Yesterday, we received a piece of good news from our nation’s capital. “Love wins,” a hyperbolic declaration. Everyone now has permission to make a legal commitment to the person you love, and no one (one being government official) can tell you it is wrong, no one can deny you the right, no one can pretend that you are less human than your neighbor or that you are less deserving of legal protections. No one can say that your love is less beautiful.
This is good news, and good news is to be celebrated. In a crowded bar, I celebrated with my friends and neighbors. With straight folks, gay folks, lesbian and pansexual folks, genderqueer folks, drag queens, every color and kind of person, and also that odd older man with gray hair who was wearing a suit. With some very bad mixed drinks, thick clouds of cigarette smoke on the outdoor patio, a dance floor crowded with people, misted by a fog machine, rainbows everywhere, equal signs everywhere. It was too much, too many people, too not my element. And yet I was so glad to be there, with my neighbors. I was so grateful to be in the company of people living radical self-acceptance, dancing with reckless abandon — two things that I seek, yet that elude my every attempt. My friend tells me, “I dance to be free!” and I understand. I understand why he would seek refuge in this crowded space, where he can manifest this freedom in his body, let it seep into his bones, so that his body may remember this freedom to carry with him tomorrow and the day after. Tonight, he dances to be free. Tonight, we celebrate, for tomorrow there is much more work for all of us to do.
I am learning from these friends and neighbors of mine. I am learning that it begins with me, and within me. This rising up against oppression. The emergence of a new narrative about who I am, what I am worth, and to whom, and for what purpose. See, I cannot wait on you any longer. I am in need of a great undoing. So many of us are. We are sick. The evidence is in our bodies. We visit our doctors, complaining of chronic pain, irritable bowels, fatigue, lack of appetite, voracious appetite, shortness of breath, racing heartbeat.
Oh, this is very common. That is anxiety. This is depression. Take that pill. Call this therapist. He will help you to build up some coping skills. A few more milligrams of this chemical in your brain, a few more tools in your emotional tool belt, and you’ll feel just fine: Coping.
What is it exactly that you’re helping me cope with?
Well… whatever it is that’s bothering you. Feeling sad for no reason. Feeling afraid for no reason.
There are reasons. I could sit on your couch and explain, but it would require a retelling of history centuries long. And I am tired and dying, however slowly, so I cannot wait on you.
I cannot wait on your prayers for hope, healing, justice, change. Your compassionate offering lands in my ears, arrives at my consciousness, and I wait for some feeling of comfort to register in my body. But… nothing. Your prayers cannot undo the toxic everything I have ingested, the toxic everything that has been force-fed to me, and to you, and then from you to me again. That is what has brought us to this point. I need this undone, I need this toxicity gone from my body, and I cannot wait on you, nor can I count on you, so I must do it myself. I cannot wait for you to love me, I cannot wait for you to finally count me as worthy, beautiful, valuable, powerful, valid, good, perfect. I cannot wait for you to consider my needs, decide whether they fit with yours, and at this rate, we will never ever get to my wants.
I must begin with me. I must believe my needs worth attending to, my wants worth fulfilling, my body worth protecting, my words worth reading. I must begin, and practice daily, and after some practice at loving me, I will begin to work on loving you. And then, perhaps, we can begin this work together.
“In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! And no, they ain’t in love with your mouth. Yonder, out there, they will see it broken and break it again. What you say out of it they will not heed. What you scream from it they do not hear. What you put into it to nourish your body they will snatch away and give you leavins instead. No, they don’t love your mouth. You got to love it. This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and to dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. and all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver–love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.”
― Toni Morrison, Beloved