One day, my mother dialed zero for the operator. As a Black woman living in Reagan’s 1980s era, isolated and economically struggling while surviving physical and sexual violence, she knew could not count on her predominantly white neighbors to stop her from committing suicide. My mother was past the stage of suicidal ideation and well into a solid plan to kill herself after my father had beaten her for confronting him when he sold off her land in Florida.
It wasn’t until years later that I understood the manifold losses my mother sustained as a result of my father selling her 2.5 acres of land north of Miami. It was as an adult that I understood the grief she must have felt at losing financial security and the communal legacy she had hoped to bequeath to her children, whom she hoped would eventually co-steward this land. Her grief, amplified by post-traumatic stress with major depressive features, culminated in the lack of a will to live.
Thankfully, when she dialed zero that day, the operator who answered was also a Black woman. She offered my mother, who was in a deep personal and economic crisis, exactly the sort of profound connection she needed. Their connection resonated with the communal environment of mutual aid and mutual rescue that has sustained Black women for centuries.
Years later, I also understood that in having the land taken from her, my mother lost a healing space. She lost her fruit trees and the vegetable and herb gardens that grew on the land, all of which were critical to sustaining her mental and physical health. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) points to extensive empirical literature linking nature and health. An April 30, 2021, by Marcia P. Jimenez, Nicole V. DeVille, Elise G. Elliott, Jessica E. Schiff,Grete E. Wilt, Jaime E. Hart,and Peter James in the NIH National Library of Medicine, titled “Associations Between Nature Exposure and Health: A Review of the Evidence,” connects engagement with nature to “improved cognitive function, improved brain activity, mood and sleep, and the potentially long-term positive effects on depression, anxiety, and other chronic health issues.”
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