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Blog Posts

finding strength in the midst of vulnerability

Christina Levy

 photograph by clarke sanders

photograph by clarke sanders

i have never seen my mother cry. i hadn’t taken much notice of this until a few months ago when i was sitting at dinner with my close family and friends after graduation. everyone had just finished pouring a lot of positive energy, encouragement and well wishes on me and i had the floor to return my gratitude. as i looked down on my mother, the only thing that came to mind was the fact that i had never once seen her break down in tears. this amazed me for the simple fact that she never had it easy. when my father migrated to america in order to prepare for our arrival, my mother was left with three young children. while she had family and friends to help her, she was still in some regard raising us on her own. i also recall the day i came home from high school to hear that my grandmother had passed away and yet my mother, still maintaining composure, made her preparations to go back to jamaica and bury her.

while i know that she might have coped differently when she was alone, the point is, in front of my brothers and i, she exemplified a pillar of strength. she never allowed her hurt or worries to spill out of her for others to see and so, for me, that’s what i took to be the meaning of true strength. i was to hold my head high and not allow anyone, not even myself, to “find my tarnished parts,” according to poet, zora howard.

many might applaud me and others who handle their emotions in such a way. however, you do me and the many others an injustice if you do. strength is not contingent upon how much we hold in, but on how willing we are to acknowledge our emotions and put a name to them. what do you mean, christina? well, i imagine that for many of us strong independent black women, and men out there, we don’t like facing our emotions. yes, i said it. what we’d rather do is put on a brave face and challenge the world to take its punches at us and for many, it’s to no fault of your own. as people of color, we are expected to always wear a brave face. it is only recently that we began telling our sons that it is okay to cry. when hardships hit us, we stand our ground and if the walls begin to cave in, we just rebuild them later. we tell ourselves that it’s up to us, and only us, to sever the losses and mend the wounds we are inflicted by. we build walls around ourselves to keep others from touching us and think that we are doing ourselves a favor when in fact, we are only fueling our impulsive self-hurt. 

when we begin to truly acknowledge our emotions, we begin developing tactics to combat them. have you ever been in the middle of a conversation about something that was bothering you and realized that what you thought was the problem really wasn’t? that’s the power of unpacking a feeling into something tangible and recognizable. the thing is, feelings are invisible entities—they’re energy. you feel them, but you don’t see them—not unless you start picking them apart. for some people, picking their feelings apart might come in the form of talking with someone they trust. for others, it might be with a nice ballpoint pen and a journal. still, there are some who might love personal and alone self-reflection where they filter through their feelings and make the adjustments where it is needed.

it’s hard, i know! however, i am reminded of a quote by gayle forman i saw some time ago which goes, “it is an act of bravery to feel your feelings.” no one likes to feel uncomfortable and unbalanced, but that is exactly where you will find growth and understanding.

while i am grateful for the foundation that my mother provided me with, i am even more appreciative for the team i have around me who are always challenging me to be vulnerable, if not in front of them, then in front of myself. my journals help a lot too. writing allows me the right amount of privacy. i remember a post i shared on facebook which said something along the lines of “journaling is rarely ever self-praise for me. most times it’s about writing the things i don’t want to hear about myself.” writing has taught me a lot about myself because it’s the tool i use to clean up the things no one else sees about me.

whatever comes easiest for you, i urge you, please, find an outlet somewhere. keeping it bottled up and believing that you have to figure it out alone will not benefit you. grab a friend or a pen and start to share—put a face to the hurt and tackle it head on. that is where you find strength, not by pretending that you are untouched by life’s punches.

 

as always,

peace, love, and blessings.