Growing up, my mother would take me shoe shopping every year before the beginning of school in the fall, and each summer I’d wait impatiently for the chance to hit up stores like V.I.M., Jimmy Jazz, and Modell’s to look for the flyest kicks on a not-so-fly budget. We did this kind of shopping… once a year. Linda T. was a single momma. Time and money were both luxuries. My mother would always tell my older brother and I that on birthdays and Christmas we could get what we wanted, but the rest of the year she would get us what we NEEDED. I wanted new shoes because I was growing… fast. And that growth would only accelerate as I went from middle school to high school. How did I know? Because, if I continued to wear the same shoes I wore the year before, I not only would lose a majority of any cool points I’d worked so hard to obtain reciting Biggie lyrics verbatim, my feet would also hurt. My feet would hurt because I’d be stuck in something I had outgrown, and the pain of staying in those shoes would only further prove that I had moved on beyond what originally used to be just the right fit for me.
See what I did there?
When I think of growth, I think of shoes. I also think of flowers. I love flowers. I love the work they do for us as a species. I love how they color our world. I also love the process of a flower not only blooming, but sprouting out of the soil and stretching itself to reach towards the sun it needs. But, if we took a look inside of the soil that helps manifest that flower, there is nothing pretty or easy about that flower’s growth. That seed goes through layers and layers of dirt to get to sunlight. We’re no different than those flowers—what we get to see is not the process, but the beauty that came from it. And the beautiful part of that is, just like that flower, we are made up of all that dirt, all that force and effort and tension required to get to the light. But it all starts in the dark. We are more than what we go through in order to be the thing that people get to love and see.
What people tend to see of us does not speak to what we’ve come through. Our growth ain’t all love and light, ase’s and kumbaya’s. It’s hard work, but also magical and beautiful. What we see, the posed Instagram pictures with those filters we love isn’t the full story, nor is it the most honest one. It’s the easy part of the story. That whole story is made up of starts and stops, of tears and heartbreak. It is filled with countless sleepless nights, tired AM’s, giving things up and putting things down. All of this is part of the process of the growth that we seek. Our duty is to honor that process; to honor that hurt, all in an effort to fully embrace our healing and get to that place when we are finally able to stretch out our arms and reach toward that sunlight we crave. But getting there is a practice we get to hone and master over time. Getting there is an opportunity.
We get to grow out of the narrow views of love—of career, of family, of friendship, self-care—that were taught and force fed to us by those not equipped with the language or access to the language to express freedom on their own terms, and not by the terms decided for them. We need to grow. Growth is good. And so is change (we’ll dig into that at another time.) Our growth is dependent on our ability to reconcile the ugly parts—the too tight shoes, the hard to reach surface after trudging through the muck—with the joy we feel when we finally reach the space we’ve been seeking. A space to breathe, to shine.
That, my friends, is what I like to call healing.
Joél Leon is a father, dreamer and storyteller. Follow him @joelleon.