Writing prompt for soon: What is significant about the violence that didn’t happen but we’d been anticipating between 1/6 and 1/20? How were we feeling and managing expectations of what could or might happen?
Eight years ago, in September 2011, we walked into the animal shelter in Santa Fe to meet the Bull Terrier, who at the time was known as Blue and when he came home with us a few days later we chose the name Karim. In Urdu, Karim means blessing. At the shelter, they estimated that he was 3 years old; we have since wondered if he was as old as 5 back then. Either way, that would make the last Tuesday in September, the 24th, his 11th (or possibly 13th) birthday.
This past Saturday, October 12, Karim died. We buried him at midday on Sunday, the 13th, in a grave that I began to dig (15% of what was the needed size and depth) in mid-September when I wondered and worried if he would day in the 48 hours that I was out of town. He didn’t die while I was gone, so I got to dig the grave that he and I needed. Since late August, we have known that his right kidney was inflamed and there was blood in urine. (Looking through photos after he died, we saw one from six months ago, from March that showed a few drops of blood in pee in the foyer.)
In Advice for Future Corpses: And Those Who Love Them, Sallie Tisdale writes (on page 88), “If you are going to help someone who is dying, you should be prepared to help in the toilet.” In a way, Karim had us (and many friends and dog sitters who came to care for him and Jataka when we were away at births or vacations), preparing for his death for years. Coming home to find piss or shit in the foyer became so frequent upon returning home that I was at ease cleaning it up some days and at other times I was livid. In recent months, I got into the habit of walking from the parked car to the front door quickly and by myself to see if there was anything awaiting us. And the day before he died, it dawned on me that I had been doing this quick walk to the front door because I anticipated that I would come home and find Karim dead in the foyer, on the couch, or on the dog bed. All that urine and poop was getting me ready for death. On Saturday, I came home to find him on the dog bed in front of the wood stove before walking back outside to let Brinda and Sabiya know that he had died before we walked in together to see him, sit with him, be with him and be with one another in the presence of his death.
It was a sobering last month or six weeks of his life as his weight declined quickly. I could see it first in his vertebrae along his back, then the ribs along his formerly stout midsection, and finally in the hip bones that portruded at angles that had never been evident before. When I would rub his neck, there was much less muscle and mass to massage.
The disintegrating, disappearing body was simultaneously jarring and expected as he loved so many foods. Before Karim, I had not known that a dog would chew up carrots, cabbage and broccoli. A constant topic of debate was whether Karim’s favorite fruit was peach, mango, apple or whatever was in season. In preparing for his burial, I pulled out one peach pit and two cherry pits from a katori in the fridge for Sabiya to throw into the grave along with a pink collar and a white blanket that we wrapped him in. He loved blankets, and I have learned from Karim and Brinda that (some or most) dogs love sleeping partially or fully under a blanket. Whenever a blanket or a jacket, a pile of clean laundry or a pile of pillows and blankets for the bed were available, he would go settle in for a most comfortable snuggle — it didn’t matter to him if he slept so long as he got to snuggle in a makeshift bed.
Even as he was getting weaker and slower and skinnier, he walked over to a chair on the portal to lay outside for less than an hour. The autumn air was crisp in the shade and he would go to the green chair to get a few more minutes outside before I carried him back inside. In the last week, there were three nights that I took him out to pee when we were greeted with the hoo hoo hooting of an owl; one night, there were two owls in the valley hooting for the few minutes that Karim and I were out in the dark. On the morning of his death, a magpie — a bird totem for entering other realms — jumped under a table on the portal less than 10 feet from his dying body.
Karim was Brinda and my first dog together, who we got to through some incredbile and unpredictable circumstances, three months after moving to Santa Fe and 14 months after our relationships started. She was volunteering at the animal shelter and met him one week that I was out of town.
“You have to come home,” she said. “Bud, is everything all right?” “Yes, there’s a Bull Terrierr at the shelter!” “I will become in eight days.” “He won’t be here in eight days.”
I did not come home early but in that time, Blue, as he was known, was adopted by an elderly woman despite the concerns about his strength and temperament voiced by one of the employees. He was returned less than 24 hours later, then acquired kennel cough placing him in quarantine the entire time that I was gone.
Brinda told me in the last few days that it is through Karim that like dthat I was along guy. It was through July 2014 reading/consultation with Lena Barrios, a Mayan healer, that I learned that my birth corresponds with the nahual of Tz’i.
As our first dog, he was also our first child who instilled parental duties, responsibilities, existential questions, dilemmas and delights that we had not entertained or experienced prior to his arrival. We had innumerable, amazing experiences with him in eight years:
- The first Halloween when children came knocking at the door and lost interest in candy when they saw the dog who they asked to pet.
- When we sat in a hot tub outside the bedroom windows while he sat on the bed and watched us. After a few minutes of watching and waiting for me to get out of the tub, he squatted and peed on the middle of the bed to convey (what we understood at the time as) his displeasure of being left inside while we reveled outside.
- Another time, I was working upstairs, and one of us had let him into the backyard and then a few minutes later, inquired where he was. Brinda asked if he was upstairs with me. When I told her no, we ran to the back to look and wonder and wander around the backyard until we saw the hole under the fence. We ran out the front door scrambling and ran to the park less than a block away to find him accttached to the face of a 14 year old, large, female Husky with three adults trying to pull his jaw off of her. One trick that we had learned from a dog trainer a EDs or months earlier was to pull and pinch the inner thigh to get him to unlatch. I learned that and had to use it just that one time. (Some comic relief afterwards, when the Husky was safe back at her home and we were back in ours was to replay the one adult who was tossing — more accurately described as sprinkling — water onto Karim’s muzzle like he was a boxer.
- When we moved all the furniture out of a previous home and left Karim with a bowl of water and bed. In four hours of isolation, he walked into and apparently rolled all over the inside of the empty, ashy fireplace because we came back to find his coat gray from nose to tail. We will never know if it was some sort of cleansing practice or despair or simply some BT mischief.
- This summer, we knew that he was getting closer to death, so we would let him go “sojourn” as he wandered for 20 to 30 minutes. Solo adventures had been inconceivable in his spry years because he likely would have gotten into a fight with the larger, older dog next door or been picked up by someone who fights dogs. But, the two things that we imagine that he was doing while sojourning were eating acorns and looking for an arroyo or a bed of leave, a shady spot or a sunny spot where he could choose to die. But, we stopped permitting the sojourns after a few instances where coagulated blood showed that the impact that the acorns were having on his kidney(s).
- Four years ago, he ate so many acorns on walks with a leash that he had incontinence causing him to pee while laying on the dog bed. After consulting a neighbor who is a veterinarian and the Internet, we learned that acorns are toxic for dogs.
- And the time that he saw a mouse in the foyer, snapped into terrier mode launching his 40 pound body into the air, using his muzzle to stun the mouse, before grabbing it with his teeth and throwing it down his throat.
Karim was the ultimate blessing as he prepared me for fatherhood. In the early years of our relationship, there were many a night that we would watch the dizzying and hilarious antics of Bull Terriers — splashing, spinning (or as we called it helicoptering), cuddling, and trancing — in videos online that had us laughing for hours at their joy, persistence, and intensity. There was the first year when we strapped a child’s pair of butterfly wings onto his back and paraded him around the kitchen. In those early years, we learned that in England, Bull Terriers were bred and raised to accompany and protect children in the countryside and I took this distinct lineage as a sign that child or children were coming, I just had to work with my own patience/impatience and trust some forces greater than I could imagine. By some miracle, he endured and lived long to support us with the arrival of two children before his time to go back to the mountain.
So much wisdom, so much prescience at this time of lynching, and this time of liberation:
James Cone, interviewed by Bill Moyers (11/23/2007)
The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning, Claudia Rankine in NYT (6/22/2015)
Bryan Stevenson, interviewed by Corey Johnson on Marshall Project (6/24/2105)
The Long History of Southern Terror, by Heather Cox Richardson, in Jacobin Magazine (6/21/2015)
The Debt, by FiveFifths, on SevenScribes.com (6/10/2015)
What This Cruel War was Over, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, on The Atlantic (6/22/2015)
We Were Never Meant to Survive: A Response to the Attack in Charleston (6/19/2015)
Stop Trying to Be Good, Be Black, by Jamilah Lemeiux, on Mic.com (6/30/2015)
I recall a clip of Allen Iversen, former all star guard of the Philadelphia 76ers saying, “We talkin’ about practice.”
This was at a press conference where Iversen seemed irritated (at least to me) that he was having to spend time answering questions about what he was or wasn’t doing during practice. They weren’t talking about games or opponents but what was rumored to have happened at practice. Namely what had occurred between Iversen and his coach. He had plenty of reasons to be weary of how the press portrayed him, since they had portrayed him as a ruffian from the time he was 18 years old.
I remember Allen Iversen’s irritation years later because it reminds me of feelings that so many people have towards a constant irritation in their own lives. It is not basketball practice that they are obligated to attend, forced to go through, and then go back to over and over again. It is not anything sports-related, but it is the job-related meetings that people are required to attend, to go through, and go back to over and over again, even when they don’t go well.
Like a bad practice, a bad meeting feels terrible. The difference is that most of us, unlike professional sports athletes, don’t get skewered by the corporate media afterwards. There may be gossip about what does or doesn’t happen in a meeting, but rarely is it in front of video cameras and reporters.
In the last month, I have heard instances of two friends who were feeling a lot like Allen Iversen. They were stewing after long, onerous, and horrendous days. Their work days did not consist of hours of practice, but hours of meetings. Meetings that people loath. All-day meetings that feel useless or, even worse, are counter-productive. Meetings that take people away from what they feel a need or obligation to do, and have to sit through something else. To be in a physical space, or on a phone call that obstructs and distracts.
I find this practice/meeting metaphor more poignant having just read about how people steal your most valuable asset, your time. Time which unlike money cannot be compensated, reimbursed or retroactive. When I heard Iversen’s quote, it sounded like he was doubly frustrated. Frustrated at a practice that seemed like a waste, and then having to spend time listening to people ask him questions about an incident that they were not a part of, and that he did not want to revisit.
A question that we ask in our house is: How does this serve you?
How do meetings serve you? More importantly, which meetings don’t serve you? And, what is causing us to continue to subject ourselves to terrible meetings. It has been 13 years since a book with the title, We Have to Stop Meeting Like This written by Tony Jeary and George Low, came out. I haven’t read it, but whatever meeting status quo the authors hoped to address and disrupt seems to carry on.
Rather than get wiser in how we do meetings, we have gotten stuck. It seems to me that all meetings consist of some fundamental elements:
<ul><li>two or more people</li>
<li>one or multiple topics to address</li>
<li>how the people in the meeting communicate with one another</li></ul>
In my math mind, this feels like an equation:
X = P + T + C
Where X is a meeting, and the three variables are People, Topics, and Communication. Depending on the set-up, and the power dynamics, a different meeting could mathematically be written as:
X = (4P x 3T)/C
Where four people are present and they have three topics on the agenda. Like in any good equation, any of these variables (P, T or C) can greatly affect the outcome of meeting X. But, oftentimes, it seems to me that communication, C, is the variable that most affects both the people in a meeting and how they talk to/address/shout at/disagree/pummel/reprimand/present to/inform the other people/person in a meeting.
As social beings, how we communicate with one another tremendously impacts how well or how poorly we get along. As is the case in any team sports, chemistry has as much to do with performance as talent. As a child, and as a younger brother, who often played sports and pick up games, I learned how a team with more synergy and less talent could often win over a team with more talent and less synergy.
Our working environments and campaigns need meetings with better synergy and more attention given to the chemistry and dynamics between People. The old and entrenched habits around meetings need to be broken. We’ve got to figure out how to drop these bad habits, as they are lethal to our health.
In recent days, I have had reminders of containers, opening, expansion, and the ways that my soul can adapt and does adapt to the stimuli of life. At times, the container feels like a crucible; on other days, it is a jar or a pitcher full of water or some other liquid. A few years ago, during a more tentative time in my life, it felt like my container was a wee teacup sloshing through quakes, waves, whirlpools, and other tremors of tumult that had the insides spilling out and over the rim.
My container is less teacup, and more of a vast expanse. Something that is like an aquarium yet nimble, with tall sides yet accessible, wide and broad. My nephew told me about his first attempts at throwing clay in the past school year, and expanding my container feels like a slower version of throwing. Instead of starting with a new mound of clay, I add another layer of clay on top of what was already there or add spots to touch up.
Wisdom and guidance of how to do so abounds with metaphors outdoors, guidance in books, recipes, food, and in conversations with others. Just last night, I read about the “generosity of the universe,” an obvious statement yet a teaching that does not get mentioned as frequently, or a worldview that is not as pervasive, as scarcity as supposedly shown through Darwin’s theories of evolution and elimination.
The generosity of the universe has me guided by intuition more than ever. With this, verbal communication has taken a back seat to the unexplainable or illogical. Stimuli are sudden and by letting go of the cause, source or motivation, I can accept things just as they are. I spent a lot of energy and time spinning my wheels trying to defy, denounce, and change what was. I
In my early teens, which were the Swaziland years, I read Sports Illustrated magazine regularly. It gave me some perspective of what was happening with sports back in the U.S.
The magazine would come through the “mail pouch” each week, which I believe meant that there was a large canvas pouch placed in the cargo section of a commercial airplane. As best as I understood the set-up, mail from the U.S. was sent to an APO or FPO address somewhere in the metropolitan Washington D.C. region that would then be sent by plane to the Embassy in Mbabane. Though, I never saw the mail pouch, I imagined it to be manila. There were so many manila envelopes inside the Embassy, particularly that had to do with communications so I associated the non-descript color to the mail pouch.
Earlier today, Sports Illustrated came to mind as I remembered a section in the opening pages called “Signs of the Apocalypse,” a pithy indicator of what was remiss in the wide, whacky world of sports and society. All of this came back to me because of a banana and hard boiled egg in my bag that I anticipated eating. In the midst of so many other smells, I considered a few other signs of the apocalypse:
- the preference for the smells of Febreze to bananas
- that Glade Plug-ins get commended while garlic breath is ridiculed
- a cloud of cologne or perfume is more desirable to the lingering smell of onions on one’s breath or fingers.
Such preferences bewilder me. I find the artificial chemicals of cologne or perfume so pungent that I may lean away or even gag. I suppose that it may be due to a sensory sensitivity hard-wired in our brains that has little to do with choice.
In this era of the Internet and NSA, that pouch seems so quaint. Even though the pouch was the primary means of getting us personal mail from stateside throughout the final years of the Cold War, it seems like such a rudimentary way to get contents from the U.S. to us in different countries. All of these memories make me wonder just how simplistic or elaborate that manila “mail pouch” actually was.
In academia, the twin guards of the Old Guard, White Supremacy and Misogyny be triflin’.
That’s the pithy one sentence reaction I had after reading “The Tenure Game” by Teresa Steinhoyer in the Yale Daily News, about the miserable and failing efforts by Yale University between 2006 and 2011 to greatly catapult the number of women and people of color in faculty ranks written. I encountered the story since a FB friend, and former professor of mine, who instructed me in one of my most instrumental undergraduate courses titled, Black Public Intellectuals, posted it. It was in this course in the Fall of 1998 that I read Ida B. Wells for the first time and learned her history. It was in that course that I wrote one of my best papers about the lyrics of Tupac Shakur, citing passages from the 2Pacalypse Now album, released in 1991.
I recognize that this social blight — this epic failure, this structural deficiency — is not just at Yale. This discrimination is not just in academia, as similar dynamics, subtleties, and closed doors pervade the social profit sector, government, the military, the private sector, and K-12 education. In other words, any mixed race or coed institution. This is what it feels like and what the humbling (if not humiliating) demographics look like for any predominantly institution or workplace where white males are predominant in numbers, particularly so in the upper layers of an organization that have the authority and power to determine other’s fate.
What is insidious about how academia does it, is that the hoops of being considered for tenure most often depend on jumping through hoops years in advance. As this article indicates, an aspiring professor spends somewhere between 3 and 7 years of showing their merits before actually being given the yeah or nay on getting tenure. Since the Civil Rights Movement opened up new paths to academic positions and hastened the integration of education from pre-school to post-doctoral four or five decades ago, it appears that academics and academic institutions have figured out a variety of ways to track disproportionate numbers of professors of color and women into some second-class status all but guaranteeing that they will not get tenure, and not be around for the long-term. A whole lot of pomp and circumstance that isolate individuals so they cannot coordinate and collectively wield power. I call it insidious because Misogyny and Supremacy have cleaned up their decorum. They don’t tar and feather quite like in lynching’s heyday, but they sully people and women and people of color who attempt to stand up, they diminish and belittle research and rigor that focuses on the experiences of Chinese Americans, or facets of immigrant lives. It may not be lethal in a life/death sense, but not getting tenure is lethal to one’s academic profession and academic pursuits, or so it appears to me from my non-academic perspective.
When multiple female mentors tell a younger female factuly that they have to choose two of three between “husband, children or career” is internalized misogyny placing career over children. Particularly, when only 19% of male faculty (compared to 43% of female faculty) felt that they did not have to choose between their academic pursuits and family lives. This is what gender imbalances look like in capitalism. In academia, tenure-track and supremacy reward patience with the Old Boys network, the kind of patience that has to last longer than a presidential term or olympic cycles. This is a long game.
These are the same recurring dynamics — of recruitment and retention — that I saw as a college student. As a sophomore and junior, I attended countless meetings and meals focusing on how to recruit and retain more students of color. In a nation where people of color were a much larger percentage of the population than the student population, something was undemocratic and skewed in who attended Macalester College. Yet, the numbers did not change, and got worse from the mid-90s to the late-90s. This lackluster system was exacerbated by an administration and faculty voices that espoused how international students could make up the difference. But they did not. The math did not add up.
We could talk about the social aspects of what could attract/repel a prospective student of color. However, those exchanges led by a Black employee in the Admissions Office rarely, if ever, brought up the material matters of budget decisions, financial aid, and what financial resources were being expended to make a four year, liberal arts college degree more of less accessible to more students of color or what considerations were being made for students who were coming from high schools segregated by class and race. The systemic imbalances of K-12 education were glossed over, as were the structural deficiencies at Macalester that were ill-equipped to grapple with institutional racism and institutional sexism.
The section in the Yale Daily News article about assertiveness is dicey. And saddening. The Latina quoted in the article was cognizant of having to be assertive from her freshman year at Yale and continue to do so into her first years as the first tenured Latina professor in the Law School. The diceyness of the entire set-up is that people of color and women have internalized messages that we get angry too hastily. We have been pummeled with the notion that the playing field is level and will give us a fair chance so long as we work hard. Most people of color and women sublimate their assertiveness because it is spun as anger. The micro-aggressions are one form of it, and the internalized racism and internalized sexism are another. (And, I consider the latter more harmful because it is what we do to ourselves rather than what someone else is doing to us.)
In the last 50 years, Supremacy has learned how to give the appearance of fairness, when the reality is far from that. In the five decades since the Civil Rights Act, we have had scattered progress as segregation and bias has gone from de jure to de facto. What this has meant is that the guards of the Old Guard have determined what can be done to pass a legal test yet uphold segregation and the persistent imbalance of access and power, evolution and adaptation. The figures cited in the YDN article demonstrate how persistent the Old Guard is, and how craftily they have figured out how to protect their neck and protect their tenure protocols so they will endure the test of civil court, or when someone files a discrimination suit with the EEOC. These are the house rules in a game that the Old Guard still dominates, decades after the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Movement.
So long as there are a fixed number of positions, or metaphorical seats at the table, then there are those who will lose their seats. This is the case in academic departments, in Congress, and in any workplace, political body, civic association that has a limited number of slots. Capitalism is a social order that suggests that there will always be a fixed number, less spaces than what we desire. Fostering competition and animosity rather than instilling a sense of shared destiny, this perceived stagnation creates ire causing some to hoard power and figure out how to subjugate others.
And those who have historically occupied those seats, in the 240 years of the United States, are not going to simply give up what they have known as their’s. There is greed and selfishness, and there are also just old habits that are hard to break. As Frederick Douglass said [credit is due to PublicEye.org for making this lengthier version of his “power concedes nothing” quote more accessible],
If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.
I was running an errand this morning, thinking that I was going to the public library. It turned out to be much more of a visit to see my own thoughts and patterns.
I noticed the line between the subconscious and conscious minds and how I was making choices about which side of the street I walk on, and whether I make eye contact with someone or cast my eyes elsewhere.
I gave the silent head nod to a man squatting at the edge of the parking lot on the backside of the library. There was no visual response, and I continued on with my affairs. After walking out of the library doors, I noticed a pair of people sitting on a doorstep, sitting in the sun. The young man was in a t-shirt soaking up the rays of sunshine despite the brisk morning air.
I noticed my own split-second pause as I debated whether to cross the street onto the sidewalk that would take me within four feet of those two. If I had opted to stay on the far sidewalk, twenty five feet removed, I could have kept my eyes from peering across the tarmac chasm at the two human beings sitting in the New Mexico sun. Whether I recognize someone else’s humanity is that sudden and subtle. I can live in mini-moments that dignify the life and essence or others, or I could have stayed far away on the other side of street pretending that my non-seeing was the result of which sidewalk I was on rather than my choice to see or not see. To fear or not fear. More precisely, to be bound by the fears of my own narratives or not be bound by the fears of my own narratives.
These are a few of the choices that blur my conscious and subconscious.
Two days ago, my partner, Brinda, said how
he changed what it meant to be African. He changed what it meant to be African American
as we sat with the news that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela had passed earlier on Thursday, December 5, 2013.
Indeed, Madiba changed what it meant to be human. He dignified the whites who had been systematically privileged by apartheid, he dignified the ruling National Party that was the final white-led political party in final years of apartheid in the early ’90s. And he ushered the transition from a violent, white-minority government to a multiracial democracy. Mandela’s tact and approach was unique in that he did not diminish the Black masses, the poor and the oppressed when dealing with the powers that be. He was unapologetic as the figure head and public face for the political party, the labor unions, the youth movement and the social movements that brought about apartheid’s end.
In the 72 hours since his passing, I have been reminded that violence may be a necessity when every other means or resort has been exhausted. I have been reminded that a leader or elected official does not need to relent in their systemic critique of the status quo once they have been elected. I have been reminded
I lived in Swaziland from 1991 through 1994. It was a pivotal time as neighboring South Africa transitioned from an exclusively white-governed nation to a multiracial democracy. I recall one weekend in 1992 when my mixed race family went to Pretoria for the weekend. Our car broke down, so we had to spend one extra night, on a Sunday, in one of Pretoria’s upper class neighborhoods. The two reasons that we could be there, were that as a diplomat and his family we were bestowed with a level of privilege, which was further eased by the fact that in the early 1990s, Black South Africans had begun to live in neighborhoods that had been historically white.
Because our car broke down, I would miss school on Monday at Waterford Kamhlaba. Yet, it was not just any Monday, but the day of the Referendum asking white South Africans if they wanted to vote to end apartheid by granting Blacks and Coloreds the right to vote. To my 13 year old sensibilities on the night before, a race war seemed all but inevitable. I do not know how many stories of widespread race-based violence had been forecast on television nor how many newspapers had written about the possibilities of political violence. I went to bed on Sunday terrified by what would happen in the streets of Pretoria and throughout the country the following day.
Yet, nothing of the sort occurred. There were a few skirmishes fomented (or even staged) by the white nationalist organization, AWB (who’s name in Afrikaans, I never could remember). Otherwise, peace and calm was so widespread that by dusk, I was clipping the posters of various political parties as my mom drove me around the predominantly white, middle- and upper-class neighborhood that we were staying in. I would run up to a streetlamp and cut the twine in two places before tossing the posters either in the trunk or backseat of the car that we were in. I cannot remember, but we gathered at least a dozen, if not 20, posters. A few were those of the rulling National Party that said either “Yes” or “Ya” (the equivalent term in Afrikaans). We encountered few No posters, that we still chose to cut and compile. The one that is most emblazoned in my psyche, even 21 years later, was a caricature of FW de Klerk, the President and leader of the National Party, on his knees bowing before a standing Nelson Mandela. Off in one of the corners is the shape of a red, stop sign were the three letters — Nee — asking that voters refuse to grant the majority of adults in the country the right to vote.
It was a magical phase in my life. As a mixed-raced, teenager from the United States attending a middle and high school, Waterford, with a legacy of being a place for Black, white, Colored, and Indian South Africans to send their children to a mixed race school environment. It was a school where I shared classrooms, meals and sports fields with the children (and grandchildren) of the freedom struggles of Mozambique, Zambia and other countries. It was a school where Walter Sisulu came and spoke to the students. I learned a few political anthems and songs, such as N’khosi Sikhelele Afrika (which literally translates as God Bless Africa, and is now the national anthem since apartheid ended in South Africa), that instilled a sense of pride and defiance in the face of a racist history that was slowly receding just across the Swazi-South African borders. I learned from close friends, from numerous countries in Southern and East Africa, about the role that their federal governments played by offering safety and safe passage for the anti-apartheid leaders of the ANC and other banned parties, as well as granted refuge or resources to train soldiers in military combat. In the late ’90s, I would learn more about the instrumental role of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress, as I read Mandela’s autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom.
The three years in Swaziland were a time when dinner conversations between my parents at home revealed to me that certain elements in the US government preferred that the National Party or another white political party win the free elections in 1994. There was not a chance of it happening, considering that millions of people lined up and stood and waited for hours for the one time in their life that they could vote for Nelson Mandela. He was one of more than 20 (or more) candidates for president. It was a ballot so long that it had to be printed on a piece of paper as long or longer than legal size. And the faces of each candidate and the unique, colorful logo of their respective political party was included next to their names on the ballot to assist illiterate adults to be able to vote. These were some of the little yet profound aspects of what it meant to live in such proximity to freedom.
These were some of the moments as a 13, 14 and 15 year old living in Mbabane, Swaziland. After two years and ten months in South Africa, Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as President a month or two before we left and I would return to New Mexico and the US. It was overcast in Mbabane, the morning of the inauguration. I sat in the tv room of our house, owned by the American Embassy, with my mother, Lena, Louis and one other domestic worker, who’s name I have forgotten. Lena was partially blind in one eye because she could not afford or had not been able to access necessary health services when she was younger. Louis sat and recognized nearly every foreign leader and dignitary who was shown on tv, able to say their name and their home country before the commentators on the South African Broadcasting Channel (or Corporation) could. The five of us sitting, largely in silence, as we witnessed the enormity of the day’s activities and the history happening a few hundred kilometers across the border.
Mandela’s life is an anamoly to my psyche and my sense of history. He lived to be a very old man when so many indicators meant that he should not have. In fact, all his time imprisoned in South Africa’s prison systems was one factor that resulted in his long life. He was a severe enough threat to the apartheid country that they would have attempted to assassinate him in the streets of London, Nairobi or some other foreign city had he been free to live abroad. Yet, exile was not a part of the path in the life of Nelson Mandela. And as I sit and remember the touchstones of my life, I recall that Chris Hani and Steve Biko and thousands of other political activists in South Africa and the world have had their lives brought to a premature end. Violence and fear being tools to kill and end the lives of individuals and social movements seeking justice, dignity and freedom.
South Africa’s post-apartheid Constitution is a truly radical political document. It protected the rights of sexual minorities when no other nation on the planet was doing so. Rather than be mired in vengeance and animosity, South Africa took steps to practice democracy in the months and years immediately after a majority of people gained freedom.
Mandela’s passing is a teachable moment. A chance to recognize that this is what it feels like to live history, to be a part of the history that is being made today. We tend to diminish the small actions, unseen moments that constitute so many days in our lives. Yet, when we recognize our own connection to the prophets that live among us, the bigness of history is mirrored back to us. It is not just the history of Mandela or MLK, but all of us who were participants or bystanders to the social movements that they are connected to.
Note: an old post (circa 2012) that never uploaded to the cloud from my local network. So today, I try again.
Choice is a powerful thing. As I find ways to slow down, I am amazed each time that I hear someone state: I’m so busy. So stressed, exhausted.
It is easy to fall into a state of hyper-activity. It is the norm in this day and age. An addiction that cuts across classes, generations, nations. There is a strong gale force wind at our backs bombarding the seemingly few hours in a day, a wind that feels unwelcome and stress-inducing. A wind that causes people to feel that 24 hours is just not enough. Such a feeling and attitude makes inadequacy inevitable.
Yet, we can live big lives. Honor the enormity of our souls. Grant ourselves the grace, the benefit of the doubt of what it is to be imperfect. Thus, embrace the bigness of our lives where so much happens in a 24 hour period.
At this time, I live in such a way that I have the time to write. As I write, I am making the time to observe the use of language. The quirks of what arises and what is repeated and common by people around me. Growing up with a father who I referred to as “a walking dictionary” I placed value on correct spelling; though I have been less concerned with correct definitions for certain words.
One recent list has been my list of words that I refrain from using, scratching from my vocabulary. Among the first to make this list with the accompanying feeling and reasoning why it is on my vocab non grata was:
I’m busy | being busy is a choice. a choice to mirror the hyperactive, over-committed, lacking sleep cultural dominance of these times. there’s no time like now to drop some old burdensome, time-consuming deadweight in your life.
I used to feel like my days were frantic. Where all of the phone calls, emails or things to do tomorrow corroded my ability to sleep the night before. I would wake up exhausted because I had tossed around between 3 and 5 a.m. Where it would be 6:00 pm, and I hadn’t known what happened to my day. Where I was squeezing text messages in at red lights or as I walked down the street. I once ran into the car in front of me, at a red light, by texting wiht my fingers while removing my right foot from the brake pedal. I had multiple too-close-for-comfort shoulder brushes with other pedestrians unable to avoid me because they were tapping out a text, too.
Now, I find a red light a welcome respite. Most times that I hear a horn honking, I note how urgent, speedy or rushed the person is who must be late. Who feels late, even though they may not be. At least, not from where I stand.
So much of what has changed has been my perspective and my own views of myself, which has altered my views of others. My perspectives about past/present/future are less pressurized because I spend much less time trapped in the past or preoccupied about the future. As a result, I get to feel and sense what it is like to think about the present. The present that is this moment-by-moment. Doing so has offered me a way to feel how each moment is different from the previous and the next. Where I am not struggling, attempting to keep things as they were just a moment ago, because living organisms are forever changing.
I am not responsible for keeping something just as it was.
Just like the ‘river that flows by itself,’ the cells in my eyes, capillaries, toes and throughout my body are constantly in flux.
Our bodies as people. Our bodies of water. Our bodies of dogs, chameleons and amoeba.
I spend more time outside. This requires and results in me spending less time in front of a computer screen.
I make fewer phone calls, trusting that I will call upon friends when the timing is just right.
There are a few phrases that we use at home. That we choose at home:
- – In the nick of time.
- – Just at the right time.
- – Moment-by-moment.
I began to say “moment-by-moment” two years ago, when I realized that I was feeling a moment-by-moment sort of love. Where I had no idea of what love would be or feel like in a few weeks, but that was irrelevant. In that very instance, I had the power of love emanating from deep in my chest.
The most recent addition to this list of the fluidity of time and timing is:
- – Before/After.
When exactly something occurred is less significant. Rather than getting consumed with the specificity of it, just acknowledging that it was some time before. Similarly, that something else happened or will happen after.
This talk of time, and the perceived impacts of the pressure and constraints that it places upon us reminds me of a reprinted book of a 1920s era book by Florence Schovel Schinn (sp?). The moral of that story was captured in a single line of prose:
God provides all the time that we need.