Today marks twenty-nine years of you and me doing life together. I joke all the time about how much you’ve changed in the past decade, about how you are far less forgiving than you used to be. You will no longer tolerate consecutive nights of inadequate sleep. You make unilateral decisions about what you will and won’t do. Say, for instance, I want to eat donuts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You say “nope.” I want to sit on the couch for 6 hours at a time. You let me know, “Well, you can do that, but don’t expect your knees or lower back to be in proper working order.”
Too often, I place unreasonable expectations on you to perform for me and for other people, and you protest loudly. You demand to be heard, reminding me that you are the only body I’ve got, and so I’d best treat you with some respect.
And yet, for all the dissatisfaction I’ve expressed toward you throughout the course of our lives together, for all my impatience and stubbornness, you have responded by being a faithful and willing companion, and so I am writing you a (sort of) love letter, to honor you and thank you.
For my 29th birthday, you have given me the gift of pursuing a longstanding goal – to run a full marathon. For 18 weeks, you and I have worked toward this goal, and we’ve had a rough go of it. It’s been a very mixed bag. There were days when you made me feel like a badass, keeping a steady strong pace for 8 miles. This is the feeling that I remember from when we first started running long distances. We were about 23 years old, and I was having a difficult time finding my way in the world. I wasn’t sure what I had to offer, and I felt very small, young, weak, and lost. But when we ran together, you reminded me that I can do hard things. You taught me that I was strong, that I was driven, disciplined, and that I could exceed my own expectations for myself by doing new things, and doing them damn well.
Those were the golden days. While training for this marathon, I’ve only seen glimpses of that confidence. More often, there were days you made me want to burst into tears. There you were, giving me everything you had to give, and I was angry and disappointed that you couldn’t give me all I asked, when I was asking for things most people have the good sense to never do, like run 15+ miles on a Saturday at 8am.
I hated that you placed limits on me. You were trying to tell me, “Mawiyah, you’re doing a lot. You are trying so hard to give your best at your job, and give your best to your friends, to be a good daughter and good sister to your family who are far away. You are working so hard mentally and emotionally, and that means that I am working hard, too, to support you. And I’d like you to give yourself (and me!) a little more credit. I could use some gentleness here.”
I tried to listen to you, because I know there are consequences for ignoring you. I kept thinking about the time last year when we ran a half marathon only weeks before my last semester of graduate school ended. I was sleep-deprived, anxious, over-committed, and you let me know that enough was enough. About an hour after the race, I passed out in a Burger King. Hitting the floor jolted me back into consciousness, so I stood up, my head swimming with confusion, and continued walking toward the bathroom. With my hand on the door, I passed out again, and minutes later, an ambulance arrived to make sure I was ok. Thankfully you weren’t hurt by the fall, but it was still pretty scary, and I didn’t want a repeat of that experience. So I tried to listen to you during these past 18 weeks, but I’m just not very good at gentleness. I resented you for making me feel weak when you failed to meet my expectations.
And what of our goal, the culmination of this crazy season? Well, after 18 weeks of training, after flying 2500 miles across the country and then driving 350 more, after running 20.2 miles, and sacrificing the last 6, along with my pride, I have only this to say, to you and me, the advice shared by a sweet friend… At the end of the day, tell yourself gently: “I love you, you did the best you could today, and even if you didn’t accomplish all you’d planned, I love you anyway.”
You teach me so much, body. I do believe that the essence of me (call it what you like, a soul, a spirit) exists apart from you. However, the essence of me has made its home in you. You are the means by which I move through the world. You influence how people and systems and institutions respond to me. If I lived in a different body, in a body that was male, or white, or trans*, or disabled, I would experience the world differently. And so everyday, I am making meaning of the world through you. I am thankful for the learning we have done together, even when the lessons were painful.
Daily, you and I are told that a Black woman’s body is worth little in this world. But you make my everyday a sacred act of resistance, simply by daring to take up space. You walk through the streets to a chorus of verbal and nonverbal assaults. Objectifying words from men, dismissive gazes from white people. You are just going about your business, while I am constantly filtering these assaults, anxiously wondering if that driver cut off my path through the crosswalk because they were simply unobservant, or if it was a microaggression, intended to communicate that I do not belong here, I am not welcome, I am invisible. Fuck them, I say. Yeah, you respond, fuck them is right. And we carry on.
You are one of the means through which I give and receive love from others, and this is a revolutionary act also. You continue to crave physical touch, in all forms from the simple to the intimate. Receiving touch from others is one of the ways through which I know that I am alive. That I exist, and I exist in the lives of other people. The contact of one person’s skin against mine reminds me that I am real, that I am still here, that I have not disappeared. This past year, we borrowed the boldness of Maya Angelou, and claimed this verse as our own:
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Body, you dare to experience pleasure in a world that has claimed that bodies like yours can feel nothing, not even pain. You and I, we have the audacity to express our sexuality on our own terms. We are magic and wonder, in the things we were created to do. You remember for me my agency, my autonomy, in deciding whom I will love and how, in deciding who will know me and enjoy me, and who will not. I am saddened by how frequently I have burdened you with shame, placed blame on you that belonged elsewhere.
You have been my trustworthy ally; you have kept me alive. I owe you everything, and I am so grateful for all you do for me.
I want our thirtieth year to be a better one. I want to show you more love, more kindness. I want to respect your limits. I want to stop resenting you for the things you are unable to do, and celebrate you for the things you are. I want to appreciate your beauty, as you are now, regardless of how you looked last year, or how you’ll look next year. I want us to nourish ourselves with things that are good for us. I want us to indulge ourselves in things that we enjoy, things that taste and feel delicious.
I love you, body. I will love you, body, when no one else does.