Give Me Them All

Give me the wanderers, artists and vagabond souls.

The beatniks and dreamers yearning to breathe free.

The gypsies, misfits and children of earth.

The believers in truth, the lovers of hope.

The feelers and teachers, the visionaries and prophets.

The nature dwellers and story tellers.

The flower crowned hippies who dance in the moonlight.

The makers of poetry, music and wild ideas.

The ones called different with their bent, crooked lines.

Give me the humans who notice beauty in madness.

And imagine a world full of kindness.

Give me them all, for they are welcome in my heart.

Blessed.

Who am I? But like………really?

It’s a question everyone wrestles through—in some junctures of life more than others—and it’s a question I’ve found myself asking a ton lately. Well, more than usual. I’m introspective by nature, so existential questions are kinda the norm for me.

But if you didn’t know me, and I tried to rattle off a quick “who I am” elevator pitch, these are the words I might be tempted to use. Weird. Abrasive. Intense. Eccentric. Outsider.

On the surface, I’m a person who knows the rules, looks the part, wears the mask, says the right answer, maintains the control. But deep inside, it’s like I never quite belong.

When I was younger, it became a source of frustration and confusion that my sharp, awkward edges just couldn’t seem to fuse with other people’s smoother, glossier, more acceptable fronts.

I was too clunky and barb-wired for anyone to experience at close range. And that was by design. It created an illusion, both of safety and rugged independence, but it came at a price—lost connection to myself. Decades thrust inside a linear prism of conformity when I was made to be less straight, more spiral, oblong, uncontained.

For awhile though, I’ve sensed this boxed-in life is not the “abundance” I hear God talk about on more than a few occasions in his book. So I posed my question to him one afternoon, not sure what I expected in return—maybe silence, maybe static, maybe a cliche sermon. What I didn’t bargain for was a question of his own.

“Alright, God. Who am I?” my voice, brash with skepticism, demanded of the heavens. And then I started to walk as if daring his answer to follow and pursue me. Which it did.

What’s your name?

I scoffed. “Umm…pointless detour in the conversation, God. You know my name. Weren’t you there when I received it?”

Daughter, what is your name?

Cue the melodramatic eye roll. “Fine, but this is just because I’m humoring you. Mary-Beth.”

Nope. Your real name…

“Mary-Elizabeth?”

Right. And why did your parents name you that?

I immediately flashed back to a discussion with my mom from several years earlier when I had pressed her on the same topic. For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated being called Mary-Elizabeth, and I insisted on some context as to why she cursed me with the fate of a double name which took forever to break down for other people.

No. It’s not just Mary, and Elizabeth isn’t my middle name. Mary-Elizabeth is my first name. My whole first name. Two words hyphenated. I don’t have a middle name. And I’m not Irish Catholic either. My parents just figured they would make me sound like a 60-year-old nun. 

Welcome to my childhood.

Even though I was known as Mary-Beth for convenience sake, I decided as a precocious fourth-grader that my mom owed me an explanation for the headache that was my name. Why did it have to be so complicated? Why didn’t she choose Mary or Elizabeth? Why had I been doomed to both? So I asked her—and she told me a story.

More than 2000 years ago, there were two women living in the Middle East. They were cousins, and their names were Mary and Elizabeth. The girl Mary was just a teen, but God already had a radical purpose set in motion for her life, and Elizabeth knew it. So when Mary—pregnant with a son who would (casually) be Jesus the Messiah—visited her cousin, Elizabeth splayed her hands across the teenager’s stomach and announced, “Blessed are you among women!” 

That story comes from the Bible, and those powerhouse females are my namesake. But how is any of this relevant to the original question of “who am I?” Yeah, I wasn’t sure either.

Blessed among women. This is who you are. Your name says it all.

I stopped walking. My feet planted themselves on the concrete, and I glanced around in a daze. Did someone else hear that, or was it audible only to me? I mouthed the phase a couple times. Blessed. Among. Women. Testing it on my lips, tasting it in the back of my throat.

I shuffled home, absorbed in thought, and made a beeline for Google. I typed “blessed” into the searchbar and skimmed through the billion or so results. Sacred. Adored. Redeemed. Exalted. Beautified. Saved. In each result, this was the recurring pattern of words—could that be the definition of blessed among women?

Could that be, well………me?

This new question has sparked within me a voracious appetite for inner reflection. And I don’t mean in the navel-gazer sense. I mean, like I want to understand this human God created.

This desire for impact, connection, purpose and nonconformity that surges in her veins. This soul that craves acceptance but will not be hemmed into constructs of the world. This iconoclastic spirit with the hair of a lion, the eyes of a warrior, the heart of a nomad and the dreams of a hippie. This girl who is less of a Barbie Doll and more of just herself, who is required to earn nothing—not beauty, not dignity, not even identity.

Because I am blessed among women.

That’s the answer to who I am. The one responsible for making me declares it. Which is all the assurance I need.

(And I will most likely turn this into a tattoo somewhere down the line. Because my priorities are so intact.)

blessed

what if…

brokenness and healing

can you evict the pain that barricades your world —

or does it just become the shadow of your soul?

the atoms in your skin, the marrow in your bones —

the chaos in your skull of questions and unknowns?

is that heartache who you are, all you can ever be —

the extent of this story, the whole identity?

does the fear which threatens to gnaw your insides clean —

rebel against the pretense of your cool smoke screen?

do those hollowed eyes mirror chinks in your bravado —

a vacuum in your heart that quivers in staccato?

but maybe that’s acceptable, could it be alright —

to expose these battle wounds in the direct sunlight?

if sorrow heals, and scarred remains soften into flesh —

can you be a human who is blemished and refreshed?

is the most you can hope for just to stay alive —

or might a chance exist that you were made to thrive?

instead of seizing a belief that you’re too foregone —

what if it’s the brokenness which makes you brave and strong?

Unity in Diversity: Embracing Our Differences in 2019

In the past two years, our nation has arguably suffered more blatant division and polarization than it has confronted in decades. And with a societal framework that has the capacity to turn partisan lines into bitter rivalries, we might fear those who are different than ourselves.

We might feel compelled to distrust our own neighbors, coworkers and even those we encounter in the grocery store aisles. If they don’t share our cultural norms and ideologies, too often, we’re tempted to view them with suspicion.

And still, many Americans are also determined to look prejudice right in the face. Sure, these institutionalized forms of bias have caused us to experience friction with one another, sometimes on implicit or unconscious levels. But the story doesn’t conclude here—it continues with a hope that we can rewrite the next chapter in love and acceptance of our equal humanity.

Instead of allowing our differences to thrust a wedge between us, we can choose another option. We can embrace the unity in this full-spectrum of diversity. The fact is, all humans are welcome at the table of community. Each of us represents a strand on the unique, vibrant, colorful tapestry that makes this nation an extraordinary place.

For that reason, the onus to resist discrimination is ours alone. We are accountable for harmonizing this country across all perspectives, backgrounds or affiliations. We can choose to treat one another with basic respect and dignity. We can resolve to change the discourse.

But we need to remember that people are defined in terms of their character and individualism—whether they are black or white, male or female, refugee or citizen, Muslim or Christian.

Socially constructed labels cannot begin to encapsulate the intricacies of a human soul. From the most powerful and affluent to the most overlooked or disenfranchised, we all add value. We all bear significance. We all can yield an impact. We all matter.

If these are intrinsic beliefs we strive to uphold about each other, then it’s time to mobilize some action behind the conviction. And as with any undertaking, it starts at the grassroots.

So we need to listen to the accounts of those who don’t share our worldviews and learn from those whose narratives we don’t know enough about. We need to start looking people in the eyes and affirming their worth instead of deflecting our attention from that which we don’t personally understand.

As stewards of the cultural fusion that is our American experiment, we need to behave like true United States. The well-being of future generations will depend on the harmony we reclaim in the present.

So as the lessons of 2018 become a launchpad for the possibilities of 2019, just imagine if our combined New Year’s resolution was to love each other with the radical, fanatical abandon of a movement poised to soften—and strengthen—the course of our history.

Politics aside, that is a cause we can all march behind.

unity in diversity

 

The Art of Awkward

Dear anyone who is different than me:

I am writing to apologize. This confession will be awkward, but our culture needs more awkwardness. We have enough silence, denial and complicity to throw around. We need discomfort for a change.

And by this generic “we,” I mean the people who are like me. Those whom our institutions protect. Those whom our systems endorse. Those whom our establishments defend. Those whom our Constitution was originally penned for. We are sensitive to awkwardness because our survival has not demanded we get awkward.

Ours is the luxury to sprawl on our couches and binge episodes of Friends, unaware of a Black Lives Matter protest assembling down the street. Ours is the privilege to saunter through TSA checkpoints because our Western attire does not include a hijab. Ours is the freedom to spend an afternoon at Starbucks without the burden of handcuffs since whiteness is the only voucher we need.

But I’m not addressing the people like me right now. That would be too easy. That requires zero awkwardness on my part. I’m leaning into you—the person who learned to stomach these awkward encounters, stares and conversations because what other choice were you given?

I am sorry. That it’s taken me this long to discern you had a point. You asked me to lift my nose from the pages of a history textbook and read The New Jim Crow instead. You asked me to discover our joint passion for Hamilton rather than keeping my distance and assuming you’re jihadist. You asked me to denounce the powers that abused, ignored or disenfranchised you.

To poke a finger in the heart of injustice and inequality. To subvert backroom schemes or policies that refuse entire groups their dignity. To fixate my attention on what’s been corrupted for generations. You asked me to be uncomfortable, to get awkward and insurgent. You asked that I choose rightness over safeness. You wanted me as your neighbor, co-conspirator and sister.

I am sorry. That all the “wokeness” coursing through my veins is just now being mobilized. You asked me to notice your outrage and check my privilege, but I waited until the cause turned personal, opportune, convenient. I screamed “TIME’S UP” with all the fury of a lioness when my own people—women—came under attack.

I pounded out Facebook statuses of allegiance to my friends who started voicing, “Me Too.” And I unleashed the defiance of a feminist scorned on the patriarchy I deemed responsible. I tacked the banner of “advocate” on my Instagram profile, and I was ready for carnage. But mine was an armor fashioned out of empowerment, a weapon brandished out of entitlement. I took action when it suited me.

I am sorry. That it failed to register in my whitewashed brain how your activism is different—realer, harder, sweatier, truer—because it emerged from necessity. This story of combat and struggle and triumph and revolution has been yours for centuries.

You endured the Middle Passage. You withstood the Japanese internment. You rioted at Stonewall. You marched to the Mexican-American border. You are the fighters, the crusaders, the bravehearts, the renegades. You are the heroes of our nation and the shapers of our culture. You turn awkward into courageous.

I am sorry for remaining quiet when I couldn’t articulate the words. I am sorry for retreating from the keyboard when a social media debate called my comfort into question. I am sorry for remembering I had an opinion just when it served my agenda.

Tell me your experience. Share with me your narrative. Introduce me to your world. Not for the benefit of people like me. But for a kinder, bolder, undivided future—one that belongs to the people like you.

Teach me the art of awkward. I want to understand.

Open Letter to the Girl Who Fears She Is Too Much and Not Enough

We don’t need an introduction because I know you. I get you. How you think, feel and experience the world. Our stories are entwined. We’re unique but we’re the same.

Even if our paths never actually intersect, we are in this together. Because I see through your lens. I understand.

Isn’t it refreshing to be known?

It has been for me because I didn’t feel known. Not for decades. People made the effort, but I recoiled from their advances. I mistrusted proximity, so I deflected it. The closer someone inched, the more suspicious I became. It was only a matter of time until they learned the truth.

That I was too much for them to handle. And not enough for their approval. So I was caught in the tension, stretched between incompatible forces that somehow merged inside me.

Too much and not enough.

At. The. Exact. Same. Time.

Does that sound familiar? Can you relate?

You’re the girl who shrinks down and folds in because your presence is inflated. Supercharged. Excessive. More than anyone can endure. Or so you might assume. You squelch the wildness, the overabundance which threatens to spew out. You barricade the leaks and fissures, but still you have to wonder: Am I uncontainable? Is it all too damn much? 

You’re also the girl who makes an entrance with your tattooed arms, crimson lips and four-inch heels because without the extra trimmings, you couldn’t measure up. Ignored. Irrelevant. Insignificant. That’s how they might label you. If they even notice you. And now the question remains: Do I walk around unseen? Is any of this enough?

But hey, no judgment. I feel you, sister. I have been there—tattoos and all. I know the contention, the confusion you’re up against. That shame of occupying more space than anyone deserves. That fear of vanishing through the cracks, withering into obscurity.

That push and pull.

Two polarized sides of one identical coin.

What if I told you something different? What if I introduced a new concept into our discussion? What if I leaned in and murmured just for you to hear: You’re not both. You’re neither. 

There could never be too much of you. The world pants for an unbridled, authentic human with eccentricities that are yours alone, freebird. And since we’re on the subject, you are more than enough for this moment. In the packaging you came with—no enhancements needed.

You can shrink down or surge forward. Inhabit all the space you want. Humanity will recover. I promise they’ll survive.

Mute the volume or make some noise. Assert your presence in a crowded room or amble through the backdoor. You’re no greater or smaller of a person, whatever route you choose.

Who are you then? Too much? Not enough?

Pause. Timeout. Wrong question, remember?

Girl, you are yourself. No more. No less. Just this. Whole, broken, imperfect, exquisite. And that is all you’re required to be.

So be.

too much not enough