I am not the same person I was when the pandemic began.
I used to be a Catholic. It’s easy to get caught up in your own life and enjoy the music, friendships, serving, and more in a faith community, but when I saw yet another priest caught not only with child porn, but child torture porn, then news of the church reinstating accused priests, I couldn’t ignore it. Not with my background. (William McCandless, the one with the torture porn was indicted in Dec 2020 and in home confinement) I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (family, not clergy) and wasn’t surprised pedophiles hid in the church, but the tolerance, the coverup, the lack of change, the reversals? They’ve had decades to improve things. Even the church I used to attend, one that spoke up about the pedophilia scandal when many others did not, failed to address George Floyd’s murder. And there’s so much more, so much wrong that is once again swept under the rug. It’s not only Catholics, it’s pervasive, with so many using religion as a cover for abuse just as they do for amassing money.
My politics reawakened after reading Jane Mayer’s excellent Dark Moneyand I returned to my early activist days, first for Charlottesville and again during the pandemic after Floyd’s death, joining the crowds in protest. Because I was taking care of my baby grandson during the week, I was careful, masked, and socially distanced as much as possible given the crowd, but I also want to be able to look him in the eye and tell him I didn’t just sit by when shit got real. It felt good to join colleagues — virtually — to write letters for Vote Forward. Now I join political briefings in a collective I belong to for women of color and their allies.
For the past six years, I’ve worked on a trauma memoir which meant a deep dive into my own shadow and my family history. I’ve learned about my enslaved West African ancestors and Jewish ancestors from Viseau, Portugal fleeing the Inquisition, all ending up in Jamaica. I looked at epigenetics and how trauma travels down generational lines. I learned what happens to the body and brain in the presence of child abuse. And I saw recurring patterns of dates, ages, and behaviors.
Digging down into the worst of my family and into the core of my self-hatred changed me for the better. Shadow work is not pleasant. My editor said he could not imagine the cost of writing my story. I likened it to taking an old razor and stripping off all my skin, maybe pouring salt on some days, having my skin grow back overnight, then doing it all over again the next day and the next. I have met many fellow travelers with similar journeys including a distant cousin on the Jamaican side of my family. Our dads were born a few miles from each other and my grandmother’s side shares her father’s Portuguese Jewish ancestry. Our white mothers were very troubled and abusive women. We talked every day for a year, starting before the pandemic and then three times a week as we both healed, providing a compassionate witness for each other. We learned that tiny acts of self-care make a huge difference. We learned to let go of control and mean it when we say, “not my circus, not my monkeys.” We learned self-compassion and eventually self-love. We learned the importance of a sense of safety. There was no time that I felt safe in the house I grew up in. I now feel safe in my own skin for the first time. I have real joy. That’s new.
I let go of a lot of friendships. I’d kicked the narcissists and bullies out of my life a few years before the pandemic. The pandemic highlighted the remaining one-way streets. I released the closet racists and came to terms with my father’s choices. In researching my book, I learned he went to the “coloured schools” in Jamaica growing up. He hid a lot from us, from everyone, and it cost him more than I will ever know. He was only truly relaxed either in Jamaica or around African Americans and I can count those times on one hand.
New friends have appeared, healthier ones, ones who often get in touch for no reason other than to have a good conversation. New explorations into traditional West African traditions, particularly with how they syncretized in the American South and Caribbean reconnect me with some of my roots. Instead of disappearing, my faith has expanded.
I am not the same person I was before the pandemic. The past is finally and firmly in the past. I am now a better person, a happier one, and even in the face of so many serious societal problems, a hopeful one.