Each morning I wake up, I work hard to not take it for granted that I am here. The realities of death and life are more poignant as I get older. I am so grateful for this moment of reflection. The fog of the morning beckons me to be still and sing praises to the Most High. I am in Prospect Park where the chirping of the birds and the gentle waves of the lake are soothing. The intermittent passing of ducks on the lake and birds flying low so that their wingtips touch the water leaves me in awe. And every time a bird flies close to me, so close that I can hear the fluttering of their wings, I feel even more blessed.
This afternoon, I laid in savasana, the final yogic pose in a yoga session where your body is completely at still, and I listened to the words of Ben Harpers song, I am Blessed. I have never hard that song before and it was a sweet addition to my day, which I took off.
Yesterday I celebrated my birthday with a birthday brunch. It was lovely. It wa perfect. In savasana listening to Ben Harper’s words and the drums playing, I could not resist the tears forming under my closed eyelids. There is no denying the blessings that I have.
I am not sure if I can articulate, in words, my emotions correctly today…but here goes:
This morning as I stood on the escalators of Broadway Junction, I looked down at my phone, which was just receiving reception. What flashed across the phone’s screen was a New York Times alert, ” Maya Angelou…dead at 86.” I gasped and looked around to see if anyone else knew. I wanted to share it with someone but others continued and their faces gave nothing away. When I got home after work, I lit a white candle (a suggestion by Iyanla Vazant that rang true for me) to bid Maya Angelou a safe transition…
I am not sure how I was introduced to the works of Maya Angelou. I would beg to say, she has been a part of my life for a very long time. Now reflecting on her life and what it means to be, like so many others are doing today, a few events are replaying in my mind:
1. Her poem, “Still I Rise” was recited in my voice at my church as a teenager. I told a friend today that I remember finding the poem and reading it for my church’s Black History Month celebration. In the middle of reciting the poem I forgot the words and sat down disappointed…moments after I went back up and told the MC that I wanted to finish the poem. To me it deserved that reverence. “I am the hope and the dream of the slave!” I proclaimed, feeling the power of those words but not really understanding it completely at that time.
2. I have never seen my mom connect to a book like she did to “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” I would assumed that the words of the book spoke to her in a way she has never shared with me or my sister. She was the first person I called when I found out.
3. “Phenomenal Woman” I presented to my English class in college and as I read the words, they and I became one. I remember clasping the book in my hands and reading it and when I was finished I hugged the book, so proud of myself…. because I found words that really got me.
Maya Angelou gave me words that my spirit understood before my mind could comprehend their power. She has always been present for me and always will.
This past Saturday, I stood in front of my friend Megan, in Prospect Park, with tears streaming down my face, feeling open and raw as I shared with her the pain and hurt that I have been feeling around my experiences with discrimination and racism. I am Jamaican, black and living in America. Although I have lived in this country more years than I have lived in Jamaica, I had the privilege to experience what it meant to be a majority in terms of race there. I wasn’t judged or treated unfairly due to my skin color. People weren’t afraid of me before they got to know me. That was a privilege I took for granted.
I arrived in this country, to live here permanently, in my teens and was pretty sheltered all the way through college, I would say. With each possible experience with racism and discrimination in my twenties, I was a bit shaken but I think I bounced back quickly from all (but one of those experiences) because part of me believed that if I did the “right thing”, I would be spared the brunt of what happened to others who look like me (mainly my African-American brothers and sisters) have to go through. Somewhere, somehow, I was fed this lie that being a Caribbean black and educated would give me a pass. It was a subliminal belief. I have now come to realize that it was belief planted by people from my community, by the media and enforced by others who when they heard that I was Jamaican then placed me in the “model minority” category, reacting to me differently. “Oh, you’re from Jamaica, that’s why you have such a good command of the English language.” Yup, someone said that to me once.
So, what was the perceived “right thing”? Well, it is being formally educated — attending college, it’s speaking “properly”, it’s being eclectic in musical and reading tastes and mostly importantly, it is playing small. And in the space that I am to play big, it is only to create laughter and joy…not bring the heavy stuff.
These “right ways” of being have not, however, stopped me from being followed in stores, being assumed to be the maid in my neighborhood, have a potential roommate turn away from me once she saw me or not be able to get cabs, etc. This is compounded by how other people of color (some who share my skin tone or who are darker) treat me with disrespect and make assumptions about me because of I’m black. It doesn’t matter that I have a Masters, or that I served as an Americorps member. The constant tale of what it means to be black in this country prevails me. The fact that I am now informed of the injustices that occur (like this one and this one, and this one and this one) is often not helpful but darkens, a little more, the side of me that is becoming jaded. And yes, there are blacks who are racists, xenophobic, homophobic but the truth is I am not. The experiences that happened, happened to me. I have been treated unfairly for no other reason but the color of my skin…and although I may share, more than likely, the same education and income level of my white neighbors and yes, some of my Asian neighbors (who yes, face racism too but that model minority category lends a hand), it doesn’t matter. That was a hard reality for me to face.
After my conversation with Megan, I asked myself, what changed? I mean I have experienced racism before, why is it affecting me so much? And my answer, I have removed rose-colored glasses from my eyes.
“Be calm. God awaits you at the door.”
― Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
“Love in the time of Cholera” was a book that was written so vividly that it made me feel as if I was living with the characters. I litterally saw each scene in my mind. That’s one of the indicators that you’re experiencing a good book, you’ve been transported to another time and another place.
For the past three weeks I found myself searching for Gabriel García Márquez’s “Chronicle of a Death Foretold”, aiming to find it in a bookstore and not just order it online. I wanted to experience the old feeling of searching high and low for a book in multiple bookstores, perusing shelves, eventually finding and then holding it my hands… that’s the book I chose for the adventure.
When the alert of Marquez’s death came across my iphone today and after the quiet shock subsided (I know he was 87 but for some reason I was still surprised) I thought how fitting that I chose that book, with that name, with that author who wrote of the illusion of time so eloquently. And just like Chinua Achebe‘s death, it felt like a distant uncle died…feeling strangely connected to him because of his work.
Thank you for your work Sir. Like so many around the word, who may not share the same language but were connected due to your amazing work, I honor your life.
It took me some time to write about Nelson Mandela…because I had to take the time to in some way “deal” with him passing. When I say “deal with his passing”, it is not about his death per se — he was 95 years old. For me it was more about his life and what it meant to me, so maybe I had to take the time to deal with his legacy…and also the legacy of the people who will not be and were not elevated like Mandela. People like Stephen Biko, Ahmed Kathrada, all the countless students and people who marched, were jailed and killed fighting for freedom and equality during the Anti-Apartheid Movement. So for me Mandela is a symbol of a movement that is so massive that upon reflection I am humbled.
I have been feeling some deep seated loneliness for a week or so and I say this…write this, not for pity or some dramatic flare but it’s my reality at the moment. It is not constant but it is there and so as I stated in my previous post, I have realized the importance of practice and see this feeling as a call, from my soul, to look inward. What is the ache all about?
I am not sure there is one answer to this but right I know that I am in need of something that no one else can fulfill but me. This is not to say that I do not need support…I truly, truly do. I will seek it within me and within others who can provide this support to me right now. When my ex passed, I shared this with a few people and most turned it around to be more about them and there were even a few times when I found myself being the rock to them when I needed it.
I am realizing more and more everyday that not everyone can be what you need them to be and to share your pain with others is something that needs to be deliberate — intentionally sharing with someone who can truly “hold the space” for you. So I am seeking professional help and as the person who is often there for others, I am realizing that that my expectation that others will reciprocate that same thing in my time of pain is probably too high. Sometimes I wonder is I project independence too much actually and that maybe I always come across as strong. Is it perceived that I do not need something or someone on which to lean…I do not know.
Why am I saying all this? First, I need to. Second, I think that too many of us are pretending to have life figured when the truth is most of us are scared and for those who might have it figured out, figuring it out or having balance or peace is not something that once you find it is constant. It takes a lot of work. For me I am ready to do this work and will find a way to commit to it often. My soul is aching for a renewal and so I am answering that call. What does that look like? I am still working on that but right now what is calling is creativity — dance and writing; detoxing — emotional, physical and spiritual detox; affirmations, therapy, sleep, exercise, meditation, yoga, and a whole lot of connecting with nature.
While I am figuring it all out, I will work hard to take deep breaths along the way.