I’m sitting on an orange and brown sofa that smells like one of our South Georgia summer time thunder storms. I hear two women talking in the next room. I can’t hear my mama’s words, but I know her voice, her cadence; and I can feel the urgency in her plea. She’s pawning my jewelry to pay a bill. My jewelry bought for me by my father. She cried when she asked to “borrow” the rings I received as gifts at my eighth birthday party earlier in the year. How could I say no?
She comes out of the room and reaches for my hand. “Let’s go,” she says. The other woman leans against the wall and smiles at me. I’m awe struck by her long silver hair and the large turquoise rings against her leathered skin. In the yard I hear wind chimes. I open the car door and ask my mama why that woman’s house smells like dirt and rain. “That’s patchouli, baby.” I think it must be the best smell in the world.
“I’ll get your rings back on Friday before you go back to your daddy’s, ok?” I nod in agreement. I don’t need any further explanation on how pawning works. My mama’s been pawning stuff and shopping at the pawn shop my whole life. I’m more interested in the woman who lives alone in the rain storm smelling house that’s surrounded with wind chimes. Mama says the woman is just a friend who has a little extra cash and helps her out some times. She’ll hold the rings as collateral, but she won’t sell them to anybody else unless Mama agrees that she will not repay the money.
Mama says she’d rather do business with the silver haired gypsy than with any man owned pawn shop in Albany, Georgia. The woman only does business with other women – in sisterhood and solidarity, Mama tells me. And the woman is from a dying tribe of Native Americans from whom our family descends. Mama looks me in the eyes and asks, “If we don’t support each other, who else will support us?”
I receive an important article in the mail the follow day: my feminist card.
I’m in eighth grade and my English teacher is arguing with me over a current event I shared with the class. The newspaper article discusses the appropriateness of tattoos in the work place. Our town does not have a tattoo parlor and I’m told business permits for tattoo and piercing shops are denied yearly. It’s 1996 and the internet is on the cusp of bringing the world to our fingertips. In the meantime, we’re still living in small town America with only print media and MTV to save us. Fox News joins CNN as sources of 24 hour news, but our world views are still often limited by our experiences in our local community.
The argument gets heated and the teacher sends me into the hallway. Later, I speak with another teacher, one who seems to get me, and she explains that my advocate card is peeking out of my pocket, and I might need to be more aware of how I’m approaching controversial topics in the classroom. I get it. I apologize to my English teacher for being disrespectful, but only after she admits that her bigotry card is also showing.
In 2012 I assist my work community in planning and hosting a Coming Out Day. We work with at risk youth who cannot live with their own families for one reason or another. I have no problem standing up with my name tag and saying out loud, “My name is Rose. I am an ally.”
We each possess certain identities that we share with the world without a thought. Some identifiers we share with more caution. And some others are so deeply ingrained in us, so often, they are such a part of who we are, that without purposeful consideration, we don’t realize those identifiers exist – until they are called out.
Feminist, advocate, and ally.
But what happens when another identifier is called out? What happens when this card, the one held as a foundation upon which other cards should be placed, is suddenly plastered to my sleeve before I’m ready? What happens when it’s God calling out the hidden identity?
In our first Theology class we each completed a self-assessment that would help us understand our own individual theologies as we began to explore various world views. I scored rather high in the world of the crusader, the reformer. When I say rather high, I mean out of 50 questions, I chose the crusader answer 30 times. Now I know what a crusader is, and I know why I answered those questions the way I did, but for shits and giggles let’s share what Google says a crusader is:
Crusader – a person who campaigns vigorously for political, social, or religious change; a campaigner.
I’m at my best when I’m campaigning for something I believe in. My heart is full of love and joy when I am part of another creature’s liberation. Change is my middle name. Progress, growth, transformation! That’s what life is all about! I will cradle the other into my bosom and cherish them and love them and care for them and provide for them while they learn to do these things for their own. I will help them open their eyes. I will teach the other until they themselves become teachers. This is my default setting.
I make room in my wallet for my crusader card.
Where I struggle is allowing God to cradle me when I’m so exhausted from helping others that I cannot sleep. Sometimes, my heart is so broken by the violence and the oppression of creation, that I feel guilty for my own sanctuary of happiness. I hesitate to let God embrace me and give me enough nourishment to continue the good fight.
I try to send God away, saying, “I have enough. Go be with the children who are suffering abuse and neglect. Go be with the women who are beaten and bruised and bleeding. Go be with the forgotten people of our world!”
But then I get too tired and my defenses are weaker than usual. I leave the door open and begin to nod off in the chair. I’m between awake and asleep when God lets herself in and sits next me. When she pulls me to her bosom and cradles me, my heart slows and my body relaxes into the embrace.
God whispers into my ear, “Rest now, I’ve got you. I will stay with you and I will hold you. You cannot send me away.” God smells like my mama and holds me like a small child until a deep slumber takes over.
Learning to care for myself so that I can more fully care for others is a lifelong study. My apprenticeship in surrendering and accepting help is never ending. I slowly understand that crusaders need nourishment and care and love; that we, too, need to be held. Today, I add to my card collection one titled Embraced.
Agere Contra, friends
This post is part of the #WholeMama group writing on today’s theme of Embrace, and continuing my September theme of Transformation. Check out the other amazing writers in this group by clicking here. You can also join the conversation by clicking this —>