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Mask OFF

All day today, I've been tuned into this message that keeps reminding me that bringing truth to light sets us free. What came to mind next is noticing the various masks we get to wear that invite us into this play of acting out a character, depending on the mask we put on. I was driving with the windows down, and as I pulled up to the stop sign, a guy cruised by on his bike blasting music; the lyrics were "Mask on (off), fuck it, mask off...". I laughed because this life has such a sense of humor to line up what we're ready for. Here I am, tuned into this frequency, perfectly placed for this, what became, a 30-minute reflective meditation where I began to connect with this belief that I was a lost child, the black sheep.

I'm being asked to take this mask off and look at myself in the mirror. A little eye-gazing and smiling to welcome myself home. Sounds wild, but someone has got to do it. I mean, feeling disconnected from my parents invited me to connect mostly within myself. I learned how to be at home in myself, even though parts of me were crying and begging to relate. In order to attempt connection, I learned to doctor up masks that I got to put on to play a role that earned connection. The more I wore a mask, the more I became frustrated because I wasn't, in fact, being seen and accepted for me. I was merely fitting in, and my big ass soul knew it.

When we're children, we're learning our place within our families and friends, our communities, and on this planet. Before families were tribes and everyone knew their role. This seems to have gotten lost along the way of colonialism but hasn't been forgotten. My soul helped me rebel against the violence and abuse that I grew up around. Whether there was physical violence going down or verbal and emotional abuse being slung around, I rose to the occasion and spoke out against it. Feeling like the black sheep has a lot to do with these memories. I felt malnourished in so many ways because, like a lot of us, I was. Being at home within myself also meant a sense of aloneness that, as a young child, I found to be challenging. If I wore no mask and was my raw self, I wasn't supported, and often I was punished. If I put a mask on and compiled, that act was appreciated, and I'd be a part of. I grew tolerant of being alone and within myself but still wanted to know my role. Why was I here? I asked my mother to send me to military school so I might experience discipline and order. She laughed and couldn't, for the life of her, understand why I would want such a thing. I grew quieter on the outside because I stayed inside myself so much. For the most part, I got to do whatever I wanted and was rarely in school. For a creative like myself, not going to school meant less conformity, and I was glad. Early on, the household was strict on religious ideology and heavy-handed with violent abuse. As I got older and my momma was even more distracted, I'd fill my days with self-educating rituals like visiting the library, learning new and different words from the thesaurus, watching educational television, and listening to old jazz and religious records on vinyl. When I went outside, I'd be free as a bird. Smoking clove cigarettes and Virginia Slims while riding my bike around town... listening to music and the sounds of the city. It was freedom with little boundaries, yet I still yearned for guidance and some tender loving affection.

This contradictory place I lived between freedom in my raw self and masking up to fit in with family and friends whenever I had the pleasure of friends taught me to dissociate without even thinking about it. My mental was filled with suicidal ideation and surrender to being unalive. Age 14, I packed my things and left in order to find a caring home and guidance. I went to a local church, sat in the pews until someone asked why I'd been sitting there. Some folks took me in, and nobody at home realized I was gone for nearly 2 months. I felt even more alone, to be honest. Because although these folks had taken me in, I wanted the connection of my immediate family. I wanted to relate and connect with my mom and siblings and maybe even my dad. I went home, and nothing changed. I left again, and the suicidal ideation came on stronger. I set myself up and attempted to take my life by overdosing, but it didn't work. My big ass soul has another agenda... to live.

Shortly after this, my auntie and uncle took custody of me, my needs were met, I was put in school, the environment was nurturing, and it seemed to be an answer to my prayers. It was a shocking adjustment straight away and took some time to open up. I lasted about a year before I returned to my mom because she was in crisis mode. I thought, maybe if I'm there to help, she'll see me, and I know we'll connect then! Shortly after I arrived, she left, and I felt

stood up. I also noticed how deeply attached I was to the idea of mattering to someone. 

Again,I went inside and worked on masks for a while.

I was so busy crafting these masks and wearing them out that I had forgotten to nourish myself. I had forgotten to breathe life into myself, and the connection I craved so often before became a distant echo of my own voice. This story played over again and again until I began waking up to myself and realizing that I get to nurture a connection with my big ass soul while being in this human suit. 

Vulnerability takes courage, and so does the willingness to bring truth to light. Not to prove or defend but to simply live out loud. I appreciate that we get to build and design our character, and it's such a gift that we get to decide a lot of our experiences that help shape who we are and the direction(s) we move in. I'm also proud of my big ass soul for never giving up and insisting that this life is for living and loving on purpose. Disciplining myself according to my inner knower has been a powerful influence that keeps me aligned with my path as I step into my role as nurturer of our communities, remembering our roots as a tribe. I'm sitting in the classroom where I currently teach, writing this. I have the pleasure of instructing and guiding others to nourish themselves through food and cookery while threading in wisdom of lived experience.

I feel connected in many ways when I get to fulfill this part of my purpose, and I get to nourish myself as part of my process. Eye-gazing, smiling, and welcoming myself home, reminding myself "I love you" is me mattering to me in a sacred way. Connecting with myself is the place where I can tune into my North Star and dial into purpose and connect with others. Gifting myself TLC allows me to offer TLC, and the compassion that comes with unearthing our stories is the tender tending we need for our soil to enrich and our gardens to grow alongside each other and together.

-Chef Cori

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