And the Leaves of the Tree are for Healing: Growing Lemons
Without question, Lemonade means so much to me. Still watching and listening to it often, I have felt every emotion. When I needed to ride out and make myself clear, “Hold Up” and “Don’t Hurt Yourself” soundtracked the drive. When I am feeling myself, I get into "Formation" and do a few body rolls to “Sorry” and “6 Inch”. When I feel like I've been too long and too deep in the throes of grief and sorrow, "Freedom" is on repeat. When I didn't want love to leave, "Love Drought" was my prayer. And perhaps my favorite Bey song ever, I play "All Night" continuously when I need to sow into dreams for brighter days. Lemonade came into my life at a time when I needed a balm and it continues to heal me.
…and on the first anniversary of Lemonade’s release, I was in a psychiatric hospital.
It was one of the darkest points of my life. It was the moment where I had to confront the weight of everything that has happened to me since moving to New Jersey in July 2015. I’d had a difficult transition from North Carolina. Just when I felt like I was finally adjusting to life in Princeton, my mother passed away unexpectedly. Grief took its toll. Friendships transitioned. Several family members passed away, including a cousin and aunt within 24 hours. A relationship that I thought would endure ended. I had a corneal transplant and difficult recovery. At a checkup, doctors found a malignant tumor and I went through chemo treatments for 3 months. I was at a crossroads in my doctoral program and seriously considered quitting. I fought the insurance company to save my home and lost. And, in early Spring, I was raped. Pretending that I was okay…that the combination of all these things happening in such a short span wasn’t totalizing was destructive. I was tired. Tired of crying. Tired of losing. Tired of fighting. Tired of pain.
Accepting my diagnosis of major depressive disorder and agreeing to treatment saved my life. While there have still been sad days, I’m grateful that I’m not drowning anymore. Every day that I wake up, I actually want to live; that has not always been the case. Yet, getting help to deal with the trauma of the past two years doesn’t make the trauma of the past two years any less real. Actually, in some ways, it’s heightened it. Because I can’t run from it anymore. I can’t pretend that certain things didn’t happen or aren’t still happening. I have to allow myself to confront the pain, feel it and find a way forward. And truthfully, it’s been hard. Grief, compounded by various losses, is a beast. Very few people understand what it feels like to live in the wake of your worst nightmare. My life’s greatest fear was my mother or I dying without the other being present. From the moment Ma left this world, I’ve been living through that lens. It, unfortunately, taught me that anything -the absolute worst- can happen…and to me, it did. I spent the last two years listening to people, some of whom have never experienced this kind of consistent trauma, tell me how I should respond to it. I spent months listening to people theologize what was happening to me (I actually had someone ask me if I thought God was mad at me and if I’d repented for whatever I did). I spent months hearing people tell me that God ordained all of this to happen so that I could be a better scholar, writer, preacher, teacher and human being. People would send me messages affirming that what I was experiencing was only preparing me for next levels in profession and ministry. Everything people told me made me question why they would serve and suggest serving a God who would unleash hell in someone’s life just to see if it would make them a better person. Hearing such things also made me fear what kind of person people considered me to be before 2015. Was I *that* bad? While (of course) not perfect, was I such a horrible person that people believed I needed these tragic and horrific experiences to be –first- humbled and –then- elevated?
Yet, it was probably the words of a dear friend that sent me to do the greatest amount of soul searching. Wanting to cheer me up, my friend told me to “make lemonade” out of the lemons from the past two years. I simply responded, “…how? …and most importantly, why?!” I mean…I get it. We’ve all heard it before: when life hands you lemons, make lemonade. But what happens when the lemons are rotten? When the mold has disfigured it just like the traumas have disfigured you? As much as I love Lemonade and as much as I knew my girl was trying to cheer me up in that moment using the Queen, I had to be honest and say that I didn’t want to make anything from or out of the trauma of the last two years. I’d grown tired of the assertion that my pains had to be productive. I had little to no agency in preventing these things from happening to me and I was of the mind that I wasn’t going to try to make something good out of things I never wanted. If I was going to make lemonade, they would be from lemons I gave myself. And so, I decided to grow my own lemon tree.
I’ve spent a few weeks on YouTube, Pinterest and Google learning how to grow my own tree from seeds. Ironically, in all my research, nothing came up discussing that lemons are bad for you. Quite the opposite, they actually have healing properties. Great for infections, high blood pressure, arthritis, hair and skin care (among other things), doctors advocate that a healthy life includes lemons. Who told us that lemons were bad? Who taught us to associate the traumas in our lives with something that can actually save our lives? We can live well off lemons. Our productivity can come from goodness and we don’t have to try to make trauma and grief and sorrow anything other than what it is. God has given us the ability to grow our own lemons and enjoy them, rather than taking the poison others offer and trying to make it palatable. Maybe, we’re too obsessed with trying to make bad things good. Maybe we do it because we need some kind of reason to justify the horrible things in our lives. I don't know. Maybe “making lemonade” is simply about leaning into goodness to create more of it. Maybe God just wants me to taste and see that I have been and always will be good creation. So, I don’t want to drink the hardships someone else gave me. I want to cool myself off with the peace that radiates from within. I have planted 8 seeds to represent new life and new beginnings. And I will water them. And I will watch them over them. And, when the time comes, I will pick ripe fruit.
On average, it takes 3 years to grow a lemon tree from a seed. I don't know what will happen in my life during that time. I hope deep love and joy will abound. No matter what comes, I know that one day I will sit somewhere and I will drink the lemonade made from these lemons. And with every sip, I will remember and smile.