I’ve been meaning to write, to find the right words to say I’m sorry that I’ve been distant.
I have never been one for small talk. I prefer conversations that bypass the weather and pull right up to the issues of the heart. The same is true of my writing.
The problem arose when I had been parked beside the heavy heart issues for so long that I felt stuck. I wondered not only whether I could locate my destination on a map, but if such a place even existed. It seemed—no matter who I traveled with, regardless the address I typed into the GPS, whether I gunned it or set cruise control, regardless what promising route I took—I wound up back in the same place. And after years of circling familiar landscape and parking in similar spots, I’d had enough.
It’s hard to believe I wrote nothing of significance this entire year. I figured I needed to put some distance between myself and my last story. I said I’d be back as soon as I finished exploring the open road. With each mile marker, I considered memorializing the moment—but convinced myself that it was reminiscent of every moment that came before it.
I never wanted Sheryl to be synonymous with sadness. I always imagined my words conjuring a variety of thoughts and emotions. I wanted to write stories and poems that wrapped readers in a bear hug, set passions aflame in their hearts, and reignited their hope. I think my writings have produced those emotions on occasion, but they’ve been heavy on the anger of injustice, the uncertainty of faith, and the ache of longing for love. Not only was I tired of writing about those things, but as I watched the gauge of my hope inch toward empty, I had to stop and refuel.
Sometime during the process of writing this post, I realized that I’m not sorry I’ve been distant. So much of growth is relearning; for me, that means abandoning the tendency to apologize for my legitimate needs and desires. I’ve been distant because it was a prerequisite for my peace. I’ve been quiet because listening and learning are precursors to creation.
In my silence, I’ve been pondering how much of life is pre-destined and how much the result of prayerful participation. I’ve been living in the moment long enough to appreciate a few exhilarating joy rides, yet stealing glances in the rearview at men who rode off into the sunset. I’ve been reconciling the blessing of turning 40 with the disappointment that it looks nothing like what I imagined. I’ve been accepting the strength and fragility of faith.
I couldn’t help but keep my distance. I’ve been recovering from a “mild” case of COVID, convincing myself that the continuous headaches, nerve sensations, and chest pains are the lingering effects of a virus I cleared months ago and not the beginning of a new infection. I’ve been weighing my fear of getting sick again against the loneliness of isolation. I’ve been balancing gratitude for life with the grief—and sometimes guilt—of knowing that hundreds of thousands of people, some of whom I called family and friends, did not survive. I’ve been trying offering prayers and support to those suffering sickness and loss. I’ve been focused on me while trying not to lose sight of others.
During my time away, I’ve been examining the extent to which my craft and my career should intersect. I’ve been debating how much of my story is between me and God, and how much I’m obligated to share with others in exchange for this gift. I’ve been losing myself in novels. After consistently being the primary subject of my writing, I’ve been considering a shift to fictional characters in worlds that I can control. I’ve been missing my grandfather, who was my all-time favorite storyteller.
I guess I’ve been distant because I hoped to arrive at happily ever after, tell the triumphant tale of my journey, and write a glowing review of paradise. But I’m still en route—probably always will be. And somehow, the stories are in the twists and turns navigated along the way, in the long stretches of road that neither thrill nor bend, in the hills and valleys, and always in the fact that we travel none of it alone.
I’m grateful to finally see the cityscape of 2021 in the distance. The closer we get, the larger it looms. I enter it with measured optimism. I expect that there may be a few places and people that resemble others in my past, but I will try to keep sight of the fact that I have never traveled this road before. I will trust that God has set me on a path of interesting and fulfilling stories. I will remember that there is no shame in pulling over, for as long as needed, as long as I’m always committed to returning to the road.
SheryLeigh is a woman who loves God, words, and people. She is currently living and loving as an author, blogger, poet, and spoken word artist in the Washington, D.C., area.
A communicator by education and trade, SheryLeigh holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Howard University and a Master of Arts in Management from Webster University.