Plenty of black women are living bold, self-defined, purpose-filled lives. Many of us are making our mark in an array of community, family, professional and entrepreneurial endeavors. We’re thriving — even though our stories are sometimes obscured by splashier headlines about our poor health, our questionable marital prospects, our economic status and even our alleged anger. In this series, Fierce celebrates what’s going right in our lives. In other words, forget the negativity. This is what being black and female really looks like!
In this second installment, series journalist Katti Gray shares the stories of women who have created their own, life-affirming holiday traditions. The series opener was Celebrating Sisters: Keys to Our Success.
Given her workload as a full-time college administrator, part-time Ph.D. student, part-time professor and therapist in private practice, Bernadine Waller, 39, manages to squeeze in about four hours of sleep a night most of the year.
But when that lazy mid-December to mid-January stretch of her university’s winter break rolls around, Waller settles in for some self-care. More than that, she commits to the kind of self-reflection that, she says, helps a single woman such as herself stay sane and centered amid the holiday season’s merriment — real and imagined — and its hyper-focus on families and couples.
“I spend a lot of time in prayer this time of year,” says Waller, assistant director of experiential learning at Adelphi University on Long Island, N.Y. “And I ask myself a lot of questions: What worked this year? What didn’t? What is my plan for 2014? What did I achieve; not achieve? What got in the way?”
She continues: “Every year, I learn something different about myself. One of the things I found out and had to face last year is that, sometimes, this time of year, I do get lonely. And I had to be OK letting myself be lonely. I had to ask myself, ‘What about me makes me lonely? Wanting children and not having them? Wanting to decorate but not having family to do that with?’”
She asks the questions and pushes through to the answers, however difficult they may seem.
She also takes action.
She decorates her mother’s home. She nurtures her maternal inclinations by buying gifts for her nieces and nephew, her colleagues’ children, strangers’ children. She tackles that list of leisurely, pleasurable books that, given her time constraints, are off limits for much of the year.
She adorns herself in pretty lingerie and lights candles all through her house.
“I pamper myself,” she says. “If you want to play soft music, lay in front of the fireplace, have yourself chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne, whatever makes you feel happy and loved and alluring, that’s exactly what you should do.”
During that Christmas-through-New Year stretch, single women and others whose lives don’t match the proverbial husband-plus-wife-plus-two kids-plus McMansion construct can wind up feeling like something of a misfit.
But the single woman who’s determined to delight in this sacred — if overly commercialized — season has to place her own, singular imprint on it, says the Rev. Dr. Beverly “Bam” Crawford, a Los Angeles-based pastor, recording artist and singer whose ministry is largely focused on the health and spiritual well-being of women.
Crawford has been single since leaving an abusive spouse in 1992. One of the two Christmas trees in her home — Holiday Central for her two grown children, her grandchildren and a circle of other loved ones as close to her as any blood relatives — is her “deliverance tree.” She bought that fully decorated, 8-foot artificial tree on the day she realized that her God didn’t want her to be a battered wife — or to have to make another phone call asking her then-husband if it was OK to, say, purchase a $12 Christmas ornament with her own earnings.
That tree is “all very feminine. It has lights and chandeliers and gold and crystal and shoes and hats,” says Crawford who, before becoming a pastor, was a Hollywood talent booker and producer for such stars as Dinah Shore and Redd Foxx. “And I keep that tree to remind myself that I am never in bondage and that no other person can ever define my reality.”
“This Christmas season? I just love it,” adds Crawford, senior pastor and founder of the 3,500-member Bible Enrichment Fellowship International Church in Inglewood, Calif. “And, as a pastor, one of the things I do this time of year is to purposely not go away. I deal a lot with the single women in our congregation, some never married, some divorced, some in transition. As beautiful as the holidays are, they can be very daunting. I encourage women to find the ultimate solace in themselves and to do as many things as they can as part of a group.”
That’s one way of keeping loneliness at bay. Crawford also encourages single women to burrow into a form of giving that is wholesome and more authentically reflects the season than, say, a shopping blitz. “Serving at a homeless shelter this time of year is not some fake way of filling the void. It’s an act that ministers back to the giver.”
The Rev. Renita Weems also suggests a different view of the holiday season. “They say the holidays are about family; that is part of the commercial mantra,” says Weems, who lives in Nashville, Tenn., and is author of such titles as What Matters Most: Ten Lessons in Living Passionately and Just a Sister Away.
“I’ve spent holidays working on a dissertation, working on a writing project — whatever was a priority for me,” she explains. “More than being this magical thing, the holidays are what you make them.”
Waller of Long Island agrees.
“A lot of time single women think, ‘Oh, I don’t have anybody. My life’s on hold.’ If you don’t love the skin you’re in — at Christmas or whenever — that right partner is never going to show up anyway,” says Waller, whose doctoral thesis is on black women who are battered by their romantic partners.
“Christmas is one of those periods when I affirm myself so that when I go out into the world, I go out as a full person,” Waller adds. “I will go to church on Christmas morning, then, coming back home, I will watch movies and begin the process of simply enjoying me.”
Katti Gray is a freelance writer in New York City.
Top photo: Suprijono Suharjoto/Thinkstock by Getty Images