Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"I am not my hair.

I am not this skin.
I am not your expectations, no.
I am not my hair.
I am not this skin.
I am the soul that lives within."
India Arie

Last week, the kids and I dropped off our minivan and the dealership to have one of the sliding doors repaired. From the dealership, we walked about 3/4 of a mile to a shopping plaza where we wandered around, ate dinner, and waited for Steve to pick us up on his way home from work. One of the things I picked up at Target was the newest India Arie CD entitled, "Testimony: vol. 1, Life and Relationship." Powerful lyrics. Gentle melodies. Many beautifully written songs. Like the one I quoted here.

I am not my hair. Dreadlocs. Kinky. Highlighted in shades of red. Decorated with wires and beads. Some people see my hair and think I'm a rastafarian or a vegetarian or in a reggae band. Some people think I'm a radical revolutionary, looking to overthrow or reject the mainstream culture. Others think I look down on or reject black women who have chosen to straighten their hair. (I know all that because I have had conversations with people where they have shared their assumptions with me.) To all of them, I say, "I am not my hair."

There are times, however, when I must turn that statement around in my mind and remind myself that no one I see is their hair. Spiky, dyed hair. Long blonde hair. Short, well-groomed hair. White people with fuzzy and thick dreadlocs of their own. Black women with extensions. White women with extensions. The nurse at the vet's office who has no hair - the obvious result of treatment for a medical condition. The pastor at Katie's church who has no hair because of a genetic miscue. I know a woman who says of herself, "I act a lot more blonde than I pay to be." I laugh. And then I must remember, she is not her hair. You are not your hair. None of us is our hair.

I am not this skin, brown and beautiful, though it is.
Steve is not his skin, white and hairy though it is.
We judge each other far too quickly because of our skin, our eye color, the shape of our eyes, the shape of our bodies, our hands, our feet. Or the lack of shape. The misshapenness. The shapes that used to be, but have been lost due to weight gain, weight loss, amputation, or disfiguration.

I am not your expectations. I won't be perfect. I won't be happy. I won't be strong. I won't be reasonable, fair, gentle, forgiving, humble, accepting, flexible, or gracious. I won't be available, patient, or open. I won't be on time. I won't be articulate. I won't take your abuse. I won't be hospitable. I won't be predictable. I can't be or meet your expectations. I refuse to even try.

As we walked from the car dealership to Target that day, I had a pre-CD thought that fits right in. There we were, walking along a very busy road, talking, laughing, looking at cars in the dealership parking lots. I was explaining to them why there are so many brands of cars in each lot: they didn't know about trade-ins and used car sales. We looked at drivers whizzing past in their cars, and I imagined that they thought that we didn't own a car. Perhaps we were walking to the bus stop. I wanted to flag them down and explain our situation: " We aren't poor. We have three cars. We live well. Our house is great. Our lives are great. We are going back to Spain next spring." Then I thought, "Who cares if we are poor or how many cars we have? What difference does it make? Gail, you are not your car. Your cars are just things that you own. They are not your family, your pride and joy. These two gorgeous children matter so much more than any car."

Later that night, I listened to the CD, to this song, to all of the songs.
This one stuck.

I am not my hair. I am not this skin. I am not your expectations, no.
I am not my hair. I am not this skin. I am the soul that lives within.

The next day, I journaled about that song. And added to the list:

I am not my house, my car, my jewelry, my husband, my children, or my clothes.
I am not my passport stamps, my church responsibilities, nor am I a Barbie doll.
I am not my writing career or my willingness to promote someone else's writing career.
I am not my mother, my brothers, or my sisters-in-law.
I am not my vocabulary, my proficiency in Spanish, or my reputation.
I am not my skirts, my flat shoes, or my big earrings.
I am not my blog, my journal, or my political leanings.
I am not my homeschooling decision, my speaking engagements,
or anyone else's expectations of how all those parts of me fit together.
Or don't fit together.

I am the soul that wonders, wanders, lives, loves, and laughs.
Sometimes I live well. Sometimes foolishly.
I am myself, my free-thinking, flashy, true, honest self.
I am my fearful, anxious, prickly, desperate, lonely self.
I am a dreamer, lover, thinker, questioner, doubter,
seeker, and finder.

I think gentle thoughts and angry thoughts.
I have peaceful dreams and dangerous dreams.
I hope for simple things and complicated things.

And I wouldn't have it - or me - any other way.


Nancy said...

This is awesome Gail. I had a bad day at school and have been beating myself up all evening for reacting as I did to some things. Reading this has helped me to realize...I am not my voice, raised in frustration and anger. I am not the insecurities that pester my mind. I am not the middle aged skin and hair I wear.
Thanks for sharing.

Goddess of Leonie said...

oh darling gail,
you truly are a wonder.
i love india arie,
i love this post
and i really love you just as you are!

Itiel- Smell Goods 1998® said...

So heartfelt. I could of not said it better. Once you realize that you are none of these 'things', only then can you be free to be you. You can imagine once people get to know the McVay family (all with locs), they are like, "Wow, I thought you were this or that". Just because of our hair!!! No we are not Rastas!! Yes we love Christ and we follow The Father in Spirit and Truth. This is why no matter what you look like, you have to let your light shine.