*clink* i'm celebrating a retirement.

I've maintained a tentative approach to writing these past thirteen days. I'm not sure if it's the pressure of a new year - to keep everything shiny and positive and sparkly-new - or the paralysis of my heart caused by over-stimulation from the fresh-start "January" possibilities in life, work and otherwise - but for whatever reason, writing has been hard.

It's almost as if someone or something is making sure I don't. Making sure I stay quiet, small, hushed, and hesitant. 

But as I sat around the table with my husband and two of our best friends on New Year's Eve into midnight on New Year's Day, I proclaimed that my word for 2018 would be "celebration."

cel·e·bra·tion - noun. // the action of marking one's pleasure at an important event or occasion by engaging in enjoyable, typically social, activity.

For heaven's sake, 2018 will be the year that I deploy my umbrella under the torrential downpour of hate and devastation and idiocy and division and heartbreak and racism and oppression. 2018 will be the year that, under this umbrella of celebration, I will do a tiny dance and raise a glass and pull the zipper up on my waterproof raincoat just a little higher so I can splash on to the next destination.

I will not drown. 

Nor will I stay inside. 

I will not numb or pretend like it's not a hot mess out there. 

But I will mark my pleasure along the road of this year, forcing myself to boldly dare to celebrate whatever evidence of life pops up in the puddles along the way. 

Yesterday, I celebrated a retirement. 

I walked into my friend, Blaine Hogan's office, and we talked about a new adventure upon which he's embarking and fun opportunities and creativity and self-confidence and fear. But before I left, he told me that I needed to stop doing one thing: 

(A retirement, remember?)

I needed to stop saying, "I'm sorry." 

At first, I took his words with a posture of simple gratitude, because it's very rare that anyone will honestly tell you what you need to stop doing to prevent getting in your own way. 

But this morning I woke up and I felt - physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally - as if a bag full of bricks had swung from my ceiling fan and pelted me, very suddenly, across my face. My head hurt and I had a lump in my throat and I kind of felt like I was dying. "I'm sick," I told my husband. 

I realized I was more than "sick." I was sloughing off a skin of "Sorry" that I'd been wearing for my entire - MY ENTIRE - life. 

Twenty years ago, I was sorry for not being white enough for my white friends: not being able to wear the same makeup or do my hair the same way or have crushes on the same guys or be "token" enough to dance/rap/play basketball well enough to fit all the "token" molds. For some I was too smart. "Sorry," I'd say. For some I wasn't smart enough. "Sorry," I'd say. 

I was sorry for not being black enough for my black friends: talking "like a white girl," not knowing what movies they were referring to, not knowing how to dance/rap/run fast enough to fit all the "real" black girl molds. For some, I wasn't "hood" enough. "Sorry," I'd say. For some I wasn't light-skinned enough. "Sorry," I'd say. For some I hadn't seen enough classic black movies or worn enough black clothing labels. "Sorry, sorry, sorry." The refrain played on repeat.

What was I so sorry for?

The short answer: I was sorry for inconveniencing their molds.

I wanted to navigate all of their worlds as a "token" or "Oreo" without too much disturbance. I wanted to convince myself that I was both being myself AND genuinely liked for the smaller version of myself I was being. So, with all of my emotional intelligence, if I thought someone would have a wrong/stereotypical/unfavorable/threatening/punitive perspective of who I was - 

I was sorry.

The sorries followed me into church. I first started attending my current church - where I now work - as a 22-year-old young professional. It was very white. I was very not. And so I found my way into social settings making slight adjustments along the way to prove that I was not threatening to anyone, cool enough to be a valuable token. I knew how to do this. And it worked. Most people were comfortable. 

Except for me. 

So I "sorried" around, apologizing for having an opinion or pushing back or asserting myself. I was sorry for being emotionally unavailable or too emotional or a mom or a daughter or for having a creative thought. I was so, so sorry. 

But yesterday, a friend told me to stop. He told me I didn't have to be sorry anymore. 

I don't have to be sorry for being a black-woman-preacher-teacher-writer-mom-daughter-creative-passionate-advocate-emotional-silly-hungry-ice-cream-loving-opinionated human.

The people will have the opinions. But my "sorries" are in retirement.

And this retirement - I'm celebrating. 

If I wrong you or hurt your feelings, I'm sure I'll be sorry for that. But I will no longer be sorry for being the non-molded version of what someone thought I maybe should've been.

*clink* Cheers to that. 

There's a torrential downpour still happening. There are "sh*tholes" that are actually beautiful, lush gardens filled with wildly brilliant life - and there are quiet neighbors in my neighborhood with their Confederate flags waving freely. There are the people who still think I'm that other black woman and those who tell my husband he's great at bass guitar. There are crazy Facebook comments and Twitter storms and misogyny and - Hollywood. There's the mess in your life. There's the mess in mine.

But in the midst of it all we can deploy our umbrellas and run through the rain, splashing in puddles with our "Me Too"s and Jesus, celebrating what's right and True in the world. We will not drown. We shouldn't stay inside.

We can stop being sorry for whatever - or whomever - it is we're still trying to pay off. Because, frankly, my friend, I need the fullness of you.

And you need the fullness of me.

If we're going to get through this downpour together.







Ashlee Eiland