Hurt

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I struggle this morning. I struggle to reconcile the wealth of diversity among my beautiful friends and family members with my black identity in the context of a country with a complex history with race.

Those who know me relatively well realize that I love people and their differences with perhaps a naive severity. Many of my dearest friends are nothing like me on paper. We differ in race, religion, class, education, sexual orientation, profession, physical ability, political affiliation, and many other ways. We may disagree, but we agree that love overrides our disagreements.

It is these rich relationships that make weeks like this all the more difficult. At the end of the day, I am a straight, cis-gendered, black woman in America. My experience here is different from that of my white friends. Or my Indian friends. Or my Latinx friends. Or my male friends. Or my LBGTQ friends…

We all experience this country differently. Sometimes tragic events occur that affect one community or group of communities in a more personal way than others. Immediate members of the affected communities may express their grief in anger or sorrow and in that moment, stand in solidarity with those who share in that unifying identity. Those outside of that community may experience feelings of alienation and persecution, confusion and frustration.

Perhaps I am overly sensitive and diplomatic. A pacifist and love-monger to a fault. I suppose I figured that as I expressed my fear, anger, and frustration with the current climate of race relations in America, those of my friends and acquaintances who do not share my social and racial identity would view my outcry with empathy, if not understanding.

Unfortunately, there is pushback. Resistance from those who are offended by my personal account of my own experiences and reactions to attacks on my community. And although I’ve been called an “activist” and like to think of myself as a voice for society’s marginalized people, I question whether or not my skin is thick enough to withstand the barrage of social media verbal attacks. I wonder if my exercise of free speech is worth the harsh and fruitless criticism that contributed to my sleepless night.

How does someone whose contact list truly represents a cross-section of the diversity of the United States, stand in her truth and still maintain friendships with those who think so differently from her? How can she continue to use her voice to affect change, unafraid of alienating her unintended audience of friends’ parents and former colleagues, without diluting the severity of her truth?

Is it possible for me to have best friends who are black, brown, white, straight, queer, disabled, republican, socialist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, agnostic, atheist, and overall nonconforming, while still acknowledging my own plight as a young black woman in America who simply wants to love and be loved?

Well?

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When Words Are Too Much

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When tragedies occur, people often search for words to accurately describe their feelings while sensitively protecting those most severely affected. Over the last few weeks, many sad events have transpired. Most recently, the mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, where 50 lives were lost in an unfathomable act of hate-fueled violence.

As the news broke early Sunday morning, and people around the world began to awaken to the shocking (if not surprising) news, people quickly took to their cell phones and laptops to express condolences, outrage, fear, grief, and – in some particularly despicable cases – even arrogant I-told-you-sos.

Many of the passionate, heartfelt responses were timely and apropos. They embodied the author’s feelings and emotions, acknowledge the hurting victims, and some even called for action (stricter gun control, immediate blood donations). Some tweets, posts, snaps, and streams, however, were ill-timed, inappropriate, or just plain tasteless. Of course, some of the posters stand by their heartless and ignorant statements, but I also suspect that there are a few who simply posted in haste. Their stream-of-consciousness response to scattered thoughts and unmetered emotions pours out in combinations of words that could cause more harm than good.

My social media responses have been subtle and slow to come. It was tempting to immediately post my opinion on the events that took place, not because I felt the urgent need for my voice to be heard, but for fear that my radio silence would be viewed as condonance or apathy. I found myself questioning the validity of my voice as someone who is an ally of both the LGBTQIA+ and Islamic communities, as a Christian who loves all of these people.

While silence can certainly be deadly, misspoken words may wreak havoc. As a writer, I want to use my voice to inspire and to provoke thought. I also want to behave responsibly, focusing on the heart of the problem without allowing myself to veer off-course into psuedo-political shouting matches.

I want people reading my words to know that the thoughts I express come from a place of deep love and respect. I do not proport to know how my friends and family who are part of the LGBTQ community feel or what they experience in times like this. Nor do I claim to begin to understand the complex feelings Islamic brothers and sisters have in these moments.

Wherever you are, whatever your thoughts, feelings, and emotions please know this:

There are people who love you. People whose faith is founded in love and who are wholly committed to living out that faith in both word and deed. I am one of these people.

Remember

SoldierAs I awake on this Memorial Day and look out the window at the rays of sun spreading across the healthy green foliage, I pause to remember.

I reflect on the service of my family and friends in the military, yes. Months of boot camp, tours of duty, post-traumatic stress. These airmen, soldiers, sailors, marines, guard members all serving at various levels with an assortment of decorations. But most of these memories are simply tales to be told at reunions. The troubles Uncle experienced after Vietnam, the hijinks Daddy enjoyed in basic, and the historic barriers Aunt broke. The suicide Classmate committed after Iraq.

The suicide Classmate committed after Iraq.

On days like today, I remember instances and interactions with the United States military members. I recall a time when I saw a young soldier, no more than nineteen, riding on the southbound line of the MARTA train. The young man sat quietly in camouflage, staring at the window, perhaps imagining his future or saying goodbye to his past. I examined the tones of our fellow passengers, each awkwardly averting their gaze from the man-child in battle fatigues.

Why is this awkward? Why will no one look him in his eyes?

As we approached my stop in the financial district, I determined in my mind to thank this brave young boy for his service. Granted, he was not much younger than I was at the time, but by virtue of his commitment, he garnered my respect and support and I would gladly tell him so.

Thank you for your service.

My fellow travelers looked at me with amazed countenances. The young man quietly said “you’re welcome,” exited the left side of the train, and walked to my office with head held high.

It felt good to bring attention to our invisible hero in a climate where people are unsure about how to feel about the wars and conflicts and the people who fight them. Whether or not I personally agree with the mission, I know that these young kids believe in what they are doing. They believe with all their heart that they are doing what is right and honorable and good.

The brief interaction on public transit was not my only ode to our service women and men. I often make it a point to say “hello,” offering simple thanks for thier courage. The response is often one of surprise, followed by gratefulness. Surprise that they are acknowledged by an ordinary, everyday American girl. Gratefulness that they are acknowledged by the same.

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Let us not forget that our actions and words matter. We can have an impact. We can make a difference. When we remember the heroes of yesteryear, let us not forget to remember
those who are serving in the here and now. The weekend warriors and lifelong members. You needn’t avoid the celebrated sergeant or the Purple Heart private. They are people. They need validation and appreciation, support and acknowledgment. So spread a little smile, lend a little nod. And when you reflect on the fallen, be not afraid to remember the living, too.

Teardrops & Tealights

Moist, wrinkled chicken drumstick in my hand, snot pouring from my nose. I try to steady my shivering haFrench trlnds and focus my blurred vision through hot tears. Careful not to draw my own blood as I prepared the poultry meal, but overcome by a wellspring of pain.

A quiet touch on my shoulder attempts to comfort me, but the sobs only grow deeper, longer, louder. My father calmly says “I love you,” and I return the sentiment between intermittent gasps for air. I begin to list off all of the reasons he has found me in such a state.

For the third night in a row, I’ve watched as some aspect of my mother’s declining health was on full display. Delusions of betrayal, revolving trips to the restroom at all hours of the evening, continuous pain emanating from multiple parts of the body at once.

It hurts. I hurt. My mother is suffering and watching her pseudo-exist in this state is draining.

While in Barbados, my mother made marked improvements in her health. She was more active, more relaxed and the most alive I’d seen her in years. But almost immediately upon return to the United States, we have seen a steady regression and the results are discouraging.

Being back Stateside has had its ups but lots of downs. We went from living a life of relative comfort (and even enjoying relative luxury) to crashing with family and searching for new ways to survive.

It’s not to say that we are without blessing or that every day is shrouded in defeat. But the days are long and the nights are longer. My mind is weary. My body is tired. My light is dim.Tea Light

But I still have a light. Some days it shines brighter than others, but thank God… it is still here. And I refuse to let sickness and circumstance snuff it out. So I will shine. I will glow. I will burst into flame above the eye of any storm I meet.

I am more than a conqueror.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8: 37-39

My Life In Facebook Apps

I’ve always been a proponent of the literary concepts of analogy and metaphor. Life gets messy and sometimes we need simple, less complicated images to help us make sense of what it’s all about. Aside from the hokey pokey.

Recently, God has revealed to me how life is a lot like a collection of Facebook Apps. For my purposes, He used the example of Candy Crush versus Cookie Jam.

If you’ve ever been on the social networking site Facebook, then it’s pretty likely that you received a jellybean shaped life request from a friend for an addictive little game called Candy Crush. This game took the nation (or dare I say, the world?) by storm a few years ago and is still pretty popular today.

The object is fairly simple. Match at least 3 “candies” in a row or column to break whatever surface lies beneath. Each time you succeed in breaking a surface, you are congratulated by hypnotizing dings and bloops, stimulating the pleasure centers of your brain. With its constant attaboys, invitations to “Try Again” if you’ve failed, and opportunities to level up, the game has become highly addictive for some people. While I am not one of those people who became addicted to an online game, I – ahem – certainly see how that can happen.

Like many things in my life, I was a late adapter to this game. I didn’t have a smartphone for awhile and my PC threatened to implode if I tried to play the game online. So, as with most popular movements, I was missing out. Once I upgraded my tech resources and began playing games, I quickly noticed a disturbing pattern: I was dreaming about Candy Crush.

What prompted these dreams? Well, while I do not have a degree in psychology, I strongly believe that my in-game achievements are used as placeholders for real-life advancements.

Recently, my family and I returned to the U.S. after a stint abroad in the Caribbean. It’s a long story, so I’ll spare you the bureaucratic details. Suffice it to say that we took a chance, it was lovely, but it ultimately did not work out.

So now, we’re back Stateside. Back to where we started from. Back to the rat race and keeping up with the Karda– Joneses. Every day is filled with job applications, résumé edits and phone interviews. Meanwhile, medical expenses mount, health declines, and the desire to have a “normal” life for me to have a “normal” life increases.

So back to Candy Crush. Another component of the popular match-three games is the occasional visit down the wormhole. A side excursion which allows you to earn extra points and tools. These little games within games are neat departures from the typical school of play, but they are often more challenging than the original game and can create more stress.

One day, I received an invite for a new match-three game called Cookie Jam. While the concept is nearly identical to that of Candy Crush, I’ve found that the play is easier and I’ve yet to have any dreams (or nightmares) about this goofy time-waster. Maybe because I’m more successful at the game, that need to succeed at something is satiated and corresponding anxiety is quelled.

Now, Cookie Jam is a less popular game. The graphics aren’t as slick, the music less entrancing. But I like it. It works for me. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it meets my pedestrian needs. I may not have many people to talk to about it and I’m not sure I even want people to know I play it. But a game is a game. And if I must play a game, then sometimes I have to choose a game the works best for me, at which I can excel. I can’t compare my platform of preference to anyone else.

I’ve found that the same is true in life. Since returning “home” I’ve been pursuing a career in the hot, sexy, glamorous world of startups. After all, I am a millennial living in the Metro Atlanta area. I am supposed to work for a trendy startup company with unlimited vacation days and in-office happy hours (locally brewed beer included).

StartupSo I go out and get the all-important perfect startup interview outfit, polish my résumé — I even enrolled in a coding class! I apply for startup after startup. Rarely do I hear back. If I do, it’s either in the form of a rejection letter telling me I am great, but others were greater; or sometimes, they want to have a “casual chat” on the phone. Rarer still, after the phone “chat”, I am asked to come in for an “in-person meeting.” [Note: These companies often avoid calling anything preliminary an interview. I guess we’re trying to keep it chill? Super cas’?]

I press my bright pink pencil pants from my aforementioned 3386437_1381716248194-47res_500_500startup ensemble, get my hair and nails done and head to whatever gentrified co-working space houses the next big thing in technology. The interview begins. The interview ends. I interviewed well. I killed it. They loved me, I loved them. The only thing missing was the big purple dinosaur.

A few days go by. Nothing. I think Should I follow up at the risk of appearing dimpatient? Just as I am about to hit send on my subtle nudge email, the phone rings. It’s them! My heart and breath stop as I eagerly wait to hear the words “We think would make a great addition to our team and would like to offer you the position.” Instead, the voice on the other end informs me that while I interviewed very well and did nothing wrong… they’ve chosen to go with another candidate.

Disappointed and confused, I thank them for their time and consideration and hope they will keep me in mind for a future role. [Click.]

This pattern of rejection is becoming all too familiar. Yes, rejection is part of the job search. ‘X’ number of résumés sent out – ‘y’ rejection letters – ‘z’ interviews = ‘n’ number of companies that may offer you a job. But as searching for a job in and of itself is a full-time job, it can be hard not to let your morale drop to an all-time low. You just want a little reward for all of your hard work.

Observing my frustration, my father made a very good suggestion. One that in my earlier years, I would not have wanted to hear. He said “You are veering off of your path. You started out in a social services space and ended up pursuing careers in technology, et cetera. I know you want a job and those are the jobs that seem hot right now, but you need to stick with your strengths. The last thing you want to become is a jack of all trades and a master of none.”

Stick with your strengths. The last thing you want to become is a jack of all trades and a master of none.

This advice was hard to hear because I thought I had devised a master plan to get a cool job; a house in a hip, gentrified neighborhood; and the acceptance and admiration of my peers. But my dad reminded me that life isn’t about those things. Not for me, anyway.

Just like my relationship with Facebook games, I’ve had to reassess my career platform. While the tech startup world is exciting and cool and the game that everybody is playing, it just doesn’t work for me. I don’t excel there. I do excel in spaces where I get to help people. Where I get to tell stories. Where I get to be authentic to who I am.

So, just as I have done with Candy Crush, I will forgo the tech trek and pursue instead social solutions. I don’t know how long it will take me to level up and there may not be many boosters along the way, but at least I am reassured of my purpose and I can have peace during my journey.

My America

Diverse Friends
My family and I have been stateside since late November. We did not anticipate being here this long, but unforeseen circumstances have made it so.

Despite the unseasonably warm weather here in Georgia, I definitely miss the balmy Caribbean breeze. I miss the people I was just beginning to get to know. I miss the place I started to call home.

But life happens, right? When life throws you a curve ball, you hit a home run! So, rather than lamenting what should be, I am looking for the positives. And you know what? They are everywhere!

I’ve eaten farm-to-table meals with college friends. I blew bubbles with my little cousin on Christmas. I worshiped sweetly with my parents at our home church. I braved mall on Christmas Eve.

As lovely as all of this has been, one of the most rewarding sights has been the beautiful tapestry of people. While at the mall on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, I browsed alongside Muslim girls wearing beautiful hijabs; played peek-a-boo with a precious, chunky little South American girl; my ears danced to the sounds of the tongues of many nations.

A visit to a local park in Northern Gwinnett County, Georgia warmed my soul as I watched little black, white, Asian, and Hispanic children play with each other and a yellow Labrador puppy.


If you watch enough cable news television or spend too much time on social media, you can be easily discouraged by the state of our Union. Mass shootings, racial inequality, and everykindaphobia. It is a depressing reality.

Some people may feel it is selfish to be joyful during such trying times. Others choose to live very shallow existence, void of any information that may spoil the perfect slice of Americana they built for themselves.

But it is important that we find the balance between understanding a scary reality and searching for the silver linings. I think it is entirely possible to enjoy the moments of peace, joy, and kindness — be they small and rare, or grand and often — and draw from those things as inspiration for our part in improving our corner of the world.

One of my favorite quotes is by George Bernard Shaw, as popularized by President John Fitzgerald Kennedy:

There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?

I encourage all of us to acknowledge and enjoy each and every blessing and then fight with everything we have to make sure everyone is able to acknowledge and enjoy their own blessings. When you see how your neighbor’s life is, envision how it could be, and then vow to do your unique part to bring it to fruition.

After all, this is America. All types of people from all types of places, all fighting for one another’s happiness. At least, that is my America.

Have a blessed and hopeful 2016!

Forget Comfort

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Starbucks’ Holiday Spice Flat White

My family and I have been Stateside only a couple of weeks and already I miss my new home. Sure, it’s nice to breathe in the crispness of late autumn air. With the holiday season in full swing, I love to see the tree-lined streets illuminated with thousands of little lights. I enjoyed my tall Holiday Spice Flat White from Starbucks this afternoon. Visiting with friends I had not seen in awhile is good for the soul.

I suppose I thought that when I got here, I would fall madly in love with the place I called home for 16 years and find it difficult to leave. To my surprise, my feelings have run neutral on the matter.

In fact, the longer I remain on U.S. soil, the more I realize just how conducive island life is to the person I hope to be. The weather is warm, the sights are breathtaking, the food is refreshing, the people are… interesting. A warm countenance. A breathtaking compassion. A refreshing attitude. An interesting story. These are all characteristics I hope to possess as I mature into the woman God made me to be and I believe the Caribbean is an ideal place to cultivate these fruits.

Of course, a lifelong walk on the beach is not my sole motivation for returning to the island. I also see the evident progress my mother has experienced in the picturesque settings of Barbados. There is a constant stream of pure, uncut Vitamin D which shines through our glass patio doors. Every drive along the coasts offers stunning views of the Caribbean Sea to our west or the Atlantic Ocean to our east. Trips to markets provide access to the freshest fish and the most perfect produce, aiding in beneficial dietary changes. Every weekend, there are tantalizing cultural exhibitions that stimulate the pathways and neurotransmitters of a weary yet determined brain. The peace and contentment that washes over my mother as she watches the waves wash ashore beneath the setting sun is worth more than all the supposed comfort that familiar faces and fast food restaurants could provide.

I breathe a sigh of relief as my father relaxes in the peacefulness of a country where his ebony complexion is neither disdained nor revered, and different cultures are shared and celebrated. Invaluable is the ability to breathe and be as a man without the whispers of dissension and separation playing on 24-hour news channels as a broken record in the recesses of his mind. Comforting is the idea that his wife and daughter do not have to worry about him as much when he makes a late night ice-cream run. Reassuring is the limited access to guns and appreciation for a slower pace of life. Simpler is the new life his family leads. Exciting is the prospect of sharing his sunset years beneath a vibrant painted sky, conversing with diverse peoples from diverse lands, holding the hand of his beloved.

So with all due respect to the friends and the family that I love, I must confess that I am not torn between two lands or confused about what I want for my future. My heart is not divided by land and sea. Barbados is my home for the foreseeable future. It is where I live. It is where I thrive. It is where I belong.

Home for the Holidays

Christmas has definitely come early for me this year. I just found out I will be spending Thanksgiving, and possibly Christmas, in Atlanta!

This surprise certainly comes with mixed emotions as I realize that this will mean missing out on some of the awesome events Barbados has to offer this time of year, which also means possibly missing out on opportunities to meet new people.

That being said, I am pretty excited about heading back to the States to get some things taken care of that were hanging in the air when we left with 30 days notice. Just a few of my “hope-tos” for my trip include:

  • Visit our family practitioner to show off my 50+ pound weight-loss
  • Cuddle with my little cousins
  • Spend some time with our church family
  • Hit up H&M, Old Navy, Target, K&G, Ann Taylor Loft, Versona, Cato, and other inexpensive retailers to replenish my wardrobe for my new size on the cheap (I still have 15ish pounds to go)
  • Hit up COSTCO to purchase toiletries and non-perishables in bulk
  • Go for coffee at Land of 1000 Hills
  • …music at Java Monkey or Eddie’s Attic
  • Ormsby’s for libations and games
  • Avalon for festive fun
  • …and anything else my crazy friends cook up.

Initially, I had very mixed emotions about this return visit. I wasn’t sure how I felt about revisiting some difficult situations. My family relocated under very stressful circumstances and I realize that I allowed that stress to adversely affect some of my dearest relationships. I cannot regret the way I left things because so much was beyond my control; regret would lead to guilt and I refuse to live my life that way. But I certain wondered if I was ready to reopen old wounds and considered how I might cope with the change.

I also cannot help but acknowledge the current state of affairs in the United States and the global community. African-Americans and allies of all races are in a continuous state of protest against police brutality and inequality. Though not physically present in the country, the tragedy is not lost on my conscious. Perhaps more now than ever before, I make it my mission to “stay woke,” constantly educating myself and adding my voice to the discussion on race relations in America. The reality is that where two or more races exist, there is racism. Even on a predominately black island in the Caribbean, discrimination is very real. But, as I explained in a previous post, the fear of being shot because someone feels threatened by my blackness simply is not there. Soon, we will return to a land where this is a very real possibility.

In addition to the unsettling realities of home, there is so much pain globally. The Thanksgiving season is always a hectic time for travelers, even more so when dealing with tragedies like the terrorist attacks that have taken place in Paris and Nigeria within the last week, not to mention continuing unrest and persecution in the Middle East and other tribulations worldwide. I, for one, am not afraid to fly. None of us knows what tomorrow may hold and it is foolhardy to believe any of us is exempt from terrible things that take place in life. The reason I am unafraid is because I know that no matter what happens, I know how the story ends. I know that at the end of the day, my soul is saved in Christ Jesus. He died on a cross so that when I die, as we all eventually will, I do not have to worry about what will happen to me or where I will go. It is through God’s grace that I get to escape the terror and the pain of this world and trade it all in for eternal peace and everlasting joy. I praise God that I can take comfort in this fact and travel with peace in my heart.

May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight. – Psalm 119:76-77

I wish everyone reading this a very Happy Thanksgiving and pray that you and your loved ones are wrapped in peace, comfort, and joy.