Why ‘This Is Us’ Hits Home Every Time

this-is-us-castIf I could point out one tiny but kinda huge flaw with This is Us, it would be that they left out the 4th baby. Yes, you see, I’m Randall’s twin. I too was there shivering and crying that night at the fire station, which means I too was adopted, thereby converting the Big Three into the Big Four.  Now, I won’t be petty and talk about how they wrote me out of the show, but just know I AM a part of that family. Jack and William ARE my fathers, Rebecca IS my mama, and those are the facts I need you to accept before we can move forward, mmkay?

So as a real life (secret) Pearson, you can understand why I feel so close to the characters my siblings. But beyond my for real, for real blood relation, each of them embody a different part of me. Regardless of race and/or gender, they speak to the common emotional themes that run through my life—and probably yours too.

The Loser/Underachiever

Let’s start with Kevin. Given that he is a white male AND a recovering jerk, it seems he’d be the person I relate to the least, but I was surprised to find so much of myself in him. His struggle to add meaning to his life feels a lot like my own. He sees himself somehow barreling and drifting toward 40 and still struggling to plant roots, establish a legacy that’ll prove he walked this earth…and left it better. If that aint me, I don’t know what is.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I most definitely have loser moments. As a freelancing, stay-at-home mom of two school age children, I’m always one breath away from drowning under the weight of my responsibilities to them. And I struggle to eke out an identity that isn’t tied to my duties to these little people I’ve created. It’s hard not to feel like I don’t do enough, don’t produce enough, don’t prove enough (to myself) that the person I was before them still exists. Kevin doesn’t even have children, but he does have a large part of himself he’s trying to give life too. So me and Kev, we’re twins.

The Insecure Self-Doubter

And then there’s my sister Kate. She’s me too. Not only is she cute and fun, but she has such a relatable vulnerability that I can’t help but look at her and see myself. Her presenting issue is weight (something I can relate to to a lesser extent), but it really all boils down to doubt and fear. She is doubtful that she is indeed worthy of what she wants to achieve and fearful that she is nothing more than the inadequacy she feels inside. Kate shoots herself in the foot over and over again because of her insecurity, her fear that she’s not as wonderful, as powerful, as capable as Toby and Kevin insist.

In the season opener, Kate walks out of a singing audition before she gets the chance to perform. It made me think, how many times have I let fear talk me out of opportunities before I even attempted them? How many times have I given up on challenges because the shadow alone was too scary? Kate has a habit of getting in her own way, being her own saboteur, being a true frenemy to herself. So me and Kate, we’re twins.

The Perfectionist Idealist

Last but not least, we have my OG Randall. First off, he’s blackity. No, not black—blackity, meaning his blackness goes far beyond skin color and extends into his thinking, his consciousness. This is exhibited mostly in his and Beth’s efforts to raises their two kinky-haired, brown skinned daughters to be intelligent, confident, self-loving, un-brainwashed young black women. The fact that he (playfully) disses them by calling them Omarosa and Stacy Dash is black gold of the highest order. But anyway, that’s just icing on the cake. What really makes Randall relatable is his soft heart and stubborn yearning for perfection. Randall wants so fiercely to create a beautiful reality that overshadows the complicated ugliness he was born into. And though he knows with every bit of his mind that he is loved without reservation, it seems a tiny (or not so tiny) piece of his heart still feels the need to prove that he didn’t deserve to be left alone at the fire station all those years ago. So he works and works and works, and tries and tries and tries, sometimes to his own detriment, to etch at least into his own mind the redeeming idea that abandonment was never meant for him.

For me, the connection is not such much in the abandonment (I am thankful I haven’t experienced that), but more so in his struggle to let life unfold organically and accept that things cannot and will not be forever picturesque no matter how hard you try. THAT is what I identify with. I have had many a crying session over failed plans and popped bubbles that didn’t pan out in the beautiful way that I just knew they would. So me and Randall, we’re twins.

There is so much of life that is out of our control, so many bumps, bruises and deep gashes that are meant specifically for us, not as a punishment, but as a way of sparking growth and imparting lessons that wouldn’t be received any other way. For example, would Randall be as driven, as hard-working, as accomplished, as loving as he is had he not suffered that dramatic loss just as he entered this world? Maybe, but probably not. So if I can understand that Randall’s losses have actually built him, actually pushed him to a level he might not have reached otherwise, then I should probably create a similar narrative around my own. Of course, that’s easier said than down. Of course, deciphering the subtext of a fictional character’s TV life is much easier than extracting the gems from my own. But still, it is helpful. To see myself repeated over and over again in various forms is at least entertaining and at most therapeutic. It lays bare all my issues and then has the nerve to go off and not come on again until the following week. What type of foolishness is that? They stay doing me wrong. Such is life.

~Nadirah Angail


From lost to found: Exploring Rose in ‘Fences’

roseThere can be no discussion of Rose without first acknowledging the amazing job Viola Davis did in making her real. Of course the text was gold, but her performance of it took the words off the page and injected them directly into our hearts.

Against the big, booming backdrop that is Troy, Rose could easily disappear. She could settle into his shadow and live there, only emerging when it suits him. But she doesn’t. More than the stereotype of a 1950s housewife, she has a full presence and functions as the tether that brings Troy back to earth, even when he doesn’t want to be pulled. For example, when he romanticizes the loss of his baseball career, imagining himself the victim of some grand racist robbery, Rose points out that it was his age, not his color, that kept him out of the big leagues. And she does it in a plain and matter-of-fact way that suggests she is accustomed to speaking her mind and refocusing his inflated narratives. It is clear she is no one’s yes woman.

But even in her fullness, Rose is empty. Though the audience learns a decent amount about Troy’s life (his childhood, his family, his friend Bono, his almost baseball career), we learn practically nothing of Rose except that she was looking for the “marrying kind.” Her goal: get married (and not have half-siblings in her family). That is all we know of her. Is it that she has no backstory? No, but the absence of her history is a representation of how completely she’s poured herself into him. As she says in her famous monologue:

I took all my feelings, my wants and needs, my dreams . . . and I buried them inside you. I planted a seed and watched and prayed over it. I planted myself inside you and waited to bloom. And it didn’t take me no eighteen years to find out the soil was hard and rocky and it wasn’t never gonna bloom. But I held on to you, Troy.

Rose came into her marriage wanting to grow, wanting to create something that was equal parts her and him, but she soon discovered that her dream and her reality were not at all in line. Troy’s lacks the emotional maturity and nuance needed to understand that his wife has needs that go beyond the physical. It is not enough to hand over his weekly pay and “blast a hole into forever.” Rose wants a husband who can temper his big and brash with softness and connection, a Herculean task for a man who only had a brief bit of nurturing from his mother and a fractioned piece of love from his father. As hard as Troy loves Rose (and I doubt anyone would argue the opposite), he simply doesn’t know how to love beyond provision.

But the real loss Rose experiences is not Troy’s lack of softness, but his inability to offer her the feeling of completeness she never had growing up. That’s her biggest pain. It’s also her biggest mistake. Rose, like so many other women (and men too), looks to an external source to solve an internal issue. That never works. (It’s the Swiss cheese metaphor all over again.) We must always have our own foundation of contentment before we can expect someone else to build on it. Every woman must have a special part of her heart that beats only for her, responds only to her call. This isn’t selfish. It is an investment, a protection, a worthwhile commitment to give as much to ourselves as we do to others.

In this sense, Rose, mild-mannered and accommodating, is every woman. She represents the struggle between serving and preserving, between seeking and creating, between healing and being healed. She lives out on screen what we carry in our hearts, and as she makes discoveries about her decisions and motives, we viewers are encouraged, if not ordered, to make discoveries of our own.

It is the uproar and angry release of her popular “What about my life?” monologue that gets most people talking, but I was most struck by words she speaks to her son before Troy’s funeral:

When your daddy walked through the house he was so big he filled it up. That was my first mistake. Not to make him leave some room for me. For my part in the matter. But at that time I wanted that. I wanted a house that I could sing in. And that’s what your daddy gave me. I didn’t know to keep up his strength I had to give up little pieces of mine. I did that. I took on his life as mine and mixed up the pieces so that you couldn’t hardly tell which was which anymore. It was my choice. It was my life and I didn’t have to live it like that.

This is where Rose blooms. Though Troy is certainly guilty of transgressions, she spends no time on blame and launches directly into an exploration of the choices she made that left her feeling empty. Such raw ownership is transformative. It marks the moment when she goes from victim to victor. Rose could easily get lost in the (rightful) sorrow of being loved so harshly, but she realizes there is no growth there. Growth comes only from an even understanding of the role she played in the events of her own life. From that, there can be fruit.

Because of this ownership, Rose is able to extract the good from her circumstances and file the rest under “lessons learned.” This is the lens that allows her to feel love for Raynell instead of rage and rancor. She is freed from the weight of blame and self-pity. I think maybe I should say that again. She is freed from the weight of blame and self-pity. Talk about a life-changing moment.

Can I even count the number of times in my own life where I’ve lulled myself into complacency with pitiful stories of how I’d been wronged? Never a moment of introspection, never an analysis of the decisions I’d made. Only tears and sorrow and imagined bound hands. And in all of those moments, every single one, I have been stagnant, fruitless and mediocre at best. With pain and struggle, it is only when I re-word my stories that I am able to achieve and thrive. I’ve been on this journey time and time again and if I’m honest with myself, I’m probably not done. It is a revolving door of self-discovery, a booby-trapped path I’ve yet to master.

But I don’t expect it to be easy. The transformation we watch Rose make in two hours is actually an abridgment of a six-year process that starts the day Troy comes clean. And had he not destroyed her in that way, perhaps she never would have been moved to truly find herself. So even in her heartache, she finds value. It is as if she is determined to let nothing befall her except that which she can use. Once Rose releases her pain and finds a peace that is enhanced by (and not drawn from) others, she is free to truly live. From that, there can be fruit.

~Nadirah Angail

A reflective reading of ‘Fences’

Preface: This movie has so many layers, I couldn’t possibly tackle it all at once. This focuses mostly on Troy’s character. I don’t even mention Rose. She’ll need a whole post of her own.

fences*Loud exhale* And now, I feel complete. For years, I’ve seen snippets of the Fences stage play floating around the internet. In three- and five-minute bursts, I’ve watched James Earl Jones and Uncle Zel (that’s Denzel Washington to you) breathe life into August Wilson’s brutally honest dialogue on manhood, but I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why it was called Fences. Now I know. Now I get it. The circle is complete.

What is a fence other than an edifice of demarcation?  It is a way of publically claiming what is yours. It is a way of highlighting ownership, privacy, value. “This here is mine. Respect that.” Can you imagine why a poor black man in the early 1950s would want to make such a proclamation? Troy needed to prove, not so much to others but more so to himself, that he has done something in this world, that he has carved out a piece of it and created within a sum much greater than its parts. He needed something to define him, and that’s what fences do. But what about mental fences? How many of those have we built to separate ourselves from what we despise, only to find ourselves locked in with a destiny we thought we’d thrown away? Is that not what happens to Troy? Is that not what happens to all of us when we want better but don’t know how to achieve it?

If nothing else, Fences teaches us that we are not necessarily who we want to be, but only who we know how to be. That can be both a beautiful and scary thing. Our desires for ourselves can go no farther than our actions can carry us. And our actions, those sometimes nonsensical deeds and movements, are wrapped up in and intertwined with the muck and mire of everything we’ve experienced and seen. That’s heavy, man. And it adds meat to the bones of the dysfunctional relationships so many of us can’t help but to pass on and down.

Consider Troy, with his tall tales and big belly laughs. He left home at 14 to escape a hellish father he wanted no parts of. Troy describes him as a devil who chased away every woman he ever had, including Troy’s mother. Troy wanted to be the man his underdeveloped father couldn’t be, but how much better did he do? How successful was he in erecting that fence between himself and his mean ole daddy? Well, he never learned to read, became a thief, fathered Lyons at 19, spent 15 years in jail and ended up missing all his oldest son’s formative years. In turn, Lyons grows into a pained, underperforming man whose only solace is his music. Different circumstances, same loss.

Even after Troy marries Rose and becomes a better man, he still fathers his second son in a harsh and insensitive way that leaves young Cory feeling unliked and unwanted. Troy’s goal is to make Cory strong, prepare his dear son for an unforgiving world. But to Cory, it all feels so mean and unloving—just like Troy’s father. As hard as Troy tries to run, he doesn’t make it all that far. Right down to the vicious fight in the yard, he is his father’s son, fenced in for life. These are the cycles that preserve our misfortune and pain.

All Troy wants to do is steer Cory in a direction that will be fruitful. He wants him to achieve and succeed so he doesn’t reach the age of 53 and feel trapped in his own life, seeking out scraps of joy between the sheets of strange women and building hardwood fences in the hopes of keeping death at bay until he can become something worth mourning. But the message gets lost in translation. Between all the barking and braying, Troy forgets (or probably just doesn’t know) that a son needs his father to be soft, too.

To the viewer, it is clear that Troy loves his son. (Why else would he pour into him the importance of manhood? Why else would he offer to go half on a television?) But this is what we see from our perch far removed. To young Cory, insecure and searching, it feels like cuts and digs. It feels like a father slashing away at the budding wings of a son. And he’s too close to see that what he perceives as slashing is actually a form of building and sharpening. Flawed though it may be, it is Troy’s best effort to grow his seed. If only Troy knew that seeds need not only heat, but water, too.

But still, Troy is beautiful. Despite his rough edges and multitude of missteps, there lives in him a palpable love that no one could deny. What Fences does so amazingly well is incorporate the complexity of the human spirit. It shows that no one is a complete villain or victim. We are all but a mix of good and bad, of dignity and shame. We all struggle to blot out our own darkness with light. And sometimes we fail. Horrible and embarrassed and undignified, we let our weaknesses take root and move us to places we truly should never be.  Because we are meant to be golden. Pumping hearts and buzzing minds our confirmation, we are greater than we know. And so the embers of good will exist within us even if we don’t stoke them. Even if we stomp them out in a drunken rage, even if we muzzle our own calling to right, it will live. It will smolder and glow and softly rumble beneath, beckoning us back to our nature, back to what we were designed to be: upright and good.

That’s why Troy is able to have at least the tiniest bit of empathy for his father.  When he says to Bono and Lyons, “The only thing that was separating us was a matter of years,” he is recognizing that his father was young, immature and ill-prepared. And though it is not stated or even implied, it is safe to assume that he never received from his own father the type of love that he struggled to give Troy. This is the context that makes it possible for Troy to hold love for the “evil” man who bore him. He knows his father wasn’t meant to be that way. This is why he sings his father’s song with pride and zeal. This is why he drills into his children the lyrics of that song and points out its author every chance he gets. It is his way of recognizing the embers of good in his mean ole daddy.

In the end, it is his granddaddy’s song that gives Cory the perspective he’d been missing. It helps him see the bits of water that had all the while been mixed in with daddy’s heat. In singing that simple song about a dog named Blue, he realizes that his father really did the best he could with what he had. And so that fence he started building six years prior no longer needed to stand. That’s what healing looks like.  That’s where growth begins.

~Nadirah Angail

The power of “sure”: How one word shapes relationships

handsMy husband is Senegalese. I am not. That means the beginning of our marriage was full of cultural adjustments that were tough but beneficial. Like his incredibly big and open heart. This man will give away our belonging in a minute. He’s also quick to invite people to visit… or live with us. It’s the West African way: teranga, a Wolof word that can be loosely translated as hospitality, but its far more than that. It’s not just about obligatory niceties. It’s about going above and beyond to make a person feel loved, to let them know you truly appreciate their presence. I can’t front; I was annoyed at first. Like, “Who are these people and where is all my stuff?” But my heart softened and I think I’m much kinder and more considerate because of it. Guess I developed a bit of teranga myself.

Another adjustment I had to make was hearing the word “sure” all the time. He used to say it with the cutest little accent, which has since faded. *Insert one lonely tear* Any time I’d ask him a question or to do something, he’d use that word, and I really liked it. Like most people, I was used to “yes” and “ok,” but he said sure for everything. I couldn’t really pinpoint why I liked it so much, but I did! Made me feel good. It took a while for me to realize that embedded in the word sure is the indication that not only is the person willing to meet your request, but they’re actually happy to do. Sure is teranga, hospitality of the highest order.

Think about it. Is it even possible to say sure with malice or annoyance in your voice? It’s the word we use when we’re eager to please, happy to be of service. It lets the person know, “You’re not bothering me. I want to help you.” How good does it feel when someone responds that way?

Business owners (good ones) say sure when customers ask to customize orders. Grandmothers say sure when grandchildren ask for yet another piece of candy. Fathers say sure when weary children ask to be carried. It’s a word of genuine appreciation of presence. That’s why I felt giddy when he said it. It wasn’t the accent; it was the love the word comes wrapped in, the gentle whisper of eager service. Every relationship needs that. To know your life partner wants to serve you, derives joy from serving you, produces a sense of security and respect that only pushes you to want to do the same. And so a cycle of service is created. This is where love lives and grows. The ebb and flow of marriage is still there, but the undercurrent of service always brings it back to balance. So I guess it isn’t really the word that’s magical. It’s the intentions that drive the word, the kindness behind it. So much packed into those four little letters.

It’s not just marriages that can benefit from its use. I try to use it in every relationship of value. I make a point to say sure to my children as frequently as possible. “Say ‘sure,’ mommy,” my son will say. He notices when I don’t. He hasn’t told me as much, but I think he gets the same feeling I got when I first heard his dad say it to me. He’s only five, but he’s astute enough to feel the good in it. I think we all are.

Nadirah Angail

photo credit: Wilson Sanchez


Parenting is hard. Let me express that.

woman-1043030_1920 (1)I posted one morning on FB, as I’ve done many times before, about my struggles with parenting– a whole list of things that make parenting particularly challenging for me. It was pretty cathartic to say those things “aloud,” but as I got to the end, I felt the need to make it more palatable, to drop some sugary prose on the end like, “But parenting is also wonderful and grand and blah, blah, blah.” And I actually did it. I typed up a quick, cute little something so no one would accuse me of not being grateful for my children or not enjoying the journey. ‘Cus, ya now, God forbid a mother doesn’t enjoy parenthood every second of every day.

But you know what, I took that ish off! Because though it was true (parenting is great and so are children), the road is not smooth and it does not always feel good. And that prickly discomfort is what I wanted to communicate, NOT the warm fuzzies that come at other times. But for some reason, mothers are made to feel bad for not always enjoying the ride. We’re supposed to grin and bear and act like our mystical ties to our children blot out the magnitude of this task. They don’t. I love my children in an unimaginable way and thank God for them daily, but that love and thankfulness don’t temper the strain and friction of being responsible for a tiny person’s life. It’s tough, and I should be able to say that without feeling like I’m doing something wrong.

And so I did. I said what I wanted to say in the way I wanted to say it and drowned out the voices that whispered, “Shame on you for being other than happy. Shame on you for not presenting yourself in the expected way.” As I submerged those voices and muffled their condemning cries, I was left with a silence that allowed me to feel ok about not feeling ok.

We all need that. We all need to be able to say, “These kids are getting on ALL my nerves and I’m ready to blow,” without someone else saying, “Oh, but children are so precious. Be thankful.” Sigh. Yes, I know children are precious, but sometimes they fight and lie and break things and whine and don’t listen and disturb my peace and make my left eye twitch just a little. And when that happens, I’m not thinking about how precious they are. I’m thinking about how lucky they are that I choose not to use corporal punishment. I’m also thinking about what room I can lock myself in just to get some space. And then it passes and I’m able to function again. But I need my moment. Don’t deny me that.

It is downright oppressive to condition mothers to bury our feelings under a forced smile. Even though most people are trying to help by reminding us of the good, it feels like judgment and it feels like we’ve done something wrong for sharing how we feel.

For those who are wondering, a better response would be to say, “I know how that feels/I’ve been there.” Or maybe you don’t know how it feels and haven’t been there. In that case, just say, “That sounds tough. Hope it gets better.” Silence works too. Sometimes just saying it aloud does wonders. We don’t always need a response. Aside from HELP and support, all we need is the space to truly feel and process the full range of emotions parenting produces.

~Nadirah Angail

photo credit: Yery Yheoun

Brock Turner is why feminism must include men


brock turner mugshot
No smiling, glossy photos here. Just a mugshot of a convicted rapist. Photo: nbcnews.com

I have a daughter and a son, so I can’t help but be concerned with the messages and images hurled at young women AND men. For me, there is no separation. They are two sides of the same coin. I can’t empower my daughter and teach her her worth, only to leave my son defenseless and open to the metal attacks of a society that would have him believe he has carte blanche in his future dealings with women. That would leave someone else’s daughter, empowered though she may be, vulnerable to his unchecked power. I can’t have that.

I tell my daughter regularly that she is strong, powerful, intelligent and fully in control of her body. I tell her no one has the right to touch it or do with it anything she hasn’t first approved, but you know what (and I hate to even type this and acknowledge it as true), but some entitled, unmolded man could come and ruin that–real quick. Just like the Stanford rapist, Brock Turner.

So when I’m giving my son the  “You’re strong, powerful and intelligent” speech, I add on a special caveat that he must always respect and protect women. I tell him that in a few short years, he will be (most likely) bigger and stronger than his sister and me, and he must use that strength to our benefit, to the benefit of every woman regardless of what she looks like, acts like or wears. And yes, I know, telling my young son that women need protection (thereby implying our vulnerability ) may not gel well with the “women can do it all” feminism of today, but I make no room in my house for other people’s interpretations. Because sooner or later, my son will learn of his physical strength. He will feel it in his growing body and see how other men use it to intimidate and control women, so I won’t be doing him any favors to gloss over it and act like it doesn’t exist. It does exist. He must learn how to use it.

But no amount of talking on my behalf will take the place of his father’s doing. I can give feminist speeches all I want, but if his father were to be physically, verbally or financially abusive, my words would have little chance against the norms being created in his mind. And it doesn’t always take full-on abuse. A mere cavalier attitude toward the objectification of women is a seed that could grow into something quite dangerous. If we are ever to gain equality in this world, boys must be groomed to value women, and they must be made aware of how to harness their power. It’s not enough to wrap our daughters in “Girls rock” tees and serenade them with Beyonce and Taylor Swift songs. It’s not enough to teach them about math and science and how to change a flat. It’s not enough to take a stance against princess culture. Our sons, too, must be taught to stand. They must have pounded into their minds the idea that is NOT ok to exert control over a woman. They must see adult males loving, respecting and protecting (yes, protecting) women against those who, apparently, didn’t get the memo.

Perhaps Brock Turner wouldn’t have felt comfortable thrusting himself atop an unconscious woman had he been taught to be a feminist, taught how to handle his power differently. But it is quite clear what Brock was taught. Based on his father’s disgusting plea to the courts, it is clear he was taught that his getting “20 minutes of action” is far more important than a woman’s right to give consent regarding what is and isn’t entered into her body. To Brock’s father, all that matters is his son’s ease and comfort, his ability to carry on with life as though he hadn’t raped someone and made her own body a prison. There are far too many “Brock fathers” out there who give their sons pass after pass and never instill in them the value of a woman and the responsibility of a man. And when those miseducated males find themselves unsupervised and in the presence of a woman, her empowerment can be stolen in an instant.

So please, pour into your sons as much as you do your daughters. The need is grave for both.

~Nadirah Angail

Kiss my tear ducts

My daughter, Zara. She cries and she is strong.

A funny thing happens when water wells up in a woman’s eyes and—God forbid—falls out. It seems those tears, salty and shameful, trigger a mighty trumpet to blow, signaling to the world that weakness has arrived. Never mind the strength she’s had to develop just from living in a world that scrutinizes her so deeply. She is definitively weak. Her leaking eyes are my witness.

And though a woman’s tears they may look similar to regular, run-of-the-mill tears, know they are not. They belong in a class all their own, far away and separate from everyone else’s. Because other tears have meaning. They bring about empathy and compassion.  Baby tears, for example, are considered a valid form of communication. When a baby cries, people know there is an issue that needs to be addressed.  Man tears are sweet, endearing, and sometimes sexy. Even whiny kid tears, which can be soooo annoying, get more love than the cleansing waters a woman produces. Silly me, here I was thinking all tears mattered.

Over the past week, I have been bombarded with comments regarding my “Mind your own womb” blog post. Though much of it was positive and quite moving, I was struck by the number of women who were upset with my “portrayal of women.” According to said comments, I made women look weak by suggesting that we cry all the time.

*Deep sigh*

First off, can we talk about the fact that I only mentioned three women in the whole post? There is a 30-year-old, a 34-year-old and a 40-year-old. That’s it. Sure, I mentioned various scenarios that I knew would apply to many different women, but at no point did I mean for this tiny group of ladies to be a symbolic stand-in for all womankind. The fact that so many people would assume this is, well, pretty crazy to me.

Second, can we talk about the fact that I only described these women as crying in response to this one particular, highly personal matter? At no point did I say that they cry all the time, every day, about everything. In fact, it seems it would make more sense to assume they spend most of their time NOT crying. But then, I wrote it, so perhaps I’m able to read into what others can’t.

Third, can we accept, claim and rejoice in the fact that crying is a natural and healthy part of the human emotional response? And though not all women are frequent criers, the ones who are have nothing to be ashamed of. I can’t be sure, but I have a feeling many of these decriers who found fault with my portrayal probably consider themselves feminists. They probably felt like they were standing up for the portrayal and progression of women. Good for them. Please do stand up for what you believe in, but recognize that equating crying with weakness does nothing to further the cause of women. And recognize that crying is only considered weak because it is a so-called feminine trait. It crying were considered masculine, no one would have a problem with it, and they’d probably be encouraging us to do it more.

But guess what? I’m that type of feminist who doesn’t feel the need to take on so-called masculine traits to be valid. I’m the type of feminist who feels comfortable crying (or not crying) as much as my little heart needs to, and I recognize that different women handle different emotions differently. And I’m so cool with that.

But since you want to equate tears with weakness, let’s take a closer look at that. I’m reminded of my late aunt Umaimah Khalifah (may Allah have mercy on her soul), a true pillar of strength in my family. She died in 1999 and left a void no one could ever fill. Talk about strength. This is a woman who was always looking to help others, always looking to give—even when she didn’t have much herself. I remember it like yesterday. She would say, “If there’s enough for one, there’s enough for two.” Wasn’t no way you were coming in her house and not sharing whatever you had! She used to let a whole group of us, my cousins and I, come over her house to spend the night. She never complained, never seemed in a rush to send us back to our parents. Her heart was so full of love and kindness…and strength.

She was one of those “I only fear my Lord” sort of women. I remember she took all us kids to an amusement park once. It was probably around 5:30 pm or so and it was time for Asr (the 3rd daily prayer for Muslims). We just assumed we’d make it up when we got home, but she wasn’t having it. She found a nice spot in the grass and made us pray on time, right there in the park. While we were embarrassed and concerned about onlookers, she stood tall and unbothered. She didn’t care who looked or what anyone thought. My aunt would let no one interrupt her connection to God. She was loving, kind and unapologetically Muslim. And she was also a crier, a huge crier. She cried so much that her nickname was Boo. She’d cry if she hadn’t seen you in a while. She’d cry for happiness. She’d cry for sadness; it didn’t have to be her own.  She just felt things deeply, so much that water leaked from her eyes. I assure you, there is no weakness in that.

My aunt, Umaimah Khalifah, aka Boo

I’m also reminded of my own daughter, a nearly 7-year-old with a heart of gold. Like her great-aunt, she feels things deeply. She’ll even get teary-eyed during touching commercials, and I swear I saw her crying once during an episode of “Iyanla, Fix My Life,” but she denies it. I guess I’ll let that one slide. Her heart is incredibly open, and that scares me sometimes because there is so much ugly in this world that I’d hate for her to take into herself. But I can’t live in fear. That would be unfair to us both. So me and my leaky-eyed child just live day to day, sunrise to sunrise. We don’t focus on the many people who lie in wait, judgment in hand as if we were made of glass and gears instead of skin, blood and bone.

And even with tears in her eyes, perhaps because of the tears in her eyes, she is strong. Every day this child becomes more of herself—more confident, more intelligent, more grounded in who she is. A few weeks ago, her first-grade class had a performance. Her teacher asked them to wear something special, so she wanted to wear a headscarf, the first time she’d done so in school. This is a decision she made completely on her own despite the fact that no one in her class, maybe even her whole school, wears hijab. But she didn’t care. She wasn’t concerned about the possible judgment and didn’t fear rejection. On that day and every other day, she was nothing more and nothing less than her entire self. That’s strength, and I dare you to tell me it’s not.

So on behalf of my aunt, my daughter, myself and everyone else whose eyes tend to leak, kiss my tear ducts.

~Nadirah Angail