Chapter I - Quiet Desperation
“We wear the Mask that Grins and Lies. It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes.
This debt we pay to human guile; with torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.”
The opening words of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s famous poem are sobering reminders that many of us are trapped behind a veneer façade that portrays contentment while we secretly suffer within. They are intimately painful because in large measure they ring true. We smile because wallowing, anger, and resignation are not options. We don’t have time to cry, so instead, we suppress the frustration caused by the repetitive demands of everyday life that fatigue us, cause overload, and curtail opportunities for free time and creative expression. We replace doing what we desire with doing what is expected –doing what needs to be done.
Finding the time and focus to attend to dreams seems, well just that – a dream. Complacency and resignation have caused the wings of our spirits to be clipped. The visions we once held for our lives blur beneath the burgeoning responsibilities of our families and careers. We manage to get by though; and still indeed, in many ways feel blessed. We are so much better off than so many others that we feel it wrong to complain. And about that much we are right. Dissatisfaction should bring about a change, not a complaint.
While some of us have worked through barriers and attained varying levels of fulfillment many of us have vacated the playing field. We have accepted the status quo and the low-grade depression that often- times accompanies settling for less. Managing the intricacies of life can be complex to say the least. The day to day assortment of tasks and responsibilities represent challenges for any woman, and are even more daunting for a black woman. Like most women, we juggle roles of lover, mother, employee, employer, neighbor, friend, and so on. We have been taught from an early age to be responsible, “make ourselves useful,” and to not let others down. As a result we’ve mastered the art of sacrificing ourselves and our deepest desires and intentions in exchange for the benefit of others.
It is no wonder that self- sacrifice tends to permeate our experience. Sacrifice in and of itself can be noble and productive. When it is purposeful and delays immediate gratification to achieve a more beneficial future outcome, sacrifice is wise. When self-sacrifice is perpetual, as opposed to situational, it is likely a manifestation of marginal self-worth at best and turns to cynicism and resentment at worst.
For an incredibly long time black women have been indulging everyone but themselves. We’ve suffered, trying to measure up to standards which are foreign to our own ethnic and cultural orientations. Our proclivity towards judging ourselves by the standards of others has been an exercise in futility, and most detrimental to our self-esteem.
Affirming yourself, knowing who you are and what you presently want out of life can be obscured by the fatigue and overload that many of us are experiencing in the autumn of our lives. Our society, economy, and family values as we once knew them seem almost under siege. Fending off the physical and emotional aspects of aging in a youth-centered society is another constant battle that can erode confidence and also throw us off balance. Our true natures and intentions get cloaked under layers of the thick skin grown to ward off the worries. Consequently, it is critical that we skillfully peel off the layers of excess crap to attain clarity. Clarity and focus are two essential keys to achieving success in any endeavor. They are critical to realizing self-actualization. We have a moral responsibility to ourselves and the women we raise and mentor to delve inward. Despite the myth, there is no real glory in martyrdom. Let’s commit to not only name, but also to tame our pain. When are you going to begin healing?
NOW is always the perfect time! We live in a world where our time and attention is pulled and stretched in so many different directions that we have become the unofficial Webster’s definition of multi-tasking. Now seems to apply to any and everybody except ourselves. Every need is a priority, unwilling to be put on the back burner, every need except our own. They say that change begins with the first step. That being true, I repeat, the time is NOW. We are meant to be creative, successful, and fulfilled beings, not merely the beings that fulfill others. Meditation, introspection, and affirmations are magnificent tools to help us fashion this truth into becoming our own reality. They help us to see, feel, speak, and position ourselves to attract all that we love and intend into existence. And no, it’s not hocus-pocus! Anything that you consistently say, think and/or feel, eventually becomes your reality. It is why one of the Bible’s greatest lessons in faith is to “speak things that are not, as though they were.”
Who are you? Are you the sum total of your personal and professional accomplishments? Perhaps you define yourself by what you do for a living, or what you look like. Do you describe yourself as Jessica’s mother, or Raymond’s wife? How big is your universe? What does it revolve around? Does your life’s vision guide your daily choices?
Self- analysis and honest answers help you to achieve your goals and aspirations. A good way to begin significant exploration is with the following questions: What would you do with your life if you had no family responsibilities, no limitations physically, emotionally or financially, and failure was not an option? What would you do every day simply for the fun of it? Answering questions like these should help you to establish goals for yourself, because the answers likely reveal the real essence of you and your dreams.
You hold the key(s) and the map; all you have to do now is get on the road and drive. Onlookers only see what they think your life is like from the outside, and chances are they are wrong in their assessment. No matter what it looks like, only you know the authenticity of your existence. Consider Rebecca, who’s been the pride of her family for years. Perhaps part of her journey has been your own.