be the best me I can be.

While reflecting on turning 35, a video poem from Warsan Shire found its way to me. She is a beautiful poet based in London. I’d heard of her through tweets from one of my writing inspirations, dream hampton, but I’d never actually checked out her work for myself.  That is, until the day a friend posted the poem on her Facebook page. I was so moved by it, that I watched it multiple times and immediately shared it with other women friends who I knew would also appreciate the message. Being that ten of my closest friends would probably also describe me as a love junkie, there was something about the poem’s description of the strength of a woman’s love that really spoke to me. Through my work in therapy, I have come to understand how strong my own love is. Though I have had to learn how to be mindful of it in my relationships, it is also something I fully accept about myself. I haven’t reached 35 without experiencing heartbreaks and letdowns, but I am proud of myself for still being strong enough and willing enough to be receptive to love.  It is not always easy, but doing so will bring ease to my life’s journey from here on out.

When the video poem came my way, I knew it would have to be included in my next blog. I hope you enjoy it.

And cheers to turning 35.

Peace and Love.


T.R.O.Y.

I read a heartbreaking news story yesterday about an 18 year-old young man who was killed while walking to school earlier this week( see story here ). According to family and school officials, he was a beloved student who was on the honor roll, involved in track, ROTC and his school modeling club. In the words of his school principal: “This is a young man who deserved to live.” Sadly, this is one of many stories that occur in many cities; some we hear about and others we don’t. Every story touches me in a way, but there was something about this most recent one that really spoke to my heart and makes me think more and more about a dream I’ve had. How does the senseless murder of a young man tie into a dream? Well, let me explain…

As life would have it, I was born during the same year as my first-born nephew. For the purpose of this particular blog, I won’t get into the math, but he, in fact, was born 5 months before I was born. I have a small group of friends who became aunts and uncles when they were kids and we all often tease about having had nephews or nieces while we were in middle school. We try to one up each other, but I always win with “Hey, I was BORN an aunt!” Being that we were born during the same year, my nephew and I grew up together more as first cousins or even brother and sister than we were aunt and nephew. We went to the same schools, had the same friends and took family trips together. And just like any brother growing up, he teased me mercilessly and loved to poke at my sensitive nature. He was definitely the comedian of our family. However, when we reached our teenage years, our paths began to diverge. I was becoming more into school and teenage girl stuff and like many young men his age, he wanted to hang out with the older boys and sometimes found himself in situations that he didn’t need to be in. Ultimately, he moved from the town where we grew up and started a new life with his mother in a new city. The hope was that the move would be beneficial for him.

After he moved, my nephew and I didn’t see each other as much. The city where he lived was some 3 hours away from our hometown, but we always kept in touch and I always knew that I’d see him at some point in time. He still found himself caught up in some not-so-great situations, but we all knew he’d find his way eventually. Just before my nephew’s 18th birthday, he had a son. And that was when he decided to find his way. At the time, there was the general disappointment of dealing with teen parenting, but we had no idea that his son would turn out to be one of the greatest blessings for our family. My mom had gone to visit my nephew and the new baby when he was just about 3 months old. I didn’t go on the trip, but my mother called me while visiting and my nephew told me that he was looking forward to building a good life for himself and his son. He told me he loved me and that he couldn’t wait to see me soon. I told him I loved him in return and was definitely looking forward to the visit.

A few weeks later, the next phone call I received about my nephew was from a family friend telling me that he had been shot and killed. He was 18, just like the young man in the news story, and although he wasn’t on his way to school, he was on his way to the bank to establish a savings account for his son, followed by an appointment with the Job Corps. At the time, I was 17. I was about 2 weeks off from starting college and 2 months away from also turning 18. In the town where we grew up, drive-by killings didn’t happen, so I had no idea how to wrap my arms around this one. My stepfather had died less than a month before and that was my first experience of death. I didn’t know how I was going to deal with a senseless murder, much less the murder of a family member who was the same age as me. My eldest brother who was my nephew’s father knew of course, but my other brothers, our mom and my nephew’s and my friends had no idea…and I was the one who had to tell them all. During the days and weeks following my nephew’s murder, I remember wondering if I would still feel the pain when I was 30 years-old. I am now almost 35 and yes, I still do. Losing my nephew has left a void in our family that will never be filled. Although we do talk about him and laugh fondly at the memory of his childhood antics, it is not something that we discuss often. It’s not for the sake of not honoring his memory; it is honestly just still too painful at times.

When I left for college, I knew that my nephew’s death had impacted me in a major way. Outside of simply learning how to live with the loss, it would be a matter of time before I would figure out how to really deal with it. I chose Criminal Justice as my major and after taking a Juvenile Justice course and a course on Urban Minorities and Crime, I began to dream of having a community center where young people would have a safe space to thrive and grow. The statistics I had learned about young people not having such a place where they can learn about making positive choices, made me wonder if life would have been different if my nephew had such a place to go to. I wanted to open this center so that one less family would suffer what my family has had to suffer. I wanted to do something in honor of my nephew’s life. I have held on to this dream every day since.

After graduating college, I moved to the DC metro area to pursue my Master’s degree and ended up working in the housing finance field. While my dream was still present, it wasn’t becoming the reality I wanted it to be and I began to accept that perhaps it would be a dream deferred. But this summer I was off work for two months as a result of a bad car accident and I took that time to have some real conversations with my “self.” It was during this time that a friend asked me about what had happened to my dream and I knew this was an “Aha” moment for me. As you can see from previous blog postings, a common thread has been my search for what I call my “free.” Amongst many other “perfects,” I have been searching for the perfect career and have met with frustration time and time again at not being able to figure out what that career is. When the question was posed to me about my dream, this became a moment of awakening and I knew the time had come to take my dream off the back burner and do something about it. Since then, I have received signs of confirmation from the Universe that this is the direction in which I need to head. These signs might have been completely insignificant to me even just a year ago and I am grateful I am able to recognize them now. This tells me the Universe feels I am ready to accept this great task. While it is an overall amazing feeling, it is also quite scary. My mind is shifting from one way of thinking and the process of the shift is mighty uncomfortable. But I continue to think of my nephew, his son, my brother as his father, our family and all of the young people who have been lost to senseless acts of violence and I know this is a mission I must complete. So when I learned about the 18 year-old student killed on his way to school, it definitely spoke to me. I was at work when I read the story. I closed my office door and allowed myself to shed tears over the loss of this young man’s life. While my dream is still currently just that, a dream, it now also feels like a responsibility I must fulfill. I know of the pain that young man’s family is experiencing and I know it is a pain that will never go away. You just learn to live with it. For all these reasons and more, I must see my dream of having a community center come to fruition.

In the book, “The Alchemist,” author Paulo Coelho interweaves a lesson of finding ourselves by going back to where we started. This was part of the “Aha” of the moment I had this summer when my friend asked about my dream. I knew right away that with all the searching I was doing, I had to go back to the beginning. It was in the beginning where my nephew and I were two peas in a pod. When we lost my nephew, I was just starting my life, which was another beginning. Now it is just me in that pod. And I have made a vow to do all I can to keep my nephew’s memory alive.

I love you, nephew. I will always reminisce over you.

Peace and Love.