Monday, June 25, 2012

Monday night

I told you.  I speak in poetry these days.

I speak in poetry because it might actually be the voice of my self… the voice that comes out when I have to put feelings to paper… have to.  The drifting colors in my mind’s eye sometimes become so loud that they must manifest themselves into words.  I, in turn, must let them out to run all over the page.

If we ever occupied the same space, you could never tell that they were all my sisters.  My skin stands in the middle of the spectrum, as full a continuum as ever there was.  There is something stronger than skin that connects me to each of these women.

There is something in their fiber… something unyielding… something that refuses to allow doubt into my mind… something that fights at the mists, tears at the veils, pulls back the layers, and shouts, loudly and to all of me that can hear:

“There you are.
Look away if you want, but between the light and the shadow, you exist.
When you forget, we will remind you.
You exist, and we can see you.
We can see you.
You glow, and you are not lost.”

And when I doubt myself, you materialize as though you were waiting, watching on the out-skirts for that moment when I would find myself both trapped and under siege

One of you heard me in a dream… months since the last time we ran into each other in person, and she actually saw me, project at hand, afraid that I couldn’t.  Told me don’t be afraid.  Told me God (she calls Him “Daddy”) has given me the ability to complete anything that is presented to me.  Told me don’t argue.  Told me don’t be afraid to move and shake and change and keep on… even when you can’t see what’s over the next hill.  “All is well when we dwell in love.”

Could hear me, even through her dreams.

Another has never tolerated my wavering belief in myself… has never allowed that I deserve anything but everything… has never for a moment considered that I might not be made of gold.  I have, at times, feared disappointing her (turns out I’m only made of human)… forgetting that she sees the God in me… stays fixed on the God in me… can’t stand to hear the things I say that seem to cover up the God in me... seeks Him out.  My wavering she indulges, but He never disappoints.  And she spoke and shared and listened and reminded me, with strong conviction (she is made, among other things, of strong conviction), that my destiny doesn’t involve disregard, isn’t tied up yet, and remains open for interpretation.  My own interpretation.

I had the strongest sense today that my heart was in the Hands of Someone Whose Hands Heal. 

I was torn recently.  A seam gave out somewhere not visible on the surface.  I’m working on sewing it up, but the needle pricks are sometimes more than I can stand, and sometimes I have to pause, to rest, to remember why I’m sewing and not just tossing the dress of a life I’m living out… worn out… must have been if that seam blew…

So I stop, I stretch, I lay flat and remember that, if all else fails, the ground, with no help from me whatsoever, will hold me up.

Also call for help. 
They can hear you over the noise. 
They can always hear you.
Will always want to know your favorite color and what you learned in class today.
Will always read the words once you’ve lined them up again.

Also Life is, among other things, a gift.


Begin again.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

To S., High School Graduate (Who is Just Getting Started), With Love from His Ms. B

S. and I met each other about 4 years ago while I was still working in a group foster home.  I still refer to him and his younger brother lovingly as "my boys," although they are rapidly approaching manhood and never really were "mine."  

I am honored that they keep me in the loop of their lives and was happy to be given the chance to speak this bit to my dear S. in person at the celebration of his high school graduation this past Thursday.


These people, they don't know me, so I'm going to start with a line I stole:
"Excuse my French / Emotion in my passion / But I wear my heart on my sleeve like it's the new fashion"

I also want to set our stage with another phrase:
I am enormously proud of you.
(That one's all mine.)

I also stole this line:
"Know you are where you are not by chance, but by the design of your Creator, for your own development and for the development of those around you."

It reminds me of an article I read once.

There is a tribe in East Africa called the Masaai.  Wikipedia tells me that the Maasai are an ethnic group of semi-nomadic people located in Kenya and northern Tanzania. They are among the best known of African ethnic groups, due to their distinctive customs and dress and residence near the many game parks of East Africa.  They speak a language the name of which I cannot pronounce that is a member of the Nilo-Saharan language family that is related to Dinka and Nuer.  The Masaai are also educated in the official languages of Kenya and Tanzania: Swahili and English.

They have cultural traditions that look nothing like ours.  Or at least that's what it looks like when you just look with the eyes that allow you to see only the surface

The Masaai distinguish the men from the boys.  Becoming a Masaai man involves these special rituals with special clothes and special colors and music and behaviors.  The men in this culture tend animals, hunt other animals, and fight to protect their home, their women, their children.  They do that fighting with spears, with knives, and with their hands.

Now, back to my article. 
It was about a young college student named James Nampushi.  Mr. Nampushi said:
"I must work hard.  I must work hard.  This is a miracle to me.  To be here, is God.  I must work hard because I know where I came from and where I am now.  So I have to do something..."

S., there is something you have in common with this man beyond the fact that your skin color is much closer to his than it is to mine.

S., you must work hard.  You must.  That you are here, this is God.  You must work hard because you know where you came from and where you are now. 

The last part is the clincher: So you have to do something.

You and Mr. Nampushi.  You both have to do something. 

Mr. Nampushi grew up in the tribal Masaai community that taught him certain things about what it means to be a man.  He learned these things, and then he decided that the salvation of his people in a world that is growing by leaps and bounds involved, at least in some small part, continuing his education in a land far, far away from his comfort zone to learn things that the people in the culture he came from couldn't teach him.

Things that he had to learn for himself.

From himself.

From the rest of the world.

From people who were different from him.

Sometimes drastically different.

Ms. B, what's your point?  I can hear you asking with your eyes, kiddo.

Here comes the preachy part.  Get ready.

Know this:
As a Black man who grew up in an urban environment and finished growing up in foster care in South Carolina, the statistics that you face at this critical juncture of your life are damning.  Do not, do not, DO NOT LET THIS LIMIT YOUR EXPECTATIONS OF YOURSELF.  Push the messages of thug life, victimization, materialism, the voices of entitlement and violence, as well as the voices that tell you that because your skin is brown your brain was not made to process just as much information as anyone else walking around away.  Throw them away.  Ball them up, tear them into shreds, and incinerate them.  Open the windows of your life, and blow the ashes out into the breeze.

Know this:
God has done a lot to bring you to this point.  You and I can both think of times in your life when He could just as well have abandoned you in one way or another.  He didn't.  Think about that.  Think about what it means that the All-Knowing, All-Wise Provider and Creator of All decided to hang onto you.  Decided to provide the hearts of all of the people in this room to love you and believe in you and try to show you what you are made of.  Do you think that this was an accident? Think about it.

Know this:
You have been blessed with a voice.  You have choices about how to use this voice.  By now surely you have learned that people listen to you.  Consider what you hear, consider the biggest picture you can, and choose your words and actions wisely.

Know this:
Your academic achievement to this point has not been indicative of your capacity.  We both know that, and now so does everyone else in the room.  I get it; you were busy with other things.  Your childhood included more violence and loss than mine, and your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that makes plans and provides motivation, has been otherwise occupied over the past few years. 

I've got news for you.  You've landed.  From now on, not nearly as many things are going to be handed to you as you're used to.  You're going to have to prove that you deserve them.  You're going to have to put your shoulder to the grindstone and push.  Go show us what you can do.

Actually, forget us.

Show yourself what you can do.

I am proud of you.  I don't have enough words to be able to tell you what it does to my heart to see you graduated... to know what I know of your story, to see you tall and strong, to see your clear eyes looking off onto the next thing... proud isn't the right word.  I am blessed.  Blessed and richly favored.

Don't mistake this for a stopping point, though.  True, you get to pause, be congratulated, and look back at how much road you've covered... but, baby, it's so far from done.  It's really only the beginning. 


Go get it.

Go get into it and on it and all over it.

There's work yet to be done.

We're your tribe... we're your people... and we need you. 

And by we, I mean the world.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

More On Girls Who Read

First, read this.
Then, read this.

By the time the girl who reads grows up, she knows that the only men worth having are Darcys.

Mr. Darcy and the girl who reads meet at least twice every year as she slowly relishes Pride and Prejudice as though she is eating a really, really good chocolate cake.  You know the kind--rich and soft with buttercream frosting and raspberry sauce?  You have to eat it slowly.  Relish, one might say.

Women who read are all Elizabeth, and we can relax because Darcy will love her every time.  Love her every single time.  Without fail.  Darcy is good like that.  Consistent.

Every time Elizabeth is too smart, especially for a woman, Darcy loves her.  Every time she's not the prettiest girl at the party, Darcy loves her.  Every time she speaks her mind to the point of argumentative, Darcy loves her.  Every time her family is a complete disaster, Darcy loves her.

This is the dream... the impossible, unbelievable dream.

I want to be clear, this--tall, handsome Darcy finds you, fights for you, marries you, and, with long declarations of passionate love, carries you off to his mansion to live happily ever after--is not expected to happen in the real of life of a girl who reads.

Real life is different. The girl who reads will readily admit that she is far too aware of this fact.

As she grows up, the girl who reads is done settling.  She's done dating around, done giving it time, done waiting it out and seeing if he will eventually show up in one form or another.  She's been hopeful.  She's been patient.  She has worked on herself.  She has been open to possibility.  Sometimes she's stubbornly, hard-headedly, stupidly refused to see the reality of the object of her affection and lived to be deeply embarrassed.

And she doesn't want to talk about it.

She's stopped looking.
She's stopped waiting.
She's planting her herbs in the pots she's gathered herself, determined to fill her life to over-flowing with cooking, knitting, music, clothes, the paint on her walls, her family of friends... determined to make this life, this one right here, the one she's actually living, the very best it can be.

Without Darcy.


She's going to do it because life is too short to waste it pining over men who won't appreciate the subtleties of her morning routine... who won't notice when she has her nails and toes done... who won't allow her the emotional space to cry at the end of that bad movie that reminds her of her dad... who won't have enough thoughts and feelings about the world to keep up with her. They won't be strong enough for her darkness, and they won't be able to light the corners of her heart with laughter.

She won't waste any more of her time.

She's going to assemble her own life.  It won't include you.  You took too long.  She couldn't find you, no matter how many internet dating sites and blind dates she, humiliated, suffered through.

When you meet her, realize that she's learned to be loud because she's afraid.

Afraid that you will see her frazzled edges (the ones she tries to keep covered with pedicures and fresh flowers in her house) and run the other way.  Afraid that she'll never be pretty enough for you to stay.  Afraid that she'll never be able to think of enough interesting things to say.  Afraid that you don't like kissing her as much as she likes kissing you, and afraid because she likes kissing you as much as she likes kissing you.

Afraid that if she tells you too much about the actual state of her heart, you will think that she is trying to pressure you into fixing it... into staying... why aren't you running away again?  Or worse, that you will figure out what she keeps in the locked box in the very back of her very back-est hiding place:

That she very desperately needs to be loved... all the way loved... and is waiting for that.

Holding out.

Holding way, way out.

She's not looking at you because she doesn't want to see you not looking at her.  She will almost run away from you because she doesn't think that you will chase her.  She doesn't think that you would ever want to catch her.

When you ask her how she is, she will be fine every time.  Fantastic even.  Great.  Doing really, really well.  She will look you right in the eyes.  When she's not fine, she'll look down before you catch her almost-tears.

And she is doing really, really well.  She has a career.  She is educated.  She has interesting friends, a dynamic life, purpose, passion, intelligence.  She has books.  She has lots of books.  Her life is useful, and when it is not useful, it is interesting.

You didn't read the book, so I'll tell you what's important about Darcy.

He's steady.  Darcy means what he says.  You know that from the kind of man he is.  When he tells Elizabeth that he loves her, she can trust it to her very core.  It's not going to change.  He will die loving her.

He has principles.  He's not doing this casually.  Darcy doesn't do anything casually.  Girls who read aren't into casual.  If it's going to be casual, we'd rather be reading.  The book lasts all the way until it's done, and if you're not ready to be done, you can read it again.

Also, Darcy wants Elizabeth.

He doesn't just like her.  He wants her.  He doesn't just think that she is interesting.  He wants her.  He wants to hear her thoughts.  He wants to tell her all about his insides.  He wants to take her, to hold her, to ravish her--you can hear it in the way he speaks to her.

Yes, we want you to have a job.  We want you to have an education of some kind.  We want you to have interests and passions and other things, but what's seductive about Darcy isn't his money.  It isn't his height.  It isn't his place in the world.  That's not why he's the object of so very many day-dreams.

It's him.  It's the kind of man he is.

Do you want a girl who reads?

Ask her out.  Take her to dinner, take her to coffee, cook with her, take her for a walk... it doesn't matter.  Ask.  Pick her up.  Drive.  Pay.  Insist.

Listen to her.  Make eye contact, and hold it.  Speak.  Say something important... something intelligent or vulnerable or funny or honest.  Give her time to say something back.  She may be a better listener at the start.  Use patience.  Ask her what she's read.  Ask her what she learned.  Don't talk about the weather.  She sucks at small talk.

If she'll let you, read what she writes.  She may say no, but it's mostly because she's afraid you'll be bored.  Ask again.  Her writing is the clearest way she's learned to articulate the parts of herself she protects, and you need to know about those parts.  You need to love those parts.

Realize that her life is orchestrated to not need you... to avoid needing you.  She doesn't need you.  She wants you.  Want her.  Sometimes, need her.  Tell her so.

Bring her flowers.  It will be best if you picked them out of a yard somewhere.

Let her be loud.  Look for what she is hiding.

Put your hand on the small of her back at parties.  Hold her hand.  Kiss her in public.  Claim her.  Wrap your arms around her while she's doing the dishes.  Distract her.  Spend the whole morning in bed.

Tell her that she is beautiful.  She may never have heard it in her whole life.  She may vehemently disagree with you.  Hold her head in your hands, look into her eyes, and tell her that she is beautiful.  When she cries, tell her again.  Mean it.

Don't say it if you don't mean it.

Don't fear her tears.  She fears them; be strong enough for both of you.

Fight with her.  Make her yell at you.  Let her cry.  Give her time to speak what needs spoken.  Hold her when it's over.  Don't leave.  Instead, stay.

Hold her.  Know how much it takes for her to admit to you that she is struggling.  She may want to talk about it, but she may not.  She may just want you to hold her.  Do it.  You may never know how much that helps.

Tell her that you love her.  Tell her the moment you know it.  Tell her again.  Tell her on the phone.  Tell her by text message.  Tell her in front of her friends.  In front of your friends.  In front of strangers.  Tell her again and again and again.  It will take her a long time to believe you, but those moments will sustain her while she learns to accept that you're telling the truth.

Wait.  Be patient.  There are parts of her that are growing that never grew before.  She's been hurt and disappointed every single time she's tried this, and trusting you takes courage every single day.

She's creating a space for you right up front--a warm, arms wide open, soft space for you to land.  She'd like you to stay awhile.  Stay forever.  You'll be stronger together.

It's worth it.

You will push and pull each other into better humans... she will dream big enough to keep up with yours, big enough to pull you into hers, to create whole new cities of dreams you never allowed yourself before.

Look for a girl who reads.

Don't just date her.
Love her.
Don't stop.