By TRACEY MICHAE’L LEWIS-GIGGETTS
Here’s my truth: I don’t do tragedy very well. Not my own and definitely not the calamities of others. There’s something about heartbreak and injustice, death and destruction that breaks my heart over and over and over again. As somewhat of a depressive, these kinds of events can send me to the extremes of my emotional life. If I’m not careful, I can easily find myself passionately raging or overwhelmingly sad.
So you can imagine what these last few months, in light of current events, have been for me.
Over the years though I’ve found various ways to manage this part of my personality. Yes, I pray. I do everything I can to surrender my emotions to The One who I believe gave them to me and therefore, understands them and me the most. I also try to change what I consume mentally. I stopped watching the news. I stopped listening to the radio. All to avoid any triggers. But of course my rage and sadness had to go somewhere in order for me to remain sane, right? For me, I found refuge in my journal; dumping my pain into words when I couldn’t hold them anymore. It was my process. As a matter of fact, my career as a writer was, in many ways, born from this ability I have to channel and convey extreme emotions in a way that organizes and makes sense of them.
Then everything changed. It had to, I suppose. My approach to tragedy took a dramatic turn twice in my life; both times being pivotal points in which not changing became no longer an option.
The first was something I embraced rather easily, particularly since, as I said, I find it easier to express myself with the written word: I stumbled upon social media. Now today, I have a kind of love/hate relationship with all my social media accounts. I love the opportunity for discourse. I love the fact that I can talk to friends and family that I don’t get to see very often. I love laughing at funny, harmless videos. I love reading the stories that make me smile in the middle of day. I love the exchange of ideas. I love sharing my work and I love reading or viewing the work of other writers and artists.
But I hate the foolishness. I hate the posturing—the inauthentic post-masking. I hate the generalizations and assumptions made about this person or that group and the subsequent bullying that occurs. I’m not a fan of the over-fascination some people have with the personal lives of celebrities. And though I’m guilty of it at times, I strongly dislike the voyeurism that social media allows us to indulge in. Oh I hate the internet thuggery; where people think they can say whatever they want to say, whenever they want to say it, to whoever they want to say it to, seemingly without consequence and without ownership of those words.
And somewhere in-between the love and hate is the 24-hour news cycle that social media provides. Yes, I’d stopped watching the news but when I allowed social media into my life, I could no longer ignore tragedy anymore. I couldn’t shield my emotions from it. I was faced with the images every time I opened my computer.
Over the last couple of weeks or so, I’ve felt that familiar tug-of-war in my spirit; that shifting between rage and sadness as I’ve been devastated by the decisions of two grand juries that somehow determined that the lives of Eric Garner and Michael Brown held no value. These juries inadvertently told the world that Black lives—mine, my husband’s, my child’s—didn’t matter when they refused to hold accountable the police officers who murdered this Black man and child.
Social media, even with all its foolery, has forced me to face the racist realities of these injustices head-on. I watched as the world as I knew it shifted right on my computer screen. There were some on my newsfeed who wielded angry, hateful, inconsiderate words, while others, mostly writer/artist friends, were using their platforms to speak out on what was happening. It was hurtful and painful and tragic and…strangely exhilarating. It activated something in me that I haven’t felt in a very long time. I’m having conversations, particularly within the faith community, that I would have had to pull teeth to have before. And that is all good.
But even in the push/pull of emotions and the rebooting of the social justice aspect of my calling, there is also a depletion of my physical resources. It’s so exhausting. And stressful.
See, in the midst of all that’s going on, the other parts of my life have not stopped. I’m still a professor facing the end of a jam-packed semester and stacks of papers and projects to grade. I’m still a wife and mother with lunches to make, ballet and soccer practices to attend, and Christmas recitals to prepare for. I still have my own projects to complete and friends who need me and family expecting to see my face over the holidays.
And in-between this life, I still feel led to write and march and die-in and write some more.
Enter pivotal turning point number two: A feisty three-year old I call K.
It’s because of her that self-care must be a significant part of all that’s in my world. I must continue to pray and seek good counsel. I must sleep well. I must rest well. I must eat well. I must get massages. I must take my Fibro medicine and my vitamins. I must take care of myself.
Yes, you—mommy, daddy protestor—you must also take care of yourself.
The birth of my baby girl was a turning point for me because she is a constant reminder that running on empty can no longer be my default way of functioning. Not to mention that I can already see so much of myself in her. She’s super sensitive, deeply discerning, and as a passionate as a toddler can be about the things that matter to her. Even as I wiped my own tears away, I’ve watched her cry until she was so exhausted the only thing left in her were dry heaves and tiny puffs of breath. I’ve seen her look straight in my eyes and defiantly disregard any rule we’ve put in place; determining to not stop until her wishes were granted. And everyday I pray for guidance on how to contain her fire without quenching it entirely. I pray for assistance in how to teach her balance; that she too must take a break from the doing and the talking and the thinking in order to just be still. And with every prayer, the answer I get back is the same.
“Model it for her.”
So I will do just that. I will rage and I will grieve the awful injustices in our country and the world. I will write and I will march. But I will also pause to allow my soul to be rested and restored.
Because in the end, I think it’s stillness that actually stokes the fires of passion. It’s rest that readies us for even the longest of battles.
* * *
This post is the latest in Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts’ “Faith & Motherhood” series.
Tracey Michae'l is a writer and educator based out of the Philadelphia area. She is a wife to William and a mother to a beautiful two-year old little girl. You can find her on the web at www.traceymlewis.com.