And, so we begin as most stories start, Once upon a time not too long ago . . .
“Life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.” Soren Kierkegaard
For me, this quote speaks of many known and unknown joys and pains. It is a quote that my godmother faithfully recalls when she’s attempting to ease the fears of young black female ministers who are feeling completely overwhelmed by the uncertainties and precarity of pursuing their callings. It is a quote that literally takes me back to when I was a painfully shy brown girl who desperately longed for a savior. Something big and expansive enough to swallow me as the whale swallowed defiant Jonah. I needed a savior. I needed something big.
Looking back . . .
As I stand now at the altar hands raised weeping at the words of this black prea-cher woman, my mind spins 15 years back to the many nights when I was a pubescent black girl crying and at times screaming outside the locked bedroom door of my grandmother’s room. I needed sanctuary. I needed sanctuary from the evil that stalked me when the lights grew dark and when my eyes became heavy with sleep. So, I would knock on her door each night first asking if I could sleep in her bed. And if her answer was no tears fail. I would knock, beg, and weep until the sheer weariness of begging got the best of my eyes and I fell asleep hoping to be granted a type of spiritual asylum that could only be found near my grandmother’s bed. Of course, all this could be avoided if my grandmother’s door happened to be unlocked, whereby, I would simply creep into her room and wiggle my non-curved brown girl body underneath her king size bed sleeping until it was time for her to get up for work in which I would quickly scurry to my own bed.
Looking forward . . .
Now-a-days, this memory seems to come to me every time I step into a church. It seems to lay dormant until it hears some resonance of, “If it had not been for the Lorde on my side where would I be,” and like the old school toy, Jack in the Box, pops up demanding I look back and remember. And, I must admit at the chagrin of many of my agnostic black feminist sisters that the Christian’s God has brought me a mighty long way from being a painfully fearful brown girl to a somewhat audacious on my most good day daring black heterosexual Christian feminist school teacher who will be Dr. So and So one day if the creek don’t rise. And, Lorde knows that creaks can rise rather quickly in academia just ask any graduate student who’s advisor is self-absorbed and absent. They would tell you stories of floods.
Yep, one day I will be Dr. So and So.
Honestly, not that being Dr. So and So in of itself signifies greatness, however, it does signify some planned perhaps divine orchestration of my life that I in myself could not have ever conceived of let alone destined for myself. Just looking back over my life—the many sleepless nights, the many black eyes my mother wore to work, the men who came and went as possible step fathers, the leavings and comings, the bitch utterances, the suicide thoughts and faux attempts, the beliefs that it was better to be born a man than a woman, the fear of realizing how damned it is to be female, the silence that comes from being not seen—I find it hard to believe that I am where I am today because my working class black girl childhood made dreaming big inconceivable.
You see domestic violence and absent parents have a way of robbing girl children of their voice, agency, and courage. It forces them to see themselves as small beings that are at the behest of men folk’s desires, anger, and insecurities. And, after years of therapy I now know how I was able to escape some of the self-defeating thoughts as black girl child. It wasn’t because of my present understanding of black feminism. No. I was able to escape because of my belief in the God. I literally clung to these scriptures—“When my mother (i.e. absent mother) and father (i.e. alcoholic dad) forsake me then the Lord shall take me up . . . I am the head and not the tail . . . Greater is he (i.e. God) that is within me than he that is in the world.”
You see, these scriptures helped ease some of my fears and doubts about my ability to thrive as a little black girl. They set me on a path that would eventually lead me to black feminism (yes, I said Christianity informed and continues to inform my black feminism). They helped me to see that I was bigger than what I saw in the mirror. They helped me to understand that god lives within and that in of itself is a revolutionary act. And the more I think about it, I do not remember these things unless I am in a church. I do not remember and at time have rationally, academically, and feminist-ly chosen to forget that the Christian God is what kept me as a little black girl. There is something sinister amidst when we as black women have to deny portions of our stories for fear of unknown and known consequences. It is the same type of fear that made me cry and scream outside my grandmother’s locked bedroom door.
Therefore, in keeping with For Colored Girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is not enuf, I sing my black girl song and tell this story of how God brought me through and kept me when I could not keep myself. And, through this keeping, I learned to see God within and eventually God as she and I loved her . . . I loved her fiercely.