There are spectacular rabbit-holes that propel you deeper, lower, and yet still further into the bottomless content of the internet. Be careful out there in cyberspace.
I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. That time that you glance at your watch and oh hey, it’s 9:05pm. Next thing you know, it’s nearly midnight and you have long since forgotten the thing you were looking into in the first place. Oops.
Following an impressive Netflix binge on ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder (I finished the first two seasons in just over a week!), I was curious to know more about Viola Davis – more specifically, her story, what motivates her, and the influences she’s had as she has entered adulthood and acting. Particularly, in lght of being a middle-aged black woman on a popular prime-time show lead. I wanted to dig further.
If you haven’t seen the show – you need to. Immediately. I’m not always a huge fan of television-watching (The Bachelor withstanding) and yet this series has been my favorite in years. Davis plays the powerfully interesting, messy, real, strong, vulnerable, and unboxable (my word for those who ardently and enthusiastically work outside the boundaries society tries to contain them in) defense lawyer Annalise Keating. Annalise is complex, but in being so, invites audience members into that experience. Everything that she displays is incredibly…raw and so very human.
Upon watching Davis’ interviews, speeches, and conversations on her life’s journey, she said one thing in particular that caught my eye:
“I believe that the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are, truly being who you are, and I’ve spent too long apologizing for that.”
It got me thinking.
Have you ever taken the time to sit down, with yourself, and articulate who you are?
It’s uncomfortable at first. Sitting there, with pen and paper, how can you possibly capture the essence that makes you, well, you.
It’s a unique, lovely, and still undefinable area of grey that we skip over too often.
As a child of God, we are free. That’s essential when considering identity because that means that God allows opportunity to live outside the pre-existing boxes we, others, and the world place upon us. However, because we are inescapably human, we still must understand ourselves well enough to stand firm in the identity we have been given. We are in need of the power of words to express our hearts, experiences, and beliefs. We need some kind of awareness. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be written in Old English – but we must have it.
If you are unable to capture the essence of who you are then you run the risk of someone else telling YOU who you must be. I think that’s what Viola Davis is getting at – being, recognizing, celebrating yourself is an important part of living purposefully and in communion with God.
In the spirit of grey-ness though, you don’t have some kind of arrival point with your identity. Your life unfolded is an experience with who you are, and so a chunk of that is left to be discovered.
While it’s fun to consider the smaller-day-to-day actions of our personhood (“I prefer long, hot baths” or, “I enjoy walks in the park with the sun shining bright”), it’s also important to move through this process on a deeper level.
Ask yourself, what are my truths? Said another way, What is true about me?
Using written statements, I came up with a few things that I hope will help you to get started. I have done this exercise before, identifying various “values” I hold to be true (one-word answers) but I think allowing complete sentences to form brings a fullness to whatever truths you could unearth.
Diversity – in anything – is a major value in my life. In the absence of passion, I feel lost. I will talk to anyone. But, laughing with anyone is even sweeter. Conflict makes me extremely uncomfortable. I love God because God loves me. God brings purpose, hope, and the ability to be known in my life. I’m a minimalist – I don’t really care that much about material objects. I’m attracted most to resiliency. And authenticity. I sometimes desire to be in two places at once, as if my heart was in two different places. I have been in love once. It’s been the hardest thing to let go of. I choose to believe that things can get better. Always. My greatest fear is that I will lose the wonder of living. I don’t ever want to stop dreaming. I’m really, really glad I get to be a woman in the world. I am inspired most by the commitment to vulnerability, strength, and value as a woman. I’m down-to-earth and incredibly curious about people, the world, and why things are the way they are. I am a child of God – above anything else.
I don’t necessarily think I am now perfectly captured on paper – oh no. No, no, no. But as a writer, I often believe that declaring our truths – with our pens and pencils – reminds us of what we are here for. Of what’s important. That’s a deeply significant process – one that we can’t ignore. Truth statements may not reveal the starker complexities we carry, the burdens we have faced, or the moments we have shared with others, but it’s a fine place to start.
Perhaps that’s why I often turn to poetry to bring an elevated sentiment to the words I fumble around with.That long rabbit-hole of watching various Viola Davis videos led me to “circle back around” with perhaps one of my favorite poems ever, Phenomenal Woman, by Maya Angelou.I listened to her recite her words and I just knew – this woman, this is her string of truths.
Man or woman – this is a beautiful piece that shows the power of truths in declaration.
May you breathe easier, rest, and enjoy the beautiful person you were created to be.
BY MAYA ANGELOU
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Maya Angelou, “Phenomenal Woman” from And Still I Rise. Copyright © 1978 by Maya Angelou.