On May 7 I wrote an article titled Wringing the cloth of blood. Little did i know it would be foreshadowing another death of another black man at the hands of police. George Floyd would be brutally murdered in Minnesota just a few short weeks later. Brutal lynchings and acts of hostility have plagued black people in america for 400 years so this is nothing new. This time it would be different. This time it would matter and this time everyone would pay attention. People did notice and people took to the streets.
I awake this morning to the chaos that has become our new normal. Not only is there a pandemic requiring social isolation there is now the scenes of protest with our streets filled with citizens coming face to face with the armed police officers sworn to protect them. National guardsmen are being put on alert to quell any mayhem. Sadly with protests acts such as looting and innocent loss of life will follow. This is a time. It is a time of change. Our collective conciousness is screaming. It is a time for America to look at its ugly face in the mirror, warts and all and admit there is a problem.
I truly believe turmoil is the harbinger of change. The old way has to die for a new way to be born. Change is not easy and there will be much gnashing of teeth and groans of resistence before death takes hold. Birth will come but not without pain. We are being called upon to look at our own collective and individual stuff; a sort of cleansing if you will. Either we go willingly into the change or we stomp our feet and refuse to go. Either way it happens. Concious people have had enough and are willing to risk for a new way. America can no longer afford division. There is a saying that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it. We can only hope that America will have learned from its past mistakes and move forward on the new path that is being presented. The alternative would not be a good thing.
I wake this morning with a memory that still haunts my heart. It was 30 years ago when my young brother was jogging in Wilmington, NC. My uncle had allowed him to jog the short distance home after a drive to a nearby store. My uncle was not far behind. On the side of the road a few feet away, the police had my 11 year old brother pulled aside questioning him about a reported bicycle theft. My uncle informed the officers that my brother had just left his car and there was no bicycle. Apparently someone had reported the theft and seeing a young black man in the area. I thought of this time and how it all could have gone so terribly wrong. It was already bad enough to profile a young boy merely on a jog and just because he happened to be black.
The recent murder of Ahmaud Arbery a 25 year old African American shot and killed in the simple act of jogging is once again a reminder of the peril that often awaits many people of color. We have allowed ourselves to become a nation where open season on minorities has become the order of the day. Whether the crime is driving while black, jogging while black, eating while black, praying while black, relaxing in one’s home while black, the outcome is often the same. The killings occur and the news goes to the back page.
As a child our teachers told us that the policeman was our friend. If we were ever lost or needed help, the man in blue was the one we were supposed to call. A year ago I was pulled over for alledgedly running a red light. I watched from my mirror as the officer approached the passenger side of the car. All the while my heart was racing and my mouth went dry. He was polite enough; wrote my ticket and left with “have a good day.” I realized that sometimes it does not end that way. I wondered had I been a black male how the situation might have been different.
In 2016, a public opinion survey was conducted by the Pew Research center regarding police performance and the use of force. 33 percent of African Americans felt police did a good job with the use of force compared to 75 percent of white Americans. That, in my
opinion demonstrates living in two separate worlds
I once had a friend who complained I spoke too often about race. She went on to let me know in so many words she no longer wanted to speak of it. She preferred to focus her attentions on the beauty in the world. She had no time for discourse that may have been controversial. That was her right and her priviledge. it was also my right as a woman of color to remember and to tell the stories. There is no doubt the priviledge some have builds a wall between understanding. There is no doubt the glazed look in my friend’s eyes signaled the end. There is no simple answer or fix and until we recognize humanity in each other and let our voices be heard, the world will continue its madness. I grieve for the loss of this man and all before him and the ones who will come after him.
What in the world has happened to us? Yesterday I read of an incident on an airline of a man punching a seat of a woman sitting in front of him who had reclined her seat. He was apparently sitting in the last row in a seat that did not recline thus limiting his ability to gain a few inches. However, instead of politely asking the woman to refrain from reclining, he punched her seat in a fit of frustration. It seems our pot is reaching a boiling point and soon will boil over. Our tolerance for humanity, civility and kindness seems to be on a downhill course. We are becoming a nation hellbent on having our way and our say come hell or high water. Air travel used to be a luxury now it is akin to a flying can filled with angry pajama wearing people.
Political correctness has also come under attack with many giving lip service of it being a way to coddle certain segments of the population. These folks are now feeling a certain freedom to say or act however they see fit. They spit out the term “political correctness” as if it has left a bad taste in their mouths. They now are thankful there is no longer a need to be polite, moral or decent. Happy they are as it is now acceptable to have their say about women, minorities and any other group not fitting into the so called “wholesome American way of life.”
We are a shell shocked nation akin to victims of ptsd. We are walking zombies just waiting for each day to pass wondering what next. What will be the new crisis? We gasp and watch news filled with horror but go on about our day as we know there will be something else tomorrow. We have lost a sense of pride and unity as we spar against each other in a sad political arena failing to understand the notion of divide and conquer that makes us all much weaker. We no longer can grab the zesto of life as we are too busy trying to keep our heads above water. We are told as we enter the world, buy a home, have a family, get credit without realizing these are the rules to make a slave for society. To keep one mired in debt ensures a nation that is not free.
America the land of the free and home of the brave. A country where now our military men and women are mocked and humiliated and placed in a system of dysfunctional health care upon their return home. A land where we are pitted against each other like fighting dogs in a ring. A land where that bronze woman standing in the New York harbor hides her face in shame. A land of isolation with belief if it does not affect me, then it is not my problem. A land where no one is safe in church, school or your neighborhood store. A land where crime only pays if one is rich. A land where we can build a wall to keep people out but there is no money to provide health and education for those within the same wall. A land where our hearts have become so hardened and our arteries are filled with hate.
What have we become?
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.