A woman in a field tugging on her hair as she looks over her shoulder to the right

The tall pine trees surround me. Their pointed tops puncture the white blanket of sky. They make me feel safe. Their sturdy trunks seemingly extend upward for miles and their outstretched branches leave me hidden.

Just for a moment I think I could live here, stay here for an eternity, shielded from the cold. I could curl up in these branches and try to make a home, but the branches aren’t as soft as I once believed. They poke and prod. I start to question why they won’t coddle me anymore.

An icicle caught my eye as it hung from one of the evergreen’s arms. It was large enough to see my reflection—the reflection of an adult who shouldn’t need the forest to protect her any longer. Staring back into my own eyes, I realized that while I felt safe here, my five senses were muted, as if I wasn’t fully alive.

I realized that while I felt safe here, my five senses were muted, as if I wasn’t fully alive.

I closed my eyes, thanking the forest for my years of youth, for my years of naive exploration and for my years of not truly knowing. Then, I began to take one small step after another into the open air. The harsh wind whipped across my face, startling me, forcing me to feel. It burns, bringing tears to my eyes.

The shade the trees once provided is now gone, the bright light from the sun exposing me. It’s much louder here, too. The stillness absent. I am overwhelmed by my senses, overcome with pain and shock; my breath repeatedly taken away by the wind’s overpowering severity.

It’s more than uncomfortable, but I’ve gained awareness. It hurts me to see the world outside of my circle of trees, but I don’t want to pretend anymore. I don’t want to ignore reality. I no longer belong in the forest that represents the naivety of my youth. The open ground has exposed me to the affliction of others, those who do not look like me and face injustice because of the color of their skin—a necessary growing pain into awareness and empathy. As I continue to walk forward into the brokenness, I know that from now on I will have a well-rounded life, rather than a guarded, partial one.

It hurts me to see the world outside of my circle of trees, but I don’t want to pretend anymore.

To people of color, my friends and equals, I am still learning to grow and become increasingly cognizant of the systemic racism that exists in our world. I promise to push myself outside of the forest and into the very real and harsh light.

I will no longer retreat back to the place I once thought was safe. I’m sorry that it took a windstorm for my eyes to be opened. 

How does information and empathy help us to acknowledge and honor the experience of people of diverse backgrounds? How can this spur us to action in the face of injustice?

Image via Kelly Elaine Photo

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