My mother excitedly shook me awake at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday morning with more enthusiasm than she had any right to muster. I immediately started questioning every choice leading me up to that painful moment, because I’m well past the age of being able to do anything before 7 a.m. or after midnight. After a few groans, I rolled out of the bed I used to sleep in every night until I left for college, shuffled into the bathroom I knew like the back of my hand, then plopped onto the spot on their couch I’d claimed back when my brother and I would fight at the drop of a hat. You might be wondering why a (seemingly) intelligent woman like myself would subject herself to physical anguish and mental torment. Well, the answer is quite simple: The Royal Wedding.
As I mentioned recently, my mother and I are romantics – the kind who coo and melt at displays of affection, watch rom-coms on repeat, and read emotional drivel like our lives depend on it. I hate us while loving us, even more so as we watched Anderson Cooper build up the arrival of celebrity guests and a wedding dress like it was the moon landing. We passed mini pigs in a blanket and mini cupcakes between us that had been provided by my long-suffering father, and sipped on sparkling grape juice. Within thirty minutes I was awake enough to be excited for the pageantry, and I was soon enthralled by the magic of the music, location, guest list, and their love. Just take a listen to this beautiful music played by cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason and try not to feel something!
Still, I couldn’t ignore a feeling of guilt floating in my belly, one I often get when I’m happy. With the world on fire around us, children being gunned down, people of color being subjected to racist vitriol and women’s lives regularly terrorized, I often feel like my happiness is unwarranted. My past isn’t perfect, but I currently live in a state of security. I have love. I know peace more often than torment, and my water is clean. Not many people can wake up with their only worries being what to wear or what to put into their smoothies. So, I regularly get that twinge in my neck when I laugh too loud. My body jolts itself out of the reverie, because there’s still so much work left to do.
As a survivor, my guilt has another level I’m only just now uncovering, but one that has nevertheless been ever-present. Essentially, I have a form of survivor’s guilt, but for the little girl I was that had to die so that I could survive. I felt guilty for experiencing happiness when I was the only one who knew what she went through. For years I’ve been mourning her passing and in the process became a monument to her rather than an individual. In my quest to reshape my life as I see fit, I’m finally ready to say enough is enough.
I know I’ve been a proponent of not avoiding conflict in the pursuit of comfort, and I always will be, because living life as a well-rounded person requires both eyes being open. However, I can’t neglect to add the truth that we do indeed deserve our happiness. There was a moment – rather a sermon- during the wedding that made my brain snap awake in regard to this.
I’m not a particularly religious person, but I don’t think you have to be a Theologian to believe what Bishop Curry was saying. My journey has taught me a wonderful lesson that I have to work on remembering when I’m feeling guilty for needing joy during these dark days in the world: my happiness honors the little girl I was. By living, working, going on adventures, bringing joy to others and sharing in theirs I take back what was taken. In loving myself, I’m learning how to love other people. Besides, I’ve found that nothing pisses off bigots, misogynists, and tyrants more than oppressed people joyously taking care of themselves
Above all things, I want to be a good person, a worthy ally, and someone others remember fondly. To that end, I will be happy as long as I have room to feel it. You deserve to be happy, too. I hope you’ll let yourself experience joy this week while also fighting for what’s right in whatever way you can. As always, thank you for taking this journey with me.
“Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives. And it can change the world.” Bishop Michael Curry