Friday, October 24, 2008
Ten years ago today, we lost my mom to cancer. She was just 54 and had the most beautiful spirit. I am blessed she was my mother.
When she died, our family had already lost my grandmother and grandfather within the last 15 months, and would have another unexpected family tragedy three months later (when my cousin Zondie was hit by a car and killed on her way to school). I finally wrote something about that time that I've been wanting to write for years (see blog titled: Death and Life). Because of all of the loss, 10 years ago was a very dark time in my life...and this date, 10 years ago, was the darkest of all days. I was by her side when she took her last breath...and it has taken me a while, but I have caught my breath..and exhaled.
For the first few years, this "anniversary", mother's day, and her birthday were very tough days for me. I would cry unexpectedly and just felt lost. With time, the darkness I felt on those days has decreased, but it is never easy.
It's been 10 years....and that's hard to believe. I've been beat from a crazy schedule so didn't even think about it first thing this morning, although it's been on my mind off and on all year. 10 years. Not possible. But yet true. 10 years. A lot has happened. She didn't get to hold Jaren but we honored her and Zondie by giving Jaren a unique middle name: Jozondi. She didn't see me finish graduate school and get my Ph.D. but she made it happen. She was my inspiration and knowing what it would mean to her kept me dedicated. She didn't see me buy my first house...which for those that knew Ma understand that is huge, seeing she would have been the one to sell it to me ;-) ...lol...but she literally made it possible. But she knows all this I'm sure. I just want the rest of the world to know it. Thank you Ma. I love you.
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Chessie: one beautiful dog
Marley & Chessie chillin'...Marley will miss his partner in crime
Peace and blessings to all. As a media studies educator, I watch a lot of news, and often have it on while I’m working at home. I have also been following this election very closely and analyze the different media coverage of it. I had it on MSNBC last week when Tom Brokaw came on live and announced the death of Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert. I was quite shocked because I identified him with this election and have enjoyed his analysis on primary nights. Like many, I didn’t know him but still felt a loss. He always seemed to be smiling when he talked. Some call that spirit. I’ve been watching some of the memorials of him and finding the stories shared of a public figure to be quite personal and telling. I realized the essay I have wanted to write for years might be timely right now.
I’ve actually had many personal experiences with death. When I was a preteen, I lost my first close family members: my grandfather in Jamaica that I spent some summers with, and my uncle, who died of cancer while still very young in his thirties. My uncle actually lived with us for many of his last days so I saw what sickness and death looked like at a young age. And there would be others like Uncle Eric, Uncle Fitzie and Big Momma. So I learned at a pretty young age that death was a part of life. But it would be what I learned later that is important and what I want to write about now…how death taught me about life…
The most difficult time in my life was a two year period that started a year before I started graduate school (pursuing my Ph.D. in sociology). In the summer of 1997, we lost my grandmother to cancer. She was the matriarch of our family and it wasn’t clear then how many in the family would be able to go on without her. She was even raising an uncle’s two young children so their future was really insecure. We had her memorial service in Jamaica. As soon as we returned, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. This seemed impossible in timing and irony. How were we supposed to handle this blow? We were still reeling from the loss of grandma. But life went on and six months later, my other grandfather died. Now as I said, my family wasn’t new to death but this seemed like “too much” for one family at one time. We memorialized my grandfather in January of 1998 and had to move my mother and 17 year old brother out from Virginia to be with the bulk of the family in California later that summer because she was not going to survive her battle with cancer too much longer. My mother died in October 1998 with many of us by her bedside. She was only 54 and it had only been a little over a year since we had buried her mother and less than a year since we had buried her father. And for me, she was the one person before I got married and had kids that I knew I wouldn’t be able to live without…but I do…and almost ten years later…it’s never easy, but it is.
But our family tragedy doesn’t end there. Three months after we memorialized my mother, I got a call from a close family friend. It was a weekday morning in January 1999, and her voice was one I had become familiar with – tragedy had yet again struck. While walking to school, my two cousins (the ones my grandmother helped raise) had been hit by a car. Adam suffered leg injuries but Zondie was fatally wounded. My husband and I rushed from Irvine to San Diego to see her and hope and pray that when we got there, we would find Zondie okay. It seemed unreal and too cruel for anything else. Because we had already lost so much…and she was only twelve…and it was her birthday.
But she was brain dead and declared dead one day after her birthday. Her father donated her organs and because of that, others now live. And while that gave hope to others, how would our family deal with all this loss? In two words…we lived.Death has taught me many things about life. Many we have heard before. Life is fragile and often too short. Tomorrow isn’t promised so take nothing for granted. Appreciate what you have and those in your life. No doubt my ability to deal with the loss of my mother at such a young age had more to do with my deepest gratitude with having such a beautiful soul for a mother and knowing that many in this world were not as blessed. Although we did not have as many years as I thought we would have, I was truly blessed to have her as my mother and her unconditional love and beautiful spirit provided me with a model to aspire to on how to live. Yes, death taught me how to live.
As a social activist and analyst, death has taught me other lessons that I truly believe are the answers to many of the ills that plague our societies. Death has shown me what we all have in common: reality and humanity. Too often we let ideology inform our understanding of the world instead of looking beyond ideology to see the reality that affects us all and the humanity that defines us all.
I have a number of people that I do not agree with at all ideologically or politically, but I know they are good people that had a different upbringing, socialization, media training than I did. And I can like them….and do. Their humanity is what I see and what I trust. People are more alike and all want the same…to live, love, and be happy.
I’ve heard a few over the last few days repeat a quotation that rings true: what they (elites) know you can learn, what you know (working class), they’ll never learn. Real people living real lives are the answer. In truth, I know I can trust my conservative white neighbor to be there to help us if we need something more than I can trust some of my liberal white and black academic colleagues. I think for ideologues on the left and the right, it is hard to tell these truths although I know all live them. I think that is what people saw in Tim Russert, his humanity that came from his working class background. He was real. And because of that, he made others real. So for example, even the most ardent ideologue like Bill O’Reilly (that I can honestly rarely tolerate), I was able to learn something about when he interviewed Tim Russert. They talked about fathers. Tim talked about how his father’s dedication and hard work showed him he loved him although his father was not one to ever express those emotions verbally. O’Reilly commented that he was impressed that Russert could see his dad’s love under the tough exterior because he (O’Reilly) never could see his dad’s love (another Irish tough father). Now I understand O’Reilly a little better. I will probably never agree with him ideologically or politically, but I have seen his humanity, and Tim Russert brought it out…a regular person talking about real life struggles…family, life, and love, things we all have in common.
When we can be honest about the ideologies that inform us, we can tell the truth more clearly, in all its complexities. Another example that is relevant to my life (as well as the news lately with Tim Russert’s death) is Catholicism. I can be honest that my family faith in Catholicism comes from colonization. The Catholic Church’s empire of history was at times evil and sanctioned slavery and should be condemned for all it has done wrong. I can disagree with its anti-contraception stance and I am personally pro-choice, but I can still applaud it for being one of the only large faith institutions that is more consistent in its pro-life position, not only being against abortion but also war and the death penalty. But Catholicism also nurtured my grandmother, the most peaceful spirit I’ve known on earth. She would walk to church daily and sing or hum all day after. She was not an activist in the way many define it, but she lived her humanity and our family and the world was better for having her bless it. So we miss her but we feel blessed that we loved her and were loved by her. Catholic school taught me and Tim respect for others and life, discipline and sacrifice. But it also had textbooks in schools and statues in churches that falsely depicted Jesus with European features. This is being able to tell the truth about your reality and seeing it as not all good or all bad but all real. Reality would do us all justice. Reality would bring us all justice.
The real problem is lived experiences are too different to effectively address social problems intellectually or ideologically. People must understand on a personal level. It must be made personal. When people speak of black anger with dismay or disgust, we can tell a history that has never actually been told outside of ethnic studies classes…a story of double consciousness…of being sons/daughters of a country that never loved us but is what it is from our labor…and our morality… of soldiers fighting for freedom abroad to come home to lynching...or Japanese interned while sons fighting…or 98% of FHA loans to whites…and all our sociological data…we can tell contemporary stories of the brother just released from jail yesterday after doing 20+ years for a crime he was railroaded on….of schools, and prisons, etc… we can say what was so poignantly said at the end of the "Great Debaters" film when debating civil disobedience. The young man recalled the lynch mob they came up on, seeing the black body (strange fruit) hanging and having to run away before they were next, powerless to help that brother..."AMERICA SHOULD BE GRATEFUL THAT WE CHOOSE CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE AS OUR MEANS OF PROTEST"...that's the truth no one is ready for...but the reality of our morality shines.
Once I show students a history they never learned and they hear horror stories like that of a 9 month pregnant woman being lynched and her full term baby being stomped they no longer can say what are black people complaining about…now they know…and knowing really is half the battle…our problem like James Baldwin says is that the innocence constitutes the crime. When we embrace reality but do so from our humanity and not ideology, we will achieve what we so desperately want and need: PEACE.
We are capable of bearing a great burden, once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is. – James Baldwin
First an update on my schedule and how it will affect blog updates. I am officially now a true Jamaican with 10 jobs :-D ...well officially seven classes and they'll be kicking my ***!
On the positive side, I am ecstatic about my new position as Sociology faculty at Southwest College in LA (LASC). It is a full time tenure track position and it takes me back to da community which is where I want to be. But of course there are costs. One, the commute...ugh! Luckily, I have family that loves me and lives in LA so i can stay with them from time to time to make the commute less often and painful :-). This semester will be particularly hectic because the job was a last minute addition and my schedule for fall was already set. So this fall I am teaching at three schools all over the map - UCI, OCC, and LASC!
So while I will have no life for a few months, I really can't complain. Gerald is being very supportive...he's helping by getting the kids to/from school since i gotta be up at the crack of dawn and don't get home til late at night...basically he's just happy I finally have a real job...lol :-p
So I won't have much time for the million other things I usually do...including timely updates to this blog..but I will try to at least add some links to good articles to peep and videos to watch etc. because this election is quite historic and we still need to be as engaged and informed as possible.
And please continue to leave comments...I definitely could use some words of encouragement to get through these hectic months...fo' real. One