Today is my birthday.
My birthday is my favorite holiday and I tend to make a big deal about it. I always do something; a dinner, party, a trip, a day of silent mediation, something. If nothing else, i'll put on some sequence and a tiara and walk around the house to generate the spirit of celebration. Not a year goes by that I don’t mark the anniversary of my birth with joyous intention, celebration and thanksgiving.
This year, I spent the entire month celebrating. I don't usually do that, but this year, I needed more than just space for gratitude and celebration. I needed space for restoration.
2016 has been a painful year for a lot of us. There is really no other way to put it; this has been a year sodden by death. Black men dying on camera at the hands of the police, police murdered by military trained killing machines, irreplaceable cultural icons gone and lost forever, mass shootings and bombs killing people en mass all over the world and the pulling back of the curtain to exposing our electoral system s empty of honor and democracy.
I know. None of this is new but somehow 2016 has plugged the ugly into an amplifier that makes it all feel, sound, smell and look so big. SO big, that it has almost too big to manage. For many of us, 2016 has been full of anger, disgust and deep sadness.
As if that isn’t enough, on top of what is going on outside my door, there are things happening inside my private world that feel just as big and just as difficult. In 2016, the happenings in my personal and professional life have asked a LOT of me. I have had to have very difficult conversations, I have had to manage complicated relationships, way too much travel, contentious interactions with broken people, I'm still getting used to living in a new city, have endured the stress of launching a new enterprise, and I have had to push myself to become the next version of myself; to be harder, work harder and push harder than I have had to in a long time.
Needless to say, I haven’t had a year this hard in a long time. I have experienced fun and triumph and lots and lots of joy this year too but at the risk of being dramatic, (and I have been accused of being dramatic a time or two) I don’t think that I have ever had a year like this with so many challenges packed in so close together. 2016 has been an emmer-effer, if you know what I mean. Like I said, one day wasn’t enough. I needed an entire month to celebrate and restore. Happy Birthday to me.
Usually, when faced with difficulties, either those that are personal to me or those that I share in community, my approach is always love and it has ALWAYS works…every time.
You know me, I am ALWAYS doing my best to bring love into the room, to show that love is the best and only answer but this time, love, at least the way that I have known it just hasn’t been enough. I had a moment that I tried to conjure up love and all I could conjure was despair. That scared the crap out of me.
Wait…I want to acknowledge that this story is getting really depressing. Don’t worry, this isn’t a Steven King novel, it’s an Anasa Troutman blog so bare with me the sunshine and unicorns are coming. I promise I won’t leave you down here in this pitt of despair and anyone who can tell me what movie I just gave a shout out to without goggling it should absolutely consider themselves one of my people.
Anyway, where was I? Yes, things have been difficult in every area of my life. Thank you 2016. I have learned that if every room that I walk into has a note on the wall that says, “Hey Anasa, there’s a diamond unicorn your pocket”, I should probably check my pockets. Even if I ignore the first sign or two, eventually, I’m going to have to pay attention.
That’s how it works, right? When the student is ready the lesson/teacher will come? When its time for you to expand your consciousness, God shows up and sticks a giant post-it note that says so on every situation, conversation and interaction.
These are the times when we are called to grow, to be a better, more aware, more honest version of ourselves. This is the opportunity to do the hard work that pays off in more clarity, better relationships, and more success? Right? Well, that’s how it works for me. When the time comes, I can’t avoid a spiritual lesson. God never takes no for an answer. I don’t even bother trying to ignore it anymore. Eventually I’ll have to pay attention because the signs get bigger and bigger until they are so big that I can no longer see around them. Better to answer the door when it’s only a knock and not wait for the wrecking ball to bash that door in.
The tricky thing is that rarely does the sign provide breadcrumbs to something as marvelous as a diamond unicorn. More often, the signs say something waaaaaay less enticing like, “Hey Anasa, learn to be vulnerable and share yourself with people”, or, Hey Anasa, be more disciplined and work harder to achieve your goals”, or, in the case of 2016, “Hey Anasa, I know things are hard but its time for you to expand and learn how to love when $%#! gets unrecognizably hard.” Awesome. Can’t wait. Yep, why don’t we do that? Happy Birthday to me.
And before I knew it, I accepted a graduate level life seminar on love in hard times. Exhaaaaaaaaale. Ok. God, here we go.
I will spare you the course work and go straight to the thesis.
One day, earlier this month, the day I was feeling that despair, my mother called me. She had no idea what was going on with me. I was sitting on the couch crying. The phone rang and I pulled it together quickly so that she wouldn’t know that I was in tears.
The news about Philando Castile’s murder had just come out on top of the news about Alton Sterling’s murder, I had just gotten home from the toughest, most stressful work trip that I had ever taken and the night before I had been terribly disappointed by someone that I loved. It was an incredibly crappy day. I was fighting so hard to generate love, from the inside out, to heal my own heart first and then to find ways to heal the people around me that were hurting but I could not do it. I just felt the sadness and the pain and the uncertainly of all of it.
I say that my mother didn’t know what was going on with me, but I suppose mothers who know their kids always know what’s going on. She called me and said, “Anasa I called to check on you and to remind you that love is all around you. Even when you can’t see it, love is always there.” Then she told me that that was all that she wanted and to let her know if I needed anything and she hung up. Wow.
My mother is not an overly touchy feely person. By no means is she a hard woman and she definitely expressed her love to us but she is not the poster child for emotions. I am the emotional one in my family, for sure, my mother, not so much. I called her once boo-hoo crying because I had run over a squirrel on the road and she told me to pull it together and get on with my life. LOL. She’s a Capricorn, what can I say. Shrug.
As Capricornian as she is, on that day, in all her mother’s intuition, she called me and reminded me about the power of love at a time when I had absolutely no access to it. In one of the most difficult moments I have had in a long time, my mother, the woman who taught me how to transform myself and my life, called her child to remind her that love IS the most powerful force in the universe, so much so that even when it looks, feels and smells like it is absent, it is there. Love is always present. Always.
I was so deeply touched that my tears of sadness instantly turned into tears of gratitude and hope and joy. Even now, it brings tears to my eyes, the power of that conversation. It was literally two minutes, but it reminded me of who I am, what my mission on earth is and it turned 2016 around for me. That brief conversation made me start to look around with different eyes. Of course love is all around by why can’t I see it? Am I looking in the wrong corners or am I looking for the wrong thing?
Right, that’s it. I am looking for the wrong thing.
I have said this before, but I spent much of my life being a complete and total Pollyanna. I am not as bad as I used to be but there was a time that I would have been the nicest person that you had ever met. Always positive, as nice as I can be and always carrying the goal of leaving people feeling loved. In my mind, love looked only one way. Good, warm, sunny, happy…that’s how I wanted love to look all the time but that not real. Sometimes stuff gets hard. Sometimes life is hard. Hell, most of the time life is hard. Does that mean that there is no room for love?
Love is an action word, we all know that. I define love as honoring your connection with someone (or something) in word and deed. That’s easy to figure out and to execute when we’re talking about someone that is good to you or it is even easy when it’s someone you don’t know at all.
Sometimes a smile and a well wish to a stranger is the most loving thing we do all day, but how to you honor your connection to someone that hurts you? How do you honor your connection to someone committed an unjust murder motivated by racial bias? How do you honor your connection when that someone disrespects you or lies to you or when that someone actively works to undermine goodness and decency in the world?
How do you love when $%@! gets hard? In your life? In your work? In the world?
Those who violate the rules of human interaction, the ones that lie, cheat, steal, kill, are unkind…I guess that’s all of us. We, no matter who we are or what we have done, we are all one in the soul sense, in the divine family. We are all connected. That never changes, no matter how gross the violation. Whether you say a cross word to someone or commit genocide, that oneness does not fade. So how does one honor our connectedness, our sameness, our divinity AND our violations at the same time? That is the question for this time. How do we embody love with people that need to transform to align themselves with the principles of love?
It is clear to me that the upheaval that we are seeing and feeling is a call to acknowledge and address ills that have persisted for hundreds of years. The history of the world is violent and the legacy of patriarchy and imperialism has showed up on the camera phones and 24-hour news channels in a way that we can no longer ignore. As my mother used to tell me when I was a kid, “Its time to pay the piper.”
If we truly believe that love is the answer to the questions before us (and I sincerely do) and if love is, indeed, most powerful force in the universe, then what does that love look like in this moment in history when it is clear that a smile and a well wish isn’t even in the same galaxy as enough?
A friend of mine posted on Facebook the other a simple declaration, “Love is not enough.” While I understand where he is coming from and must say that I totally disagree. Love is always enough. A fairytale, one-dimensional benign love may not be enough but a robust, honest, action filled, accountable love that considers that interpersonal and the institutional, where all are considered and the well being of humanity is the goal is enough.
I know that sounds complicated but these are complicated times…life is complicated. I bet there has been someone in every age of time that said, “these are complicated times”. Times haven’t changed, what must change is our ability to deal with what is, to be the balanced love, the love that requires our whole selves, even the parts that make us afraid.
See, that is the part that I was missing. That is the BIG lesson that I received as a divine gift for my birthday this year. I was pretending that love was easy. I used to say love is easy its all the stuff that goes with love that’s difficult but no, love is not easy. Not at all. Its actually can be quite scary.
I liked to ignore the parts of love that scared me and made me uncomfortable and required me to say and do hard things. For me, love has been a hiding place. That’s hard for me to admit but I have used love stay safe. I have allowed love to be limited to compassion, empathy, caring, generosity. All of these things are the parts of love and come VERY easy to me. I am the queen of these things. The QUEEN!!! Love is also a few things that I am notoriously not the queen of.
Love is also holding people accountable, being 100% honest especially when its hard, love is sometimes saying no or walking away. These things are love too. In fact when its time for these things, when there is something to be said and you don’t say it, when there is something to be done and you don’t do it. When someone is out of alignment with the principles of human interaction and it is not addressed, this non-action, this cowardice is the absence of love.
You see, my mother was right, love is all around but sometimes we don’t want to see if because we don’t want to be the ones to have to do the difficult loving thing. We don’t want to be honest, we don’t want to hold others accountable, we don’t want to take the risk and sometimes, when we DO do these things, we don’t want to have to do them while simultaneously being kind, openhearted, generous compassionate. As I am learning, love, true love (there’s that movie again) requires a balance of what comes easy and what is difficult. Real love is compassion and authenticity, kindness and accountability, generosity and honesty…no matter what. One without the other, like I said, is a lie.
That is not all…here comes my favorite part of the lesson…this love lesson isn’t just about how I treat other people, it also about how I treat myself. Yay.
Often times, we…let me speak for myself…often times, my unwillingness to embrace the full balance of love has been about fear. Many people say there are only two emotions, love and fear, for me, this is an absolute truth. I am the most loving person on earth, until I get scared, then all bets are off. For many people fear makes the loud, angry, defensive. For me, when the fear hits, I shut down, tuck myself in an emotional corner and don’t say a word. See, the easy, fun parts of love are my JAM, my favorite thing on earth. The hard parts of love, the parts that shut me down, get on my last nerve.
Get ready because I’m about to get vulnerable here. My number one fear in life, probably the one fear that all of my other fears boil down to is that I am going to end up alone. So in the past, if being loving required that I do something that might result in what looks anything like judgment or abandonment, I probably didn’t do it or I needed a looooooooong runway to get there.
There have been many conversations in my life that I did not have because I was afraid that the person on the other end would be upset with me, judge me, disagree with me, feel attacked, etc. Many times, I hid behind love, convincing myself that it was my love for them that kept me from being honest but I realize now that it wasn’t love, but fear that kept me from being bold, authentic and yes, sometimes kept me form being honest.
Silencing myself about big things and small things has been my grossest violation against myself and the way that I have most often not loved myself. This is what the absence of love has looked like in my relationship with me. So how do I love (honor my connection with person in word and deed) when the person in question is me?
I heard someone say a few weeks ago that the scripture says, “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, not, “Love thy neighbor more than yourself” It hit me in the chest like a ton of bricks. How many times have I dishonored and been unloving to myself in the name of being “loving” to someone else. Yep, nope, that wasn’t love, that was fear of being honest, fear of being judged, fear of putting myself out front, fear of getting hurt, fear of being othered, of being alone.
When we stay silent because we don’t want to stir the pot, or upset someone, when we don’t hold people accountable to the values that we hold, when our soul is screaming out against the state of the world and we don’t take action…when we don’t speak our truth, we are lying. Lying is not loving, even when what is true is hard to say, hard to hear and hard to live with. Conversely, when we take bold action, are honest and hold people to account with no compassion, generosity and kindness, that too, is not love. How do we find the balance?
I am going to start to wind this down for two reasons. I think that I’ve said what was on my heart to say here. Also, its 11:30PM and I need to get to Barnes and Noble by midnight to pick up my reserved copy of the new Harry Potter book. Sometimes, divine birthday gifts come in the form of big life changing spiritual lessons about the true nature of love and sometimes they come in the form of new book from your favorite fiction series released at midnight on your actual birthday.
The lesson that I was gifted this year is this…
Yes, absolutely, love is kind and patient and all of those other warm, fuzzy things but that’s only half the story.
Love is BOLD.
Love is HONEST and AUTHENTIC.
Love requires ACCOUNTABILITY.
Love requires COURAGE.
Love is messy and hard to figure sometimes.
Love is the most powerful force in the universe and is always that answer.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
I love you in the fullness of what love is. I’m taking this on…as my birthday gift to myself and as my gift to the world. I don’t have a lot of practice with this expanded version of love but I am going to make the road by walking.
Expanding my understanding of love and having the space to experiment with what it means to love and be loved in the fullness of this new understanding is the greatest gift that I could ask for. I welcome the warm fuzzies AND I deserve to be honest with my friends, my lover, and my family, with the police, my elected officials, my community and everybody else when I am feeling neither warm nor fuzzy.
We deserve to hold to account the people that we share space with on this planet. Sometimes that is a difficult conversation or a negotiation of the rules of engagement and sometimes that is a protest, a cultural renaissance, a policy change or a revolution (I prefer loveolution, but whatever).
I believe that this is moment when we need love more then we ever have in the history of this crazy world. Love IS the most powerful force in the universe. It is what we need to learn how to do, how to be and how to have. It is the only way that we will manifest the vision of a just world where all people are honored, respected, have their dignity and the chance to dream, achieve and thrive in whatever way is authentic to them. Love is the power. Love is healing. Love is freedom.
I invite you to love with me, fully, without fear.
Open hearted and fully honest.
Love all in the fullness of all that love really is. The fun parts and the scary ones.
Thanks for the birthday present, God. Expanded consciousness is always a great choice.