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Alanah Davis: In this new year, an allowance of curiosity, grace, and not knowing


Alanah Davis: In this new year, an allowance of curiosity, grace, and not knowing

Feb 06, 2023 | 7:03 am ET
By Alanah Davis
Alanah Davis: In this new year, an allowance of curiosity, grace, and not knowing
Stock.adobe.com photo by okanakdeniz.

I was still at an age where a Scholastic book fair on a day when golden-brown leaves might rustle underfoot in The Bronx or when a ham and cheese Lunchable were enough of a rare treat to excite me when I learned about fake drawer fronts.

I’ll explain later.

My mother, aged at what I assumed to be as young as the women on Living Single but definitely not as old as the ladies on Golden Girls, lived in a high-rise building owned by the New York City Housing Authority, known to most as the projects. The projects are known for their pungent hallway smells, metal doors, and stairs which were always of good use when the elevators were frequently broken — especially on days when you and your mom might have grocery shopped for oxtails, goldfish snacks, cabbage, and other goods at C-Town, a chain of supermarkets in the northeast.

Freshly home from the grocery store one blessed day when the elevators were working, I found myself wedged in my mother’s way whilst she put away our grocery haul for that day and I helped.

For the first time in what has become a life-long practice of high observance, I noticed her opening some of the pine-colored and well-lacquered drawers and cabinets and never touching others.

I did as she always encouraged me to do when I didn’t know something, and that was to ask questions.

I asked her in so many words why she didn’t open some of the drawers and if there was something in them. With patience and the extension of grace she always had for my not knowing things, she explained that some of the drawers were fake, that they didn’t open. I hemmed in agreement, for a moment.

I know now as a reasonable adult — who made the mistake on that day mentioned above of pulling the fake drawer front very hard and decapitating it from its pine counter face (even after being told that it was fake) — that faux drawer fronts are used to continue the visual line created by other drawers or cabinet openings. You usually see them placed in areas in which a drawer would not be appropriate, such as directly under sinks. I guess I just had to see it to believe it.

(I’ve made many mistakes before and after that day in and out of the kitchen. Like this other time, I ate a jar full of pickles against my mother’s wishes and broke out in hives forcing both myself and my mother to miss work and the first day of school to have my mystery welts inspected by Dr. Chatha on 138th Street.)

When I pulled the fake drawer front in the kitchen that day it revealed dozens of spiky nails on the backside of a plank of the old lacquered project wood. It scared me and I dropped it.

My mother was shocked by the sound and turned around to the image of a gaping drawer-sized hole in her cabinetry and me with my shoulders shrugged to my ears and my chubby fingers held cheek high as if to gesture that I didn’t know what happened. All she could say was that she had told me. And she did.

But something about our humanity and its innate curiosity always wants to know for sure and for ourselves, doesn’t it?

According to scientists at Harvard, curiosity — the perception of a gap in knowledge and understanding — is a sensation much like hunger or thirst. We’re forever going to be deciding what information to attend to.

My mother was and is still adamant in my adult years about providing me with an environment where I feel like I can ask questions and have the necessary supports to guide my explorations here on Earth. Many of us explored with our parents and grandparents old recipes over the holiday season — or may have even made the mistake of excluding a key ingredient to fit our contemporary vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free needs. But it never does come out the same does it?

When we start a new year we’re constantly pondering if it’ll be a good year or if we’ll finally lose or gain those pounds or if that one family member will return to good health or if the price of oxtails or gas will finally come and stay down. The truth is that it’s really all hard to say.

It’s not impossible that the outcomes of what we want to happen in our lives in a new year will all be good, but it is improbable. The only thing that is really certain is that we know we will make mistakes.

So what if instead of setting a resolution or a firm decision to do or not to do something, we temper our expectations and tap into an ever-present truth that we are always going to make mistakes, no matter what?

We’re not children anymore and we don’t have the guidance of parents telling us what to do and what not to do — but did it ever matter since we always did what we wanted anyway?

Since we know people come and go and we grow out of things like child-rearing, we can always rely on the mistakes we make to teach us about what’s best for us next. There in the mistakes lie our greatest lessons.

The urge to process everything that happened in the past year and beyond and move forward doing everything perfectly is completely unrealistic and inauthentic. We have to allow ourselves to pull on some faux drawers, so to speak. To be willing to expose ourselves to some spiky nails, some loud thuds and even scolding from those who love us the most and want the best for us even when we can’t see what’s best for ourselves.

Every whim we pull on in our life won’t have something behind it. Sometimes it’ll just be a gaping hole staring back at you indicating that you’ve made a mistake. And that’s okay. That’s human.

Whether you had or have the kind of mother or parent like mine that taught you how to extend grace to others — take this as a sign that you’re deserving of pardons if you miss a workout or eat the bread or don’t go skydiving like you said you would this year.

This is as good a year as any, no matter your age, to look at others — and most importantly yourself — with compassion. Both when you get things right and when you don’t. As calculated as you may want to be in a new year or with a new job or a new relationship you have to be okay with not knowing the outcome.

It’s going to be okay.