For my mother.
“It was perplexing [being accepted] and I wanted to reject it because I had begun to enjoy the seduction of inadequacy.”*
– Lupita Nyong’o
I chewed on her words, each bite of my teeth giving them new shape, then less shape, new shape, then more shape. I let them roll around in my mouth as I took them apart, put them back together, mixed them around with my tongue. I didn’t want to swallow them, not at first, because I had come to like the taste of inadequacy and swallowing them would mean I’d finally have to accept, really accept, the strange idea that I was adequate (or dare I say, even more than adequate).
It is strange, isn’t it, how we are addicted to and seduced by the idea that we are somehow never enough: never good enough, never smart enough, never fast enough, never pretty enough, never… just enough. I myself was addicted to the idea. So I took a bite of her words and audibly sighed when they burst in my mouth, introducing new flavors.
But were the flavors really “new”? Not really. Perhaps “knew” is more appropriate.
I’m not a mother. But I am a daughter. I am the daughter of a woman who always told me that I was enough, that there was nothing about myself that needed “fixing,” nothing that made me less worthy than anyone else, nothing that I needed to hide or be ashamed of. I remember sitting at the edge of her bed, sometimes as tears moistened my cheeks—while my father snored loudly into the night—as she whispered to me, reminding me of who I was, time and time again.
Yet, like most people, I was seduced by a culture of inadequacy, one that taught me that I needed to be on an endless search for “myself” as if it was something external, something to be bought, or achieved, or gained through work, money, or accolades. And while I always worked hard, and always told myself that trying to be better was a positive thing, I eventually found myself completely seduced by the idea of inadequacy. It’s what kept me going, what motivated me. But eventually, I found myself exhausted.
So I sat at the edge of her bed again. And as she had done so many times before, she reminded me of who I was.
I was her daughter. I was the granddaughter of her mother. I was the great-granddaughter of her grandmother, and on and on back to the first mother herself: the land we sat upon, together. There could be no acceptance of inadequacy without also dishonoring the generations of women whose very existence made my life possible. They were in, around, and beside me… always.
But, like many, I occasionally forgot them and was seduced by a culture that told me that I was wrong to even believe that I was adequate (or dare I say, even more than adequate). To give voice to those words meant I was arrogant or haughty. It’s strange, isn’t it, how we sometimes deny the greatness that we are born with, born of, born to, so that we can be a part of that culture, that seductive culture of inadequacy.
Thankfully, I always had a space, at the edge of her bed, a space that let me escape that culture of “not-enough-ness,” a space where I could taste her words, and let them roll around in my mouth, as the perfect antidote, the perfect wake-up-call, the perfect reminder of who I was, who I am, and who I always will be.
I can still taste her words, can still taste those “knew” flavors as they burst in my mouth. I savor them. Mmmm.
*This line comes from Lupita Nyong’o’s speech found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPCkfARH2eE&feature=kp