Content to be Content

There’s a part of me that loves rainy mornings. They’re peaceful. I laid in bed this morning listening to the rain fall outside my window and the splash of an occasional car driving past. And I felt calm and serene. Sometimes on rainy mornings, I feel like all is well in the world.

Minca, Colombia

As I think I’ve shared before, I am very affected by the weather. And by the smells weather brings. A certain feeling outside will transport me to another place. Sometimes unexpected places.  Often on damp, cool, misty mornings I feel like I am in Minca – a small town in the mountains of Colombia where I spent little more than twenty-four hours of my life.

When the wind picks up on an Autumn day carrying the scent of damp, decaying leaves, I can see my grandmother’s house in Mississippi. When I traveled through Mississippi two years ago we stopped at a rest area and I just stood there breathing the air. It smelled just like Grandma’s and I had visions of Kick the Can and building wigwams and stepping in fire ant piles. The same trees must have been the ones most prevalent on her property.

This morning, however, as I stepped outside to go to work and walked the path from my car to my office, I was happy. I was fully enjoying this rainy morning, but I was not transported. I was still here in my own skin, in my own city, in my current life. And I can only surmise that must mean that I am content.

This isn’t a revelation. I’ve known this for some time. And acknowledged it openly. But sometimes it still surprises me.

Because content is never something I really expected to be. Content isn’t something I really wanted to be. Content is of the same vein as settled. And settled has always been a preposterous word to me. To use the adjective settled when referring to myself seems almost blasphemous. And so, you can understand why sometimes I remember how content I am and am taken aback. And led into self-reflection of how it is that this contentedness settled into my life.

What I think I have discovered this time around is that settled and content are not the same. Many people feel settled and not content and likewise many feel content and are far from settled. In fact, some people have the enviable ability to feel content at most junctures of their lives and starting from a very young age. Perhaps they had a healthier relationship with the word content than I have had in the past.

Content

So while settled and I still aren’t quite on speaking terms, I embrace contentedness in all of its various forms. I embrace it like a long-time friend that you suddenly realize you love hanging out with. I embrace it like an unexpected batch of chocolate chip cookies. I embrace it in the same way I am determined to embrace life daily. With ferocity and loyalty and passion.

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I am afraid of you.

For most of my life I have been pretty confident about who I am. About the fact that I know myself. Sure, some of what I thought I knew was me projecting what I wanted to be. And part of it was me projecting what I thought you wanted me to be. But nonetheless, the core was pretty legitimate. The me I know now is not the same me I knew when I was eight or eighteen, but that’s because I have changed and evolved as humans are wont to do. But one fact still remains.

I am afraid of you. I was afraid of you when I was eight and when I was eighteen and now, just under twenty-eight, I’m still afraid of you. The “you” I’m referring to isn’t someone specific. I don’t have nightmares about the killers in horror movies (mostly because I haven’t watched a horror movie in years) or of someone chasing me, it’s nothing like that. The “you” I’m referring to is the general you, as in everyone. Like, you, person reading this, I am afraid of you. And the person sitting next to you in the library and your next door neighbor and your boss and the barista that made your coffee this morning.

Before you reconsider the crazy lady typing this post, hear me out. When I’m trying to make a left hand turn and there are cars behind me, I worry that I’m making them angry when my cautious nature doesn’t take the turn when they might have. I picture them pounding their fist on their steering wheel and cursing. I second guess my actions based on the theoretical anger of a person in a car behind me that I will probably never see.

So, sometimes you do see them and they’re angry. That has happened. Not to me directly, but to someone I was with. Said crazy other driver followed us into Wal-Mart and threatened to cut my friend’s throat if he ever took his parking spot again. Perhaps this experience scarred me.

Sometimes if I go through the drive-thru I wonder if the employees are judging me for being too lazy to actually walk inside. And when I have specific requests about what should go in my latte, I just generally assume that the barista hopes that I never visit during her shift again. I know very little about pop culture and haven’t seen very many movies. But if someone’s trying to talk to me about something and on reference three I still don’t understand, I just pretend I do so they won’t think I have literally been living under a rock.

I have friends with very different political and religious beliefs. They’re all mashed up on my Facebook Stalker Feed which suffers from severe bi-polar disorder. And I try to walk this line with my own Facebook posts as to not overtly offend anyone. I’m not afraid of my opinions, but I never wish to hurt the heart of someone else with intention.

I guess, what it boils down to, is that I try to figure out what you’re thinking. Why you’re thinking it. What I did to cause you to think it. Because I guess, what I’m really afraid of isn’t you, per se, but your approval or lack thereof. I think we all want approval. We want someone to acknowledge that what we’re doing, saying, wearing, thinking is okay. And I want you to think that me being cautious before I make that left hand turn is responsible rather than thinking I’m the worst driver ever.

There are some people who are extremely self-assured or extremely oblivious. And maybe you’re reading this thinking I must be extremely insecure or neurotic or paranoid or a total narcissist for thinking other people even notice me that much. Fair enough, maybe I’m all of those things. But I’m also honest and you have to take the good with the bad, right?

But if, perhaps, you’re reading this and relating a bit, you should know that I approve of you. I approve of your fear. Not that I think we shouldn’t try to conquer it. We should. Screw that driver behind you, you’re protecting your life and possibly one of the most expensive things you own – your car. That driver can wait. But know that you’re not alone thinking all those things you think. I think most of them too.

One World

Have you ever heard of the website Meetup.com? It’s basically just what the web address suggests. It’s a site where people schedule meet-ups based on common interests. There are all kinds of groups – fitness groups, book clubs, adventure clubs, young professionals, sci-fi groups. I have even seen one that was for people without kids. As you can see, a smattering of something for everyone. There’s just one thing…

A lot of the groups are defined by something more than just a common interest, but a common personal characteristic such as sexual orientation or skin color. Living in a city that is almost 50/50 black and white I see a lot of Meet-up Groups pop up that are for, well, basically black people only. Obviously they can’t specifically state that if you’re white you can’t join, but you can name your groups Ebony Ladies Reading, HandsMocha Sista Retreats, or Young Adults of Color. All real groups in my area.

I feel that I must now immediately make a disclaimer that states, I do not discriminate against any group of people. If I discriminate against a person, it’s based on that individual and I don’t care who they want in their bed, what color they are, what god they worship, or who they voted into presidency. Case in point, I have had gay friends since I was a babe (though admittedly not quite as aware way back when), am married to a black man, just made a friend who best describes her religious beliefs as Buddhist, and have a very good friend of nearly twenty years who could not be any further from me on the political spectrum. Now, I feel I can move on without receiving vibes of hate from anyone reading this.

There are times that this abundance of race-based groups is frustrating for me. I don’t begrudge them their right to want a common bond of race with a group of people. I just don’t get it. Do they really have that much more in common because they’re all a common race? And in those moments when I look up (and it happens fairly often) and somewhere in the back of my mind realize I’m the only person of my race in a gathering of people, should I then feel ostracized somehow? Like they all have a secret that I can’t be a part of strictly because I was born pearly white and they are other more similar, though still varying, complexions?

I had dinner with a girlfriend recently who is Ethiopian American and we discussed the issue of race. She shared with me that in Africa it’s still very common for women to use creams or chemicals to bleach or whiten their skin (a la Michael Jackson). Even in the States there is racism present within certain races – a mentality of the lighter the better. While in the white world, people are risking skin cancer daily trying to become darker.

And what I am forced to acknowledge is that most people do prefer their own race and it’s not because they’re racist or discriminatory. It’s because they’re human. Because in the United States of America we’re still living with a post-slavery mentality. Where certain races live in certain neighborhoods. A country where many churches could be defined as black or white. Where in the same breath the government is trying to tell us we’re all equal and pushing programs to try to erase the past. Make people forget. The Civil War ended almost 150 years ago. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr died almost 50 years ago. And the races and cultures in this country are not a melting pot – they’re more like a lunchable.

Some day I will probably have children. And I am praying, even before their conception, that the world they face will be in color. All colors. That they will see how beautifully the colors can be when they are blended in harmony. That they will treat every person with the respect they deserve as an individual and that the people they face will treat them with the same respect. That they will come into the world where rather than so strongly celebrating the traits that divide us, we might learn to celebrate the oneness of mankind.

 

Bathroom Blues

I was reading an article recently on marriage. It was written by a man who had been divorced twice and, fair enough, he was writing an article on what NOT to do to keep a happy marriage. Or, at least, some of the things he’s sure went wrong in both of his own. Hindsight is 20/20 and all that.

I found one of the things he mentioned really interesting. It’s not the first time I’ve heard someone mention it in relation to their marriage, but it’s the first time I’ve heard a man mention it. And it’s in a category that many marital fights have started over – bathroom etiquette.

If you have ever shared a bathroom with anyone – ever – you have had fights or at least repressed anger about how they used it. Maybe they didn’t clean up after themselves well enough. Maybe they hogged it in the mornings leaving you barely enough time to brush your teeth. Maybe you shared toothpaste and they left the cap off or – and I personally hate this – left some paste on the top of the tube so it gets all gummy and disgusting! This man was not against any of these things. Well, he might be, but he didn’t mention them. What he did mention was defecating with the door open.

For those uncomfortable discussing bathroom behavior, you should stop readingPhoto credit: thejbird / Foter / CC BY now.

Honestly, my views on sharing bathroom time have been all over the place. I was raised in a house with three sisters. For a few years we had a foster-sister as well – so that’s six women in one house. (You can go ahead and feel sorry for my father and one brother – even our dog was a girl!) It was nothing to be brushing your teeth while someone was using the toilet. When we visited my cousins in Mississippi where there were seven cousins in the same family and they had one bathroom in their house – you peed with anyone in the room. I thought nothing of it.

I hit an awkward stage around puberty. (Did anyone not hit an awkward stage around puberty?) And I became friends with girls who didn’t seem as comfortable sharing their potty space. Be it that they were only children, had no sisters or were just raised in a more modest household, I don’t know. All I know is I suddenly deemed bathroom time as private time. I have a very distinct memory of locking the main bathroom door at my cousin’s house and a female cousin knocking on the door asking why in the world I locked the door?!

My first semester of college I lived in a dorm with a communal bathroom for the hall. There’s just no way around it, you had to do all your business in full ear shot of everyone else in the bathroom, even if they couldn’t see you. I got more comfortable with sharing the bathroom. I later lived in a house with two female roommates, one bathroom, you get over it. Well, I got over it. And then it’s just a matter of time once you get over it with your own sex that you stop caring with the opposite sex. Whether it’s a close friend or a partner. In the end, does it really matter? If you’re comfortable with them seeing you naked or sharing bodily fluids, who cares?! Everyone does it. Literally, everyone. Obama does it. The Queen of England does it. Jesus Christ even did it. It’s natural. It’s normal. We’re human.

The gentleman warning couples against it wasn’t putting the blame on either of his ex-wives, but mostly on himself. I’ve heard women say that they would never let their husbands even hear them go to the bathroom – have to keep the magic alive. After my sister and her – now – husband started living together they remodeled and were without a bathroom door. It wasn’t uncommon for her to drive to my parents’ house to use the restroom.

And I guess I’m curious, do you really care? Am I the abnormal one?

 

When Family Becomes Friend

I spent a large part of my formative years trying to convince myself and, much more easily, the world around me that I didn’t need people. I had a pretty solid armor. I trained myself not to cry (at least not in front of anyone) for a while. I thought being overly emotional made me vulnerable and I would much rather someone think me flippant or arrogant than vulnerable. It was protection. Or so I thought. In retrospect I kind of wonder why I thought I needed protection.

I was insecure, sure. Most teenagers are insecure and we all coped (and sometimes still cope) in different ways. Some cope with humor – if they’re laughing with me, then they’re not laughing at me. Some with self harm – be it cutting or an eating disorder. Some isolate – if they can’t find me, I’ll be okay. Some cope with confidence – mostly feigned confidence in my case.

I didn’t just do it with my peers though. I did it with everyone including my friends and family. I still do it sometimes though I am working to overcome this mindset. It’s the mindset that when someone walks into the room and I’m not in a safe, comfortable place, I immediately try to identify in what way I am superior to them. Always on the defense.

Please feel free to judge. It’s a nasty habit. Especially from someone raised by a loving, supportive family. I mean, yes, there were times that my siblings made my life feel miserable. And there are still moments when I feel like that twelve-year-old girl ostracized because she’d really rather dress up like the Spice Girls than get drunk. And while I have heard terrible stories of bullying in schools, I never felt bullied. I have always been a bit of a chub and though I never considered myself bullied, there are still a few choice interactions that are emblazoned on my memory.

The people I thought I needed least were, of course, the ones that loved me most. My family. I remember heinously vowing that if anyone died while I was studying abroad in Ireland that I would not be returning to the States for the Funeral. Then I cried over most of the Atlantic wondering if there was any way to turn back. Change my mind without losing face. When I went away to college my first semester – and I had said for years that I was leaving that town and never looking back – I cried after my Mom left from Parent Weekend. In the shower, no less, where my friends and roommate wouldn’t see me.

I tried so hard to push them away. To be Miss Independent. I saw them as an anchor weighing me down and I felt like I had to let go to be free. In an effort to sever those ties, I traveled. I love to travel – and for all the right reasons – but part of why I started was the freedom. A chance to shake off my anchor. I have never wanted to be babied more than when I was riding a train from Italy to Austria with tonsillitis. And when I was living in Colombia, I missed my family fiercely.

My Mom used to tell my sisters and I when we would fight that some day we would be best friends. I very much doubted this. I had absolutely nothing in common with them. My friends were my chosen family. Ten years later, most of those same friends have faded into happy memories that I keep up with loosely on Facebook and my sisters are my very best friends. We’re scattered across the country right now, but those ties, that ones I crossed oceans to try to sever, are stronger than ever. I share their pains and their joys. We love most of the same people. We cry and laugh and get angry on behalf of the other.

I don’t know when this happened. This shift in my universe. I do wonder if it happens to everyone. What I know now is that I can go far, far away and those loves of my life – my family – they’ll be supporting me throughout. They will still laugh and cry with me. No matter how close we live, our time together will always feel fleeting. And that living our amazing and independent lives doesn’t pull us apart – it gives us something to talk about.

I’m sorry for that armor that I built. I thought I needed it then. I’m sorry for ever doubting that I needed people. I was so very wrong. I’m sorry for all those people I loved and who loved me that I hurt with my arrogance or my pride or my hateful attitude. But I am happy now and I’m a better person for having known everyone I have ever known (okay, in fairness, there may be an exception or two).

I am a better person for every person I have ever hugged or had a friend crush on. For every person I felt a connection with – even if only for a moment. It might not have been the best me, but it was me and I’m a better person from having learned from it. Thanks for letting me become this person.