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Melissa Harris Perry: Full Circle

In her final column for ESSENCE, Melissa Harris Perry meditates on how far she's come and the hard-fought battles it took to get here.

Reading The Diary of Anne Frank in seventh grade inspired me to begin keeping a journal. I haven’t managed daily entries, but after nearly three decades, these diaries are a chronicle of my personal triumphs and tragedies. This year I turned 41 and decided to revisit the entries to see if the plans I’d made, goals I’d set and dreams I’d imagined were consistent with the woman I’ve become.

My blessings have exceeded anything I’ve ever articulated in my adolescent journals: I am married to a man whose kindness, humor, intellect and commitment make him easily the best human I know. I not only have my dream job—I’ve got two! And while I have lived in some of America’s greatest cities (New Orleans, Chicago, New York), life has brought me full circle to a place I’ve long considered home, Winston—Salem, North Carolina.

But there among the accomplishment archives is evidence of a more complicated story. Yes, I’m married to my soul mate, but to get to him I first had to endure an unsatisfying first marriage and a divorce so emotionally brutal I can barely read the entries of that year. Indeed, I am a full professor at my alma mater, Wake Forest University, but I first had to experience the painful rejection of colleagues at another university who found my scholarship wanting. Stunningly, I host a nationally broadcast television show, but I have learned the cost of having such a public platform in the context of flawed judgment and faltering empathy. Yes, I hear from viewers and readers who tell me I inspire them, but that inspiration comes from sharing a journey marked by sexual assault, financial insecurity and more than a few spectacular public debacles.

We all know there is no progress without struggle, but
 30 years’ worth of journals makes the reality both stark and specific. My writings tell me that every year I remember as hard was also filled with many moments of humor and joy and light. They remind me that every year I recall as wonderful also had dark periods of loneliness and uncertainty. The journals show that no matter how much I weigh, I am perpetually trying to lose 15 pounds. They teach me that no matter how much I earn, I’m constantly struggling to get the credit card balances to zero. No matter how much I succeed, those successes are accompanied by failures and foibles of equal magnitude.

Still, 2014 has been particularly miraculous. Even though I underwent a hysterectomy more than six years ago, this year I welcomed my baby girl, Anna James (AJ), through the gift of surrogacy. Even though my elder daughter, Parker, was on the precipice of her teen years, she still loved to spend weekend nights watching movies and baking cookies with me. Even though it meant leaving the city in which he was raised and to which he’d committed every ounce of his professional energies, my husband took a leap of faith and supported my opportunity to return to Wake Forest. Even though I lost a dear friend, a beloved brother and my longtime mentor within one unimaginable week, this year afforded me more opportunities to draw close to my family and friends than I have had in decades. And even though having two kids and two jobs in two cities has left little time for me to keep up with my journal, this year ESSENCE gave me this page to share my journey with you.

This is my last column in this space, and I will miss sharing my reflections and ramblings with you. But I know that all things change, all seasons give way to new ones, all relationships are remade and our journey is meant to be one of loss and gain. I know, because the journals tell me so.

This story was originally published in the December 2014 issue of ESSENCE, on newsstands now.