Do Not Disturb
Photo: Javicia Leslie by Brian Freeman
There was a time when The Giving Tree was my favorite book. The story is about a tree and a little boy who loved each other. The tree showed her love by giving of herself (her leaves, her bark, her trunk) until she was nothing but a stump. The boy showed his love by taking. My mother was a giving tree. She gave all her leaves and bark to sustain our family. She gave in to the needs of those around her, the crying babies, and bills in the mail. She gave up her own dreams to build a life where her children had three meals a day. She gave and my father took. For a long time, that’s all I knew about love.
It took me years to unlearn the idea that selfish was a bad word. Don’t get me wrong, there is a version of “selfish” that means to care only for oneself. That can be toxic. But when we use the word selfish to describe women, we often confuse a woman caring for herself, with caring only for herself. The word selfish has been used as a weapon to beat women into submission by holding us hostage to our own guilt.
At a certain age, I realized that the men in my life moved through life with a different set of rules. They were allowed to make life convenient for themselves ( even at the expense of others) without bearing any of the same emotional burden. They were taught the one thing most girls never are, that giving is a choice rather than an obligation.
This year I abandoned sacrifice as my religion. After years of being called selfish for daring to prioritize my own needs, I’ve decided to take that shit and run with it. I am selfish. I choose not to put my happiness, safety, security, or spiritual well-being aside to make others happy. Before I take anything on in my life I ask myself these questions:
1. Will it slow me down?
2. Is it it too heavy for me to carry?
3. Will it get in the way of my goals?
If the answer is yes to any of the above then my answer is no. I do not bend to the expectations of those around me nor do I measure my value solely by how much I do for others.
I am the most hated thing in America, a selfish Black woman. I mean selfish in that phone on silent while I meditate kind of way. Selfish as in I’m running at the first sign you don’t have my best interest at heart. Selfish like saying “no” and meaning it. Selfish like choosing myself fiercely and without remorse.