Thoughts on Life

#122222: What to take, what to grow

Thoughts on the end of the year
by Leandra Medine Cohen
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Sometimes I wonder if December was intentionally set up to encourage that first, we lose ourselves in the spirit of the season with the usual seductive attractions like presents and parties and insane panettones so that when we return by the end — when the high from the time we’ve spent extroverting wears off and we’re encouraged to meet ourselves back inside, there’s a sense of fresh perspective waiting there.

This perspective is nuanced in all of its freshness because it feels new but there is this hint of nostalgia that anchors it. This, I think, is what makes the ritual of reflection seem like such a natural progression this time of year.

I thought about this earlier today when I was out on a run. About how much fun the past weeks have been, how much celebration has taken place, how natural its felt, how fitting its been, how light it has seemed — and about how in the past when it has been like this, I have held on tightly, trying to stave off the comedown from the fun. As if holding the spirit would make it stay, would help me recreate it long after it passed, let me avoid what was there instead — a slower and quieter, softer moment, an invitation to reflect and to ask: what will you take, what will you grow?

It’s nice to see it from this vantage, in particular because the missing “what to leave” category is starting to feel to me like a given, a thing I don’t have to remember so hard. Yeah, I think I am finally realizing that holding on to what you want to leave behind completely misses the point.


What to take, 12/19

A big theme of last year centered on deepening my understanding of femininity — meeting an answer that matched my life circumstance on what it means to be a woman. For years, I felt a very deep longing to understand who I was in this way, and I could feel the vibration of rhythm inside me itching to pass through and release — but it couldn’t come out even though it was there because there was no sliding door. No exit that was also an entrance.

I would look around the room at the girlfriends around me, admiring the forms their shapes took as they moved in awe of their own effortless bodies, swaying through the empty air. With their movements, they’d create these auras and I got to breathe them in. Sometimes, that was enough.

But I always wished I could move the same way, that my wrists would flick and my fingers would dangle as I imagined the women who came long before me would move their bodies alone but together, underground in the intimate pain of their forbidden, vestigial joy.

Beauty is: the way my mom cares for herself. How she massages the limbs that enable her movement in fragrant lotions morning and night; the pencils and brushes she paints with to accentuate her line of sight, the sticks that emphasize what she will say, and sometimes more profoundly what she will not. The powder that discerns a smile from smirk when it lands on her cheeks.

The earrings she would put in her ears while I watched her looking up from the toilet seat. The way she thought about what she would wear and what it would mean and what it would say, and the wisdom of knowing when to wear what to get what she knew she needed, to give what she knew how to give.

I spent a lot of time, I think, in my 20s wondering why beauty and style matter so much to me. I apparaised it from every angle, turning it here and then there to make sure I did not miss a corner. I tried to shake it off when they said it was shallow, abandon it fully when I believed it. But in the end, I found myself back here, bathing in pure acceptance.

Recently, I have not been wondering why but if — if beauty and style matter to me because of where I am from. Because I can feel in my bones that bathing in beauty, like acceptance, is a sacred ritual of connection. Of learning to love oneself.

Of course, it is the women and their manes of bountiful hair who are leading the revolution.

This, I will take with me. Beauty as sacred and whole.


What to grow, 12/20

I woke up at 5 a.m. yesterday and I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I went to the kitchen to pour a glass of water and then came into the den where my notebook was sitting at the desk where Abie spends most of his nights working overtime not because he has to but genuinely because I think he loves it.

I have learned so much from him about what passion can look like when it is quiet, how strong and secure it can be. I’ve learned so much about confidence — how different it looks from the way I’ve conceived it, how deep it can root when it’s really for you.

I thought of that early yesterday morning when I opened my notebook and started to think, How did I end up here? Immediately, I thought of my father, who showed me by loving my mother what it means to be loved by a man.

To be respected for who you are, to endure the consequence (and to ride the grace) of living an honest and truthful, and passionate life.

To connect to myself with force and rigor, to have fun, to make fun, to appreciate beauty. To remember appreciation not as worship, even though it is close and it might conflate you

or maybe in fact that it will.

He taught me how to stand up like a man when confusion knocks you over.

What it’s like to abandon center. And the way to get home from there.

What it is to enjoy — how it is to luxuriate.

Through the deep lines of wisdom that settle between his brows, I have learned to seek meaning. And through the cackle of large belly laughter, I’ve heard victory on the other side.

“I am the happy man,” he still says, “Put me anywhere and I’ll find a reason to like it.”

This is how I know my dad — who he is, and what I get to keep. And for the next year, or maybe longer, this is what I think will grow. A celebration of gentle masculinity.

What will you take, what will you grow?