The Urgency of Softness
There is no hiding place. The current pandemic has freed some of my deepest anxieties from the confines of my mind and allowed them to walk in the global sphere. I have been forced to sit and negotiate with my fears — to understand when they were born, when and why they grew wings… to thank for the times they protected me, and to ask them for mercy when they overwhelm me.
On a daily basis, I speak to the child in myself who has been re-traumatized by this moment. I strive to offer her the soothing that I know she desires from a parent. I speak to my adult self who is oftentimes overly analytical, self-critical and anxious. I offer her a safe space to rest, cry, and discover herself outside of the confines of productivity. I speak to my future self whose image is oftentimes obscured by the seemingly endless present. Through meditation, I call her into existence. She gifts me with stories of hope, dreams fulfilled, abundance and longevity. She holds the me of today, and the me of yesterday, and, for a fleeting moment, we are a trinity. Individually, we are broken, but as a singular body we have discovered the joy of completion.
The sweetness dissolves before it is savored. Soon, the voice of my future self is swallowed by the sound of sirens. I am forced to locate myself in New York in the middle of a pandemic. I can no longer see the face of my future self. Her body is taken by flashing lights. My current and younger self mourn. They collapse into each other.
In speaking to loved ones, I speak as someone who is 50, 25, and 16 simultaneously. I have learned to celebrate, rather than critique this coexistence. In a time of great loss, death and grief, what does it mean to recognize that I am alive not only in one form, but in several? The knowledge of this gives me the opportunity to not only to tend to my immediate needs, but the needs that I have always had.
I’ve learned how important this in my worst moments of panic. In moments where fear has gripped me so tightly that each word has become a separate sentence. Typically, I try to use logic to calm my nerves, but there are times where this strategy falls flat. When I have the capacity to listen closely, I frequently discover that it is my younger self who is panicking. She isn’t asking for rationalization. She is asking to be listened to, for compassion and companionship.
Sometimes I fail and feel like I have prematurely entered motherhood at a time where I am most fragile. At other times, I accept the challenge, perform an internal needs assessment and gather enough strength to do something beautiful like write this blog.
In any case, this time is teaching me that my need to be soft is urgent. It cannot wait. I have to be soft, so that I can hear and feel all that is happening inside of me. My softness is not cute and, or presentable. It’s unpredictable, messy, and sends me to the depths of my personal traumas while it simultaneously introduces me to the possibility of healing. My softness does not allow me to answer “how are you?” with pleasantries. It requires a rawness that may scare those who have never made room for me, or any other Black woman, to experience emotions outside of strength.
While it sometimes feels like I’m doing this work alone, I am aware that I’m being held tightly by loved ones who consistently show me that distance does not have to be the enemy of intimacy. Loved ones who have barely found their footing, but are still confident enough to support my collapsed body. Speaking to them reminds me of outside and tomorrow. I wrap their warm words around me like a shawl and the trinity outlasts the sirens.
[The featured image is “Self Soothe” by Abi Salami]