It’s been almost a month since I last posted on this blog. It hits me on the train ride home from work, the sky already wrapped in pitch at only 6pm, and I feel the haunting prickle at my neck because it’s been a month…
Settling into a new job and season of life has set more hurdles for me in terms of writing and working on other projects, despite my commitment to using words to examine the world I’ve been placed in and impact it for the better. Sometimes my words are carefully mapped and revised over several days; sometimes, like today, I let the words run and ramble but hope they will say what is burdening my heart. And I think that black and brown people, my minority brothers and sisters of Asian and indigenous descent, we should not be ashamed of the interludes where we don’t have everything together–where we are messy and unfiltered and simply trying to recuperate and process all we are doing and desire to do.
We need to prioritize our mental and emotional health, despite the demands placed on us by our own sense of responsibility and our broken world. I have to remind myself of this all the time, especially a few days ago when I found myself stressed out by the idea that I wasn’t doing enough to help my people.
The thought gnaws at me in waking and sleeping hours, the question of authenticity (am I woke enough-Black enough?) and the question of empathy (do I care enough?) present with the doubt, especially when the evidence of my country’s racial toxicity stains the air of each breath. The problem in many cases is not my apathy or negligence, but rather my caring so much that I end up extending well past my emotional and physical limits. It’s found in the taut, trembling lines of my arms, the tension twofold as I deal with being conscious of racism everyday and with my perceived responsibility to respond to that along with all the other wrongs of the world brought to my attention.
The counterpoint to white fragility may be the insistent pressure upon people of color to endure racial discomfort without complaint or concession.
Yes, I should challenge racism (easy enough to answer–next!). Yes, I should keep pushing for racial reconciliation even though it involves grueling effort and a high emotional toll. Yes, I know I can’t get desensitized to suffering. I know this. But while God enables me to love others and advocate for them (and myself) far better and far more than I could do alone, His infinitude reminds me in whispers that I was not the one to die on the Cross for the world’s atrocities. I am limited in what my heart can hold in any one moment, and that is no error–it is a blessing.
I think of the way JRR Tolkien designed the race of Men in his fantasy works. Eru the Creator (delving into serious nerd territory here) designed humans as the Secondborn Children after the immortal Elves. Humans were created with a multitude of talents and gifts and with ambitious, persistent spirits. They were also created mortal–and they hated it. Tolkien called it “the Doom of Man,” but in this case, “doom” carries two layers of significance. Humans viewed their mortality, their “doom” as tragic and unfair, especially when they compared themselves to those O so wise ancient Elves that had millennia to be heroes and fight great battles and do generally amazing things (not that the Elves had it easy either). However, their Creator viewed their “doom” as His greatest gift to them; because they were finite, they would treasure the lives they were given and achieve great things even while striving within the boundaries of their shorter lifespan. Their acceptance of their weakness, their finitude would simultaneously inspire their dreams to improve their environment and help them prioritize their day-to-day actions. Their limitations were meant to play a special role in the shaping of Middle-Earth and its destiny; their limitations helped them clarify the things that mattered most.
I think Tolkien was pointing to something compelling about our own human lives, and it is especially relevant to people of color who can feel the pressure of too much to do, too much to overcome, too much to grieve, and with too little time. Our limitations do not restrict our movement–they give our chosen movements greater weight. Our investment in what we choose to prioritize reaps more fruit when we submit to this truth. I can and will choose to mourn and pray about my government’s betrayal and negligence of our indigenous peoples. I will use my typing fingers to declare with each press of the keyboard that Black Lives Matter. I educate myself about my own Latinx and black histories to work through my internalized racism. I will feel the weight of each step refugees take beyond the lands they once called home and call attention to it.
If I am given the opportunity and conviction to act on behalf of others and fail to, that should weigh on me. However, it is also my responsibility to exercise honesty when I sense myself hitting the emotional threshold and act upon that awareness to keep myself healthy. This is where I throw out my good-intentioned savior complex, surrender the crushing weight of national sins, and acknowledge God’s sovereignty over what my hands can’t reach.
I spoke of racial trauma in another post, and I believe it’s a reality for a lot of us. Sometimes when I watch the news or read comments on an article about racism, it triggers this aching sadness or this twisting anger in my gut. When I get overwhelmed by how divided and hurtful this world is and how many people are suffering, I don’t always know what to do with it. I am weighed down, and tears are close. My impulse is to do more, do more, do more, sometimes propelled by the guilty knowledge that I have failed to act in the past, sometimes by the rightful urgency these problems require.
But I have not been designed to weather every storm at every moment, nor should I blame myself for seeking shelter when my body is rain-ridden and weary. I throw words at God (and He can take it): THIS WORLD IS SCREWED UP!!! I HATE how I feel and why is there so much racism God, so many deaths WHY and WHY do I feel too much and WHY does it hurt and I don’t know how to hold it…
In those moments, mortality comes crashing down on me. I think of everything I should be doing–articles to write, protests to show up to, books to read, people to speak to and I’m overwhelmed by a paralyzing sense of failure because it feels like I’m not doing enough and because of that, I’m just perpetuating the problems.
We have to stop blaming ourselves and castigating our limits when our limits keep us from choking. I can’t think or do everything, even though there are projects I want to take on and things I will need to do in the future–I’m not neglecting that. But right now, in this moment, giving weight to my need to laugh, giving weight to learning at my job, giving weight to celebrating my friend’s birthday allows me to find my bearings. I am freed to do a few things with full attention and love and clarity and see myself flourish rather than strain myself, tear muscle and exhaust bone to either appease the historical demands of Whiteness and endure-purge my tears- or attempt to drain myself of life to give it to others in need. That will help no one, and it is not sustainable.
Sometimes all the suffering I am exposed to is beyond my coping ability; I shouldn’t feel ashamed of that. I should be able to turn off the news for a moment and look out my window and watch the sun simply pour into my bedroom. I should be able to remember that I am not a summary of causes and tasks. When I focus on transitioning into a job or new friendships or positions of leadership, when I choose to eat and cry and dance and watch bad Netflix movies and go to therapy, I am not dismissing the other burdens on my heart; I am allocating space to all the things that should matter–including my mental and emotional health. I am choosing to see value in the numbered things I can process and do within the span of each day.
Are interludes a privilege? Perhaps. Some people do not have the luxury of a moment to simply breathe amidst the chaos around them. Should they still be encouraged? Yes, and our society needs to work at valuing the mental and emotional health of people of color and acknowledging that we are indeed finite and cannot fix America’s problems. We cannot be on-call 24/7 on race duty when there are also bills to pay, homework to finish, weddings to plan, vacations (yes vacations) to set off to. Those viewed as squatters must be given a room of their own and allowed to live rather than expected to just survive.
For myself, I must move towards trusting God to mourn and act transcendent of my limitations; in fact, I must depend upon it. My Doom is to be a woman of color who doesn’t have to save my race or be defined by tasks unchecked. Thank God for that.