In an email discussing this month’s theme on Intersections, the word resilience came up. As I pondered the words I would present for this month’s blog post in response to that word, it became apparent to me: who more readily embodies the word resilience than the black woman? Her strength, tenacity, and ability to overcome; her deeply rooted desire to share with family and community; her ready joy of the celebration of life, despite its harsh realities; the black woman embodies them all. The fact that I am currently in the process of pressing further into an integrative project around the Belovedness of the Black Woman Despite Intergenerational Trauma is just a coincidental wink of the Holy Spirit.d
As I delve into Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, engaging in the work of claiming my own heritage and identity despite what empirical society would say about it, I have to chuckle at the title’s irony. Because it is my mother who finds joy, release and freedom in cultivating her own sprawling garden. Who better to write about than a woman that I have had the privilege to observe for nearly 32 years?
My mother is many things: a beauty from southern Louisiana who has never lost her lovely drawl. She is a mother and a wife. A devoted follower of Jesus. My mother is an introvert: sensitive, private, and joyful. My mother is fierce in her love for those she loves and devoted to those she cares for. Her allegiance is one that will not be divided. It will not be her who ever stops looking for a solution, an answer, or a comfort for those she loves.
She is not a perfect woman, though perfection is a part of our story. But when I look back over the years…over the losses and struggles, the people that have gone before us and left this life… When I recall the things that she has walked through and experienced and seen, I know that she is one definition of resilience.
For years, my mother would maintain a beautiful home and three square meals, creating a loving family environment for her husband and three kids. Then she would drive 45 minutes to work as a Registered Nurse, dealing with life and death and sickness, workplace politics, and the reality of what is it to walk around in the skin of a beautiful black woman. She would return home late, tired, having given of herself. And still continue to get up day after day, loving, serving, creating, giving and receiving joy to her family. And she would make time to work in her garden.
In order for such a woman (whose life I could never do justice here because I will not give away her secrets) to maintain such resilience, she requires joy. Where my mother got to play was her garden. Imagine wild Poppies and Lupines that are allowed to stay, sprouting up amongst Rosemary you can pop in with roasting potatoes. Sense the Morning Glory providing shade in warm summers, Ivy crawling along hedges, and Oleanders taking up more room than they were initially allotted. See the vivid orange-red of Geraniums tucked safely away in their pots.
In imagining all of this, imagine a woman who, in order to maintain such beauty, must fend off its enemies: snakes, gophers, deer. A woman who must stand her ground. Who must give of herself, kneeling, coaxing. Imagine a woman who is not afraid to get dirty, who is quick to come to a gentle but defiant defense. This is a woman who has learned to face a world, despite the incredible punches and setbacks and challenges it sends her way, and stand in staunch defiance and great faith.
My mother isn’t a perfect woman. Who of us is? But she is a nurturer, a cultivator, a lover. She is a beautiful black woman, as shy as she is fierce. A faith that allows her to get up and face each day as it comes, with its blessings and its curses.
We are quite different, she and I. But the thing is, I inherited my mother’s creative, beautifully sensitive heart. How can I not carry her with me wherever I go? She’s the reason that I buy geraniums in every city that I live in. You see, resilience is a familial trait. A necessary part of the tradition, passed down from mother to daughter, again and again. As it turns out, the more I turn in curious, truthful discovery of my own mother’s garden, the more I find beauty blossoming out from amongst the weeds. The more I find the most surprising blossoms out of thorny places. Despite changing seasons, rupture, weeds, thorns, enemy attacks, does not my mother’s garden still stand? Does she not cultivate it, still?
In such a time as this, I hope as she stoops to tend the blossoms, and wipes the dead away, that she looks up to find a thrill — a beautiful bird streaking across her skies, due north, marking the way ahead.
*This post is dedicated to my mother and to her beloved sister, Mildred Briggs Haynes, the rarest and freest of birds.