By TARANA BURKE
I have been contemplating the idea of ‘almost’ quite a bit lately.
Growing up, in my house, the word was certainly frowned upon. My mother had a thing about speaking in definites. If she asked a question like “Tarana, is your homework done?” She expected a succinct answer: yes or no. When I would simply yell back casually, “almost!” She’d return with, “What is almost? Either you’re finished or you are not – don’t answer questions that I didn’t ask!” As a kid it would boggle my mind as to why it made a difference to my mom, but as an adult I can see the absolute value in being direct and clear. Webster’s dictionary online defines the word ‘almost’ as an adverb meaning “very nearly, not quite, or slightly short of,” which means using the word frequently is like perpetually living in the gray area.
I didn’t get it then. I do now.
There are clearly situations to which ‘almost’ applies. One can be almost finished a drink; or almost to the finish line; or almost dressed. It’s a marker for half or perhaps a quarter of the way towards completion when there is a clear end in sight. But, in other instances, like affairs of the heart, Ms. Norwood was absolutely right: almost doesn’t count.
It was Brandy’s heart wrenching song that led to my rumination about ‘almost’ actually. I was sitting up in my room (I couldn’t help it) thinking about my latest heartbreak. Like a good virgo child, I was mulling over every single detail of our relationship that I could dredge up from my memory and laying them out chronologically in the vast open space in my mind. I was thinking through how close to being forever me and “he” had come to on more than one occasion and I kept wondering – why not? Why was there always some-thing, some-situation or some-new development that managed to unravel whatever progress we might have made when we were so close…we were almost there. But that is precisely why almost doesn’t count.
Almost doesn’t talk me through rough nights when I’m doubting my abilities as a parent, a professional and a person.
Almost doesn’t make me feel strong when I’m feeling scared and confused.
Almost doesn’t lose itself in hours of conversation just as much as it does in long moments of silence.
And almost doesn’t clap for me. Love does, but not almost and I need someone to clap for me.
The conclusion that I came to, although not profound in the rocket science sense, was more of an “aha” of the Oprah variety. When I thought over all of the years I had committed to trying to make something happen that didn’t ever end in my favor and all of the times when I felt like we were so close only to be disappointed again, I realized that as it pertains to emotions – love – in particular, almost was synonymous with never.
As much as that felt like a gut punch it was also cathartic. I had to sit up straight and say it out loud. I don’t want to spend my life chasing behind a maybe. I can’t wrap my arms around “very nearly” or plan a future with “slightly short of.” If it’s love it has to be absolute, definite. I deserve that. Everybody does. And I don’t plan on settling for anything less.
This has been my own lesson to learn though. My almost love isn’t all to blame. He’s been telling me for years in one way or another. He’s been communicating without saying a word that he wasn’t ‘the one’ and the volumes spoken between the lines of those unspoken words are where the lesson lies. Sometimes we just know. We know when it’s not enough. We know when it’s just a dream held together with scotch tape and lipstick and bendable will. And, when we find ourselves in that gray area, alone with a random text message and another rain check – we have to make some serious decisions. Almost will never make me happy. I’m clear about that. And now that I’m clear, I have to do the work of figuring out why I tried to find happiness in almost instead of in Tarana.
These revelations are always energizing on the first day. But now its the next day and the day after that and the day after that and I struggle sometimes because although it won’t bring you joy, almost can at least make you smile occasionally – and I like to smile. But I want the kind of smile that comes from the inside out. I want the kind of love that lasts forever. And I’ll know it when I see it because I almost had it.
Tarana Burke is the founder of Just Be Inc., an organization focused on health and wholeness of young women of color. She lives in Philadelphia with her teenaged daughter where she’s managing director of Art Sanctuary, a Black arts organization. Read more of her beautiful words at her blog, Sing A Black Girl’s Song.