Some words simply cause me problems and quite often downright grief. Over my years of blogging on and off, I have shared a few of those. “Responsibility,” and “Surrender,” come to mind. Bittersweet is another. The trouble I have had with these words had to do with interpretation. Fact is, everyone brings their life story to bear on the way they use certain words or phrases.
For some, ‘responsibility’ means doing the right thing for other people. At the same time, it could very well mean (as I have heard one minister stress) “having the ability to respond.” Some people understand ‘surrender’ as a synonym of ‘sacrifice’ – giving up your heart’s desire for the sake of another. Again, this is one of those words that could be interpreted in a ‘inner’ focused way, having more to do with choosing a particular way of being and not “submitting,” or “conceding” one’s desire.
By now you are probably wondering where is she going with this. Why this bittersweet conversation?
This is a republishing of a post that was first shared in 2006, one day before the end of Black History Month. It was also after my 41st birthday party. The decision to republish it has everything to to with another end of the month to highlight the history of “my people,” particularly in the United States. Another birthday – this time my 51st – has just passed and the memories that have taken me to this point, as well as the politics of our time make this post relevant again.
So the answer to the question what does ‘bittersweet’ has to do with any of this: not much yet everything.
As a person of colour, a woman with a past, a divorcée, a person with a fluid sexuality and an immigrant in a white-majority country – the call to responsibility and to surrender have been both numerous and continuous. Even louder have the voices been that would have you believe that total surrender of diverse identities into a homogenous one is the only way to peace. Wars and murders have been and continue to be waged and committed due to this mode of strife-mongering.
“Get with the programme,” “Get over it,” and “That isn’t normal,” are some of the refrains that people of colour and specifically black people have had to live with. This is so whether the conversations is about the economy, race-relations or sexual orientation. Nothing short of a complete surrender of culture, sexual identity, personal values or spiritual convictions and practices is acceptable to those in the majority. Dominant cultures and groups demand that ‘the others’ behave and conform to their notions of ‘right’ and to their understanding that usually, surprise, involves submission.
For this reason, ten years ago when I decided to host a pajama party for my 41st birthday, I took a very personal and intimate stand to not be ‘responsible’ and not ‘surrender’. I chose instead what would give me joy and the greatest sense of freedom. Looking back, this would turn out to be a bittersweet event. It was also truly a ladies night as the men invited could not attend. Dressed our pajamas and woolly socks to keep our feet warm in below freezing temperatures, my women-friends (all over 40) and I drank wine, Jamaican rum and ate well as we toasted each other, the menopausal years and Life.
Not for a second were any of us constrained by skin colour, sexuality, relationship statuses, income or the diversity of faith in my living room. We were response-able in our loving of each other. We surrendered to the experience of being diverse and different. We had a ball, as we negotiated which movies to watch.
Speaking of response-ability and surrendering to Life, one of the women at this party used the word at the centre of this post and one had troubled me. We were talking about relationships; the joys of finding a partner and the pain of letting a possible soul mate go by. She said the latter is a ‘bittersweet’ feeling and I tentatively agreed.
“Bittersweet,” particularly in the context of relationships, was a troublesome word and emotion for me – one that tugged at the core of who I am. For that reason, I had to choose to ‘go with the feeling’ and activate my response-ability.
For the month of March, invite members of this community to focus on relationships – the intimate ones. We have spoken about parent/child relationships in a few articles. Over the next few weeks in March, however, I would like to look at the questions:
- What is an intimate relationship and what makes it so?
- Are intimate relationships only of a physical nature or can they be spiritual?
- Does one always have to be with the person who causes your heart to flip-flop when you hear their voice?
- Or is it possible to be intimate with someone from a distance or without them ever knowing?
- What about friendships – can they be intimate relationships without sex?
Some of these questions are my own – and have been with me for years, some answered and some outstanding – but many are questions that I have fielded from more than a few readers on this and my former blogs.
I believe the time has come to taste “bittersweet.”
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