Two days ago, while walking on Main Street in downtown Greenville, South Carolina, my wife and I ran into a couple named Tina and Bubba who were likewise taking in the scenery. We stopped to talk to them only for a few minutes to turn into a half-hour conversation. We told them that we were here to visit and that we are considering moving to Greenville; they told us that they are from South Carolina originally and recommended places for us to check out and restaurants to eat at.
At a certain point, Tina started to tell me about her life experiences and the empath in me immediately sensed that she was talking from a place of injury. She conveyed the hardships she endured as a “black” woman in the South and the pains she inherited from her grandparents who lived during the height of Jim Crow and were regularly accosted by the Klu Klux Klan. As she expressed the agonies that still haunt her to this day, she kept saying “I am a scarred woman”.
Instead of jumping in to play the role of a savior like I normally do—a predisposition I developed during my youth when I tried my hardest to save my mom from the grips of depression by telling jokes and doing whatever I could to make her smile—I decided to just listen. After 10 minutes of disclosing her struggles, she paused and restated that she is a “scarred woman”. Though she was smiling on the outside, I sensed that she was deeply wounded and that she has yet to overcome the legacy of traumas that has preyed upon the souls of countless generations of African-Americans.
Before I jumped to advise mode, I decided to open up and tell her my story. I conveyed to her that we decided to visit Greenville to heal from painful memories that I associated with the city. Six years ago, I arrived in South Carolina not as a tourist but as a penniless sojourner. After losing a six-figure job at Booz Allen Hamilton, the same company that Edward Snowden used to work at, I spent a year partying like a rock star only to have a boulder of tribulation land on my shoulders. I blew through my IRA and then made a foolish decision to open up a shisha lounge with business partners that had the ethics of Bernie Madoff.
A grand opening led to my greatest misfortune; within short order I found myself forsaken in the Palmetto state. Though I have given the full scope of what happened to me to God, there are facets I share not to wallow in victimhood but as part of my testimony. What ultimately saved me from the dark hole of destitution, aside from the countless acts of kindness from random strangers, was the fact that I refused to be institutionalized by homelessness. Though I slept outside on countless occasions, I once sought shelter in a cemetery and under a truck during a rainstorm, I never panhandled nor did I let my circumstances make me bitter.
I shared various aspects of my trials and told her that what redeemed me from a life of dispossession was that I never epitomized my predicament. At that exact moment, a disheveled man came up to us and told us that he was homeless and asked for a couple of dollars. Sadly, I did not have any cash on me and he walked away unfazed because life conditioned him to accept no as much as he was habituated to seeing himself as a vagabond. I told Tina that I too was as disheveled as the man who asked us for money, what saved me was that I refused to say “I am homeless”.
The words that follow the word “I am” are POWERFUL; in the tongue lies life and death and the words we use can either move mountains or bury us under ridges of depression. When Moses went to Mount Saini and heard a voice behind a burning bush, he immediately asked “who are you”. God replied “I am”. In this way, we too have the might of God within us. We have the power to change the world and reshape the universe by the words we elect to call ourselves. I told Tina that she is not scarred and that her pains are just aspects of her life but that ultimately who she is is not the same thing as what she experienced.
A test is a phase you go through so that one day you can express the struggles you've overcome as your testimony::
— Teodrose Fikremariam (@Teodrose_Fikre) April 24, 2021
We live in a time of uber division where the public discourse is one that is rooted in anger and bitterness. Demagogues are promoted by the establishment to disempower us by viewing ourselves as victims. Though I can never understand the full scope of the pains that African-Americans feel in their souls, I conveyed to her that she is a lot more than the strife that her ancestors and she endured. The same can be said for all of us; we can either dwell in sorrows or we can overcome and be examples for others to follow. The Power of “I am” and the Words that Follow Them Click To Tweet
“This world is but a canvas to our imagination.” ~ Henry David Thoreau
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