Yesterday I saw a 13 year old kid hanging out on a local street corner in the late evening. I wondered why he was there and not at home playing some video game or just sitting in front of the tv watching some age appropriate show. I thought about the plight of children today. I thought about what this young boy’s home life must be like and why his parents allowed him to be alone in the street at such an hour. I watched as he grabbed a small bag and headed up the street and disappeared from sight. I wondered why no one had told him about the 8 o clock man.
I grew up in a small southern town where everyone knew everyone else in the neighborhood. I did not have one mother, I had 20 and they all had their eyes on me at all times. If any wrongdoing was to be done it was relayed home to my mother before I got there. We were a close knit community and we always had others to play with as the neighborhood was filled with kids. We all knew what our parents expected. We knew the guidelines of where we were allowed to play, when we needed to be home and we knew our manners. We respected our elders and they were given carte blanche to correct us if we were out of line. Parents had a way with us and to this day I think they held secret meetings to come up with ploys to keep us walking the straight and narrow. We all knew to be home at 8 o clock as that was when parents began flicking the porch light and the infamous 8 o clock man began his rounds. Now you may be wondering what and why with regards to this legend. It was rumored at 8 o clock a tall thin sinewy escaped convict would search the streets for children and if he found one they would disappear forever. Word had gotten around and some even had a description and had reported seeing him. Now needless to say this worked like a charm to insure we were standing porch side 10 minutes shy of 8 o clock to avoid a chance encounter with this ghoul. I think every neighborhood or town probably had their version of the 8 o clock man. I often wondered why 8 o clock? why not the 7:30 man or the 9:00 man? Perhaps 8 was the time the sun started to set and darkness crept in, the perfect scenario for the doings of Mr 8 o clock. I certainly don’t condone scaring the bejeebies out of youngsters but I guess a parent needs to do what works and yes it worked.
I once had someone tell me whenever folks are celebrating 50 years of wedded bliss instead of blindly congratulating, maybe we should ask how much soul they have left and what has been given up along the way. With regards to relationships, I like many others was raised to believe that we should aspire to our forever afters. I like many others was raised in the atmosphere of for better or worse. What exactly is worse? I never thought once about seeking an answer to that question as my eyes were always set on the prize of holy matrimony. It mattered to me not one bit what the conventional vows said, I said yes to it all without giving it a second thought. Not to mention that heaven forbid we would not be the same people 50 years later as we were when we walked down that aisle. Make no mistake there are the ones who will learn to grow together. They are the ones who either through work and effort or sheer luck hold on in spite of any odds, any worse and sometimes to their own detriment. However, for many of us, the path ventures into a different terrain and we find ourselves having to navigate an unfamiliar course. There is an expiration date on everything and relationships are no exception.
With a staggering divorce rate at approximately 50 percent and sites such as Ashley Madison geared to affairs within marriage most folk with a piece of brain would wonder about the state of holy matrimony. Some would wonder has marriage run its course or perhaps is there a new way to be in relationship. It has been said the initial lusty highs of a relationship or limerance as it is called is a short lived show guaranteed to put the love jones in the most of independent souls thus assuring a potential mating. Unfortunately once the smoke clears and the veil is removed from the eyes we are left with a partner we may not really know at all. Lust makes us blind. This is not to say there is no love between individuals but real love is there when the smoke clears and when the passion wears off or at least thins. It is the glue that keeps us holding on when we would rather let go. Sadly as much as we might want to hold on, for some there is a time when the expiration date becomes a reality as we have changed course and our paths are no longer merging. It is this time when we need the courage and the fortitude to decide how we are to live the rest of our lives and give that gift to those we love. This is not to say we must part ways as enemies but it might just be the time to make a clear assessment and determine how do we go forward.
We as a society often see things in black and white. It is or it is not. I recently read of a couple who faced a reality and knew they could not continue in a traditional marital relationship. Instead of going to war they chose to end the marriage amicably and celebrated the new way with dinner and champagne. They were bravely choosing to honor what had been and toast to a new future with love and respect. Often so much anger and animosity is involved that clarity is rarely reached. If we love or ever have truly loved another we want the best for them and ourselves. We want to salvage our history and our friendship and hold onto our love and happiness. Life happens and its future cannot be carved in stone. The only thing constant is change. Love reins eternal
Last week I was in Death Valley on a 12 day vision fast being with living and dying. I sat in the desert contemplating the things in my life that no longer serve. I thought about my own death and what amends i needed to make before I passed from this world. I thought about the new life that lies ahead if I am so blessed. I listened to stories and shed tears and I returned back to my home to face the slow and eventual demise of a dear friend.
My friend is dying bit by bit a slow and anguishing death. She is alert and watches every day as a new muscle loses its use. She is brave and stoic and now with speech gone communicates through the use of an ipad. I watch her and I cry alone and beside her. I feel no shame but I feel helpless and fear at how we must face our own mortality knowing fate will deal us the last hand. As an ex hospice nurse, I have had the priviledge of being with others at one of their most intimate moments. I have listened to their joys and their regrets as they prepare to leave the earthly life. Yes i sat in Death Valley and died my metaphorical death as it is my belief that it is important to meet death at the door. It is important to open the door and let him in and have that conversation. Death comes to us all. Some of us get the gift of time where we if we so desire can say our farewells and kiss our loved ones. For others death will come when we least expect leaving many unprepared. No goodbyes and no I am sorry. Yes in Death Valley I made amends. I called into my heavenly circle those I needed to converse with to make amends or to ask for prayer. I spoke in the dark of the night as if that night would bring my death. I marveled at the stars and listened to the wind blow around my ears; something i had long taken for granted. I may have years or I may have only the next moment but in my mind i want nothing left unsaid. I wrote a letter to my friend that night. I told her how much I loved her and how much she meant to my life. I spoke of the legacy of love she was leaving to all of us, her friends. I called up memories of the times we had spent together in good health. As I watched her efforts to stand and communicate I understood that we are more than our bodies as her soul was shining bright in a body that was failing. We become so busy living that we forget the time will come to us all for the dying.
Please excuse my laziness as I have not put word to computer in quite some time. Life has a funny way of sidelining a body and taking one away from the creative endeavors.
I sit here with my coffee thinking about this year and how much has happened. To say there has been a lot of change is an understatement. Somebody once said the only thing constant is change. As cliche as it might be, nothing can be further from the truth. I have returned now from assisting my elderly parents in their move to a new home in Florida. I am asking my elderly parents to make a new way to be. I am asking them to leave a home in Virginia where they have lived for 58 years and I am asking them to be happy in doing so. I am also aware that it is difficult for them and for me. I am aware I cannot control their happiness or lack there of. As much as I would like for them to accept it all and smile with joy, it is not my place to force that feeling as much as it is my place to allow them to grieve their losses.
All throughout life, we are grieving loss. Life brings loss. We lose our babies as they become adults. We lose relationships, friends and lovers who no longer contribute to our growth. We lose faculties as we age. We lose jobs, pets, dreams and the list goes on. How we handle loss and grief are the pieces that test our metal. Make no bones about it, grief and loss hurt. It brings us to our knees. However, somehow when we are at our lowest wondering how we will ever survive, the sun comes up again and we do survive. We move forward and we go on.
Many years ago when my only brother was killed at 17 years of age I hit this bottom. I could not fathom the other side and allowed the grief to permeate my being for years. I saw no way out of the pain. I could not accept the concept of God’s will, the platitude that is used in some effort to ease one’s pain. I wanted to scream at God and anger was my side kick for a long while. One day the sun rose again and the anger lessened. It was then I knew I would survive. That is what happens with grief. We need to allow it to wash over us and claim what it wants to claim. We need to allow ourselves to be in it and with it as long as we need to be. There is no ‘snap out of it.” Once it has had its way we awaken to the possibilities that lie before us. We are changed forever but we move on. We also ask for help as often times it is through the help of others that we find strength. We allow the grief knowing that after the dark, the sun will rise again. All we have to do is hold on.
When I was 5 I asked my daddy for a pair of roller skates. I had seen the big roller skating rink in our town and I had seen the boys and girls who went there every Saturday. I had also watched roller derby and admired the fast sassy ladies who battled and elbowed their way around the rink every weekend night. I wanted to learn to skate. Daddy ignored my plea. One day after my incessant harassment my dad told me I could not go to the skating rink. He told me he would buy me a pair of skates but I was not allowed to learn at the skating rink. He sadly told me the color of my skin refused my admission. It was that day my daddy had to explain to his 5 year old black daughter the state of affairs in the country where we lived. I was 5.
Childhood is supposed to be a time of innocence; a time of play and make believe. It is supposed to be a time when all is possible and everywhere is explorable. At 5 I learned for little black and brown children in America that was not the case. I learned I had to be aware. I had to be careful and I had to know where it was safe for me to go.
My parents became my parents in the era of Jim Crow, a time when black citizens were restricted and denied freedoms allowed to whites. It was a time when the back of the bus was reserved for those with dark skin; a time when the closest restroom was on the side of the road behind a tree. It was a time when restaurants denied service solely based on skin color. It was a time of fear. The day of my birth my daddy knew I needed to be educated to my reality at an early age. He had to keep me safe. That was then and this is now.
I listen as friends with young black sons are facing this reality in a new time. They are now giving the speech to their young sons and daughters with different but similar realities. Yes we are now free to eat in restaurants, sit anywhere on a bus, seek opportunities that are more available and we are allowed to learn to skate. However, our sons and daughters continue to be marked. My black friends are telling their young sons and daughters how to dress, how to speak and how to act in a world that has already determined who they are because of the pigment of their skin. My friends are not telling their children of the kindness of “Joe” the corner police officer but they are now telling them how to keep their hands in plain sight if they are stopped by “Joe” the corner policeman. They are telling them how to say sir or mam. They are telling them by all means Don’t run. Some things change but some things remain the same.
I once had a very close friend ask me why I had to write about race. I thought about his question for months. When one speaks of priviledge that word comes to mind when I try to formulate an answer to my friend’s question. A white face in America can disguise itself anyway that it wants. No one knows if it is the face of a liberal, conservative, gay, straight, or any thing else. A white face can hide and be anonymous. A white face can go into a store and not be followed by a clerk. A white face can go about its day and usually does not have to wonder if a slight or mistreatment is racially motivated. As a friend once said “I don’t think about being black when I am lying in my bed or in my home but I better damn well be thinking about it when I step out of my front door.” For myself as well as others, we do not have the priviledge of not thinking about or writing about race as it is a part of who we are and necessary for our survival.
For many black boys and girls there was a joy watching Barack Obama become the first brown president. It made the thought possible that maybe all is possible and the world has changed. If only for that moment it seemed a reality. As America shifts and struggles with its desire to fight change at all cost, to make America great and to close borders to the many wanting to search for their piece of freedom, the feeling of Jim Crow remains very close on the periphery. Someone once said if we do not remember our history, we are doomed to repeat it. So yes I write about race. I talk about race so the skating rink will remain a possibility for all.
It is early and my dad has called me for pain medication. I am awake now and pondering life and how damn hard it can be. I head to the kitchen to pour myself a cup of coffee knowing sleep for now has come to an end. I am sad about my dad’s frailty and often frustrated at his need for increased care. This was the man that made the world safe for me. He has been my rock and my anchor. It was my dad who looked in the closet at night making sure the boogie man was gone. He was the man who tucked me and my 20 dolls into bed at night. Now I watch as he navigates from his wheel chair enduring pain. I hate this part of life but know it is a necessary part that we all have to come to terms with. No matter how many retreats I do or books I read change is always hard.
It has been said that the only thing constant is change. Even when we think we are in the safety of stability there is always a wind around the corner to knock us off course and take us out of the world of our comfort. Nothing stays the same. It is during these times we must allow ourselves to feel our discomfort and grief. We accept the tears that come and allow the vulnerability. It is during these times that we must ask for help. We need community and those who love us. We need their unconditional care and support and we must be willing to offer it to others in time of need. It is during this time that I see the fragility and preciousness of life. I see and feel that now I do not have the luxury of wallowing in what ifs or regrets. It is now or never to live life and be at peace with what may come.
There are times when I wonder if I am doing enough, if I am doing too much or if what I am doing is even appreciated. I think of my own life and wonder how I will age, how will I meet the change when I can no longer maneuver at the speed of lightening? How will I speak to those caring for me? Will my frustration get the best of me? I wonder how I will feel about all of the worrying I did that amounted to nothing. I think about what kind of legacy I will leave and how I will accept my aging body. We live in a world where youth and beauty are to be sought forever. We live in a world where we put our aged folks in nursing homes sequestering them from the rest of an active society. We forget the great wisdom that comes with aging. We forget that the elderly are some of our most valued assets. We do everything in our power to fight the onslaught of age with hopes that we too will remain forever beautiful. One day we look in the mirror and we realize the fight was all for naught as we realize that yes we have become old.
We must call upon our compassion as we navigate the road of aging for ourselves and our loved ones. Two days ago, I overheard my dad speaking with one of his caregivers. When she asked how he was, he briefly responded “I am doing OK. I was just born too early.”
I sit here in a small village in Cuba where it has been raining for the past few days. My mind wanders to my home in the states and to my family and friends. My mind also wanders to my own insecurities and fears and to those of many friends and acquaintances. Many of us have been so indoctrinated to believe our insecurities and doubts are real. They often become the things that paralyze us. Some of us have been surrounded or have been involved with others who not only do not have our best interest at heart but feel threatened by our very existence.
Sadly, in life there is hurt. We will unintentionally hurt others and they will hurt us. What we do with the hurt determines whether or not we survive and become whole or fall to our insecurities and fears. It is the strength and the courage in us to forgive and meet others with compassion. It is for us to become the people we truly can be and be an example of what love and acceptance can look like. Often times others come at us from a place of hurt with all of the fury and pain they can mete out. This is the time we must stand in our power and allow them to have their pain and hurt but we no longer are a target. We place our boundaries, draw our line in the sand and reach to love them with a long arm but they no longer get to hurt us. Those we love can hurt us in ways that are unimaginable and can be the ones to cause our hearts to split but with the courage we have we can keep right on marching towards wholeness
This morning I thought about love. I thought about the feelings we identify as love and how we sometimes give these feelings so easily to another but fail to give them to ourselves. I wondered how and why we get love so confused and why it causes so much ecstacy or agony. I also think of the feelings of anguish when we feel love is taken away or manipulated in some form or fashion. We are told someone is supposed to love us til death we do part and nothing is supposed to change. We are not expected to grow. We are expected to see another as the one to make us happy and whole. Many of us begin to feel in order to love we must own. The object of our love should belong to us and we should belong to them. We forget to give some love to the one who needs it most, ourselves.
Self care is self love. Unfortunately in the arena of love there are those willing to take without the desire or the ability to give. In our need to feel love, we often give away our power to those more than willing to take. It often leaves us feeling depleted knowing something is wrong but lacking the ability to see the problem. We lose track of us while living a life that truly is not ours. We become emeshed feeling that if we truly love we must give our selves completely to another. We see us through another’s eyes. Self care and self love is the ability to recognize when it is time to take care of our mental, physical and spiritual needs. It is the ability to recognize when we need a break, a rest, a vacation or just to say no. It is the ability to see ourselves as whole and complete individuals.
Authentic love is not one sided. In order to love we must be vulnerable and willing to let the other see our wounds and we are witness to theirs . Often in the early stages of lust or infatuation, we convince ourselves that this is love. We are high on the aphrodisiac of lust. To love deeply and truly is to want the best for another without the need for retribution or hurt when we feel we have been wronged. Love can bring confusion and sometimes can get ugly. It is a difficult thing to mix the human ego with what is supposed to be “unconditional love.” We use the term of “unconditional love but do we truly possess the ability as humans to love another without condition or do we snatch our love away when one does not conform to our standards? To love another without condition is to love them as they are even if we are unable to live together within the confines of a home or relationship. We are able to offer our love, comfort and care and acceptance all along maintaining our own personal boundaries. We offer a hand, an ear or a shoulder. To love another without condition or judgement is a difficult task for most of us. We often seek revenge and hold our grudges until we feel justice has been served. We become the judge, jury and executioner all in an effort to coddle our hurt egos. We must understand that only through loving and putting our best self forward are we able to meet others on the path towards understanding and genuine full love.