I sit down to write this piece on the evening of my mother’s birthday. We’re a few solid weeks into physical distancing and I’m stressed and tired. Work has been busy and I’m overwhelmed at another dystopian trip to the grocery store looming ahead of me. The news is on in the background, articulating the sum of my fears.

I’m struggling, selfishly mourning what was supposed to be the happiest time in my life. Last fall, when I joined the ESSENCE team, I just knew that celebrating our 50th anniversary would find me on top of the world. My husband and I had just welcomed our rainbow baby after years of trying to conceive. I’d spent the last year stepping back from work, a decision that had taxed us financially and mentally. In between, there were massive setbacks, personal tragedies, and a million of life’s little heartbreaks. Through those grueling times, and the challenging first months of a new role, I’d done what so many of us do — spent countless hours just getting “past this,” whatever “this” looked like. Like so many of us, I was existing in the rat race of telling myself, “life will be better when…”

What I didn’t know, of course, was that on the other side of this new decade was a global pandemic. And now, people are sick and dying, our systems are overwhelmed and our economy is freefalling. What kind of future could I possibly imagine?

As I marinate on this, I feel childish and silly, but in the deep parts of my brain, resentment has made herself at home. She spends her days looking for proof that I should crumble, as she constantly berates my rational brain. She’s petty and she’s patient.

“It’s hopeless,” she repeatedly whispers, matter-of-factly. “This is the end.” 

…the Black women who came before me and survived dark times. They overcame. They soared. They made the way for me to sit here in this exact moment.

Allison McGevna

I interrupt her to remind myself to Facetime mom again now that the baby is awake. Mom smiles and gives me her updated grocery list. Reminds me to get the fish dad likes and make sure the tomatoes are the right size. She beams at her grandson, telling him how much his Gamma loves him.  And as I sit there, so preoccupied with the future just minutes before, she brings up the past. Her past. My history. She’s reminding me in that special way Black moms do that the women in my family have long weathered hard times.  More than that, we’ve been on social distancing. She shares a memory of her childhood in 1950s Grenada, during a polio scare, when my grandmother banned her and her sister from venturing beyond the fruit tree at the edge of the yard. My grandmother canceled social events, and handled the shopping and their schooling. She kept them safe. 

Once again, my mother has effortlessly breathed life back into me in the perfect simplicity of our conversation. In her requests for spices and diet ginger ale among laughs and “I love you’s.” In my son saying “mama” last week and crawling to me. When my husband mindlessly squeezed my hand while we watched Netflix. In my group chats and virtual happy hours and rolling my eyes over silly emails. 

And suddenly it hits me: I’ve been looking for my hope in the wrong place.

My hope and joy is right there in my present, but also in my past. In the Black women who came before me and survived dark times. They overcame. They soared. They made the way for me to sit here in this exact moment.

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