May 2015. Today is Mike Brown’s 19th birthday. This I learned from the political education and relationships that I have benefitted from through the It Starts Today campaign that ends today on Mike Brown’s birthday. April 2005. Ten years ago, I was invited by John, Courtney, and Jamie to apply to join the Advisory Board at Resource Generation. I did so. I entered my first board meeting at the Walker Center in suburban Boston in a cohort of rookie board members along with Andrew, Ajita, Penny, and Meg. We were some kind of board Fab 5 heading into headwinds of organizational turbulence, interpersonal challenges, and divine breakthroughs that I could hardly fathom when I first walked through that doorway as board member. It was revolutionary to attend meetings where the culture was to introduce yourself by saying four things: Your name. The place you live. Your class identity. Your “PGP” (preferred gender pronoun). I’ve been more schooled in and on gender and sexuality from the colleagues, friends, comrades, and confidantes of RG than any Women & Gender Studies classes could have instilled. At the first RG conference that I attended (circa 2006), multiple RGers did not only talk about their inherited wealth but told stories of how they could trace their white families’ wealth all the way back to slavery. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. It rocked my world. And, I was hooked. RG gave me the tools, the political education, the camaraderie to be able to say that “my mom grew up in a working-class, white family” for the first time. I had never understood this, nor seen this facet of my family tree before being immersed in spaces that were explicit and unapologetic about class, classism, capitalism, and class dynamics. Not by being outwardly focused and waxing philosophical about class in society, but by being inwardly focused on families and the belief systems and biases that color my choices. I have been off of the board for just about four years and forever give thanks and have multiple, daily appreciations for the gifts that having been a board member at RG has bestowed upon me. Wisdom, love, patience, courage, trust in others (in their anxieties and their daring feats and so much more), impatience, humility, a yearning to tell stories and write blog posts among them. And ask others questions so they will write their blog posts and tell different versions of their stories. Today, I honor the life, the premature death, and the legacy of Mike Brown and all the people of Ferguson, Missouri. As one more name, place, and episode in the long legacy of lynching and the addiction to violence that discolor the US Constitution. I had not known the name of Ferguson before last summer. The people and popular outrage of Ferguson compelled me to figure out how I could act where I was and with those people that I already knew. To inquire who were the small group of people that I could band together with in such a nauseating, perplexing, horrifying time. If you’ve got some change in your pocket, some discretionary dollars in your bank account then go and invest in Black liberation, in Black leadership, and in Black dignity. By investing in Blacks in America, we are investing in all humankind. Thanks, yall. And, praise Jesus that I’ve learned to see that those who believe in freedom are of all races, of all classes, of all nationalities. And, I will continue to seek out those who believe in freedom and civil disobedience.
It has been an evening of breadmaking, washing dishes and leftovers. I am venturing out by cooking one of the staples of comfort food by cooking hash browns after seeing a friend mention them for months. In the midst of the death of two on this Sunday, I seek comfort food tonight. In addition to the comforts of the kitchen, the internet becomes another salve for me. Similar to the Margaret Mead quote that “each of us is unique, just like everybody else” I turn to the quiet abyss of the internet, trusting that the privacy of my words will be encountered by someone similarly alone, quiet and in front of a screen.
Do we gravitate towards comfort food during times of duress, loss, doubt because it is an acknowledgement that any meal may well be our last meal? I have inquired about the possibilities and proximity of death for some fifteen years, mostly in the inner depths of my own soul. The moment that kicked the consciousness of death doorway wide open was when I was a few hundred meters from coastline with my parents — the three of our heads bobbing up and down in rough waves. As a young man, I had barely embraced the idea that my parents were no longer the infinitely powerful beings that I had known them as throughout my first two decades. As we doggy paddled awaiting a dinghy that never came, I reckoned with the mortality of myself, and feared how long their fifty-something, smoking bodies could endure the turbulence within sight of land. It was then clear to me that my parents were no longer invincible.
I still recall the light of an overcast day as it passed through the red of my fleece sweatshirt in the fourth grade. It was a day or two after the news of my grandma’s death had come courtesy of the telephone line, news carried from two countries away. Unable to cry at home or in the presence of others in my family in the days afterwards, I finally found the space and solitude to bawl during lunch as i hid (or shielded) my face from all the other students who had the same lunch period. I had no idea whether anyone else saw me that day, which didn’t matter to me as I was unable to come to terms with being alone in such an unfamiliar way. It was fortunate to not have to deal with anyone else at school, just as it had been at home. Rather than being in Colorado, it happened while in the surroundings of a new school with none of my three siblings anywhere around. It was the first death of a family member in my decade’s old life, my grandma who loved me, tickled me and treated me with the fawning adoration befitting of a grandparent to a grandkid.
In the two decades since then, attending to unfinished business, expressions of love, another home cooked meal (that can be either beautifully simple or elaborate) are some of the simple moments that I appreciate in this moment. Rather than subject myself to a tailspin of regret, second guessing and remorse, there is an unparalleled freedom when I readily acknowledged that death is with us all the time. It is all around, and rather than continue to participate in the delusion, avoidance, skirting over or skirting past, I prefer to notice it.
I don’t know that I am befriending it, but choosing to not neglect it feels like a path less traveled.
I’ve had death and how our collective culture revolves around, relates to and treats death for the last month since my cousin died. I heard of his death in a car accident at midday on a Thursday.
Within a few days, I heard mention of Bucket Lists at least three times. And multiple other times in recent weeks. My emotions over the last month swam far, deep and wide. I have been quite irritated when I hear about “bucket lists” because a tone of jovial, fun-filled, and this-is-cool accompanies it. Much of my irritation is due to the material or experiential aspect of most things that populate these lists — hot air balloons, travel, bungee cord jumping. It feels like yet another instance where we are supposed to wear happy faces and feel great, even though most of our feelings about death and transition are not happiness nor greatness.
On the other hand, I first learned about Unfinished Business two years ago when I opened a first book by Elisabeth Kubler–Ross, which was either The Tunnel and the Light or On Death and Dying. Ahh, the joys of reading and the power that new ideas, when remembered, can have on altering my own life. Since first reading Kubler-Ross, Unfinished Business has become a counterpoint, or an antidote, to the Bucket List.
Unfinished business, according to a summary of how Kubler Ross described it to a six year old with a dying sister, is:
anything that you haven’t done, because this is your last chance to say or do anything you want to do, so that you don’t have to worry about it afterwards when it is too late.
Forgiveness. Love. Freedom. Permission. These are the simple and fundamental things in life. For some odd reasons (including attempts to control and manipulate others) we have a tendency to make life much more complex and messy than these staples.
Unfinished business is affirmed by reading this list of the five biggest regrets (biggest wishes, in other words) of people approaching death, which was compiled by a palliative care nurse. The five biggest regrets/wishes are:
- wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected.
- wish I didn’t work so hard.
- wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.
- wish I’d let myself be happier.
Courage. Live truly. Play. Express feelings. Touch. Happiness.
C.L.T.P.E.F.T.H. is a word game worthy of befriending the 5 As of David Richo: acceptance, affection, allowance, appreciation, attention.
At this moment in my life, I am attending to finishing my business in this life by:
- appreciating and celebrating people sooner, on the same day or as soon as possible
- not holding onto grudges with family, friends, coworkers or strangers
- eating well, sleeping when and as much as I can,
- writing more and more by honoring the urge when it arises
- telling my parents, siblings, more females and males that I love them
- sharing the ways that love looks
- letting go of the need to have someone say “I love you, too” after I tell them of my love.
- responding “thank you” (rather than “I love you, too”) when someone tells me that they love me
- eating chocolate and baking cookies or bread more often
- accessing compassion (for others and myself) quickly
- slowing down
- recognizing that the only person’s who’s accolades and approval to concern myself with is me