Every Breath is Sacred
I remember the joy I felt when the technician told me, “It’s a boy!”
During my first pregnancy, my daughter’s father was present. During my second pregnancy, my husband was present. During this appointment, I went alone. Not by choice on my part or his.
And it felt sacred.
I didn’t realize then, like I know now, the work God was doing in my heart.
I remember my joy abruptly interrupted by fear as I walked from the doctor’s office to the parking garage.
We have two daughters, and everyone always asked, “Are you going to try for a boy?” Or insisted, “Now you need to try for a boy.” I was open to God’s plan, and in His divinity and power, He blessed us with a son.
The heart string between a mother and son is pulsating and tangible. It’s magnetic and reassuring.
The thought of anything severing that heart string pulverizes me. It is a crushing, inescapable fear that lingers in my bones, and is here to stay.
It’s soul surfing on the hearts of millions of Black mothers.
I wish it were only a visitor, but it has nowhere else to go.
You see, when I look at my son, I see everything good about life. His silliness, his touch, his voice. His curiosity, his joy, his persistence. His anger, his sadness, his wonder. His big appetite, his charm, his strength. His brilliance, his fears, his passions.
His very existence is love to me.
Clothed in warm, brown skin that melts my heart, and sets other hearts ablaze with hatred.
With contented confidence, I know my son was created with purpose.
With callous conceit, others dare to manipulate our Creator’s truth.
When my son wanted to take a royal blue plastic cake knife imprinted with my employer’s logo to the park to play, and I had to gently tell him no, relieved he didn’t contest. When he is upset, and expresses it with his body, or raised voice, and I am straddling the space between consoling him and firmly correcting behavior in these innocent, perfectly teachable moments, essentially because it will not be condoned years from now. Because he will be considered aggressive, a threat.
He fell at the park the other day. He has an owie on the top of his right hand. I have a scar from a similar fall as a child on my left hand. I told him when we connect hands, it’ll be our super power activator. Then I was stricken with anguish I couldn’t show him. The simultaneous joy and fear of having a Black son. What if someone takes that away? It sounds as superficial as our wounds, but it would hurt much deeper.
Are we stifling his imagination now to soothe our future selves? Are we giving him less chances at home in hopes of preserving his chances in the world? Are we disciplining him well at home so he won’t be beat into submission by this world? Am I too accommodating in my desire to reconcile that life will be hard enough?
The stakes are high when his humanity will be a trigger to White fragility.
When I am enamored by his mindfulness of me.
When I am filled with pride over his growth.
When I am laughing until I cry at his newfound expression.
When he beckons me in his distress.
When I am moved as he belts out a worship song on his heart.
And then it hits me that he will encounter countless White, and subsequently non-Black people of color, who will see the very opposite before they ever give him a chance to:
Show his thoughtfulness.
Achieve his goals.
That they will be the cause of his distress.
That I may not be able to run to his rescue.
That they have assigned themselves as regulators of who God made in His image.
That they will silence his song every chance they get.
I am broken at the thought of this.
Sometimes I cry.
Sometimes I clean furiously.
Sometimes I frantically reprimand him.
Sometimes I hold him just a little longer,
ask for a few more kisses.
Sometimes I never want him to grow up,
for him to stay little forever.
But then I, too, would rob him of his future. Not physically, but emotionally, mentally, spiritually. So I have to move through all of this anger, fear, and sadness, to embrace the peace, love, and joy he brings. I have to sit with the tension of this reality. My reality. Our reality. And I have to figure out a way to create meaning around holding space for it all.
My connection with my son depends on it. My connection with my son is foundational to how he will move through this world as an emotionally intelligent Black male—not because he isn’t being raised by both parents, but because Black mothers, Black women, we birth these beautiful Black boys into a world we can only hope to protect them from. We pour so much of our best into them, even when we are struggling ourselves. And to know that still may not save them on this side of Heaven, is an indescribable grief and pain.
And I get it. I am seeing it, hearing it: God is in control. God has given me a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind. Don’t dress rehearse tragedy. But with every hashtag, somehow it feels like this isn’t just dress rehearsal, because a dress rehearsal implies there is time to plan, that we are preparing to present something captivating and inspiring for our audience.
But when the stage of racism is set, ignorance breeds hate breeds fear breeds violent impulsivity breeds flat-lines.
We. Can’t. Breathe.
Until that stage is demolished, this crushing, inescapable fear will remain captive there. It may lay low from time to time, but its got nowhere to go.
My faith is strong. My fear is present. I believe the God I serve can hold space for all of it, just as much as He holds my joy.
We named him with hope in our hearts, not a hashtag in mind. Lord, help us!
I remember the joy I felt when my son took his first breath.
And it was sacred.
Every breath is sacred.
Jennifer J. Jones