When Life Gives Us Lemons & Beyoncé Gives Us Lemonade

I’m pissed at Beyoncé.

The other night she dropped her new visual experience titled Lemonade on HBO. As an avid Beyoncé fan I had anxiously anticipated this moment for the past few weeks, ever since she vaguely hinted on her social media outlets that we were in for an audio visual treat.

Honestly, I just wanted to watch some dope choreography.

But instead I was served up a giant existential reckoning as I wrestled with grief, shame, and loss.

Damnit Beyoncé! You have to warn the people before you produce the most artistically encompassing exploration of grief produced in this century.

Rather than just an entertaining compilation of song and video, Lemonade levels the playing field. What I thought was just going to be a dramatic story about infidelity quickly unraveled me as a human being. Because 5 minutes in Beyoncé spoke my deepest insecurity out loud:

“I tried to be soft, prettier, less awake.”

As a woman I’ve often discussed how I battle against excess. How I just want to be smaller, quieter, more manageable. How I fear eating too much, weighing too much, simply being too much and thus undesirable. I found myself whispering “me too” over and over again. How could it be that arguably the most beautiful, powerful, and talented woman in the world could articulate the very same insecurities I regularly face?

The best way to bring someone into a story is to allow room for their own story to unfold as well. Just like that I realized Lemonade was taking me somewhere and I wasn’t happy about it. But when your brain is engaged in a good story it’s powerless to stop following the plot.

Aka buckle up.

Now, to be clear, I do not agree with all of Lemonade's content. There are some intensely graphic and vulgar descriptions going on in there. Bey drops more F bombs than all of WWII combined and there are some seriously questionable lyrics going on. C'mon Yoncé, clean it up for the kids.

But it would be a miss to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Or, I guess in this case, the Lemonade

In a bold act of vulnerability, Beyoncé puts her own drama on the screen so that our stories of fear, doubt, insecurity, and loss can come to life. As she articulated pieces of her own story I found mine too.

“Why do you deny yourself heaven? Why do you consider yourself undeserving? Why are you afraid of love? You think it’s not possible for someone like you.”

Now, I know not every narrative in Lemonade was for me. As someone who has benefitted from white privilege her entire life I cannot possibly lay claim to the narrative of what it's like to be a black woman in America. I cannot begin to understand what it's like to be systematically discriminated against simply based upon the color of my skin. I've also never been married, or had a child, or experienced marital infidelity. Not every part of Beyonce's story is for me; the same way we cannot completely identify with any other individual's story. It's their story to tell and cross to carry for a reason. 

But there is something we all can connect on. 

I don’t care who you are or where you are, you know grief. Maybe you’ve lost someone physically or emotionally. Maybe it was a breakup or infidelity. Maybe, like me, you lost a loved one far too soon. Maybe you lost a parent either through divorce, abuse, or apathy. Maybe you’ve been the victim of violence and oppression. Maybe you’ve experienced loss because you thought you would be married by now, have kids by now, or be further along in life by now.

That’s the thing about life- we’re all victims and we’re all villains. In fact, what makes a good story is both a victim and a villain with a history of pain. The beauty is we get to write our own endings. We can allow our pain to dictate our role as either a victim or villain or we can be brave and write a completely different story.

We can write ourselves as victors.

But we can only write our story if we’re willing to engage with it and really flesh it out. We can’t stand back at a distance by avoiding or criticizing our stories or the stories people are writing around us. Bitterness and cynicism are surefire ways to become the villain.

No, in order to write a different story we must wrestle.

The problem with grief is it must be mourned and experienced accordingly. In Lemonade we enter into 11 different chapters as Beyoncé rumbles with her story. Rather than just skip to the end and say “this is something that happened to me,” Beyoncé allows us to enter into her story line by line. She doesn’t gloss over the messy middle and package her pain in a manageable way. Instead, she’s vulnerable enough to enter into every emotion despite the discomfort.

Only when we lean into our grief and really embrace the death we’ve encountered can we move forward towards redemption.

 “With every tear came redemption and my torturer became my remedy”

The very scars that turn us into victims or villains are actually what remind us we’re human. They’re the tender spots on us, the visual and emotional cues as to what keeps us sensitive and empathetic. They’re the marks that allow people to see us as the scarred, flawed individuals we are and ask:

“What happened?”

Then we get to be brave and tell our story. We get to be brave and recount our life, loss, and love. We get to read our own story out loud so that maybe, just maybe, the other person will whisper a sigh of relief and say as C.S. Lewis says, “What! You too? I thought that no one buy myself…”

Author Dr. Brené  Brown writes in her book Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution about this wrestling process. She says:

"The opposite of recognizing that we’re feeling something is denying our emotions. The opposite of being curious is disengaging. When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, the define us. Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending- to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how this story ends.”

So we can keep our stories quiet. Or in fear and insecurity we can stand on the sidelines and criticize those who, like Beyoncé, bravely tell their own stories. Or we can be courageous open our hearts to wrestling and our mouths to recounting our tales.

“If we’re going to heal it better be glorious.”

Lemonade, like life, is about taking what's raw and bringing it together to make something sweet. We can choose to view our stories as nothing more than lemons, water, and sugar, aka hurt, pain, and brokenness. Or we can choose to do the hard work and grind it out to make lemonade.

In typical Beyoncé fashion she's tackled women's rights, racism, and now she's tackling vulnerability. You know you can't beat her, so you might as well join her. 

And any haters that get in her way watch out: she will write a fire record-setting album and expose all your deepest, darkest secrets. Don't say I didn't warn you.

What did you think about Lemonade? Did you love it or hate it? What have you lost? Are you in the grieving process right now? Shoot me an email or comment below and let me know your thoughts. 

Want to read more about Lemonade? Check out my review at Verily Magazine