I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. Growing up, I saw too many adults in my life make resolutions – to lose weight; stop smoking; volunteer more – all the promises we make – to no one in particular – to be better people in the new year. And for as many reasons people have for making resolutions, there are just as many reasons and excuses for why they fail. The half-life of New Year’s resolutions is six months, with only 46 percent of people still committed to them after that time.
Well, I know me…..and I know I would be one of the 54% of people who would not live up to that bargain I made with myself. Many of us already have our reasons made up – all basically boiling down to one thing….life gets in the way. For some of us, that phrase carries more weight and meaning and truth than for others.
For me, that phrase carries the truth and the realities of a life I have lived for the past ten months and one that has finally made me have to stop and ask myself – what the hell are you doing?
Our organization, the Black Women’s Health Imperative, uplifts the understanding that Black women are strong and resilient, and that there are valuable lessons we can all learn from the lived experiences of Black women. I embrace this concept too and strive to live it every day…. maybe a little too much. Up until a few years ago, I lived what some would consider a charmed life. I had a husband who adored me, four step kids who became my kids and who loved me; work that was rewarding; supportive parents who were still in love and married after 60 plus years; three loving brothers; an expanding circle of friends and good health. Then little by little it all began to go away. My oldest step son and then my husband were both suddenly and unexpectedly gone within a year of each other – we are still reeling from those losses. And recent months have involved my oldest brother going missing, relapsing from his recovery and now on dialysis; my mother and father both with advancing dementia and my decision to move them from Indiana to Maryland to live with me – all while still grieving and trying to figure out what the rest of my life was going to look and feel like. And of course let’s not forget about work.
Like many other Black women out there, this is a very familiar story. I am the member of the family that is expected to handle everything, figure everything out and make sure all is okay, while everyone else goes on with their lives. I often joke that I was raised to be a man, because I have been the head of my family for so many years; making and carrying out the major decisions and focusing on what needs to be done…no ifs, ands or buts.
But, now there are buts……lots of them. I gave a speech recently about looking at who we are as Black women, with all we do, and then wondering why we are so undervalued. I took an inventory of who I am as a Black woman…a widow, (step) mother and grandmother, daughter, sister, caregiver, friend, family fixer, go-to person, colleague, volunteer, subject matter expert, supporter, listening ear…….and my own worst friend.
The vest with the ‘S’ on my chest has gotten very torn and tattered over the years. It is faded and the seams have long since been ripped out. I can’t patch it back together anymore…..and most importantly…. I am not going to try.
I have made a very important promise to myself as I shed 2015 and look ahead…not just to 2016, but to 2020 and beyond. Our president and CEO, Linda Goler Blount, describes how we are committed to having 12 million healthy Black women in this country by 2020…..and I am determined to be among that number. So my promise to myself – and this is a nod to all my Facebookers out there – I am going to change my Facebook status from widowed to “In relationship – very complicated relationship with myself”.
I am on a path to understand myself better, get to know me again – without all the titles and self-inflicted responsibilities. I will become proficient in the use of the word “no”; be kinder to myself; refocus on my strengths in my work and in personal life; be selfish ….but most all – reclaim the value of who I am as a Black woman.
So I encourage all Black women, who see even a little of themselves in these words, to use the upcoming year and beyond as an opportunity to embrace your strengths, talents and uniqueness and value who you are! We have seen too many of our Black sisters who have been lost to us forever because they have been treated as less than, invisible and undervalued. But what is worse, many of us are doing that same thing to ourselves, by not protecting ourselves. How can we expect society as a whole to value us if we are the last ones to do it ourselves?