Windows, Mirrors, and Passages

Earlier this month I scrawled write windows in my notebook as a reminder of the next letter I wanted to send. Then the world erupted and words felt insufficient for all the things I was feeling and thinking. 
A few days ago, I stumbled upon this interview with poets Lucille Clifton and Sonia Sanchez. The entire conversation reverberates with wisdom and beauty, but when Clifton talks about mirrors and windows, her words speak directly to me.  She explains that all people need “mirrors in which they can see themselves and windows through which they can see the world.” She furthers that to only have one or the other is a disadvantage.
When I looked at the definition of the word “window,” it described a “means of entrance” or “admission.” Windows are the bold incisions that slice open thick walls: the physical walls of our homes and the metaphorical walls that divide us. They let us observe, watch and wonder. 
When you grow up a minority you quickly learn the value of windows. The urgency of them for your own survival; to piece together some sense of belonging or comfort. When you’re a black person walking into a majority white space, your existence is disruptive. Your presence evokes the question, “How does it feel to be a problem?” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned of others who navigated that unspoken question in subversive and creative ways. I chose, subconsciously, to start fervently seeking out windows. They were not hard to find: television shows, commercials, preteen books, and a first row seat in the lives of my white peers. Together they composed the instruction manual for what it meant to be normal. What it meant to belong. I watched closely, my face pressed to the glass, for most of my childhood. 
Mirrors, on the other hand, evaded me. When I did see reflections of myself at church, with family, through historical figures or pop culture icons, the pride and shame that wrestled in my chest wouldn’t let me look closely for too long. I could not puzzle how to allow my blackness, undiluted, to live fully in the white worlds surrounding me. For a long time my solution was to turn myself into a classroom. I regularly pulled out parts of myself for others to dissect and examine. I explained away microaggressions, excused ignorance and expected very little from the people who were supposed to love and care for me. I often think back with sadness on moments with friends, peers and mentors where I was compelled to neatly package and justify my pain in order to sustain our relationships. My heart breaks for the little girl who believed from a young age that she was a problem and felt deeply accountable to solve it. 
Only in the last few years have I started to steadily look in the mirror — to curate and consume images of myself. To create the kind of affirming reality that I lacked growing up. I find strength in others who are and have been living robust lives and rejecting anyone or anything that questions their right to live fully: my queer, trans, disabled, brown kin to whom I have not given nearly enough attention and reverence. I similarly marvel at marginalized folks who balance their unapologetic lives with educating those who often take for granted or disregard their generosity. 
This season of racial and social reckoning feels different than others I’ve witnessed in my lifetime. This time around, I am asking others to look up from their mirrors. To see the windows that surround them as “an interval of time during which certain conditions or an opportunity exists,” and seize that opportunity to grow and change. Indeed, windows can be a kind of passage:  “A way of exit or entrance . . . the action or process of passing from one place, condition, or stage to another.” Sometimes passages are profound pieces of written text. Sometimes they are global crises. Sometimes they are intimate conversations. What’s central to a passage is that you do not return to where you came from. Amid all the discomfort and newness you become forever changed. 
May we be forever changed.

Sweet Darkeness


Earlier this month, I went to a event here in Chicago with a group called Nuns & Nones. In those two precious hours I was introduced to a dozen beautiful people and a poem that’s served as an invocation to this month of my life:  Sweet Darkness by David Whyte. 

Since that day, I’ve been afraid to sit down alone with that poem. It is the kind of poem that seems to know where all the wounded, hungry places are within me and calls them each by name, so gently. It delivers that kind of comfort I often cannot accept from anyone else. That has always been my relationship with language, with art; It creates a space where I am welcome. Where there is always something anticipating me — a sentence or an image or a sound. 

This month has been so very hard in ways that I don’t know how to fully feel, much less explain. Life has not been cruel to me. The people in my life have have not been harsh or absent. My body has not been sick. There is nothing bad I can point at as the impetus for the thing inside me that is inflamed with so much sadness. A mysterious sorrow.

So today I unfold the printed paper poem and cry. I let the words be a balm that soothes the invisible wound. They tell me:

“you are not beyond love.”

. . . and I remember the many people who have a space reserved in their heart for me. That this simple truth gives my life more meaning than I could ever try to ascribe it.

“the night will give you a horizon further than you can see.”

. . . and I remember that the future is dark only because we cannot see it. This blindness makes the possibilities endless and joy a certainty. 

“your aloneness [is a] sweet confinement.” 

. . . and I question my devotion to the sentence of loneliness I gave myself as a little girl and have been living out ever since. I crack the door to this self-imposed cage and let the room be filled with the fragrance of God.

“the world was made to be free in.”

. . . and I remember the goodness of Genesis and am convicted about the chains I place on myself and the chains I have placed on others. I humble myself to the delicate part of me that once perfectly understood creation and freedom.

“give up all the other worlds except the one to which you belong.”

and I tremble. I tremble because I do not know if there is a world in which I belong or if I have the courage to find it. But I yearn and I ache and I hope and I pray that it does and I can. 

From this big little story I stumbled upon on Twitter, please receive (what I can only describe as) a benediction that Shira Erlichman gives at its end:

“When so many of us are often held in the maw of something dangerous: Isolation, desperation, ache . . . Wherever you are, I hope whatever aches you ‘just holds you there.’ That you feel this massive muscular beast decide you’re meant to be here in all your blues. You are. May you be given a touch of relief, a torch of belief, that in the midst of what could vanish you, you are held.” 



I’ve started buying flowers from Trader Joe’s and putting them in little vases and empty bottles. Every couple of weeks I’ll select a unique, colorful bouquet. The “filler flowers” are always the ones that stand out to me — bright and long-lasting. Right now, my apartment has bundles of wax flowers propped on tables and shelves. I look at them like little pockets of living art. 

That’s what life has been like since the new year — trying to collect these wildflowers that keep sprouting and spreading. 

I’ve half-heartedly drafted and deleted a few of these letters. Jotted some things down in my journal and returned to them days later only to find that a new profound emotion or idea has captured my attention. All these powerful things keep happening — to me, through me and inside of me — so fast and overwhelming I can barely see them clearly before another one sprouts. 

My grandma is a truly amazing gardener. She has an innate understanding of design and makes sure every plant, blade of grass and flower is in its place. These qualities, along with a thousand others, are some of my favorite things about her. I see so many of those same traits in myself: the desire to prune, organize and monitor. But my life keeps filling up with these unexpected beauties. These overwhelmingly stunning things that don’t fit into my design, yet demand my admiration. And in this way, what was once a garden has become a whole world in bloom, waiting for me to bask in its wonder. Like a sea of bluebonnets on the side of the Texas interstate highway — too many to count, impossible to anticipate and insisting that, even in your hurry to get where you’re going, you stop and witness. 

While so many of the transformative experiences, emotions and ideas from the last few months can’t be confined in words, some of them grew from these seeds: reading bell hook’s trilogy on love in reverse order – Communion (finished), Salvation (halfway) and All About Love (anxiously awaiting). Watching a screening of my friend’s film last night.  Reading this book and thinking about genealogy, home, legacy and the responsibility of being a storyteller.  Reading and rereading this article and thinking about the ideas in this book as I’m continually reckoning with my allegiance to justice, love and personal purpose. This podcast episode of love stories and this one about interracial friendship. This conversation on “being the chooser” and this one on forgiveness. Engaging in generative, challenging and transformative conversations with people I love and value.

Some recent “wildflowers” I’ve gathered and am enjoying are: Facilitating a workshop on religion, spirituality and ethics in Austin. Cutting my hair short to document my unlearning shame, learning embodiment, and re-learning creativity. Remembering my love of suburban midwestern winters while visiting Minnesota. Going to counseling. Identifying as a “wounded healer.” Reconceptualizing aloneness as time in the museum of myself or in my soul’s art studio. Creating a prayer box to make intentional space for holding the suffering of others. Prioritizing yoga with other black folks as an opportunity to heal my own internalized anti-blackness, ableism, fatphobia, sizeism etc. Witnessing miracles — this often comes in the form of someone being so liberated and true in my presence that I experience their spirit/soul as a physical mass I can hold and feel for a fleeting moment (magic). Remembering how much I love taking baths. Practicing sincere apologies. Letting my heart grow big and soft so that I might feel love more fully and be humbled in the face of pain. Allowing myself to be celebrated. Drinking wine in my apartment with friends and realizing I dreamed of this moment – this life – as a young girl. Being enchanted by my word for the year: Dream. 

 Most importantly, I’m continuing to remember how necessary writing and sharing are for me. While this world of wildflowers keeps blooming, I know that my words are the seeds I carry in my pocket and throw to the wind — my contribution to the Great Big Beauty.