what helps me to remember that I am alive

Life is not passing me by. I am neither solely existing nor a mistake. Rather, I am soulful and irreplaceable. I don’t need every 1st of January and birthday to validate that life is a celebration, that I can still dream. Every day, I get to experience newness and continuity. If only I can perceive it.

If only I can remind myself.

I know what it’s like to feel unremarkable, wallflower-like, weighted, suffocated, or maybe even numb. Lately though, I’ve been attentive to moments when I most feel alive. As it turns out, sky dives, randomly finding dollar bills, and falling in love aren’t necessary (though all would be sweet and the last would be AMAZING). Just simple things can uplift my day, root me in the present, and grant me permission to hope. Below are ways of being and doing that animate me:

  1. Reading: In high school, I stalked celebrity life stories on Wikipedia. In 2019, I spent days researching the beef between Ireland and Northern Ireland, all on my cracked Android. In August, I moved into my apartment and Googled my burb’s role in the Underground Railroad. Over the years, I’ve treated reading as food for my random and inspired curiosities. Just this weekend, I read Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom and Tara Westover’s Educated. Beyond boasting masterpiece sentences, these books were surprisingly similar, thematically speaking. They kept me awake, eyes eager and burning, as they journeyed through:
    • family trauma and joy
    • pursuing a formal education and discovering knowledge of self
    • the narrators’ grappling with faith and trying to make it true for themselves
  2. Music: Learning how to DJ is on my bucket list. I create actual playlists and ones that I never save, like when I play one song which inspires the next to queue and so on. My friends say that I’m like a song association game. They’ll say a word, and I’ll sing a connected lyric every time. Select songs remind me of people I love. When I hear Eric Roberson’s “Change for Me” (Joey Negro Remix), I smell charcoal. I see myself, a child staring through my bedroom window at the backyard. My (step)dad is vibrant and dancing, aloof to the neighbors’ feelings. And I’m hungry, already tasting sweet steak seasoning with MSG on my tongue. When I listen to John Coltrane’s “Naima,” I picture what my birth dad must have been like. According to legend, he always wore a well-tailored suit and loved jazz. Though both of them are no longer here, I keep their memory alive through melody and imagination.
  3. Laughter: Sometimes, people ask me to repeat what I’ve said because I spoke it “too softly.” I’m not gon’ lie. This annoys the heck out of me ‘cuz I always think I’m audible. On the contrary, no one has struggled to hear my laugh! It’s weird, loud, boundless, and so me. It reminds me of my spark.
  4. Eating Alone: At the risk of sounding anti-social (I’m really not), I like to eat in solitude. Just yesterday, I sat on my couch, holding a microwaved pot pie in my lap. I savored the fake-butter crust; the barely bearable, burn-my-tongue salty gravy; and the mushy carrots and peas. The meal wasn’t luxurious, but I experienced its flavors with a slow, satisfied focus.
  5. Bringing People Together: I love opportunities to intentionally connect people, whether through a writing group, birthday party, or a team meeting. One day, I want to own a house. It’s not an urgent goal, and I seldom dream about its aesthetics. I know for certain, though, that it needs to have a guest room or two. I want family and friends to visit and sense belonging. If anyone in my community craves rest and recognition, I’d love to be their host. Throughout my life, I’ve battled in waves with feeling left out and inadequate. As my faith grows, I rejoice over the realization that God sees me and accepts me. I am drawn to share that love with others.
  6. Writing: Of course, right? During my toughest bouts with anxiety and depression, writing reminded me that I was not empty. I had a voice, and I could pray with my pen and paper. I could encourage others as I encouraged myself, as God encouraged me. Even if it is 4:30 in the morning, as soon as a revelation or question comes to me, I’m grabbing something to record my mind. With this being said, I’m learning to be gracious to myself when words feel impossible. If I don’t feel creative, I can still write a few words about my day. I can scribe a few bullet points in my gratitude journal. I can write an affirmation and post it on my wall. I can write my to-do list rather than typing it. I can also find other ways to create, like trying out a new recipe, coloring in my book, or re-organizing my desk. These things all help me to be involved and patient.
  7. Breathing and Beating: This one sounds simple, but for me, it’s easy to consciously abandon. Whenever I’m stressed, breathing deeply and touching my heartbeat tells me that I’m vital. My body is intricately designed and functioning.
  8. Anger: Stay with me here. It’ll make sense in just a bit. I remember telling my friend JB that I never get angry. He looked at me like I was a ghost. At the time, I almost swore that I was telling the truth. Honestly though, I repressed anger as an emotion. It was tainting and always unproductive, so I thought. This belief kept me from healing from experiences that hurt me. By actively burying a human feeling, I forfeited living with integrity. Now, when I feel upset or rage, I try to acknowledge and channel it in healthy ways (e.g. through prayer, journaling, using my voice to combat injustice, etc.).
  9. Speaking Life: I’m tryna be a best friend to myself. Every now and then, I think, “Jess, all that time and energy you put into ensuring that people know you love them, how about you do that for yourself, too?” One way that I’m aiming to love myself is with my words. Jessica, you’re amazing! God can accomplish infinitely more than you might ask or imagine. You’re enough. The list goes on. Funnily enough, I thought about Black mamas, how they say stuff like, “If only you knew your spelling words like you know them songs on the radio.” LOL. By speaking life to myself and others, I want to become so familiar with beautiful words that I remember them like the catchiest hits, that I believe them.
  10. Worship: In the Bible, there’s a popular story about Jesus and the Samaritan woman. When he meets her, he actually sees her and instructs her about real worship. He says, “For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24, New Living Translation). Apart from going to church or using music to soak in God’s goodness, I seek to honor God with all of my life. I want to honor him with how I live: mindful consumption, gratitude, loving others, growing my friendship with him, obedience, and more. I never always get it right, but I am growing to take the limits off of worship. Just as I can love God by studying his word, I can also love him by crazily laughing and being present. “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31, New Living Translation).

So, there you have it. I’m alive and grateful for its evidence.

What practices illuminate your life?

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