through the pain, through the glass
no accomplishments recap this year
I have rewritten this many times, trying to find the right words to mark this transition. Perhaps there are no right words. So I will share the words I have found that feel close, and where I am without words, I will share pictures and a song.
Simply put, today is my birthday and it has been quite a year. I spent most of it navigating new diagnoses and life transitions. I got to dream in new ways…and I also watched dreams die. I clung to the people who love me and when my grip loosened, they held me. Long story short, I experienced community care like I’ve never experienced it before…and you know what? None of my writing on survival or community care prepared me for the amount of shame that comes with falling into a season of deep dependence:
“I want to reclaim the word dependence, because dependence, facilitates communities of grace. Dependence is the recognition that we are utterly reliant on the grace and mercy of the Earth, and in someway, we are reliant on the grace of God. Dependence is where the spiritual life begins; we realize that we can't rely on our own efforts, but we need God, creation, and community.”
—Cindy S. Lee, Our Unforming: De-Westernizing Spiritual Formation
I love this quote from Cindy S. Lee on dependence (the whole chapter is excellent, so go on and buy the whole book). This American society does not form us to embrace dependency…they may emphasize inter-dependence, which is just complex individualism. That doesn’t capture the ways we are truly entangled. I have been taking pictures of windows a lot lately. Mainly when I notice a blurring of what’s behind the window and what’s reflected on the outside. The overlap and confusion are striking.
At an interfaith gathering, some protestors signed up to pray inside of city hall, knowing they would for sure be arrested. A friend and former student of mine is in this picture. I was overwhelmed by that fact and am still processing it. All I know is, that this is what I wish people had in mind when they think of accomplishments. I celebrate her in this post because whether she knows it or not, she was a witness to me of what faith looks like while mine was waning.
There are many reasons why I could not be in there with her: I am a Black, Haitian, woman, who is not a citizen of the United States. But in this strange window, where the reflections of the people outside meet the people inside, we were all in there, somehow. We walked around in a circle, like a micro-pilgrimage, touching the glass, and letting them know we were with them. I cried plenty.
A Gentle Landing is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
This is a window of a new and fancy building at my school. In this room, I watched one of my friends pass her dissertation defense. I wrote a post about it for Substack and didn’t publish it because my feelings were so raw. I will try again someday because the main point of that post was remarking on how powerful it was to watch this fabulous Black woman demonstrate brilliance in front of her professors, in a way that honored how deeply her community mattered to her.
She was held that day, by her gorgeous wife, friends, and family (Zoomed in!). Then, while we were celebrating her at dinner, she turned to individually thank everyone and name the specifics of how they helped her get through this program. The reason why it was so hard to publish that post was because I am still working to believe her affirmations for me. One day, maybe when I am ready to try them on, perhaps I’ll hit “publish.”
When it should have been about who I was seeing through the glass, I saw a bit of my own reflection, only because she pointed it out to me, and refused to let me deny the beauty in our intertwined stories.
survival mode is not our inheritance - a morning song (draft)
I cannot emphasize enough how grateful I am that my friends in the photo square are wearing my affirmation. It is something I wrote to exist between the space where joy and grief meet. These lovely friends, and many others who are not pictured, are part of the community that has cared for me. The community that carries me forth.
In this audio track, I recorded myself saying the affirmation along with playing a simple guitar riff with some background vocals. I wanted it to feel like how it used to feel when I was surrounded by people praying in the Haitian churches I grew up in. So while there is the main affirmation, there are others more muted, that you’d have to listen harder to hear. I haven’t experienced prayer like that since…where so many overlapping voices flow in and out and you could go around the room and zero in on another person’s prayer when you started winding down and find new momentum. Being in community feels like that sometimes, especially in the group chats that hold so many of my communities together.
Here is the whole affirmation, written:
Where my hope lies currently…
The things that break my heart may not always get the last word. There is liberation, rest, and renewed imagination on the other side of deep pain.
I may have been misled, but God can reorient my path toward deeply caring community that celebrates my full humanity.
My body may be tired, but my mind is racing with ideas and dreams again.
I can grieve what I have lost (continually) and make space for the emergence of something new. I do not need to have all the words yet to describe what that newness is, but I can lean into its growing pains.
God is good enough to place people in my life who can support my flourishing. God is faithful enough to keep me through the uncertainty, even when that uncertainty lives in me more than in the world I encounter. Even when that uncertainty lives in the world more than it lives in me.
There is an abundance on the other side of imperialistic models of education that suppress imagination. There is abundance on the other side of capitalistic models of work that oppress the exhausted body.
We can and will dream worlds where we are rested enough to imagine anew.
Survival mode is not our inheritance.
“For now, we see through a glass, dimly, but soon we shall see fully even as we are fully known.” —1 Corinthians 13
Through the pain and through the glass, I am cared for.
Through the pain and through the glass, I am carried forth.
In all honesty, if I had the day off, I would lie down and cry for most of the day. I am thankful for the God I have come to know through the tragedies and for the God I have come to know in the moments that my life feels like a sitcom.
This picture captures a day where I was in dependence. (read that again)
I held tightly to my people. People were scared for me. People who existed in different spheres of my life, who I couldn’t have imagined connecting over a celebration…met in the chaos of the weeks that unfolded after this moment. That beauty of interconnectedness stands in contrast to this moment: When I stood up to look behind this glass, I saw people—medical professionals—who were desensitized to my needs. Some would not even make eye contact. It was horrible.
It was horrible. There were some things that were funny, and I am surprised I noticed them. I noticed them and tucked them away in a place where they could live until I could one day tell the story without breaking into tears (as I am now writing this).
It was horrible. I would not wish those three weeks on anyone. But can I say I specifically do not wish them on anyone who can analyze the systemic realities at play while feeling completely helpless?
It was horrible. Everyone kept asking if I was okay, until it wasn’t new and people stopped asking and I was still not okay. And I was still not okay when I didn’t bring it up because it lives in my memory every day.
It was horrible. How uneasy it was to see life continue, adding insult to my injury. Things I was a part of went on without me. Papers were still due. Exams had to be done. Rent needed to be paid. I had to move.
It was horrible. When I got home, I was not sure how to be myself. I was unlearning independence because independence led me here.
There is a song I have a love/hate relationship with that goes “I need you. You need me. We’re all a part of God’s body, stand with me. Agree with me. I love you, I need you to survive.” It has always felt like a broken social contract in the past when I was in places where it was just a song. Where being able to articulate this gentle hope for real for real made you look pathetic. What amazed me about this year was just how much I was pushed past my comfort zone for being seen as pathetic.
I have been in church all my life, a “believer” since I was 11, preached my first sermon at 17, and have almost three theology degrees…and I am still learning surrender.
Surrender allowed me to stop fighting and listen; and, listening, allowed me the space I needed to hear the story being told, and change it if I dare to. Having a strong community gave me the strength to continue speaking my truth, and, working together, I could continue to face any unknown. It was never about what I had to obtain, and always about recognizing what I carried lately.
—Jessica J. Williams, “Black Surrender Within the Academy,” You Are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience, and the Black Experience
People who follow Jesus, follow the teachings of a man who, at the end of his life, looked absolutely pathetic—naked, shamed, with outstretched arms. He was in a deeply vulnerable state, yet not alone. Even in his death, he was gifted a place where his body could rest. Even in a state I felt pathetic in, I was held in love. I often say “shame is not my name,” to myself when I need to hear it. I could see the faces of those who bore witness to me in that pain. They called me beloved, in every action that carried me forward.
I also want to say…I don’t know. I have been told that as a Black woman, I should take every opportunity to present myself as competent and powerful. I should model “Black excellence,” which, unexamined, is just succeeding in an oppressive society. I should do it all without breaking a sweat on my perfectly laid edges. And I should always be ambitious because I am my ancestors’ wildest dream—as if my ancestors dreamed *gestures around me* this. I should always want to achieve more and get more degrees. Someone once told me I was “transgressive about success” and I love that for me.
I will write more about what I aspire to in 2024, but in brief, I want to do more collaborations with people whose company I enjoy. More shenanigans with people whose company I enjoy. And real success for me?….Is if we can do both.
*taps mic*…I have….none? It’s my birthday. Wish me a gentle landing. 😌