While studying abroad in Spain during junior year, I decided to visit a college friend in Egypt and check the pyramids of Giza off my bucket list. There I stood, a poor college student gazing up at one of the worlds’ greatest wonders. I wanted to staple this moment in my mind, and so I set an intention to be present, to be intentional, and to be open to any lesson this experience might bring.
Once inside the pyramid, I was struck by how my body had to bend and contour itself to walk through this ancient structure. I remember thinking, ‘This feels like my life.’ Now, years later, as I reflect on that memory, this thought stands out just as much as the experience itself. Bending to walk, contorting one’s body in response to a structure, in order to move about.
With Martin Luther King, Jr.’s recognition this month, and Black History Month fastly approaching, I often find myself very contemplative on the struggle for civil rights. All those sacrifices, all that pain and fortitude he and so many other activists have demonstrated humbles me, and my heart swells with gratitude. However, this year, I’ve had an epiphany; access to space is good, but to show up fully and authentically within that space is even better.
To be an educated Black woman, a Jew by choice, a single mom, an artist, is to live a life where you are always constricted in movements due to a structure, a system, and if I’m being honest, even my own mental confinement. It is difficult to find a space to just be. To simply walk uprightly. There is always a constraint, a wall caving in on me, a narrow path, a low overpass that requires me to shift, bend, dodge, duck, all the while keeping light on my feet as I try to move forward in life. It makes life interesting at best, dangerous at worst, but mostly, it just exhausts me.
Every once in a while, someone, some encounter, some moment allows me to just be.
In these fleeting moments, I am both relieved and saddened because they reveal just how much discomfort I am usually carrying. It’s like the massage you receive that suddenly reveals the muscle pain you’ve learned to just deal with and that you no longer even notice until the muscle receives attention and loosens. The release from constant posturing is my respite, and it signals me that perhaps I’m not living and showing up in spaces fully.
Still, I do wonder: ‘Don’t we all contour ourselves in order to move along? Is doing so just part of the human experience?’ On the surface, the answer seems to be yes. And in that vein, who am I to get a pass? Who am I to be excused from dealing with the demands of life, and situations like anyone else experiences? When I dig deeper, however, the answer is a resounding no. I should not have to contour myself; no one should. And there are those among us who enjoy a life of walking upwardly with a “take me as I am” mantra. And that is what I deserve too. It is what I want, it is what I’m pursuing. I don’t want to hide, downplay, or skirt around my identities. They are foundational to everything about me.
Adding to this truth, experiences that are often shaped by who I am, how I am perceived, and how I move about in the world have given me wisdom and insight that I rob others of if I shrink myself.
Collectively, if we all show up fully with the intention to walk upright, perhaps we can slowly improve and change structures so that no one has to painfully contour themselves to be in our shared spaces. In my mind, that is the full realization of the struggle for civil rights. This year, with all that has happened, and with so much at stake, my intention is to show up fully and authentically in all spaces. I can’t say that I believe in New Year’s resolutions per se, but the intention speaks to me, and I plan to walk upright in 2021. And I hope you’ll do the same.
Cassie grew up in Minnesota and lives in the Twin Cities with her son, dog, and pet snake. She is a tea snob, an avid NPR listener, and she enjoys writing, singing, and hiking.