Chicago poet J. Ivy talks about his new book Dear Father: Breaking the Cycle of Pain, what it's like to collaborate with the likes of Kanye West, John Legend and Jay Z, and why he feels compelled to write.
Read an excerpt from the book.
FORGIVENESS IS REMEMBERING TO FORGIVE AGAIN
Our emotions are real. Our feelings are real. Some memories aren’t erased by time. As human beings we naturally and often reflect on our past. We think back to certain times. Smells, colors, the sound of someone’s laugh, songs, movies, reruns of old shows, shifts in the weather, dates on the calendar, holidays, passing cars, certain foods, landmarks throughout the city all remind us of different points in our lives. Our memories spark, becoming our personal time machine, transporting us back. These memories are at times happy, draping us with joy. At other times they are hard or hurtful, reminding us of the pain we once felt. We never know when exactly something in our life will trigger these feelings.
For these moments that are hard, these times when past scars reappear, it becomes pertinent that we find ways to control the weight of these feelings. Our joy deserves our protection. We deserve to be happy. Isn’t that why we’re here? When we reflect on the moments that taught us valuable lessons, we face a natural challenge to separate the emotion that we felt at that time from current emotions. The textures of our memories are layered with the elements of that time. We remember what the weather was like. We remember what we had on. We remember where we were coming from and where we were headed. We know who was there and who said what. We remember the causes that shifted the course of the situation. We remember the moments falling like dominos. The habits of our thought patterns place us right back in the moment, as if we were reliving it all for the first time.
When it comes to dealing with these hard times that were caused by others, especially when it’s caused by those closest to us, it’s a journey to find it in our hearts to forgive. Words are thrown at us that forever stick to our spirits. Hateful things are said that echo in our minds. We began to believe the lies, the judgmental acts, and the doubts of others. We become what others think until we can forgive and let it go. But letting go is hard. We lose precious time trying to figure out why so and so would do this to us. What did I ever do to him? Why would she do that to me? Those are the questions that are bounced between the pain in our hearts and the logic in our minds. We just want to understand. But trying to understand may be our biggest crime. Tarrey once told me, “What others think about you is none of your business.”
I believe that’s true. It isn’t any of my business what you think. Everything isn’t meant for me to understand. What you think about me is your opinion—knowing that it’s important that we don’t take things so personal. What I think about me is mine, my business. Trying to understand why you don’t see things the way I do is a waste of time. And often we miss out on the next opportunities trying to figure out the ones behind us.
When my cuz told me that I needed to forgive to release myself of the heavy pain I was experiencing, I realized that forgiveness starts in the heart. It starts with creating the life you want for yourself. Who are you really and what does that include? Does your true self want to stay in a place of anger, rage, sadness, or misery? Do you love living in that state? Is it your dream to remain in the shadows of depressing times or do you want to dance in the sun? Who are you?
We forget to take the time to consider what may have pushed people to the point they are at. We don’t think about the hurt or traumas they may have encountered. I’ve found that most people don’t want to worry others with their problems. Some are ashamed of what they’ve been thru. Some are guided by pride that won’t allow them to touch on certain feelings. Folks become very guarded not knowing how to cope with their pain. Whatever the case may be, people are imperfect human beings. We all make mistakes. We’ve all been hurt.
Pain can intoxicate us like most drugs, causing us to do things and say things that we didn’t really mean. We’ve all done it. We’ve all felt the guilt and regret of the negativities we’ve spewed out. We’ve all been pushed by our anger. We’ve all made off-balance decisions that we feel remorseful about later. When we calm down, we clearly see everything that we could have done differently. We know that we weren’t in our right minds. We know we weren’t our true selves. We know our actions didn’t meet our intentions.
Becoming aware of who you are, remembering to have compassion for others, and not taking things personally still presents a challenge when it comes to forgiving. Forgiveness is an exercise. The act of forgiving becomes physical. It becomes a physical task. It’s heavy and it’s hard, like pushing two-ton stones uphill. Finding the strength and the courage to clean the slate of your own newly formed judgments is hard, but it’s something that you are capable of doing. You have the power to let go. You have the ability to exercise your love.
When you remove the negative emotions.
When you let go of the anger.
When you let go of the hate.
When you let go of the fear.
When you let go of feeling disappointed.
When you let go of expectation.
When you let go of your self-pity.
When you stop feeling sorry for yourself.
When you muscle up and let go, you take back your freedom that heartache locked away.
You were put here for a reason. It’s important that you remember your significance and not let anyone interrupt your walk. I know my path has been interrupted time and time again ’cause I allowed the pain of others to hurt me. Hurt people hurt people, and we’ve all been hurt. We’ve all hurt someone we’ve loved. We’ve all hurt someone we haven’t known. But my intention is never to hurt anyone. And I’m sure my dad’s intention wasn’t to hurt me. His actions may not have matched that but neither have my imperfect acts toward others.
Like the saying goes, “Don’t judge the speck in my eye without seeing the log in yours.” We all make mistakes. We all will make more. The key is not to judge but to focus on your purpose. Despite what anyone may have done in the past, you’re still standing. You’re still able to move forward in your life. You are still awarded with the ability to dream, create, and find happiness. But in order for us to find these joys, we have to forgive. And when the mechanics of our mind flash back to yesteryear, we have to remember that . . .
To forgive again,
And . . .
Watch J. Ivy perform "Dear Father" on HBO Def Poetry.
Watch J. Ivy perform "I Need to Write" on HBO Def Poetry.
Watch J. Ivy's TedxAshburn performance: