By Joycelyn Moody - JMoody's Musings
Note: I initially wrote this post on recognizing and honoring loving friends in mid-February, when the coronavirus first began to touch citizens in China. As Roxanne and I post this issue of the WellAcademic newsletter, the world is in upheaval, social media is abuzz with paranoia, and national borders are closing tightly. Since I’m drawing strength from sister-love to stay grounded during these first days of the World Health Organization’s declaration of the pandemic, I offer my blog post as solace to you; even in quarantine, we can remember we are cared for and we can support each other with kindness, laughter, and encouragement.
On an afternoon in my campus office when I felt down—it was the day after I submitted a long-haul multivolume book project to the publisher and submitted my annual review using cumbersome online forms and the vexing software program Digital Measures and taught my 3-hour evening seminar—I texted a good friend, one I knew I could count on to reply with wit and hope.
Sure enough, two mountain ranges and a national forest away, she came through with sisterlove, and even ended her text with the opening lines of Gwendolyn Brooks’s poem “To Those of My Sisters Who Kept Their Naturals” (1991). Brooks’s title wasn’t the operative part, so my friend (who has kept her hair natural) didn’t include it. Instead, she typed these lines to me:
I love you.
Because you love you.
Because you are erect.
Because you are also bent.
In season, stern, kind.
Crisp, soft—in season.
And you withhold.
And you extend.
And you Step out.
And you go back.
And you extend again.
This gift moved me. So perfect, so timely. So resonant with appreciation for a whole lotta my women friends, especially my Black women friends, I’ve been feeling lately—lessons from my meditation practice. This particular friend has, as we say, a lot going on: a mother who knows her some days but not all, a husband in a city 100 miles from the bed she sleeps in on weeknights, office struggles, money’s tight.
But trust her not only to find the one pearl in a heap of oysters, but to extend that pearl to a gloomy sister. In my post-heavy push fatigue, receiving Brooks’s poem as a gift from my dear friend made me aware more deeply of how loved I am by so many sisters when I “Step out” and allow myself time to reflect, when I open my heart to receive a wide spectrum of gifts without doubts about my worthiness or the giver’s intentions.
Last month, when I read Roxanne’s inspired invitation to name my year to remind me of aspirations I’d set, I decided on the Year of Love. So often, I feel sisterlove cradling me and guiding me, keeping me buoyed and brave. I’ve felt a keen sense of love for some months now—ever since one of my friends became my new interim dean and another my department chair, since our WellAcademic retreat reunited me with Roxanne, Nichole, and the beloved friend who typed out Gwendolyn Brooks’s lines to me in a text, and with our WellAcademic retreat sister community on the mountaintop last November.
I am privileged to be loved by many amazing women. The Black and Brown women I know who have my back where I live now, who show me in myriad, steady, and hilarious ways they love me “because [I] love me.” The badass women involved in the enormous book project I’ve just come through—and the sisters still hanging tough with me as we complete the remaining volumes. Black women like my cousin, older by four years and still showing me a righteous way, as she did when we lived on the same block in Mobile. Sisters I got to know better at academic conferences we all attended recently. I am loved by women in Seattle, Philadelphia, Boston, Tucson, Champaign, St. Louis, Houston, and beyond; I am wildly fortunate.
Early last January, stepping out from an academic conference, I had dinner with one of my earliest academic mentors, a brilliant Black poet who now lives half the year on the US West Coast and the other half of the year Down Under. This frail, elderly, and bold woman’s current dual residence speaks volumes about her adventurous spirit: half-a-lifetime ago she insisted I cultivate a yearning for possibility. Be lionhearted, she said, pushing me toward audacity with two firm brown arms, with uncompromising love and a big old laugh.
As the spring semester reeves up and makes more demands, I’ll need to remember to pause and remember my sisters care, they are close. Consciously recommitting to the Year of Love, I know I will find my sisters waiting, as Brooks says,
In season, stern, kind.
Crisp, soft—in season.
Throughout this year as well, I pledge in turn to be a woman sisters can look to for love and grace whenever they need.
Until next time,