what’s beautiful is surviving struggle. what is beautiful is living to tell our stories. what’s beautiful is surviving heartbreak. what’s beautiful is not anymore about perfection…what’s really beautiful is living to tell your story and letting that story inspire others to survive the lives that they are living. ~CeCe Jones-Davis
New data about the toll of anxiety and stress on the body is rolling out every year. We know now that stress and anxiety take a tangible toll on the body, down to the cellular level. Being alive during the pandemic this year, and being a full time teacher at a time when the vaccine had not yet been concocted, tested, etc., was the most continually stressful situation I’ve been in. That level of prolonged stress made me tired, and as minister CeCe Jones-Davis says, Change comes when we get tired but we have to keep going.
Thanks to the mother of a student (who has become a dear friend to me), who saw my exhaustion and physical pain, and advocated for me, I have pursued the changes that my body needs to offset the continuing toll of the trauma I experienced in adolescence, and the heavy weight of this year’s anxiety. I don’t feel that I am at 100%, but I remember there is a 100%, and it is my most holy work to get my body, mind, and spirit, back to that level of functioning and comfort.
Leaving love and the comfort of another person is extraordinarily difficult; staying when it is time to go is far more so. I don’t have many words on Love–between humans–right now. I left love, I found love, I allowed my definition of love to be modified, and honestly, right now, its’ in flux. I have a better idea of what the love I want in my life to be like, but it isn’t settled, and I am allowing it to shift and move, as I and my beloved partner shift and move. I am grateful for the men who have shared my bed, for their smells, for their guarded vulnerabilities, for the shape of their body next to mine. Gabriel, te amo. Quiero pasar mi vida contigo, si Dios(a) lo quiere.
What I do know about love between humans is that sexual partners come and go. You may sign a mortgage with someone, you may not. Tried and true friendships hold. Sisterhood holds. Mentorship, done well, holds. When the romantic love you hoped for falls through, as it inevitably will in one way or another, for a time, or permanently, the relationships you made with friends, co-workers, children of friends, and your own children ( be it cat, dog, or human!) will hold. Because you invested in them. Because you chose to open your heart and your life to the beautiful people you encounter. As I had held others up, so they will hold me up, and it is an incredibly gracious and reassuring experience to fall back on the ropes of these nets you wove.
Like Love, this one is up in the air for me. I feel that I am soaring between unwavering loyalty to one tradition, over exploration of traditions from around the world, to where I think I’ll land: with deep appreciation for all traditions, but a universal perspective on the tradition that feels like home to me: that of Jesus, of the marginalized Jews and the mystical tales their people passed down for centuries.
I know that although I can’t verbalize much about my faith, it informs the way I live. My faith was there on the mornings when I opened my eyes and realized I had to do what felt impossible again. It was there when I prayed “God, help me calm down,” during a severe anxiety attack over Thanksgiving break. It, He, She, Spirit, Faith, is there every time I come back to myself, during a yoga class, a meditation, a walk through the park, a long hug with a woman who mothers me (there are many, including my biological mother, who gave me the gift of “matter to enliven,” as my osteopathic doctor says).
I know that I am endlessly grateful for my faith. It has been hard won, over the course of my years, and through tireless absorption of words from those whose faith is more mature than my own.
This year I experienced betrayal in a more acute way than I ever have. I was treated poorly (hello, scapegoating, with whom I was well acquainted as a child) by women that I allowed to be close to me (physically, emotionally). After my anger and egotistical outraged (how could this happen to ME?!) simmered down, I learned that they hadn’t hurt me because they are bad people, but because there are decisions that I have made about how I will and will not treat people that not everyone else has made.
Attention to people who are different, honest, and naturally inclined to vulnerability: you will be the one who people try to put their stuff on and send outside of the city (Biblical reference, in the Bible it was a goat because we are the GOAT). You will be the one that emotionally immature, draining people seek to latch onto and manipulate the hardest. Resist. That is their work; you alone can do yours.
That being said, this year I made new friends. I welcomed into my life, from a 6 foot minimum distance, women from the west side of town who live in giant homes and read voraciously, introverted neighbors who I wouldn’t have met if not for the pandemic, a French family with three boys, the boyfriend of my mentee (he got condoms for Christmas), new students, old male yogis, young female yoginis, folks who were new to yoga, fellow teachers, seasoned veteran teachers, and poor homeless folks. The friends I hold most dearly are those who have aligned themselves with me, advocating for, and having fun with me for years, and those who, regardless of how long they have known me, have joined me in the work that is closest to my heart: that of making the world a more equitable place for all, starting with our children.
2020: I was raised in a home where service was valued, elevated, and considered an essential part of every day life. Arguably, my career is one of service. I teach, I facilitate information processing, I listen and care. From 7:30am-3:45pm every week day, service is my identity. That’s service that I get paid for, however. Jesus’ (and other religious leaders) example(s) shows the value of service when you get nothing in return.
I donate monthly (small amounts) to Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, and Preemptive Love Coalition. My true service, however, is to walk alongside the children that I started mentoring 7/9 years ago. They are nearly grown, and I savor every moment that we spend together. It takes incredible intentionality and commitment to maintain relationships across generational, socioeconomic, and racial lines. My life, my precious relationships with these babies and their families, show that this isn’t impossible. Being a part of their lives is the most humbling, redemptive, and fulfilling experience I have ever had. Thank you, Aaliyah, and Keandre. My heart is yours forever, and I will never stop rooting for you to rise and soar in your own lives.
Until two weeks ago, I thought I may have taken the wrong career path. I thought this was where the path may split. I thought I needed to leave teaching. After deep rest, spiritual renewal, and quiet reflection, I remembered that it is important to quit my job, every day, after work. To leave work at work, care for myself, and return to the classroom with a clean-slated mind and heart every damn day. I remembered that leaning on co-workers has gotten me this far, and the amazing women that I work with will continue to be there with all their dry jokes, grounded advice, and mid-day stupidity.
Over the break, I remembered what my job actually is, why I love it, and how capable I am of transcending situational difficulties in order to find a more appropriate, functional, and successful way forward for myself and my students. I remembered why I live and breath to teach, and that I cannot do it well if I am not nurturing my own growth and learning, while also handling life’s unpredictability with unimaginable amounts of Grace.
It was a 35-book year, thanks to quarantine, but here are my top mentions. The Water Dancer, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Between the World and Me, same. Normal People, Sally Rooney. Felicity, Mary Oliver. The Color Purple, Alice Walker. Everything is Spiritual, Rob Bell. Red to the Bone, Jacqueline Woodson. Untamed, Glennon Doyle Melton. Malcolm X, autobiography as told to Alex Haley. We are Displaced, Malala. Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire, Jen Hatmaker. The Will to Change, bell hooks. Relatos de una Mujer Borracha, Martina Cañas.
I’ll end my little reflection with these sweet words from Father Richard Rohr, a leader who keeps reminding me that the faith of my childhood is the most faithful home I can ever know.
Love is luring us forward, because love is what we already are at our core, and we are naturally drawn to the fullness of our own being. ~ Richard Rohr
Amen, and happy new year, dear ones. Let’s move forward into Love this year, as perilous and harrowing as it may be. We were made for this.