Before. I used to pray. Before I realized I was not the only one. That passionate, plaintive cries to ethereal beings were in no short supply. That begging on one’s knees is a familiar stance, a pose many know intimately before they learn to speak. Before concepts such as life and afterlife can even be understood; before the world is more than your mother’s warm embrace.
Before we know what it means, we merely echo what we’ve seen. For years I assumed the position, reciting words I did not truly comprehend. Now I lay me down to sleep, I’d say. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If should die, before I wake, I pray the lord my should to take. Tiny hands clasped, fingers intertwined. My little heart bursting with love for a being I had never met, making promises I could never honor.
Before the world told me who I was, where I fit. Before I understood that my skin was the color of pain and sorrow, of blood and broken bodies, crushed to a fine dust that permeates the air of our oppressors. Before I learned there were entire histories, worlds, ripped from the bosoms of my foremothers shackled to the floors of ships. Before I knew that being made in God’s image did not include my blackness.
What’s worst is that sometimes I still pray, after. After “wokeness” fails to provide comfort, sanctuary. After life has beaten me down, after the burdens of being human, being black, has left me breathless and defeated. After perseverance and resilience has brought me no closer to a life fulfilled. After the world goes dark, and my heart slows as I lie in the vast empty. Fervent whispers, from a soul that once burst with love, blind with belief. Misery seeps from my bones, my mind momentarily at ease. After all, I find peace in before.