Jan 3, 2011

The Beauty in Pain

Jill Scott is one of my favorite artists and her first album, "Who is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1" simply blew me away while also helping me find strength when I didn't think I had any.  The album is a journey of either one or many of her relationships and each track examines where love is good and when it goes bad.  One of my favorite tracks is "Long Walk" where she takes us along on an evening walk with her lover.  The lyrics describe a scene where they share each others' company and views on life - where they build together - and lets us know that not only does she love this man but she respects him too.  It's one of those tracks that describes good love, a perfect love, if that's possible.  At the opposite end of this spectrum is "Love Rain" which describes a relationship I'm all too familiar with where the love is nonreciprocal.  It is one of the best songs to describe a relationship's shortcomings while holding the heartbroken party accountable for their actions.  Through both her joy and pain, Jill was able to share with us the beauty of love because even in her heartbreak she learned.  Another track that exemplifies coming through the storm is Leela James' "My Joy" from her album "A Change Is Gonna Come".  Not only is her voice a true treasure, in this awesome break up ballad, she actually tells us that had her former lover not been as bad to her as he was, she "would've never wrote this song".  I bring these songs up because they are perfect examples of how we can find good in the bad, the silver lining, beauty in pain.

These songs also helped me pull myself out of a brief "blue" period I was experiencing during December, which was no way to end what's been a great year for me.  During the last week of 2010, however, I was injected with feelings of love again because of me coming across a funny picture posted on Facebook by my crazy friend that brought me to tears (LOVE you Chaka!!) and pep talks with a couple of friends over the final days of the year that reminded me that I'm on the path, know what needs to be done to get over my current financial hump and was obviously, having a couple of bad days (THANKS Kyhim & Boogie!).  This blue period reminded me that my family included my friends: the ones I spoke to everyday, those I spoke to weekly (what's up Success Hustlers!), those I spoke to periodically and even those who I didn't speak to but still inspired me. I thank God for these extended family members that contribute to my greatness everyday.

The songs also, most importantly, reminded me that every experience in life is a gift even if you can't see it right away.  When I was in the midst of my misery, I could do nothing else but feel miserable.  My thoughts centered on what was wrong, what I wasn't going to be able to do to fix it, how I'd screwed up and got myself into the predicament I was in.  There was no way that I could see positivity in the experience or come up with a true solution to the problem.  I was literally lost in the darkness.  Once I opened my eyes and heart to the possibility of light, I was able to hear God's messages to me that it would all be alright (which I knew but had just forgotten) and started to believe it.  That along with the kind words of friends and the music I've mentioned here and other tracks, showed me how blessed I was.  And the music, specifically, guided me toward realizing the beauty in the pain I was feeling.  I could easily say that it reminded me of the importance of friends because, after all, three friends had led me back to the light.  But in this particular instance, I was also reminded that no matter how alone I may feel, no matter how lost I get in the darkness, I always have goodness around me.  And just knowing that, just the simple fact that I am aware of that blessing is in itself a blessing.

I'm not going to say that I go looking for painful experiences and I don't suggest that you do so either.  But when you're faced with one, when you get tired of your brooding mindstate, remember that you are being presented with an opportunity to learn and grow.  Remember that your Most High has given you the gift of self awareness for you to discover how you can change for the better.  Below is a snippet of a chapter from my upcoming novel that I feel compelled to share here.  It was born from a deep pain that I felt for many years and was finally able to articulate through words and finally release myself from.  Hope you enjoy...and for those of you that need it, I hope it provides you with the guidance you need to begin the journey of finding your way back to the light.

It was her time of the month and her hormones were racing.  Yet again, she sighed to herself, she would probably be up for the entire night.  This could be a good or bad thing depending on where her mind went.  But she felt the darkness surrounding her, closing in on her, and wished for an escape from it.  Her mind was her own worst enemy, and tonight it would play tricks with her.  Lady decided that music might be a deterrent to the madness.  She dropped in Jill Scott's first album and let it play.  She lay back on her bed, the coolness of her sheets and pillow enveloping her head and body and tried to relax.  As the first three tracks went by, she could feel a sense of calm come over her but doubt crept back in and told her that she was far from escaping her fears.  As Jill asked her adversary, "Sugar honey girl, fly, fly away!" she wished she were a bird or at least had wings so that she could float high above it all and escape her life.  Lady longed for an escape.  She lay there for about an hour, chanting over and over, "sunshine, rainbows and happy days," at first in her mind and then out loud.  It was the only technique that seemed to work about 40% of the time when she felt this doomed.  But tonight majority prevailed and as she felt her eyelids grow heavy, she looked over at the clock, saw it was 3:59am, and dreaded the impending nightmare that faced her during her slumber.

I'm in a room with no furniture.  The walls are bare and painted white and the floors are an over-glossed blonde wood.  I'm sitting on the floor "Indian style" and seem to be meditating, or at least trying to.  All of a sudden, a door appears in the floor.  You know, that kind of heavy metal basement doors you'd find in someone's backyard; actually, it reminded me of my basement door.  As I walk over to it, I try to make out its size and shape.  It's as white as the walls and very heavy.  It was about 12 feet long and 6 feet wide and didn't seem to have a handle or other visible way to open it.  There was definitely no way I was going to be able to open it.  It would take a superhuman (or hero of sorts) to open it.  When I get right in front of it was when I realized it looked exactly like the basement doors in my childhood home in Brooklyn.  I remember around the age of 6 or 7 always struggling to open them because of how heavy they were and my mother always yelling at me to wait for a grown up or some man to come and open them for me.  Well in my dream it's just me so I decide to go for it.  I squat down, put both my hands around the knob that's now visible to me and pull with all my might.  To my surprise it's not heavy at all, however, and so the hard pull is unnecessary and I almost fall over having not expected it.  Catching myself on one hand before I fall all the way back to the floor, I look with amazement at the gaping hole that now appears in the floor.  It is pitch black so there is no telling what's inside.  I only know that there are stairs because the top of the first and second steps are visible.  As I move closer to the opening, I recognize a familiar smell but can't place exactly where I remember it from.  It's a mixture of cut grass and newly toiled soil with a hint of what New York City smells like after a torrential downpour.  It reminds me again of childhood and playing on the streets of Brooklyn during the summer.  Although dark and unrevealing of its contents I must see what it inside.

A sharp pain runs through my fingers as I grab the door with my right hand.  As I pull my hand back, I realize that I've just been pricked by a thorn.  My index and middle finger are cut severely enough for me to use the sleeve of my pajama shirt as a makeshift bandage.  This injury, however, does not stop me from entering and I slowly return my hand to the door for leverage and take my first step into the unknown.  As I walk down the steps, I realize (since I still can't see) that there is a very large thornbush in front of me.  'How did it get here', I wonder, but instead of turning back to the safety of the room, I incredulously and almost instinctively go towards it.  I can't tell how large or wide it is and it seems to be completely filling the unknown space in front of me.  A neon sign flashing, 'Why is it here?' seems to scroll across my mind as I also wonder to myself why it draws me to it so?  I know that is is obviously harmful to me as my bleeding fingers remind me, and going deeper into it will do nothing else but hurt me.  I could feel its danger and evil and I seemed to stand my ground for what seemed like eternity.  As my eyes began to adjust to the darkness, it seemed to grow a face and it was the face of evil personified.  I saw all my fear in the face.  But it still in a way seemed sexy & inviting and I wanted to see, know and feel more...to feel it all.  A tiny part of me wanted to go back, but not enough to stop me from going forward with my journey.  The feeling - no, compulsion - to move forward overtook me.  There was only one way to go for me and that was into the thick of things.  Something told me that once committed, I'd be gone for a while.  For a fleeting moment I wonder if I could even get back.  But before I could put weight to that thought I began to take one last look at the barren room I'd come from...my comfortably barren room...the huge door slammed shut.  It seemed to slam directly on me, the force of the wind knocking me back.  I screamed, awaiting the pain but I just hit the floor.  I immediately jumped up to my feet and tried to make out what was in front of me.  The room had suddenly become much larger than I originally thought and seemed to be completely full of thorn bushes.  I begin to move forward sliding my bare feet inch by inch across the dirt beneath me, shuffling slowly with my arms outstretched and wondering if there was a way for me to find myself around the thorn bush.  So I decide to get on all fours and carefully crawl around the bush to avoid as much injury as possible.  My hand was still bleeding heavily but the cool dirt provided a bit of comfort to the pain.  My eyes were finally fully adjusted to the room and I realize that I'm glad I decided to crawl.  I seemed to find one end of the the thorn bush after crawling about 10 yards or so.  I slide my hand forward which seemed to now be bleeding through the bandage and came to the end of the earth.  Then it and the back of my forearm hit what I realized was the first step of the second staircase.  I stay on all fours and begin to crawl down the stairs.  As I hit the last step, I begin to stand up and try to see in front of me.  I instantly regret the decision to stand as I trip on the root of a bush and go flying forward.  I scream, not knowing where I'll land, but sensing it will be a hard one and I'm right.  Not even a second into falling, thorns seem to fly at me and act as a sort of cushion - like a pin cushion from the Twilight Zone where all the points stick out.  The thorns and branches rip my clothes and skin, leaving my entire body bloody, frantic and in excruciating pain.  I try to turn around and head back toward the first set of stairs to the exit.  But for some reason the stairs are much farther away than I remembered, much farther than they should be.  Then staring and focusing as much as I can in the dark, the glimpse disappears, leaving only an imaginary shadow of light from the room above.  I cry out for help, but know that it is useless.  No one is here with me and even if there were someone, they wouldn't be able to help themself, much less me.  I decide to go forward, since I have no way to retreat, to go back.

The thorns continue to ravage me, scratch me, cut me, pierce me, but something inside of me won't stop going forward no matter how painful it seems, it is, is becoming.  'They have to stop at some point,' I think to myself. 'Who planted these here and why,' I continue.  At that moment, I feel myself beginning to fall forward.  A feeling of terror pushes over me as I begin to fall off what feels like a cliff.  I attempt to hang onto a thorn-riddled branch and refuse to let to go even as the thorns pierce my palms and feel as if they've gone completely through my hand.  For as much pain as it caused and was causing currently, the thorn seemed a far better choice than whatever was over the cliff.  I felt the thorn, which felt like it was at least 2 inches thick, begin to tear through my palm.  With no other choice, I pulled my hand through the thorn while screaming in agony and fell over the cliff.  I felt like I was falling for minutes, then hours, then days.  I think I actually fell asleep for a while and was awakened by landing in the meadow.  When I looked up through the moonlight, what I was calling the cliff was nothing more than a large boulder, no more than 9 feet high.  What had I been so afraid of? I had held on to the thorned branches as if my life depended on it, almost lost my right hand and for what? To avoid a bruised knee? I could've easily jumped down and saved myself the agony and pain.  I looked down at my right hand expecting to be horrified.  Instead, the hand was bloody but intact.  There was, however, a scar about the size of a penny in the palm right in between my middle and fourth finger.  The scar looked like a hole was in my hand and felt like it too, but as I continued to look at it I was overwhelmed as I realized I did not care.  It was not as important as I initially thought it was.  The pain from the injury lingered while I sat there in the meadow contemplating what to do next.  Although there was moonlight it was minimal because of what I assumed was fog and clouds.  It was as though a black silk scarf had been thrown over my eyes.  Everything in front of me was visible but unclear.  Thorn bushes were still there and plentiful, but were easier to navigate around and through.  I continued to get scraped and cut as I made my way across the meadow but like the cut on my hand the injuries suffered were inconsequential to me and ignored.

The meadow seemed to go on forever and I wondered for an instant if I should try to figure out how to get back.  But then I exclaimed, 'Back to what?  That empty room where I sat and lamented on the inactivity in my life and dreaded my existence?  Where I sat lonely hoping for signs that I mattered, that I existed, that I was real? Why do I want to go back there?'  I was beginning to realize that although bruised, battered and in the dark, in a world I didn't understand and that I feared, I was alive.  I had purpose now.  I needed to find out how far this meadow went.  I wanted to find out if the thorn bushes ever bloomed with roses.  Did the sun ever come out and was I alone here?  I had to find these things out.  I continued walking on my journey and looked forward to what I would discover, learn and experience.

I've had the same dream for years.  I guess you could call it a nightmare since waking up from it was never pleasant.  It always left me scared to death and made me face how much I hated my life.  There was nothing about my current life that I liked.  I hated where I lived, worked, wore, looked, loved, everything!  And the worst part of it was that I couldn't complain about it.  Because to any so called reasonable person looking at me, they would say I had it all.

Believe it or not, my heart pounded as I reread this draft.  Although a work of fiction, my novel contains parts of me and this part is very real.  I no longer have this dream anymore because I've been able to realize what it meant.  But the pain that caused such dreaded thoughts to haunt me still feels as real as when I was living it everyday.  It's yet another reminder of how quickly I can go back there and get lost in the darkness if I allow myself to.  I was used to pain back then and I know there are many of us that become used to it as well because of life's circumstances.  I can only hope that you find your way back to the light faster than I did.  I lost valuable years of my life during the dark years but, again, realize that the blessing in all of that pain is that a  novel was born.  Find the silver lining in everything you experience.  It's there, you just have to open your eyes and heart to see it.


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