Until We Can Do Something Else

Cleveland, Ohio is a place of redemption—or it’s trying to be. It’s home to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who in 2016, became the first team in NBA history to recover from a 3-1 deficit and win a national championship. It’s home to the Cuyahoga River, a river that, 50 years ago, caught fire due to pollution, but now holds the title of 2019 “River of the Year.” It’s home to three women who were held captive for roughly a decade before breaking free and making national headlines. Despite its history of economic hardships, it’s also home to the many attractions that gave it its place among the top 21 locations in the world to visit, as determined by National Geographic. And it’s my home.

I left Cleveland four years ago, without any desire to return permanently but thankful for its lessons in redemption. Those lessons are the reason why when I visit, I take my grandmother to church (though I lost all faith in religion years ago), why I take my estranged mother to chemo (after having no relationship for 20 years), and why I take my estranged father to dinner (after having a distant relationship for 14 years). Redemption takes time.

But I have used my time wisely. I have realized my dreams, and I have done the things that scare me—which have always been one and the same. I have imperfectly, and in some cases briefly, been a singer, an actress, a traveler, a writer, a volunteer, a student, an educator, a significant other, a confidante, an activist, an administrator, a relative, a researcher, a warrior, and a connoisseur of red lipstick and gummy bears. Through these identities and the time it took to construct them, I healed. One day, I realized that the pain I experienced at the hands of people who wronged me no longer existed; I just didn’t care anymore. And it was when I no longer cared about the pain others had caused me that I discovered what it was like to care in its most profound, yet uncomplicated, form.

The journey to such a realization has been as gruesome as it has been awe inspiring. Have no doubt: if you are going to live and love to the fullest extent, it’s going to be precarious. For example, even though I take my mother to chemo, make her care packages and homemade macaroni and cheese, and assist financially upon occasion, I make her cry because I don’t say “I love you,” because I don’t love her. I might forever feel some sense of guilt over that. But I do what I can, which is more than I could bring myself to do in the past.

Just last week, I sat across from a student who, as an adopted child, turned to me for help in navigating her own thorny relationships with parents, the stress from which interfered with her academic endeavors and personal well-being. I encouraged her to consider boundaries among pushing oneself to achieve personal growth; caring for others despite the sacrifices we make to do so; and remaining in toxic situations, which might yield detrimental and long-term consequences. While I offered practical approaches to creating a healthier space for herself, I also reiterated to her that redemption simply takes time. I told her to do what she can—until she can do something else.

This message seems timely, given the plethora of trauma in a variety of forms—political upheaval, natural disasters, massacres, personal violence, devastating illnesses, global discord, and inadequate social infrastructures—that we witness every time we interact with media. We seem to increasingly be at a loss for actions and a loss for words. But I searched my soul and found the 670 words in this blog—a small act of redemption, the piece of home to which I pay homage—just to remind and encourage us to do what we can, even if imperfectly and briefly—until we can do something else, perhaps something more, perhaps something better.

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J.R. Corey

I reside in North Carolina, where I teach full-time in the Thompson Writing Program at Duke University. In addition to…

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