Body in a Box

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

As soon as I stepped into the sanctuary I knew you were there. My eyes scanned the mostly empty room and came to rest on the blue box in front of the stage. Though I was standing in the back of the room, I could tell you were in that box. Or so I thought. With each measured step forward, I recognized the figure before me less and less until I was certain it wasn’t you. The moment I laid eyes on that mannequin posing as my father, I knew you weren’t there.

You were in my memories playfully throwing jabs and asking if I wanted to fight. You were speaking with me in whispers about family and life. You were reminding me that my purpose was bigger than I knew. I experienced you in a lot of ways, but none of them involved that blue-chrome, man-sized box that we put into the ground.

Has it already been a year since the funeral? A year since I got that call? A year since my life ended and began within the same breath? This year has brought peaks and valleys the likes of which I’ve never seen.

Words don’t capture the full depth and weight of all I’ve felt since you transitioned. I’ve shed tears, expelled guttural screams, and faced endings I wasn’t expecting only to find that I’m still standing. I’m more balanced and rooted than I was before. The storms I thought might overwhelm me, have served to level my foundations and strengthen my roots. Preparing me for the journey forward.

Photo by Anton Darius | @theSollers on Unsplash

While in one breath I’m greatful, in another I wonder if it was worth it. What If I don’t want to miss you? What if I want to see you hold my child? What if I’m tired of feeling that golf-ball sized lump in my throat that reminds me you are gone? Does that have to be the trade-off for my growth? Was there no other way?

I ask but I know the answer, or rather, I know there is no answer. Whether or not things could have gone differently is irrelevant. This is the path I’m on, and this is the year I’ve had.

Within the last twelve months, my spirituality was broken open by a mystical experience. You suddenly passed away. My marriage was deconstructed and regrown. I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I left my church and graduated from seminary. I launched a blog, started a podcast and joined a racial equity consulting organization. I landed a wonderful job, deepened existing relationships, and started new friendships. And to top it all off, I became a father for the first time.

It is no coincidence that your death and my spiritual awakening were just weeks apart or that it was those two events which preceeded everything else. In fact, its actually quite fitting. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you planned it that way.

This is one of my favorite pictures of my pops! It captures his spirit.

Though the pain and grief of your transition are still very real, so too is our connection. I no longer tangibly feel you, but in a deeper sense, I feel more connected to you now than I ever have before.

I sense you in the quiet moments. Your cool, reassuring presence reminds me that I’m not alone. Your strength reverbrates throughout my chest with a rich, steadying warmth that soothes me and slowly brings a smile to my face. It’s these subtle moments of connection for which I’m eternally grateful.

Though we put a body in a box and a box in the ground nearly one year ago, we didn’t bury you. You’re here even now, connected, loving, and gently reminding me of my purpose. Thank you pops. I love you and miss you.

Your “Mighty Man of God“,

Ben

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Disney Therapy

Photo by Ivan Diaz on Unsplash

I love the Lion King!!! I loved it the moment I heard James Earl Jones cry out “Remember Who You Are.” And my obsession only grew when Beyonce harmonized during “Can You Feel The Love Tonight”. Whether we’re talking the remake or the original, the Lion King is the defining Disney movie of my generation.

The lists of life lessons it offers are virtually endless.

  • Wisdom only comes with age and experience
  • The truth will set you free
  • Skinfolk ain’t always kinfolk
  • Good discipline is grounded in love, not fear

After my counsling session today, I added another lesson to the list. It involves my self-worth. Believe it or not, I struggle with low self-worth. While I try to appear confident, the truth is, there are moments when I feel unwanted, unworthy and unloved

I’d say, about 80% of the time, I’m comfortable and confident in who I am, but the other 20% I’m mired in insecurity. Even the act of naming that I struggle with self-worth makes me feel vulnerable and weak like a little boy. A boy who is uncertain, afraid and uncomfortably alone in a threatening world. A boy who believes he’s on his own, so his only choices are to puff out his chest and hope he can scare off those who wish him harm, or to slink into the shadows in the hopes that he can hide until danger passes.

If you’ve been around me long enough you’ve seen both of these responses manifest as either arrogance or painful shyness. Though seemingly opposite, they’re different reactions to my insecurity.

While I’ve had an idea that this was true for a while, I’ve never known why I get triggered or how to deescalate after its happenned. That is, until my counselor utilized what I’m calling Disney Therapy to help me gain insight. There is a pivotal moment in the Lion King when Simba confronts his shame and misplaced identity.

Nala tells him to return to Pride Rock as the rightful King, but he doesn’t feel worthy. He’s wandering the grassland and runs into Rafiki who tells him his father wants to speak with him. Rafiki takes Simba to a lake and instructs him to look into the water. At first, Simba only sees his own reflection, but (after a quick strike from Rafiki), he looks again and as the ripples dissipate, Mufassa’s image appears.

It is then that Simba recognizes that Mufassa is within him, and embraces the entirety of his identity as King. He returns to Pride Rock and defeats Scar because he internalized who his dad said he was. When Simba couldn’t hear his own voice, Mufassa’s offerred clarity.

Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

When I feel insecure about who I am, what voice do I hear? What messages am I falling back on? Do I hear Mufassa or Scar? Unlike Simba, when I look in the lake, I see both. When I’m at my best, I’m falling back onto the messages of love, acceptance and confidence that loved ones have instilled in me. At my worst, I’m reminded that I can’t please anyone I’m not enough, and I don’t deserve love.

What determines which message I’ll receive? Sometimes its as simple as having a virtuous friend (or counselor) who can gently hit me on the head and invite me to look again, until I see what I most deeply know to be true. That I am worthy of love and grace. I am beautiful. I am me, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Wrestling with low self-worth means that in certain moments, I forget who I really am, and buy into the embedded messages I’ve picked up along the way, but they don’t have to be the only messages I hear. Once again, the Lion King has proven to be invaluable in my personal growth. I hope I’ve convinced you of its unparralled greatness, but more importantly, I hope you know its okay to have moments when you feel unworthy, invisible or insecure. If you can’t remember who you are, seek out people who will invite you to look again until you do.

When you look at yourself in the mirror, who do you see?

What does it mean for you to remember who you are today?

Who plays the role of Nala or Rafikki in your life?