It was in teaching ESL that I learned that the present tense is the tense that doesn’t define the actual present, but rather the routine, the ongoing, the habit. Figuring it out is always a present tense reality.
Continuous. It is a routine, a way of being.
On some days, I wake up. I say my prayers. The ancestors give me a tidbit. I proceed another day closer to and in wise acceptance of that I am not all the way there. On others, I am literally dragged to a breakthrough by the wise old universe who apparently thinks that a spiritual, emotional, physical, Orange Theory kind of bootcamp is necessary for me to get my house in order. I resist. I resist. I resist. I resign and give into the universe.
Still there are levels to this, cuz all shit got levels. In the holy book of Blackdom, it is declared: “all shit got levels.” It is just how being is.
At 21, I was on one level. Let’s just go ahead and call that Level 1. It feels like a good assessment now at 37. I was in college. I studied Political Science. I got good grades. I was a “good girl.” I had great friendships. I had admirers. I had the sense that all was in front of me if I kept myself as perfect as possible: my looks, my womb, my speech, my relationships. It was the destination of perfection that would unlock success, love, marriage, motherhood. It seemed that those before me had tried this model and had delivered it to me neatly in a box with my name. No breakthrough necessary, just pursue perfect; except perfection always seemed to evade me and raise the bar. I always fell short and with it the esteem around my foundation.
“You do right, that good ole societal right and you will be rewarded by society.”
I thought my education would save me, my looks would save me, my soft, kind people-pleasing ways would save me. Little did I know that I had the anchor of perfection just tying me in place. But, I had sister-friends. Friends who moved more freely than me, who had a taste of freer that salivated and informed their speech and fueled their walks and by being around them, I had holy books of wisdom available. So, my conduits for breakthroughs often took place in the way of people: the Lusungus, the Mumbis, the the Meagans, the Danielles, the Angies of those early years.
The seed planters.
I studied them. I learned them. I loved them and still do love them. They were and remain my sister-friends who nicked away at the glasscase I was living in-who interceded when a relationship was toxic, who laughed with me, who went to every soca party I dragged them to, hating soca and sweatboxes en route but were in the corner winin’ with me when the bass hit the bass, who challenged me on ideas that were holding me still, who covered me in peace with their ways of being.
Breaking through is too often fraught with breaking: relationships, old ideas, the bank. But breakthroughs can slide through pleasantly on the heels of a thing so sweet and soft it begs you to stay there. Sometimes, the breakthrough is a bachata, a side to side until the music changes and you dare to take a step forward. Sometimes, it is an all out sprint north to a freer destination.
I say all this to say that the breakthrough is always in the visibility: recognizing and decentering your mental chatter and the societal narratives. It is centering your eyes on what and who is in front of you. Do you notice the sound of a friend’s voice when they say a certain word or a phrase they always repeat? Record it. Keep it. Do you notice the way he or she pushed on through that heartbreak /setback and how they did it? Cover it. Do you see the vulnerability that stranger displayed that you were too scared to share? Embrace it.
Taking the time to see. Slowing down to see. Getting in communion with those who see a little more. Pressing record on all the moments life gives
you to see
and live you.
And what is a breakthrough but an individually slung wrecking ball to a system that holds us in place according to our ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, neighborhood or any other intersection.
The breakthroughs are important. They get us, set us free.
Make them a habit.
Make them the present.
Special note: I want to thank Andria Nacina Cole for creating the program A Revolutionary Summer which helps Black girls have continuous breakthroughs and evicts the chatter of systemic oppression that aims to keep Black girls in their lane. As I sat in Workshop 2 on Sunday, I found myself having breakthrough moments as each daughter spoke and as Andria lovingly guided them through.