This post is likely to make some people uncomfortable. A former pastor of mine used to say that some folks are “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” I get that. I’m also clear that this post just might force some to confront and/or examine their own journeys as I have. Maybe, if but for this moment, they’ll spend a minute or two outside their cocoon of denial to see just how far God has brought them.
One can hope though.
One can hope though.
I came of age in the early 90s. I graduated from high school in 1993 and from 93 to 03, I was both a green-as-they-come college student and, in the latter part of that time, a fresh-out-the-bluegrass professional/writer/whatever-I-decided-to be-that-week living alone in Chicago and later, New Jersey/NYC. For me, this decade was spent “in search of myself” — a great contrast to the title of this blog. I was “Desperately-seeking Tracey ” in every sense. And boy was that…eh….eventful.
Anyway, the other day, on an alleged whim, I turned on the 90s Hip Hop station on Pandora.
The memories that rushed me as I sat in ridiculous traffic on the Blue Route here in Philly overwhelmed me. I’d unintentionally transported myself to a very specific season of my life and with aged eyes, I saw myself in an entirely new way.
The result? An extension of grace to the brown girl from Kentucky trying to find her way. Grace I’d never given her/me before.
“Know you’d rather see me die than to see me fly/I call all the shots/Rip all the spots, rock all the rocks, cop all the drops” – Diddy
As I listened to Mase, P Diddy and Biggie express their deep concern over the increase of problems that come with an increase of income, I “got it” more than I ever could have as a 19 year-old working at Pizza Hut. And TJ Maxx. And Bank One. And McDonalds. And Papa Johns. And… (geesh…that was just two years.) Back then, my only concerns (thanks to a healthy scholarship and student loans) were having enough money to go to the K-State party that weekend and to be able to get my weekly ration of Oreos from the convenience store in Blazer Hall. Oh how things have changed. As a wife, mother, writer it’s an entirely different game now. Entirely.
“May I, kick a little something for the G’s (yeah)/and, make a few ends as I breeze through/Two in the mornin and the party’s still jumping’/cause my momma ain’t home.” – Snoop Dog
Oh and I bet you didn’t know I was a gangsta! Because of course all gangstas come from suburban areas of cities known for horses and fine bourbon. (sarcasm)
As I heard Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre wax poetic on the fun they had “sipping on gin and juice”, another image–this time not-so-flattering–came to mind. In this reflection of myself, shots of Goldshlager and glasses of Cask and Cream served as an appetizer for my weekends spent Tootsie Rollin’ and Dookie Bootyin’ at the club (church folk are exiting stage left now…I see you).
Here’s the interesting thing: I never liked the taste of alcohol. Not for real. Except when it didn’t taste like alcohol. What I liked better was the acceptance. I desired greatly to be accepted by someone, anyone. Or maybe more than acceptance, I was just grateful for the non-rejection. I’d always been different. Always felt like I was just outside the ‘circle.” So like most kids, I bought the lie of “when in Rome…” Sure I wish I could say that the church life I’d begun back in middle school, the love for Jesus that burned in my heart at 12 and 13 was somehow illuminated and expanded in my life on campus. That I allowed the Holy Spirit to guide me to where all the holy kids hung out. Or at least to the library. Or maybe to choir rehearsal. Wait, I did do the last one. I was a mostly soprano, sometimes alto in the University of Kentucky Black Voices gospel choir. And boy did we sang for Jesus. In the afternoon. Right before we got our party/drink on that night.
The third song that came on Pandora drove me further down into this memory of all the masks I wore to hide my insecurities.
“I got five on it/grab your 40, let’s get keyed/I got five on it/messin’ wit that Indo weed” – Luniz
This, for sure, was another smokescreen (pun intended). Because you see, while back then I’d catch a ‘contact’ hanging out with friends who stayed higher than the stars, I’ve never actually smoked weed. Ever. Of course, I never let anyone know that. I wanted to ride with the cool kids. Whatever that means. The one time I thought I’d give it a shot, I was paralyzed by fear. Or maybe conviction. Probably both. I waited so long to put the joint to my lips that the guy next to me snatched it out of my hand. “You’re taking too long, girl!”
I’ve often wondered if he saved my life that night. I suppose that will remain in the blackness of the unknown.
So what’s the point? Why am I writing about all this. Airing my dirty laundry, as some would say. Because as 40 looms closer, I find that I have to be real with myself. Honest about who I was, am, and will be. I’ve been in a reflective space lately and I refuse to hide behind some Pharisee-ish facade. In so many, many ways, I am just like the woman (they called her sinful) who broke her alabaster jar filled with anointing oil and washed the feet of her Savior with her tears–I am eternally grateful to Him for saving me from myself.
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. – Luke 7:41-43
Another reason: As a mother, I listened to the soundtrack of this season in my life and hoped that maybe…maybe my daughter won’t make the same mistakes I did (she’ll certainly have her own). I prayed and continue to pray that by me owning these experiences as a part of my journey, as a part of my own resistance to God’s pull in my life, that I can teach her to be secure and whole. To not need to be validated by people. Because here’s the hard truth: I hungered for validation from everyone around me. It wasn’t that they were bad people. They were sitting next to me on the ship to self-actualization. But my need for validation at all costs certainly was a hinderance. It dimmed my light and Lord knows, I don’t want that for her.
Sidebar: Please know that this is no scathing critique of 90s hip-hop. There was a breadth and depth of music during that time that cannot be summarized by three or four songs on the radio. Today, the intellectual side of me can decipher the brilliance of these street poets who were able to convey with words their stories and create such a visceral experience for those of us who listened. That is admirable. And the fact that some, like Bizzy Bone from Bone Thugs and Harmony have evolved on their own journeys and are now writing and performing more uplifting work, even in service to Jesus, is even more so. But I digress.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a [wo]man, I put away childish things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:11 (add mine)
Parker Palmer says this in his book, A Hidden Wholeness: “Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished, or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities and become separated from our own souls. We end up leading divided lives…A ‘still, small voice’ speaks the truth about me, my work, or the world. I hear it and yet act as if I did not.”
Ahhh, this was so true for me during this time. And not just me! This divided life…this straddling of the fence of adulthood we were doing…was certainly evidence of an internal struggle for many of us. We were all walking contradictions wanting to hold tightly to the beliefs seeded in us as children, grasping for the Jesus we all professed our love to, and yet drawn to the temptations that our newly found independence wrought. There’s a part of me that cries for the brown girl with the not-yet hyphenated name. I want to wave my hands and flag her down. She didn’t know how loved she was. How much her Father adored her. She didn’t know that by virtue of her acceptance of His Son she was already whole and complete.
But I also know that without that brown girl…without the richness of the experiences of my younger self…it’s possible that I would not have the appropriate wisdom to guide my baby girl on her own journey. I would not have been able to respond with the knowing smile, a word of encouragement, or even a tug of a coattail or two to ALL the baby girls that have crossed my path in recent years.
Sure, my musical trip down memory lane was bittersweet. Filled with both the good and not-so-good memories that make up a significant chapter in my life. But it was purposeful. Because like the Akan Adinkra symbol Sankofa represents, sometimes you have to look back to see what’s ahead.