There’s Safety on the Shore

T

Capture

A very religious man was once caught in rising floodwaters. He climbed onto the roof of his house and trusted God to rescue him. A neighbor came by in a canoe and said, “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll paddle to safety.”

“No thanks,” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me.”

A short time later the police came by in a boat. “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll take you to safety.”

“No thanks,” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me.”

A little time later a rescue services helicopter hovered overhead, let down a rope ladder and said, “The waters will soon be above your house. Climb the ladder and we’ll fly you to safety.”

“No thanks,” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me.”

All this time the floodwaters continued to rise, until soon they reached above the roof and the man drowned. When he arrived at heaven he demanded an audience with God. Ushered into God’s throne room he said, “Lord, why am I here in heaven? I prayed for you to save me, I trusted you to save me from that flood.”

“Yes, you did my child,” replied the Lord. “I sent you a canoe, a boat and a helicopter. But you never got in.”

– Author Unknown “I Sent You A Rowboat”

The sea was never intended to be a graveyard, haunted by the ghosts of broken families and unrealized promise. The waves popcorn baskets of hope and cradles of death, and generation after generation, dreams succumb to chance. At water’s depths is Blackness – God’s eulogy for the fallen. I imagine them as His favorites, nestled in the belly of a whale. The loudest of His creations, they bellow a song so majestic that blues sway between hue and hymn bringing stillness to the turbulent souls of the Diaspora. My Mamaiay carved a knife into a silver spoon, she gifted me the water as my playground.

Sometimes, parents give birth to purpose instead of children.

My Mamaiay fed me to her curiosity and enrolled me in swim classes once I turned 5. I felt conflicting emotions of joy and guilt as I learned how to swim, knowing she could only participate in this experience knee-deep. As children, we dehumanize our parents by romanticizing them – I was slapped with the realization that my superhero had a limitation.

A dress rehearsal of what was to come, I became her extension of self.

How night shifts to day, how brick forms from clay…

I was her rebirth of possibility.

Since then, water has become home to my most cherished memories.

I can vividly recall the day I took a stroll along the beach and my Mamaiay encouraged me to explore the off-the-beaten-path. I walked to the farthest right section of the sanded portion and began to climb the rocks until I ventured out completely from any adult’s vantage point. A few other kids followed my lead, until they were dragged back to the common areas by their apprehensive parents. The other adults perceived my Mamaiay’s nonchalance as an act of neglect, but I framed it as an act of confidence. I bobbled my body in the water – this moment of solitude and unobstructed freedom brought me joy, and I wanted to share it. I ran back requesting that my Mamaiay join me. We made the trek together and perched ourselves on a large rock situated a few feet into the sound. I sat in front, and my Mamaiay wrapped her arms around me as the waves embraced us both. The greater the splashes, the greater the laughter. I realized, that although there’s safety on the shore and comfort with the crowd, nothing spectacular happens there.

Water keeps me centered. It makes me feel insignificant and in proximity to nothingness, I feel closer to God. It is then that I return to myself. Acclimating to DC has been difficult, it’s a city of cement with no pockets of nature to serve as a compass. I feel disconnected. I’ve been grappling with figuring how to rewire myself when familiar coping methods are no longer accessible and how to properly reset my soul. Lately, I’ve muffled my soul with distractions – chasing opportunities, knowledge, people, anything tangible that could scratch my itch of immediate gratification. I’ve spun up profitable side ventures, developed strong networks and got promoted at work. I’ve found myself sitting at tables I didn’t even know existed. Yet, none of this amounted to meaning or purpose, I habitually assumed fulfillment would follow my next big accomplishment.

When you ignore a whisper long enough it becomes a shout and when you ignore a whimper long enough it becomes a scream. When you’re not honoring your true self, life will evoke a situation to make you pay heed.

A few months ago, I felt like everything I had on my checklist was marked and that I could do anything I set my heart on. I was elated and sitting in my hotel room in Chicago reflecting on my monumental week that included attending a family wedding, meeting with mentors, and attending conferences. I was intellectually stimulated and had a strong support system. My daydreaming was interrupted by a call from an unknown number, which I auto rejected a few times. Whenever I get a call from Seattle, I immediately get anxious that something happened, I associate unexpected and unrecognizable calls with bad news. After the 5th attempt I picked up out of curiosity and braced myself for whatever lied on the other line. The first thing I hear is, “You have a call from an inmate…” My Mamaiay was in jail and her release got denied.

I spent the rest of the evening frantically coordinating between my Mamaiay, her lawyer and the bail bond agency. Having to explain to a Habesha mom how bail and the court process works is a top 5 most nuanced thing I’ve ever had to translate. All my recent accomplishments ceased to matter, adversity has a way of shifting perspective – it shows us how we project so much meaning onto something that’s an artificial and circumstantial source of joy and just how quickly it can all becoming worthless. I felt defeated. It seemed like no matter what I did right, no matter what playbook I followed there were curveballs that I would never be able to see coming or dodge. My largest stressor came from being unable to control the actions of another person, my Mamaiay,  and I struggled making peace with that.

I spent the entire night crying, I thought perhaps God has a crude sense of humor, that the body of water which I couldn’t find extrinsically He summoned within me. I distracted myself by focusing on other people and found myself scrolling on Instagram. I came across a post by my friend, Briaan, who wrote some words that were right on time,

“Strength keeps you standing, but agility keeps you moving.”

– Briaan Barron

It takes 54 muscles to go from a sitting to standing position, and it requires 200 muscles to take a single step forward. We often associate strength with standing tall, but often we get stuck and become paralyzed in a single place and state of processing. Strength lies in each step that we take, it’s the will to keep moving forward irrespective of time and distance. It took me a few days to snap out of the victim mindset, to accept that suffering is a choice. Clarity doesn’t always come in the form of sunshine, sometimes it’s the clean air that follows the rain.

As I waited for the storm to pass, I reflected on what truly mattered to me: relationships, service, experimentation and writing. I was unable to cultivate these interests as my focus shifted primarily towards work after I got promoted. I loved my industry and my role, but I wasn’t listening to my spirit as it tugged and tugged telling me it’s time to go. Instead, I gripped tighter to my safety net and crafted excuses as to why I shouldn’t leave. I frequently negotiated pay raises and scope to justify and quantify my rationale – but really, I was just buying time. I subconsciously wanted my employer to pay a premium for delaying my purpose, so I could lie to myself and say it was worth it.

“You might think you want more but excessiveness really doesn’t feel good. The only things you want more and more of are the things that aren’t actually satisfying you.”

– Intuitive Zen

It’s been 3 months since I’ve written, and I’ve missed it terribly. Writing is my lifeline, it’s my oxygen mask when I’m falling from the sky. I could say that I’ve been busy with family matters, social life, and work, to stroke the ego and shape a more positive narrative but that wouldn’t be true. I just wasn’t ready to write about this, and yet, I knew this had to be the next piece. I knew I’d have to come to terms that it’s time for my next chapter.

I’ve realized that when you get that urge to leave – it’s long been time to go. In the same manner as thirst signals dehydration, our desires and actions are often delayed responses to what our core craves. As a woman in her late 20’s there’s a lot of pressure now to settle down – buy a house, get married, start a family. A marketable one-size-fits-all type of life. But that’s never been my north star, the sequence in which we’re told to live life has never been appealing to me. Where do women like me fit? The ones whose heads are in the clouds and feet barely kiss the ground? Am I meant to plant roots or am I meant to grow branches? Am I an anchor or am I a sail?

“I know everybody on this island, seems so happy on this island
Everything is by design
I know everybody on this island has a role on this island
So maybe I can roll with mine
I can lead with pride, I can make us strong
I’ll be satisfied if I play along
But the voice inside sings a different song
What is wrong with me?

See the light as it shines on the sea? It’s blinding
But no one knows, how deep it goes
And it seems like it’s calling out to me, so come find me
And let me know, what’s beyond that line, will I cross that line?

The line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me
And no one knows, how far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me
One day I’ll know, how far I’ll go”

– Auli’i Cravalho

In adulthood, we’re conditioned to curb our appetite for adventure for insatiable stability. Sometimes, that pursuit of stability turns into numbness, and we live our lives in autopilot. When you aren’t honoring your true self you experience anxiety, a form of restlessness. In this state, we focus more on speed than direction. We run after the lowest hanging fruit on the tree of gratification. We want a quick win, some metric we can point to that shows we’re on track to force our souls into submission. We tell ourselves, “this is normal; this is how it’s supposed to be” and depression becomes a frequent visitor. I’ve noticed a lot of people like this go nowhere…fast – practically going in circles. Many of us claim to be seeking advancement and forward momentum, when really we need alignment and direction. Nonetheless, we settle – better to be moving and a part of the circus than in isolation while soul-searching.

“People pray for cake…but when the almighty gives them eggs, oil, butter, batter, a pan & an oven they get frustrated & leave the kitchen.”

– Wesley Snipes

As humans, we’re flawed in wanting to have full control over the narratives of our lives. We ask for signs, yet, we’re unable to acknowledge them because it doesn’t come in the form we anticipated or are willing to accept. We become hyper-focused on the checkpoints instead of the actual destination. We have tunnel vision and ignore everything and everyone outside of this imagined utopia of how life is supposed to be. I’ve heard people justify their lackadaisical state by saying they just aren’t as fortunate as other people – when in actuality it’s not a matter of luck, but discernment. Opportunity is ubiquitous, we just detest its wrapping.

When I’m looking to unwind, I head over to Spa World, about a 90-minute commute from DC, and spend the day emerged in their various pools. The last time I went I unexpectedly found myself facing a test: The instructor? A 7-year old. The classroom? A 45-degree ice bath. At Spa World the pooled areas are separated by gender and you have to be fully naked – it’s a vulnerable environment. There was an ice bath I was determined to face that was too cold for me to make it past my ankles for more than a second the last time I attempted. I walked up to the ice bath, dipped my toe – walked away, came back – dipped my toe again – walked away again to no avail.

The third time I attempted there was this 7-year old girl who was encouraging me to come in, but I said it’s way too cold and that I was trying my hardest. She began splashing me with the cold water and was amused at my shrieking response. Her mother approached me apologizing for her daughter’s splashes and encouraged me to jump in with conviction. I still hesitated (for context: I shower with water on the hottest setting). The mother joined her daughter in the ice bath and they both extended one hand out to me to walk in waist deep. I accepted and took a few steps forward without thinking and grabbed onto their hands. Then they said, “on the count of three we’re going to dunk…one…two…three!” We submerged our entire bodies under the cold water, and I came back up feeling exhilarated and realizing it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined.

It’s comical how life lessons emerge from the least likely of people in the most unexpected places. The Spa World experience made me realize that we are conditioned to do things gradually as a way of maintaining control and managing our expectations. We don’t realize that causes us more pain than just diving right in. Ultimately, we lean on intellect rather than faith. Faith isn’t dipping your toes, it isn’t dragging your feet, it doesn’t come with negotiable terms and conditions – it’s just diving in and trusting everything will be okay,. Openness is a requisite for receptivity of purpose, it’s not coincidental the English language constantly affirms to keep our minds open, eyes open, heart opens, and hands open. Whether I’m being led by guardian angels, courage, or stupidity, I’m willing to take a leap of faith and say yes to unknown time and time again.

“The place in which I’ll fit won’t exist until I make it.”

– James Baldwin

I’m ready to close this chapter to give way to a new one.

There’s a question out there that I know I’m supposed to answer…

There’s something out there that I know I’m supposed to do…

Not in an ego-driven I’m meant to save the world type of way, but in the voices are getting louder and they won’t shut up type of way.

I bought a one-way ticket to Adi this January, and a lot of people think I’m crazy –

But, you can’t plan out fate, you can’t outline destiny – you simply choose to honor or delay your calling day by day.

I’d rather be a soul lost at sea,

Than a soul lost on shore.

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