By Patrice Newell
Led by the branded lessons of concrete, being vulnerable is an underground myth that Harriet only told her homies. The unearthed stench of tenderness wrapped in hushed trauma was a signal: open for attack. The praise for burdening salvation and baptizing horrors has gone unchecked for long enough. Liberation is unruly, colorful and relevant! Let me be here.
My excavated pain has led to the worst of choices. In place of acknowledging the loss of my father, I lied. I cheated. I stole.
Born in 1938, Papa wasn’t taught to read nor write. So, we communicated through cowboy movies, old-timer jargon, football commentary and stepper set moves. Papa didn’t talk in much detail. When asked for his thoughts it would go something like, “Same ol’, same ol’. Slow motion is better than no motion.” His era taught him a façade of cool, even when the hospital was his grocery and two open heart surgeries stocked the shelves.
He wasn’t cool and neither was I.
Being cool like Papa became a way of living while blinding my exploration of self, lovers and friends. Raised on the Low End where custom suits, hats and shoes were gospel, Papa rarely had to speak—his style introduced him. He could be discharged on a Sunday morning and still make it to first service in Sunday’s best. Pops’ great stories were often grandiose as he loved to tell a good tale, but his mental state, not so much. During his upbringing, vulnerability was looked at as a sign of weakness on all fronts. Now, here I stand on ground zero crusading for the definition of being fully connected to all my uprooting emotions.
The emptiness of my soul didn’t hit me until I realized my future had the potential of looking like my past five years. I was the worst kind of destructive. The angry kind with the best intentions, but no self-work. Like a self-appointed prophet, I schooled anyone who looked broken in order to distract them from the real problem—me.
Fear of breath. We don’t even have to think about breathing and I was scared to do it. Sensitivity felt like that time my dad sat there laughing when infant-me crawled behind the fridge and stuck my hand in a mousetrap. I permitted a routine of silencing my feelings until the mirror became my only ally.
The journey of spiritual maturity is made possible only by the freedom from fear of the unknown. Breaking open to all forms of criticism allowed me to analyze and accept my gutter truth. Shame, guilt and disgust greeted me with open arms, but this time I skipped the false embrace and peered further into the secret.
Does this sound simple? It’s not, but feeling things feels less and less like effort every day.
Although I may push back, being held accountable has been my greatest triumph thus far. Being fully open and vulnerable is to be armed with fearlessness and completely open for attack at the same time.
Easy is the furthest concept from my vigilant life. My expressions range from laughter turned to cries and the other way around on a daily basis. Before this year, shame would have prevented that statement, but no longer am I just healing myself.
For 39 years my Mom was with my Papa. And now? No one. My unwillingness to face my truth does no justice for the strength she’s shown. When I think about giving up on understanding compassion and empathy, her spirit fills me. Her story doesn’t stop me from healing, but it provides perspective.
Who am I not to shine? Who are any of us not to take the chance to understand our true selves? Why avoid the inevitable evolution? I have history to make. I have lessons to learn. And the only way this happens is via a relentless lion-heart of checked and unchecked thoughts and feelings.
The challenge is surrendering to the hu(e)man experience with the audacity of a child whose imagination will not be silenced. My harvest from the garden of liberation is bitter, sweet and nutritious. I miss my Papa every day and, currently, it feels like time will never make that go away. The fear of braving the unknown keeps me excited for each day’s new sunrise. There is no step-by-step guide to vulnerability. There are no shortcuts to healing. So, be gentle with your present, for each moment warrants salvation.
Patrice Jones is an ambitious Chicago native who moves to the frequency of her own vibration. Her journey to be free and formed has manifested into an unapologetic natural state, from her locs to the constant growth from her traumatic past. She is an undeniable spirit and innerstands her role as a melanin vessel of gifted light.