Melissa Ferrer: Determined to Heal
Image: Unsplash, downloaded https://unsplash.com/photos/X8sHrrH_xXg (8.5.2021.)
The Fat Lady isn’t Singing Because She’s Still Eating, and What Are You Doing?
Hey there, Fat Lady here-- at least one of many. And, in between plates, I’ve got something to say:
First, how are you doing? Is quarantine getting you down? Are you feeling listless, restless, tactless and a teensy bit bored? I’m right there with you. I know this essay is a hefty heaping. I know we are used to one minute videos and a certain amount of characters, but please, I beg of you, donate a moment of your time to this here tome.
Maybe you think I’m coming to you from some high place; intellectually adept or possibly reprimanding in nature. Know primarily, that neither of these are true. I have too often lived in rabbit holes of intellect and have found how it leads to a certain place of abstraction, a certain notness or knotting. Think Nihilism. Think a dead, dead god. And neither of those would be wrong within the context of a path undertaken with the intellect ALONE at the helm. Think, even, a house on stilts. It does not and will not stand. For none of these images are the sustenance we truly seek.
What we seek is food for thought, for the heart, and for the soul.
Having a black body and growing up in the South, I am well acquainted with the term “soul food.” Soul food is that food that satiates the depths of our being. I find it interesting that it also brings on “The itis.” You know, when your gut is full (or swollen) to capacity, and almost every part of you is begging for a nice long sleep. I find this interesting because somewhere in this definition, perhaps in the space between the words, in the breath they bring on, is the soul’s request for rest. But not a distracted insubstantial, candy filled, fluffy, flavorless rest. But a dense, satiating, substantial, knowledgeable, peaceful rest. Full of the flavors and fortifiers our heart longs for; or at least our bellies.
Hm. If you don’t feel that. I don’t know what to tell you. Because I know that I look around and…
I. Am. Tired.
The rest I long for is peace, and not a stifled, stuffed peace, just waiting for something to break away, in pieces. But a cool resilient peace, having satiated ALL, a full, whole peace.
I look at the fires on the west coast…
of my house. I look at the homeless who lived there. And took up residence before that fire raged. An eclectic place it was. A Splash of Life even. Not unlike California: Vibrant colors, PopArt, Rotating Homeless Population. Neediness out there. Plainly, grossly, obstructively getting in the way of my perception that all is well.
Yesterday this donation center, “Splash of Life,” burned down. Not quite to the ground. But the damage is considerable. And the tremors of that fire could be felt in the neighboring internal states of the people surrounding the area.
Many thought, “it could’ve burned down our house!” Many looked for someone to blame.
Not unlike the fires on the West Coast of our nation. A gender reveal party was it? I wonder if it was a girl. Haha. How poetic that would be: This pink building on fire.
It would be even more poetic if it was a boy. That would speak to how our masculine nature is ablaze in this world, while there are little feminine fires popping up everywhere. Am I losing you? Or are you following?
Either way, this is not an essay about poetics and metaphor. That’s just a language that I’ve learned in the tongue of my lifetime lived thus far.
I’m here for one reason, really. Lauryn Hill states on her MTV Unplugged album “(If we are to heal) It’s not about running away, it’s about confronting.”
In this essay, I’m wondering where does the confrontation with injustice, more specifically human rights violations, stop for us?
Do we stop when it gets a little too ugly for our taste? And I’m not talking about the ugliness of violence and conflict because we, as a nation, eat that baby up. It fuels our fire and gets us ravenous for more. What I mean to say is: in early 2020 people were in the streets in support of Black Lives Matter. They had had it with the system’s disregard for black bodies as carried out by its authoritative enforcement body of the police. Ready to battle tear gas and rubber bullets they flanked side by side and marched on. Understandably so.
From what we are presented in mass media and statistics, it would seem black bodies die, innocently, at much more alarming rates by the hands of the police force than any other race.
We can talk about the many minorities that have similar stories. Missing and murdered Indigenous women. The Uyghur people in Asia. The Latin children still in cages on the border. The many children of all races falling through the cracks and into some predator’s hands as we turn our backs speechless at the horror and feeling powerless to do anything about it.
We can go around and around the world and pick up so many innocent lives fallen upon the cold hard ground. These lives, stripped of safety. These lives, stripped of their humanity. Left out in the cold, subjected to a system that cares not for them.
It is easy to see this and rage; and ask the system “Where, where is the human care in the hands at the helm?”
Understandably so. Understandably so.
In our hearts we groan… What can we do?
I have a question for you. One that I would like for you to answer in your heart, honestly.
When you see a homeless person… The one you would least likely look at. The one who smells bad. Who may be drugged out and may not be safe, in himself or toward you. Who may have gotten themselves in that position. Or the one yelling to himself. Or taking up space in the road, blocking you, human, from your destination. The one drunk on the ground and passed out. What goes on in your heart? Judgement? Apathy? Care?
For me it changes. Sometimes I’m like “Dude, what did you get yourself into?” Or I feel a deep sense of hopelessness as I see that their mindset is intent upon being homeless. That’s definitely how I felt when I lived at Restart, a homeless shelter here in Kansas City.
I arrived there, fresh from the psych ward, never having even heard of KC, with nothing in me or on me but the clothes I had on, and a backpack (and I can’t forget my mom’s stuffed lamb that I’ve carried everywhere with me for years now). I looked around at how the homeless people would hang out at Hope and Faith, and just accept their position in life. And I couldn’t do that, it wasn’t in me to do that. My momma raised me different, bless her soul.
I was pounding the pavement. Hearing voices in the sky as I walked to the library to check out books that had to do with Schizophrenia. Going to open mics and making friends. Finding a job at Wendy’s. On the outside it looked like I had very much in me. Haha. That’s probably how I got so many friends. And got so much help. And in truth, I did. I had faith in God. In fact I had just given up my whole life to God. To turn my situation around, I told Him I would focus on whatever I understood at any given point in time and He would handle the rest.
I was intent upon healing. That much I knew. And I was willing to get it from whatever brought witness of a life that lasted beyond that moment of need and despair, disparity.
For me that looked like books, meds, therapy and poetry. A job at Wendy’s and then with Americorps, getting a Master’s degree in Education, fulfilling my childhood dream of being a teacher. And then some.
Am I sharing this story to tell you how good I was compared to those homeless people? Definitely not. Because I wasn’t. Even though at the time, I may have thought I was somehow better because I was determined to heal.
I was in utter depravity. I had no sense of identity and no inner direction. I had no emotions and a boatload of voices attempting to pull me in every direction but ahead. Much like my homeless brothers and sisters.
But still, I looked at them in disgust.
Sometimes. Sometimes it wasn’t disgust. Sometimes it was just plain apathy. My heart was tired and I had my own things to take care of. I didn’t have the capacity in my heart to care for them as I worked to put out my own fires.
This also happened to me when I was a teacher in the classroom. When I first began, I was blooming and bright. Ready to uncover what God had stored in each of these little miracles placed before me for me to guide and lead. It was nothing short of a miracle that I got to do this. Because I have never hid my story from anyone. Somehow, something in me, told those in charge of placing me in the classroom that I was trustworthy. And what happened to me, has happened to every educator. In the midst of helping my kids through their daily traumas, dealing with a school system that placed the brunt of expectations and standards upon the backs of teachers, and the constant failure after failure and fire after fire to rectify and put out. I burned out. I left the classroom because there was a day that came when I looked upon my students with apathy. I began to search for that one trauma-free bright, shining light, and desired to leave the rest in the dust. And that’s when I knew, I had to leave. Because I couldn’t be what my children needed. I had to find a better way. One that would take care of me, AND whosoever should cross my path. I turned to my first loves: poetry, music, friends, and it goes without saying, God. But this isn’t about religion. This isn’t about my friend Jessie (or Jesus as the trauma based world knows him). This is about my friend James, this kid Anthony, and even CJ who purportedly started the fire at “Splash of Life.”
All three of these men are houseless brothers who I met because they hung out there. Why houseless? Because I believe that, like Hope and Faith, Splash of Life provided a place where they could chill in the company of each other and uncover a sense of home. Did that always happen? I don’t know. Were there drugs involved? Truthfully, I don’t know. But maybe. Honestly, probably. Do you do drugs? Do you have sex? Have you ever done anything that you would rather the whole world didn’t know? I know I have. But I’ve had walls and a roof to keep those deeds hidden, and so do you. I am in no position to judge any of those men and women who take up shelter there. And no, it’s not because I do drugs myself. I barely even drink. It’s because what right do I have to judge anyone who is just trying to make it through the day? And how does that better their situation or my own?
Do you know what it is like to have someone walk by you everyday as if you don’t even exist, even as you stare them down, something in you begging them to look in your direction with a kind eye, a smile, even a hello? Hmm, maybe you do. But, does this happen to you every day? Hmm… Maybe it does. Maybe it’s your wife or your husband, maybe it’s your kids or your roommates. Maybe you know EXACTLY what it feels like to be treated as something less than human everyday of your life. Have you ever had to sleep outside day after day? Maybe you did. Maybe on that one camping trip. Or maybe you, yourself, have been without a home. And you know the harshness of the elements, and the way it eats at your mind, your very sanity, when you do not have a safe place to lay your head. Or maybe you have had a place to lay your head. But not a space where you felt safe. Maybe you know how that lack of safety that, ALSO, eats at your mind, as danger lurks around every corner of your home. I’ll say your house, because baby, that is no home.
Have you ever had your clothes and skin reek? Hmm, maybe you have. Maybe you skipped laundry day one too many times. Or maybe you didn’t have enough money to go to the laundromat and HAD to skip laundry day. If so, then you know that feeling of knowing you smell and the thoughts and assumptions that attack your mind and eat at your confidence about what everyone else around you must be thinking. Or about what a burden you are to be in the presence of anyone who has to smell you. Or maybe you’ve just felt like a burden period. And been accosted with the unsaid things that you could just feel emanating from those around you. I have felt all of these things. And so have most of you. Do you see? How our brothers and sisters on the streets are hurting just like we have, or are even currently hurting.… to a deafening degree. What have you done to escape those feelings? I am not trying to justify actions here, I’m trying to belay your judgement so we can get down to the actual good stuff.
And it is this: Do you know how much power you hold in those hands of yours attached to that wondrous heart you have? That heart that wills goodness into the world. That heart that asks for us to do something different. That heart that asks for something better, something more than what we have been presented with.
What does power mean to you? Does it mean how quickly a nation can disempower another nation? A wise man once said you shall know the tree by the fruits of its labor. The fruits of the labor of destruction is clear. Disempowerment, chaos, war. Homelessness, famine, need. Loneliness, insecurity, greed. That is the root, fruit, seed and tree of what we have been presented of what it means to be powerful. Are these the things we wish to continue in our society? In our world? I think not.
Is there another definition or use of the word power we can look to? Certainly there is. Though, it may be more humble, I do believe it is the power we seek. You got power on at your house? Are your lights on? Can you see in those long nights when you lay in bed with those thoughts in your head about all those things that didn’t make sense? How good would it feel to have a light on in the dark corners of the recesses of your mind that airs out the cobwebs and helps you to see not only yourself but each other clearly? I’m not offering you anything, I’m not even saying I’m the one to do it. No.
What I’m saying is simply: We are the ones we have been waiting for. Have you ever crawled out of your bed and cleaned your room, a slight fog upon your mind. Maybe some heavy feeling in your heart. Or anxiety, frustration, something, constricting your abdomen, thoughts running wild. Have you watched those things clear up as you put in some work toward taking care of the space you live in? I’m simply suggesting that that same principle can work in this situation. For what is the world if it is not our home? Are we some aliens just waiting for some place better? You know as well as I, that better does not come lest we bring it ourselves.
A friend of mine said about the fire, he feels bad for Jerry. Jerry with a dream in his heart and not all of his brain there, due to brain cancer surgery that removed chunks of his brain. But Jerry presses on. Jerry would tell you that God is the one who helps him to press on and I am inclined to believe him because I know my own story, and have accepted every facet of it that has been presented to me to date. Whether you believe his perspective or not is your prerogative. But one cannot deny that there is some goodwill in Jerry’s heart, that removes hesitancy and has him toiling toward his dream of making the world a better place and helping those in need… without judgement of their actions as a gatekeeping tool to decide who should be helped. Jerry helps people indiscriminately of his own morals, just because. Maybe he has a sense that it is not judgement that changes actions, but maybe forgiveness, a little hope, and some work to be done.
I am familiar with a phrase that says “Many hands make light work.” I’m inclined to believe it. Because I’ve moved furniture and watched how the job is infinitely easier when more than two pairs of hands are doing the job. I’ve also moved hearts, and seen that when two hearts come together, how easily a burden can be lifted. I’m sure you’ve experienced this as well. In a hug. A conversation. Free of judgement. Full of love, seeking understanding, bringing forgiveness and hope. That changes people, and the directions in which they’re walking.
I’m simply suggesting that with all the problems in the world, rather than looking to a governmental body, maybe we can look to our own hearts. Maybe it begins there. And then maybe in our homes. Maybe in our backyards. Maybe a few doors down. Maybe around the corner. Maybe in our cities. There is much work to be done, there is a great reward waiting at the center of your chest. Maybe after millenia of striving for resources, gold and other outward possessions as a reward and finding ourselves empty, bitter, bare and needy. Maybe. Mayyybbeee. That reward in our chests will finally be enough. And maybe no one will have to suffer any more. Because maybe we will learn a truth that has been told time and time again:
As long as there is someone in need, we too will feel that need. Someone unsafe, we too will feel unsafe. Someone desperate, we too will feel desperate. Maybe we can realize we are all living this life together. That uncomfortability that you feel when you pass a homeless man or woman on the street, is a sign that your heart knows something is not right. That uncomfortability will be there until you lay down your judgements and if you offer nothing else, maybe a simple hello will suffice.
I began this essay because I would like to see a Splash of Life be more than a Splash. I would like to see people show up and show out, if not on my block, maybe some other. I would like for us to come together and see what we have to offer. Are you an artist? Maybe you can raise awareness through your art. Maybe you can sell some of that art and donate some profits. Are you a writer? Well you see what I do with it. Are you a tiktoker? Well you know what to do. A social media influencer? Well, what are you influencing people to do? Are you an engineer, a builder, a painter, well, your hands can directly affect this situation. Do you got some money lining those pockets? In a society where money talks maybe its time to change the subject of the conversation. Are you a newscaster, a mother, a father, a friend? Well baby, its time to start some important conversations.
While I do not know the future and all the factors of a Splash of Life, what Jerry attempted to do, and succeeded in doing for years, doesn’t have to end here. It can cause a wave of action in all of our communities.
I know that all of our lives are on the line if we don’t recognize that we can be both problem AND solution. And it’s time to decide which one we will become through consumption. I know that I have spent my life eating problems and analyzing them and it left me sick, bitter, salty, and insane. Now I focus on solutions, finding peace within myself, and then bringing it to the problem. You are after all what you eat. What are you consuming? What fruits are you putting out there to be consumed? On either end, whatever you find, it’s never too late to make a change. To do something different. Or maybe, to do more. To be more.
I myself am gorging on peaceable solutions and becoming the change I want to see in the world. I would love to sing in celebration, but there is all of this food at the table of peace that must be eaten first… Now won’t you come join me?
About the Author: Melissa Ferrer (&) is a renegade with hippie tendencies. You can find her work in South Broadway Ghost Society’s anthology “Thought for Food”, Turnsol editions’ anthology “Florilegium'', and her debut chapbook “Birthing Pains” (Turnsol Editions, 2020). She has forthcoming work in Fahmidan Journal, Zoetic Press’ Non Binary Review, and Moonlight Magazine. Recently, she’s been yearning to set down her ego and replace it with a jubilation of the spirit.