Your task is not to seek for love,
but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself
that you have built against it.
A long wind brushes its fingers through the trees in a stretched whisper. It moves angrily, shakes and howls at the windowpanes. Branches rub against branches, abrasive and unyielding, with no soft leaves to muzzle against the north wind, during the harsh, naked tree season. Spring rains pummel the ground, softening the earth for new growth. The transition of the seasons is a sure thing, a known as far as seasons can be known, with visible signs and demarcations.
We have them, too, these barriers, these invisible lines sprouting protective thorns, to keep us from rubbing too close to one another. I was 8 years old when I was aware of lines being drawn in the Alabama red clay, when I was reminded I was “different”, when a classmate told me to go back to where I came from. I was reminded of this for years, when anyone asked, “So, what are you?” Those questions can still threaten to haunt me, thrusting me a liminal space to reckon with voices that say I don’t belong.
For years, I imagined myself transitioning out of my brown skin and stepping into a costume of white. In my white world, I wasn’t singled out. I was automatically accepted, included; others looked at me and knew me in a way I wasn’t known being brown. I wanted to change my skin color, my hair color, and my name, with no assumptions about white-self me that kept people distant when I was brown. My white world was sparkling, gleaming, pristine, perfect.
But it wasn’t real. I allowed these hallucinations to eat away at my own flesh, allowing my own true self to disintegrate, and what would be left surely wouldn’t be white. I couldn’t shed my old skin like a reptile, and a glowing white covering emerge. No, my real self would be transformed into a heap of brown ashes and blood, because in no reality would I ever magically grow white skin.
So, I hid my Indian side, idealizing the white girl I should have been, all the while shaking my fists at God, questioning His decision, pointing out His oversight at making me the conspicuous anomaly of brown flesh in a sea of white in the rural south. I didn’t know anyone else like me, and I struggled to fit in, to belong, and figure out how to “be” both. I learned how to shift from one identity to another, from Indian to American and back and forth, with one foot in each continent, my heart divided, torn, and splitting through the tug-of-war as I desperately sought to belong.
In tug-of-war, eventually one sides wins, and the other side succumbs….
Read the rest of my story, published today at The Mudroom.
*Attributed to Rumi, translator unknown
**Photo credit: Mammiya on Pixabay