Thursday, July 25, 2013

Peace in the Storm

I could smell it; the scent of the first drops of rain against my brain registering that there was a storm stirring in my soul. It’s been said that in life you are always doing one of three things: entering a storm, exiting one or trying to hold on in the midst of one. Except for an occasional shower or two, the sun was radiating brightly in my life. But I knew the rain was coming. Felt it swirling around me. Didn't know the direction it was coming. I couldn’t anticipate the extent of the downpour. I just knew that I was going to need something to get me through.

It started as soon as the school year ended. A trip to the emergency room turned into a hospital stay for my elderly mother. She had pneumonia. She stayed a few days, followed up with her primary care physician and things were on the mend. Then I had to leave and go out of state to be with my niece who was having surgery. I have been in and out of hospitals so many times that I almost hate them. I said goodbye to both my father and my oldest sister in the hospital. But in spite of my fear, I ignored the knots in my stomach and push forward. My mother was fine; my niece would be, too.

Her surgery went well, so I thought I’d a reprieve from the rain until I returned from vacation. Wrong! My friend and traveling partner was complaining constantly of pain and malaise. And for someone who doesn’t like going to doctor until she falls over—sometimes literally--was actually doing what she was supposed to, but she wasn’t feeling any better. She felt so bad that she decided not to take the trip. I knew then that she felt bad because she would never miss a trip! Then my mother started feeling bad again. It was raining on my head. I wanted to stay home. 

I am not my mother’s only child, and I could not do anything for my friend. I felt helpless, but I had to relinquish my false sense of control. I had to accept that I am a mere mortal and to let go and let God take control. So, I decided to take my trip because I knew it would be still raining when I returned. The storm was brewing, but I had a temporary shelter.

The trip was to Toronto for a literary treat with the Literary Sisters. The Literary Sisters, started by Ruth Bridges, is a group of women from all over the country who gather in different places to discuss literature and anything else on their minds. Sometimes they gather in a place to talk to authors about their works, and other times they’re traveling around the world. This was my third trip.  

And for me, it was a much needed retreat. I sat in the company of brilliant and beautiful Black women from all over the country and from all walks of life with a shared passion for literature; it was and/ is a gratifying experience. I am a reader, and every time I’m in the company of the Literary Sisters I learn how much reading I still have left to do! Being with them is like sitting in the front row of the classroom of life.  
There’s no cattiness. No competition. It is a gathering of warm and wonderful women. We talked about books, current events, our lives. We experienced the beauty of Niagara Falls and the hustle and bustle of Toronto. Due to bad weather, only one author was able to fly in for the retreat. But in this day of Kindles and Nooks, it was good to listen to the New York Times best-selling author Kimberla Lawson Roby to not only read from her book, Perfect Marriage, but to also autograph keepsake copies of her other books.

For an extended weekend, I found peace in the midst of the storms swirling around in my life. I shared meals, conversations, and knowledge with a wonderful group of women who cocooned me from the pellets being hurled at my heart.

I returned home refreshed, renewed and ready to do battle with the health care system that is denying my mother the right to quality health care, and to support my friend who was diagnosed with cancer. I maybe be standing in the eye of the storm, but thanks to my Literary Sisters, I am also able to find a sliver a peace in this place. Thank you!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Letter to My Nephew and Other Black Males in America

Author’s Note: In 2005, I sat down to pen this piece for my then nine-year-old great nephew. At the time it was more of a passing thing, but today I am pressed to write this piece as I grapple with the tragedy of Trayvon Martin and other Black males in America. This writing is urgent because of my relationships with the Black boys and men in my life. I write to make sense of what does not make sense in an attempt to maintain my sanity.

Dear Nephew,

Then: Your saucer-shaped, deep brown eyes look innocently from underneath long lashes as though you are not capable of any wrong doing. A big smile creases your face as your cinnamon brown hands reach up and grab me around the neck as you plant a wet, slimy kiss on my cheek.  But before your arms come down, those innocent eyes become devilish and you tickle my neck.

I looked at you then and I was afraid and I’m afraid now because I know the world does not love you like I do. So, I am fractured in how I deal with you. On the one hand, I want you follow the words of the U. S. Army and be all that you can be. I want you to grab life by the proverbial horns and ride it as I cheer you on from the sidelines. And I do! But I must also teach you the ways of world that you were born into. In his 1963 essay, My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the EmancipationProclamation” James Baldwin said, “You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity, and in as many was as possible, that you were a worthless human being.” And here we are 50 years later, and the essay is just as relevant today as it was then.

Now:  You’re 16 almost 17 now. And I look into your and face I worry about what the future holds for you. I wonder if your bigger-than-life personality will take you places or hold you back. You know that you are loved, but I don’t know how to tell you that many in world will not love you back. Should I tell you like Baldwin told his nephew that the best that you can hope for is acceptance? Is that enough?

We have sheltered and protected you, and I wonder if we have done you a disservice as a Black male in America? You know that you are special, but what happens when you are outside the circle of our influence? When I try to explain to you about being stopped by the police for no other reason than Breathing While Black you tell me that you will never be spread eagle across a police car. It’s hard for me to get you to understand that this is probably an unfortunate right-of-passage for you. And there is a part of me that applauds the fact that this not how you see yourself, but it’s not enough. So, I take you to see documentaries like The Central Park Five so that you know what’s real in the world you live in.

You are forever asking me to drop you off somewhere so that you can ride public transportation, and I keep telling you, no. You resent that we pick you up and drop you off. You accuse us of treating you like a baby because you think you are invincible to the dangers lurking in the world. It’s hard for me to explain to you that because of the world that you live in, the enemy will many times be someone who looks like you. Yes, I can talk to you about Emmett Till, and Trayvon Martin, but I must also talk to you about Darion Alberts.

You are one more in a long-line of Black males that I love, and what I’ve learned is that to love you-a Black male in America- is to love you with rubber-band like tension taut across my heart. I have to love you with trepidation. I have to love you in a schizophrenic kind of way—pull you close, push you away. I have to love you and let you go so that you’ll grow. It is your growth that is frighteningly beautiful because it is both a necessity and a threat to your survival. But to love you and all other Black males in America is to embrace the fear and beauty that surrounds you.

Love you to life!