Grateful

I’d been in a serious quandry about the topic I’d chosen for this blog piece. Truth be told, the initial subject matter disturbed me so much, that I found myself unable to sit long enough to compile my thoughts in a way that would compel me to continue beyond the first paragraph. Have you ever been distressed to the point of immobility? It’s extremely uncomfortable and frustrating. Why? I have to say it was a combination of things: I’d been reading The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in The Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, and if that wasn’t enough, I’d discovered the Malcolm X and James Baldwin debate on You Tube, along with a few other recordings from that era. Add to that, various news reports and fb shares of stories about things I have no control over, but were increasingly successful in wearing down my personal faith in my fellow man.

In the midst of obsessing over our collective impending doom, in my unproductive restlessness; I had an epiphany of sorts. I realized that this coming week, millions of households all over America will open their hearts and doors to welcome friends, family and in some cases, strangers in a mass celebration of thankfulness. I can’t even begin to express my relief when I came to the conclusion that I actually had something to share that allowed me to move my mind out of that dark, scary place.

I gave serious thought to what I am most grateful for. I realized that while I’m thankful for the things most people are: family, good health, shelter, work, etc. what really tops my list is this: Memories. Specifically, memories that are an evocation of joy and laughter. Not to say all of my memories are good, or funny; but the ones that are, never fail to transport me to a specific moment in my personal history and instantly I feel a spark of giddiness that will either bring a smile to my lips or on occasion, full blown hysterical laughter! I am SO very grateful for that one intangible gift. While many are collectively responsible, I am most grateful to my mother for her understanding while we were growing up, our thoughts would ultimately lead us back and she did her best to make those times, well….memorable.

So, while you are all sitting down with your family and friends on thursday, even if it’s with those you ONLY sit down with once a year; be it your crazy sister, brother, klepto Uncle, tipsy Aunt or what have you, make good memories. It may be the “bank” that you have to visit for a withdrawal in the future. It might be what saves you from emotional bankruptcy.

I’m wishing you all a Happy, Safe, Joyous and Memorable Thanksgiving.

READING IN COLOR

READING IN COLOR

I recently had a discussion with one of my best friends. She is one of the most avid readers that I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Her appetite for reading, exceeds my own – that’s saying something. I (like other readers that know her) seek her opinion when they are looking for a specific type of book. They know that her knowledge about fiction – and specifically romantic fiction is trustworthy and her reviews are honest. Indie writers seek her out to beta-read because her opinion is valuable. Recently, my friend suggested a book to me and for the first time, I was hesitant to accept her recommendation.

My friend, my sistah found my resistance silly and not based on any specifics about the story. It frustrated her that I wouldn’t read it. It was afterall a love story. My objection was that neither the author nor the characters were “of color” and more to the point: This book was written by a caucasian man, and there were NO people of color mentioned in this story at all. I eventually read the book and I have to admit, it was a decent love story. BUT – I READ IN COLOR!

Those that know my background would probably scratch their heads and wonder why I was resistant to reading a book written by a “white man”. I am a mulatto. My mother is white and my father is black. “Is she denying her heritage?” NO! I’m not. I love my mother and her background is a part of my background. I’m as much my mother’s child as I am my father’s. Have I never read a book by someone other than an African-American or some other minority author? I’ve read many, I’ve been reading for over 45 years! Up until I was introduced to AA Romance, and IR Romance, I read pretty much whatever looked interesting – and I’ve always been an avid reader. But I’ve ALWAYS had my personal list of favorite authors and I admit that most at the top of my list are African American and they wrote African American fiction. I’d never read romance before I was introduced to AA Romance because I couldn’t identify with the heroine or the hero. Not my cup of tea.

Let me try to explain my reasoning: Over the years I’ve read many, many books. Most of the books up until about 4 or 5 years ago were written by a myriad of authors, admittedly mostly caucasian. I’ve read some great books. Wonderful stories. Here’s the deal though: The books I love most are the characters I can identify with. No, I’m not every woman and there have been more than a few AA female protaganist that I didn’t like or didn’t feel I had much in common with; lived a lifestyle that I couldn’t identify with, whether that was a super rich diva or a straight outta the hood hoochie. That isn’t what this is about. It’s about seeing folks that look something like me, have a commonality in their life experiences (yes I am the child of a white woman – but I am an African American) and more importantly, this is about SUPPORT. I truly believe in my heart of hearts that it is my responsibility as a reader and lover of African American fiction to support “our” authors. If we don’t who will? I have a special affinity for Indie writers. If you pop over to Amazon and read the reviews for the book that I finally “gave in” and read, you’ll see that book had more than 2000 reviews. Two thousand!!! Most of the authors I’ve read – even the most popular ones have at most 200 – and that’s a SUPER popular book to have garnered that many reviews. Some of the writers I love the most have the least reviews and yet, I’d read their books over that guy with the 2000 reviews in a New York minute! I look at my Kindle content and I have over a thousand books. I’ve read most of them – and more importantly, I’ve paid for most of them. I love my people and more importantly I love it when I can lose myself in a story when I identify with a history that I too share and I can do that AND support their creative endeavors.

People may take issue with my stance regarding my reading preference because it is their argument and belief that it doesn’t matter who wrote a book, as long as it’s a good book. I’ve heard that you shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between an AA story and a “mainstream” story – that the characters in the stories should be interchangeable and you shouldn’t be able to tell the difference. That may be true to some extent as well, but personally, I like stories that involve “markers” that distinguish them specifically as having folks of color. We are the same and yet, we are different. I don’t say or mean that in a polarizing way, but in a loving way and in acknowledgement. I READ IN COLOR.

Sick and Disturbed

I saw a story on the news earlier today about a thwarted school massacre in Georgia. I was at work and not really able glean all of the details because they were sketchy at the time. I’d only heard that the gunman was in custody and that no children were harmed. I said a prayer for those folks that were fortunate enough to not have to endure losing a child to violence.

A little later, I got to listen to the woman that pretty much single-handed got this 20 year old man that came into the school office and demanded this secretary call the local news station so that they could “film him killing” children. He came in with an assault rifle and the woman got this kid to listen to her and eventually, put his weapon down and give himself up to the authorities. She said she’d talked to him and commiserated with his feelings about being angry. She also shared a recent personal tragedy with him. After watching this story on the news, I cried. I saw the interviews of some of the parents that had gone to the school to pick up their children; the worry, the distress and the fear. I can only imagine the anguish they felt on the ride to the school.

I watched another story from North Carolina of 3 young “men” – teenagers, that were “bored” and randomly chose a jogger to shoot to relieve that boredom. The young man they killed was a student – a visitor to our country from Australia. I’m horrifed and disturbed by their act and the callousness of it. I’m sure these teens parents are facing the realization that the parents of the Australian student are facing: Their lives are over. His very promising career and life was snuffed out by 3 people that apparently had no appreciation for human life.

How does this mindset happen? Is this mental illness? What kind of disconnect with the world do you have to have in order for you feel justified in taking a strangers life? I can’t say that I’ve never been mad enough at someone to think about killing them. Believe me, I’ve been beyond pissed at a couple of folks that I would have been just fine with never seeing again. I thought about it and realized that relying on karma to dole out just punishment would have to do. I don’t look good in orange jumpsuits and I knew my mother would be heartbroken. Makes me wonder who’s teaching this kids? What are they teaching them about their fellow man? I just can’t wrap my brain around the fact that there are people – young people that want to kill someone that hasn’t done anything to them – because they have nothing better to do? Or, thinks that they are best able to prove a point by killing innocent children? Both acts are sick, callous and disturbing. These are only two stories that were on the news today. Without a doubt, there were countless more that we didn’t hear about. This has got to be a sickness.

I know that there are times that as children, we sometimes see and are victims of things that we do not speak about. Things that we don’t tell anyone about for various reasons. No doubt, there are children that you’ve either grown up with, known since childhood, perhaps have children of your own that have experienced things that shape how they see the world and how the world sees them. I’m praying that people will look at their children and teenagers with a more critical eye. That they start talking to their kids to find out how they see the world, fellow man and their own place in it. The young men from these two stories obviously didn’t see a place for themselves and had no compassion for their fellow man. We need to wake up. These may not be our children today, but the thing about sickness is it spreads – and it spreads quickly, especially when it’s allowed to run unchecked among children.

Acknowledging The Unseen

I have 4 children. For those of you that know me, you know how much I love my kids. Around this time every year, I seem to get a little more contemplative. They’re getting older, I’m getting older. From the end of July through the end of August, in a 6 week span, they all celebrate a birthday. This week, is my youngest’s birthday and with each kid, I remember the moment they came into my life, a part of my family. Like most mothers, I find myself thinking about what makes each kid special, how they’ve enriched my life simply by being born and sharing who they are and where they fit. Each child has a place in my heart and I can’t imagine my life without any of them, special events like holidays or celebrations wouldn’t be the same without them. I’m not saying that I’ve never had a family event where one of them wasn’t in attendance, I’m saying that if they were absent – they were missed. Their conversation, qualities and presence was missed. I thought about this quite a bit this week. I commute about 35 miles into downtown Los Angeles 5 days a week to the financial district. I’ve worked in the same building for a little over 13 years. I’ve seen a lot of changes, architectually, economically and demographically. Downtown has changed. Lots of companies are now vying for the privilege to cater to the executives and their families that have moved into the city to be closer to their jobs. I guess that’s a good thing for them and for revitalizing the area. Along with the folks that have moved in and changed the demographic, and the companies that have moved in to cater to them, there’s another steady and growing population. There are the many homeless people that were there before the lofts were revitalized, new apartment buildings erected and the “young, hip and wealthy” moved in. It disturbs me that with all of the improvements the area has gone through, there is an entire population of have nots that live on bus benches, push their entire lives in shopping carts. Talk to themselves, beg for money for a mea, etcl.

I think about some of these people and as each year passes, I wonder about them personally. How they came to live on the streets? Were they missed by their families? Were their mothers missing them the way I know I would be missing mine? I know from talking to some that drugs were the catalyst for their descent. Others, I’m sure that mental illness played a part – though I wonder if the onset of the mental illness was apparent before their present living circumstances, or as a result from being on the street. I can’t imagine living on the streets – especially in the downtown area and not needing therapy, medication, hospitilization or all three. I see the haunted, vacant stares, and know that I would look the same way; many are hungry, hungry enough to search the trashcans in search of a meal; the begging, the air of utter despair – I see these individuals and I wonder who’s child this was and if they are missing them? If it’s their birthday? I wonder if their family’s heritage and traditions are lost or dying on the streets of downtown Los Angeles. If they had children, grandchildren that they’ve never had the opportunity to know, and in turn to be known.

Most people ignore them. They are frequently unacknowledged. I wonder how I would react if I were asking for help, only to have most people act like they didn’t see me.

At times like this week, I think of my own children and how I would miss them if they became a member of this segment of the population of people; the “unseen” that walk and live on those streets, here and all over the country without an anchor, without a family or a support system? There are some programs in place, I know, but not nearly enough. The Los Angeles Mission is nearby and does offer some services. I know that the Fred Jordan Mission mostly helps the growing number of poor and homeless families. I think that holidays are when most people think about the homeless. I think about them mostly around this time of year. The time of year when my kids are another turn another older. When I’m feeling blessed that I’ll have the opportunity to wish them a Happy Birthday. Wondering which of the men and women that I see and have seen are having a birthday this month too? I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know if there even is a solution that would work across the board and help these folks with even the basics. A clean bed, food to eat, shelter. I’ve heard that there are probably more than a few homeless people that won’t get help at these establishments because they either don’t feel safe, or can’t keep the small amount of personal belogings they own with them.

I know one person in my life that sees and acknowledges these people. She thinks of them and she tries to make a difference. She lives across the street from me and she is what I describe to the son of mine lucky enough to claim her as “the jackpot of mother-in-laws” but really, we all have benefitted from her compassion. Just knowing her and there are people like her in this world. Twice a month, after asking companies, individuals etc for donations of food, paper products etc. She spends a day cooking whatever ingredients she’s been fortunate enough to purchase or is donated and takes it to feed the homeless and hungry. There is some comfort in knowing someone personally that sees a need and steps up to the plate.

I hope one day, I am able to be counted among her ranks. Someone that is helping to make a difference, someone that hears a plea from those that are frequently “unseen and unacknowledged” and answers the call.

The Power of Forgiving

The act of forgiving is powerful. Forgiveness not only has the power of releasing the burden of guilt from the perpetrator, but it also frees the forgiver.  There are many people in this world that carry their guilt around because they either never learned how to apologize, or for whatever reason ( guilt, shame, hurt) didn’t feel they were worthy enough to ask for it. I’ve tried to teach my children that when you do something that warrants an apology, give it and do it as soon as you realize you’ve made a mistake or caused pain or trouble. It not only speaks of your character, it allows the person you’ve wronged resolution – the act isn’t just for the person that you’re apologizing to – it’s just as equally important for you. It doesn’t make you weak, on the contrary; It gives you the freedom to move ahead and THAT makes you stronger.

I think that some that will read this post and might think it an odd subject matter, that grown folks know how to say ‘I’m sorry’ and keep it moving. You’d be surprised at the number of people that I’ve come in contact with in my lifetime that couldn’t move forward because they have some pent up anger, guilt, grief, shame or hatred for someone because either they weren’t apologized to (sincerely) or hadn’t apologized for an infraction that they knew warranted it.  If you find yourself in either situation, you need to get busy making that apology – even if and I would say especially if you are just apologizing to yourself. The stress that isn’t being released can make you sick. It can also make you toxic – or both and more importantly it can (and will) impede your ability to move forward.

Though I’ve tried to pass this information to my own children, recently I faced a situation where my youngest son said some pretty hateful things in anger to his sister. Things that if someone that was not related to her had uttered those words, they probably would have been beaten within an inch of their lives by the same kid that said them. He was angry – very angry and she was devastated. When the smoke cleared a bit and both had finally calmed down, I talked to both of them repeatedly. She wasn’t in a forgving mood and he couldn’t bring himself to ask for forgiveness. Real life – it happens, even when you know better.  Fast forward over a couple of weeks, them barely speaking to one another, not in a cooperative mood, and like an open wound, those feelings were allowed to fester. Neither of them getting to benefit from the simple act of forgiving. 

During the time they weren’t speaking to each other, I talked to both of them. Him because no matter how angry he was, he needed to apologize. I told him that if something happened to her and he hadn’t apologized, he would carry that with him forever – and it’s a lot easier to ask someone else to forgive you than it is for you to forgive yourself, especially when you no longer have the opportunity to do it. I spoke with her because she needed to forgive him, to release her anger with him and get rid of the toxicity building in her heart.  I’m pleased to say that they’ve worked it out. Forgiveness, it’s not for wimps. It’s powerful medicine and it can cure what ails you.