Etymologically speaking, “a walk in the park” is supposedly an easy thing to do.
Therefore, it came as a complete surprise to me yesterday, when I could barely make my first lap around the nearby park before needing to retreat to the nearest bench in an attempt to shake off a sudden pain that hit me on the right side of my back.
Initially, my first thoughts turned to aging, as it tends to do these days because perimenopause is menacingly real and unsexy. Then I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and understood that even though I walked out of my apartment with nothing but my keys and photo ID in case the cops need to identify my body…I was carrying something heavy.
The week started awful, with me learning as I sat in an airport on my way home from a bittersweet but much-needed getaway that one of my elder cousins lost both her daughter and grandson (who was a father of six) within days of each other at the same hospital in their hometown. Instantly, a wave of guilt rushed in because I’d lost touch with that portion of my family, and didn’t know how to respond…or if I should. Learning the circumstances of both deaths from another cousin only exacerbated the feeling.
My father had always been the family connector; the one who called and drove or flew to every state and family member, and this was his first cousin and her immediate family who had now suffered two devastating back-to-back losses I could never imagine. By contrast, I’ve lived and operated as an only child with limited family engagement for most of my life — gravitating only to specific family members I spent the most time with due to our proximity to each other in age and/or geographical location, and used Facebook to monitor the rest (hence how I learned of the tragedies). It’s moments like these that remind me just how isolated I’ve been to the point of being my own island, and it’s honestly something I’ve begun taking stock of as I grow older and less likely to have a family of my own.
So when I entered the park on that gorgeous sunny day, and saw multiple family gatherings taking place…it didn’t just remind me that I didn’t have a life filled with many of those moments and connections, it became clear to me just how defining those moments are in shaping the people we become.
I’ve always been in awe of and envied people who had solid family and community foundations that encouraged and motivated them to become highly functioning members of society. I get weepy when I watch movies like “In The Heights,” with its message of pride in family, community and cultural heritage. (Same with assorted Asian movies where the young protagonist grapples with coming of age and walking the fine line between self-actualization and preserving constrictive traditions for parental and elder approval.) I grew up in a Queens suburb where my predominantly Black and Caribbean neighbors were more interested in what you had for their own gain, than in collectively thriving as a community. As a child, I’d spend summers in Georgia being ridiculed for my New York accent, and often singled-out for my “big city” behavior. (Interestingly, I now slip into a twang when I touch down in the south, or am speaking to certain members of my family — something I’ve also done unconsciously when speaking to British and Hasidic clients in my past work life when, in retrospect, I wanted them to feel at ease.)
For the longest time, I’ve had trouble identifying and defining who I truly am and what I want in this life. Having no one around to help me figure it out only made me feel more aimless and alone. I often joke about being “raised by wolves,” because unlike my peers, I wasn’t taught how to cook traditional meals (or any – I wing it), how to drive, the importance of investing in things like stocks and real estate, or any particular set of life skills that might’ve made me more of a (human) force, and less of a person who happens to have a shit ton of life experiences that equate to zero tangible assets to show for any of them but a lot of interesting stories and billable hours in therapy. I’ve also never spent any of my formative years being schooled on my family heritage, being exposed to long-term healthy relationships or celebrating holidays like Kwanzaa and Juneteenth…and am only playing catchup on the significance of it all.
Which is why it surprised me that I’d become more protective of my Blackness — and the culture in general — in recent years, considering the bulk of my traumatic experiences came from my own people. That I’ve taken up advocating for people of color to take up spaces in the corporate world when I go mostly ignored by them in the real world unless I have something that benefits them is…something I’m working through. That, and being violently triggered when someone makes decisions on my behalf without my input and/or consent.
These thoughts are too heavy.
One of the many things I’ve learned in this life is that hurt people hurt people…until they do the work to become healed people. And there are gonna be days when it’s hard to not take shit personally, but I cannot and will not continue to let the actions of a few keep me from opening my heart to being and doing better for others and myself. Especially when the end result is authentic love, connection and peace. It’s a lesson I’ll be taking into consideration as I attempt to find the words to comfort grieving relatives and, eventually, find something more.
I’m still insecure when it comes to knowing my true purpose and direction in life (note: I know what it is, the imposter syndrome just hits different), but I’m confident that I’ve built enough of a foundation over the last few years with a circle who genuinely want the best for me and will quickly jump in to make sure I stay out of my own way. I’m blessed to have a support system that celebrates my wins, comfort me through my losses and give me strength on days when I falter and think I can’t make it. They remind me who I am when I tend to forget. Nothing fills me more than being able to do the same for them in return.
I guess, in a way, that does make me my father’s daughter. That’s a good place to start…
I’m rambling…but my back feels better now.