Living and loving fathers: A message of hope to troubled children (and adults)

When I think of fatherhood, there is a chasm where memories of cookouts, fishing trips, family vacations, and camaraderie should dwell. There is pain. Pain engulfed me like a lake of fire. Along my childhood road were denial, rejection, accusation, fear, contempt and often deceit where love should have been. I was child who didn’t know how to love my father and that left me with a tremendous hole in my heart. Every child wants their father’s love to fill some inadequacy inside them.

There were years where what I was responsible for was unclear, painfully unclear. The roles in relationship to my pain were vague, shadowy, suspect. There was not enough awareness about what traumas harmed which person, to what extent, and for how long. Some of the pain was brought on by circumstance. But beauty still took shape… because “even a child is known by his or her own “doings”.  (Proverbs 20:11)

 Every father is different. Some fathers love with gifts. Some fathers love with words. Some fathers love in their ability to work hard for their kids. But every father loves in a different and unique way. No father is the SAME.  

I want to tell children that if you’ve got a father who makes himself known enough (Cooking for you, encouraging you, showing up when you succeed, praying for you when you struggle) CALL HIM and genuinely say that you love HIM and thank God for HIM.

Black men, depending on what they endured before they become fathers, do not come in the world understanding how to love the self. And this failure to love self better is shouldered by the children of these troubled black beginnings.

 All black fathers have is what their fathers taught them… and sometimes this (no matter how gentle or mighty or beautiful it is) fails to show a black man what a living, loving father can or should be.  

Because of my father’s imperfections, I built my image and reason for fatherhood out of a god of my making because children over-compensate for what their parents—their fathers cannot give them.

BUT the black man that has a living son, daughter, or group of children should STILL LOVE what he has got.

AGAIN … If your father is black or (African-American) and he’s alive, CHILD!  Love HIM with all you’ve got. Tell him how important he is before time steals the moment away.

Because I had an overabundance of strong-willed, self-motivated women in my life, I had to re-discover how terribly important it is to have a consistent fatherly presence in your life that truly is PRESENT with you. We only learn and grow as children when we have fathers that are willing to be THERE with us.

BEING THERE takes two people willing to sit and talk to each other and be heard together.

When women have been hurt by the selfish father who believes his choices have no weight on his family, women transfer their pain, anxiety, and brokenness onto their children.

And when the children grow, they become adults that CARRY great enmity (HATE) for their fathers. Fathers then are branded as “GOOD for nothing” with no chance of redemption. This is a cycle that keeps HAPPENING over and over again.  The pain women face against selfish black men is real… and black children feel it early and it takes a lifetime to forgive it, forget it, and move past it. In many cases, the pain becomes anger and the anger hardens into HATRED.  But I write this telling you that it DOES NOT have to stay that way. You can love your dad. But you need God to do it. You’ve got to re-write the story and you need help.

I love my living father. But I had to forgive him first. I had to forgive myself for not understanding things that were beyond what a child understands.

I’m still forgiving my father. I’m still doing my best to honor him. HONORING him is not always easy. Love can be painful. And if love isn’t painful… you aren’t doing it right.

 A commandment I hear all the time is: Honor your father. We don’t come into the world knowing how that honor should look.

When you’re a child, you bond with the first parent that gets you the best. I was that child and my father was not the one who understood me best. But my father still deserves (respect, pride, and honesty), this is HONOR.

The pain of a mother who gets railroaded by a spiritually troubled father is not an excuse to continue hating that father. CHILDREN, love and forgive your parents… because you actually need God’s forgiveness… more than you need TO be correct about what you know about the story.

Love and mercy is always more important rules and measures. This is what children need to know. I learn this lesson everyday when I think about missing my (father in the Lord) my grand-dad. He died years ago struggling to get me to love myself, my dad and other people.  

He told me I needed gentleness to make it. Gentleness is hard in a society telling you that men need to be rough, rugged, and hard to be strong and resilient.

In the same chapter of Proverbs 20, I found this passage. It’s kind of relevant to the time we face right now.

If someone curses their father or mother,
    their lamp will be snuffed out in pitch darkness.  (PROVERBS 20:20)

It is not your job kids… to avenge save or correct your father’s faults. YOU alone cannot save your parent. You must concentrate on healing yourself first. And if you’re honest and humble, God might heal you.

I have HOPE as a helmet because I work diligently to forgive my father’s past. I love you, DAD. Black man… black woman… black child… love and forgive your parents.

Black fathers (and mothers) need us all the more now…. With all the hatred and racism that persists in the world. Parents need their children to be examples. Dads need their sons to show compassion and forgiveness because that is way better than fighting to be “right.” Do not let your light be permanently darkened by continuing to curse the dad you’ve got. Ask God to help you be a light in that dark room. Love your father on Earth, the way God already loves you.

Absorbed

My best friend called this morning while I sat at my desk listening to music. As he poured over his latest “headline news stories” (the events occurring between the last time we spoke) I thought about how people (well-meaning or otherwise) tend to absorb us. He doesn’t absorb me. We actually kind of dust each other off and spend much time validating why people (sometimes us, too) suck. I’m thankful that I am able to talk to him without being too absorbed into myself. But people like themselves… a whole lot.

 People have the ability to immerse their ambitions, lives, and intricacies within us.  If you’ve ever seen what happens to a sponge that has absorbed a greasy spot or dingy dishwater, you’ll notice two things. Firstly, the sponge will carry the lingering odor from the cleansed or soaked area. And secondly, the sponge might also absorb some remnant from the caked on material you were cleaning or soaking. 

Depending on the sponge’s make and model, grains of food, mud, and dirt usually require a thorough rinsing to be reused. And that’s supposing that the sponge is not so badly ruined after the user has scrubbed whatever mess from that surface.  That’s how an absorbed mess does. It eeks into the crevices of your space and usually needs thorough removal. Often, people have scrubbed us so much that when time calls for us to take in new experiences, we are struggling to get anything new into our bristles. 

That is the thing about life and its details.  Either someone is the sponge trying to remove the dirt, or perhaps he or she is the icky, putrid, dirty surface. 

If we are clamoring to become unstuck from the taffy pull that is other people’s gunk, it usually means we care very much and need reassurance that it’s okay to un-stick ourselves from everyone else’s web of programming. 

As I age, I realize that I need that reminder quite often. I need to tell myself that I don’t have to be as much of  a basket case. I need to step back and take a break from these absorbing “group activities” that masquerade as bonding time, these judgy gatherings marketed as “family time”, these contests we put ourselves through to remember things that have little value in the end.  What am I to do when only  two people care enough about my film-festival saluting the acting greatness of Diane Keaton. Those people will ask me who Rufus Wainwright is only to claim he’s too eccentric for them to understand why I own any of his songs.  

These “absorbed” people will ask me a few questions, but in the end they won’t need to know anything about what it might mean to me. That’s the absorbed motive: Ask a question, leave zero room for an inclusive dialogue about said answer. When you’re recovering from being absorbed in the gunk of aggressive, arrogant people…it’s easy to think you haven’t done enough to be conversed with. Absorbed people tend to want us to compete for the spotlight like they do…only to take it from us because they need a victim to criticize. 

 I now realize that being a basket case is why some people offer their gunk to me.  I’m supposed to be “absorbed” with them so I fail at executing my own goals as coherently as I otherwise would. 

The gunk is not always bad gunk. Maybe someone’s mother’s godson is about to be a father. Perhaps someone is happy to tell me about a new promotion at work. Or maybe my brother’s wife is on baby number five… and that’s her version of “serious news”. 

After all, a new addition is always complete with other gunk like baby shower invitations, the shower itself, the list of other people to call, or the thought of what to name the baby.

The fact is: None of this absorbing “gunk” is necessarily bad for you. This is the stuff of life. It happens to everyone. 

But the gunk if you should let it pile up can overtake you. That’s all I’m saying.

  People will with all their “gunk” draw us away from a mission we’ve carved out for ourselves if we aren’t intentionally just a bit ego-driven. We might need to be more self-willed and un-absorbed. 

In the midst of working to develop better writing practices and continuing my reading regimen, I’ve to toss aside some gunk if I’m ever going to not be a nervous idiot in graduate school. Even a writing assignment can get too muddied up with gunk if anxiety tells you that every sentence is to begin perfectly.  

When you’re working laboriously to connect the dots of whatever project you’ve got, whether it’s reading, writing, or your new look for Festivus, you can’t be so absorbed with not making a mistake that you drive yourself mad. 

Your mind can absentmindedly become as corroded with details as the task itself. A detailed task that you’re “absorbed” with easily gets impossible because you’re too absorbed with the idea that you’ll fail to actually enjoy the reason you started the project. 

Un-stick yourself. People will judge you for doing so. But a person who cannot bring his or her ego down to try and understand is a person that you may need to un-gunk yourself from. 

This summer, I have new habits. I plan to write everyday and read as much or more as I read while I was in school. I’ve got to un-gunk from the congestion of social sponging to meet these goals. 

We all get a bit too chatty. We all have moments when we get a bit too giddy about some new thing we’re doing. It happens to us all. But watch out for the jerk that cannot leave his or her encyclopedia of life-accomplishments alone long enough to notice your entrance. That person whether they sense it or not could be far too “absorbed” and absorb your wonderful personhood in the process.

Being insecure, truly

Annie Lamott says: Good writing is about telling the truth.  (1994)

So, let us tell the truth.  I am insecure. I have hidden that from many people. Perhaps, I thought I hid that from people and they saw and kept silent. Family members, acquaintances, colleagues, and even one-offs in my life might believe I’m not fragile. Maybe, they believed my fragile state was only related to my disability. I should say that most people’s mistake in understanding me… is over-emphasizing my disabled state. 

 The disability really is not that big a deal in the vast frame of my big life. If this writing is to be honest, I should say: I do not walk around the world treating myself like some delicate Faberge egg that might break when applying too much force. You people assume way too much. 

The disability I have is this guest that pisses me off. Are you still confused? 

Okay. How about this analogy?. Imagine that my cerebral palsy is like an outdated cell-phone that a wireless company will not upgrade. Imagine that the company has offered the buyback option only to tell me that they cannot do it.  

But I’m a “handle with care” person who truly does not prefer being forced into getting out into the (unnamed)  there to attempt  anything. That’s my truth and you should see it. 

The word “disabled” is plural. Sure, the word looks like it’s stuck in some horrible time warp that it cannot escape from. But the word is present, alive, and changing when I look at it. 

I grow weary of illustrating to ignorant people that my disability (Cerebral Palsy)  isn’t something I am insecure about.  

I am secure with the fact I do not stand securely. My muscles do weird things that I adjust to. Sometimes there are what I call “groans” in these legs of mine. I’m asleep and some muscle will seize and wake me and say, Have you stretched me? That’s something related to having a developmental disability. 

When people see the word “developmental” next to disability, I believe they automatically assume mental “development”. I’ve been declared “retarded” before I had a chance to actually prove that I was not “retarded”. There was a mass confusion about that and today ignorant people are still making really ugly comments and gestures at me like I cannot see or interpret what they are doing. That’s an insecurity I’ve obsessed over enough to write a book about. I know how unique I truly am. It’s a blessing or a curse depending on who you ask about it. 

Why am I writing this? I guess I need to be honest about things. 

Thing 1: There is nothing “brave” about acknowledging that you must live with a disability and prove to others that you do not want to sit alone in a cubicle of yourself and do nothing. 

Thing 2: I also understand that being a disabled person with a college education in America is an incredibly precious gift. I do not take that for granted. I wouldn’t be writing this if I was not thankful for that everyday. The other thing is: I get super judged just because I was foolish enough to go to college and still be a quirky disabled person. And maybe that’s something I’m insecure about just a bit. 

Thing 3: I used to be other people’s sidekick. Being disabled meant going places and not believing I could choose not to go there. I was insecure about being abandoned. Being abandoned meant being alone. Being alone meant being afraid to have to do everything myself. 

I should say now that this insecurity presented a bigger problem: I don’t like to be pressured to be around anyone one I need to compete for time with. I’m insecure about being a sidekick who is always swallowed up by another person’s accomplishments.

Thing 4: Being disabled can often seem like you’re permanently in 2nd place with others, even yourself. 

Thing 4.5 : I was insecure about writing this… but I’m not anymore. 

The truth is: Silent people never find bliss by keeping silent forever. The beginning of insecurity…  is in… in—- in-dependence, not indecision, but in-dividual inscription. I make peace with the truth that I’m not done carving beauty out of my very painful skeletons. 

Until You Panic

Understand that until panic happens to you, you’ll think conversations and concerns about mental health and therapy are a game.

I once believed that panic and depression would never happen to me. Sure, there were those mini depressive moments when I just was down for a day or two. But it never persisted long enough for me to worry very much. When you’re a teenager, it’s remarkable easy to contemplate death. Most teens are facing life overwhelmed with responsibility. Crawling into angst, depression, and guilt seems easier than acknowledging that you’re just trying to learn about yourself without making 50,000 errors. Isn’t that enough to make you panic? But I digress.

I believed that people go to therapy for several months or several years and they just become miraculously cured. On a random day, the patient just claims after a typical session:

I think I’m good now. (Let’s keep in mind.) The therapist isn’t obligated to make you come back to counseling. You stop when you stop.

You stop for many reasons:

A. You cannot afford it. Health insurance in America is good here. But that’s depends on who you ask and how much that person makes. Even if you make enough, you might pay up to a month’s worth of food to see your therapist. Honestly, your insurance sucks and the company decides that therapy is like Apple Air-Pods or a pair of Nike shoes, instead of something that might help you better manage yourself.

B. You worry about being labeled a “crazy person”. In this age, we are all a bit “crazy”. (Did I neglect to mention that there is an un-treatable virus killing people in our country?) I’ve learned that the craziest thing people can do when they need professional help is… believe that mental health problems are the only “crazy” thing that makes people CRAZY. What’s crazy is how many streaming services we’ve let take our money because we cannot seem to do simple addition. What’s “crazy” is assume that we need them all because we’re going to miss something that we won’t be able to find again later.

C. You believe no one around you is sick enough to need a therapist. Can I tell you that some of the scariest people are those people who have a known mental illness and have not addressed it because they are afraid of risking their precious reputation? I’ll stop there. That’s another several entries for another set of days. You should know that not everyone is exactly open enough to admit they are seeing a therapist, or that it is helping them.

D. The other person needs the therapist more than you do. This is a typical response. I said this until I realized that this was a fear response because most of us are afraid of trying new things that potential make us ask hard questions. We’ve auto-piloted so long that pausing to see what’s really going on is TERRIFYING.

E. We don’t care. Also a typical response… until we learn that someone cares more than we do and says… until you get help… I’m not doing X, Y or Z.

F. Some made up thing that isn’t based in fact. I didn’t plan that this one is “F”. However, you basically are failing if you’re so paranoid that you have to lie. You can say that you are not ready to go to therapy. There is such a thing as hope. You should know that the longer you avoid it… the worse your issues may bother you. You don’t want to make an “F” on your mental health. People still commit suicide. Suicide doesn’t worry about whether you’re black, white, brown, Asian, gay, non-binary or famous with money. People still take their own lives. Young or old… it’s never too late to lie about your mental health.

I assumed that people could go around mocking “crazy” people and sleep at night without acknowledging their own sickness.

The week of April 20th 2020 will live on in my memory forever. My heart felt like a sledgehammer. My thoughts raced at speeds I had never believed possible. I had been writing something important for a graduate course I was taking when something in me just came unraveled.

Suddenly, I began hearing voices in my head: You hate writing. You hate composing text. Why are you even taking these courses? I felt like I was about to shattered like a glass vase across my grandmother’s kitchen floor.

My body seized and hands began to twitch and shake. At first, I believed that I couldn’t make it stop. As I become more mindful of my body, my brain went further with:

What if it never stops…? What if I never regain control? I was having a panic attack.

I remember being so scared and overwhelmed that I ran over to my aunt’s house in a hysteric fit to cry in my cousin’s arms and process some of what happened. After I talked to her and told her what I could remember of what happened to me… I felt the panic beginning to rush back.

I remember sending a series of desperate emails to my professor and a social services counselor that was helping navigate my new audacious LSU schedule. Yes, I was brave enough to want to be a graduate scholar. All at once, my panic had me doubting every decision that I’d made up to this moment.

I felt like a failure submitting to the panic but nothing I did stopped the anxiety completely.

After some rest and some Chamomile, I tried again at life.

Exactly two weeks later, a similar thing happened. My work began to seem futile. Panic had made me hate things I loved and days began with me feeling a bit depressed with every single word I put into the discussion board.

I thought I could blame panic and depression on COVID-19. It was easy to do that. Libraries were closed. Schools were going to online learning. I was still wondering about my own job and my disability check. (I have Cerebral Palsy)

However, my panic and depression went deeper than some weird pandemic virus killing people and income. My depression was bad enough that the only thing I could do was type slowly, write slowly, cry, and talk to my friend on my smartphone. On the third day of a crying spell, I decided to SERIOUSLY get a therapist.

Since facing issues with depression, I don’t need a prescription yet. (PHEW)

It’s helped to have a therapist to help me make since of the insecure moments and those depressive episodes when I’d rather stay in bed rather than type or read. And I couldn’t STAY in bed … I needed to finish my WORK.

You know you’re depressed when passionate things you know you were born to do feel like body aches. I’ve been in therapy for about two to three weeks now and I remain sure that it’s the best decision I’ve made because there are days my motivation is low. (It’s not the virus)

I’m a person that observes and talks to people.

Therapy and Journaling about my thoughts have become really helpful for my well-being. I’ll tell you all that people are afraid of mental health counseling because it takes vulnerability. People are afraid of acknowledging that maybe they have anger issues.

Maybe someone else did not heal proper from pains in 1989.

Hint: The one way you know you’re not over something is: You talk about it like it happened a month ago, but it actually happened 25 years ago.

People are really freaked out about uncovering deep pains about their pasts. Some people believe that accomplishment is the perfect way to avoid mental health problems. Sometimes we believe that we can think it away by keeping busy. I’m not ashamed to say I have tried that.

People have used “status” as an excuse to hide from their mental health secrets.

I’ve learned that even successful people have mental health struggles. I had to acknowledge that I stress eat things that I get depressed about eating later. I had to learn that not acknowledging the painful parts of my history makes it harder for the counseling to do its work on my heart, mind, and soul.

A persistent issue in many African-American circles is childhood trauma. I’m not saying parents are good or bad. I’m saying that a person can—while trying to encourage you—damage something with your mind. If that’s never happened to you… Be very glad.

I understand that as BLACK PEOPLE, we are tempted to believe that all struggle is “HEROIC”. We’ve been programmed to think so. WE SURVIVED OPPRESSION.

We hold to the myth that just because we battled the pain of slavery and (presently) still (SYSTEMIC racism) we should stay silent about anything to do with mental problems. I mean… mental health problems are not worse than racism, right?

The deal is: I’m a black man and I can be aware of racism and still get a therapist. I guess what I’m getting at is. Stop playing the tragedy Olympics with yourself and someone else. Comparing who has had the worst upbringing is silly because in the end we all have problems that need fixing.

And if that pain of your upbringing is still eating you up: Have a therapist.

Therapy is not “heroic”. To take a lesson from my awesome supervisor, I didn’t admit my panic and depression problems to be a hero. I did it because it’s really self-defeating to go through life knowing something is off, and choosing to ignore it because you’re worried about other people finding out about your humanity.

I’m not completely done with panic and anxiety. But I thank God that I’m no longer the heroic and hiding out person that I was before I became honest.

COVID-19, my library, and me: A letter

I believed I would be fine after coming home on March 23rd. March 23 was the day my pride and joy ceased normal operation. The library was closed because we could no longer serve people without the threat of getting them sick with COVID-19. I went home initially glad that I could be my quiet, cool introverted self. I daydreamed of tomorrow. I got a much needed rest from my work and study.

I’m a “baby library worker” studying libraries full time.

But as the weeks wore on, the ensuing panic got worse and worse. I pay most of my bills via my library salary and a disability award from the Social Security Administration. I also live with family and had a God-given vision to undertake an online Library and Information Science program.

The days are difficult. Much of my motivation was predicated on a delicate balance. Before this virus, I relied on driving myself to our area libraries and engaging with library professionals. Why?

That’s easy. Parking myself at home in my bedroom would remind me too much of dead people, dead dreams, and the traumatic past I had growing up. I have changed as an adult even as much of my environment has remained stuck in a time-warp. That’s my opinion. That’s just what I see.

Before graduation in the early 2000s, I remember being obsessed with the internet, immersed in music, and overwhelmed with the social demands of teachers and cliques.

The library gave all that stress a voice, a calling, a concerted purpose.

The library for me is community. It gives me essential things that I went without for several years. The library took me away from being obsessed with my Cerebral Palsy. Cerebral Palsy is the arthritis in my legs, the slouch in my balance, and an interesting posture experiment. But library work forced me to step outside of all those carefully monitored details, and be PRESENT with others.

The library showed me how to exercise empathy, compassion, and temperance with everyone. The library gave my literature degree a place and frame to exist in. What was I going to do when the library closed?

About a week ago while trying to write a graduate paper on “Information Poverty”, I had my very first severe panic attack. The fears of COVID-19, the death of a disabled woman I respected, and the absence of my colleagues had finally worn me down. I ran to my cousin and vented about every bleeding thing I was worried about. She listened and suggested what she could. The panic attack was so bad. I had emailed my professor, strewn paper all across the house, and overdone it on caffeine and sleep deprivation.

A casual observer might say that it was just the essay. But essays are not enough to allow someone who has been writing all his life to experience deep palpitations, sporadic tears, and extreme claustrophobia concurrently. I have always been a person that is reasonably self-managed. Even when I was called a temperamental jerk by practically everyone within two feet of me, I knew how and when to knock it off. In high school, everyone was a friend until I found reason for them not to be. As a adult, I’m more of a cautious observer. I am more apt to pick and choose how I do what I do. Knowing why and understanding how, and judging to what extent is truly who I am now.

I am struggling to just finishing things. I am struggling to chunk. I am faithful and hopeful that God has a plan.

But I need you all to know…

Having faith is not a denial of the pain and struggle that we experience. A pastor reminded me of that this past Easter. I know I am fortunate to have a roof over my head and relatives who care about me. I just need my audience to know that I am not this fortified fortress of a person. I collapse. I get scared. I am often guarding my energy from the world. I’m empathic.

I know God will get me through the end of this semester. For now, I need to cry and grieve. I need to mourn missing my wonderful friends and colleagues. I need to bring to the altar my fears about the future. I believe “he will do what he’s famous for” as Tauren Wells sang.

I am praying that God holds me up because although I’m brave. I do run out of strength. The weariness I feel need God’s miraculous power. I am human. I am limited. And I am doing well enough to get out of bed, practice self-care, tame arthritis, and still submit “coherent” paragraphs during a social distance period that is beginning to feel like prison.

I guess that’s all I need to say. I am grateful that I’m alive. I am grateful that things aren’t worse. And I am asking God to bring suffering people all over this world a blessing in this really difficult diseased lesson we are learning.

Harold

Christmas

If you can believe it, I absorbed a marathon of cheesy Hallmark movies while Mariah Carey vocalized about “not wanting to cry” and “going the distance”. I lounged on my mother’s sofa and looked Picture Perfect Christmas and The Mistletoe Secret. I spent the whole day on the sofa in my pajamas. Later, I ate at least two medium sized plates of my mother’s famous Christmas ham, dirty rice, potato salad, and rice dressing. Because I owed no person anything, I sprawled back across the couch and watched “Christmas at the Plaza” and A Christmas Love Story.”

I arrived at mom’s on Christmas Eve. We promptly visited my grandmother’s house and were treated to a taco bar, a stupendous blend of lively music, and impromptu line dancing with a card game in the kitchen. What I remember most is how expeditiously all the decorations, plates, chairs, tables, and holiday millieu were cleared away. In what amounted to just under 20 minutes, my grandmother’s outside patio looked like it was about to be prepared for another party. Not a single person complained about having to participate in clean-up.

In 2019, I was thankful to have visited four different U.S. states. I’ve gone to Florida, Arkansas, Georgia, and Indiana this year. I have also seen the Carter and Clinton Presidential libraries. I have allowed myself to embrace musical theater in a way that I never believed possible. I have seen Wicked The Musical and Mary Poppins. Seeing these productions has informed my skillful attention to detail.

I realized this year that making the choice to stop drinking alcohol was something I needed to do so that I keep my brain ready for the next surprising chapter of my life. So I quit drinking on October 12th during a play performance of Joshua Hammon’s “Skin Tight”

I was nervous about seeing the play. The first bit of nervous energy had to do with the fact that the audience was overwhelmingly not African-American. I would have been the lone black man present were it not for another older man I noticed. He had arrived after my friend and I.

I ignorantly believed that having a beer would soothe my trepidation about the play. Alcohol seems to have only made me hate myself more for believing that the drink would calm my anxiety about assuage my feelings. I was further convicted when my feelings were reflected in Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of an Indian. The Native Americans depicted in the narrative told by Arnold Spirit described several instances of friends, parents, and families using alcohol to cope with the poverty, loss, and detachment that comes as a consequences of living reservation life.

Spirit’s grandmother uses a powerful quote that seems to have hardened my tenacious drive to continue sober living. She said: Drinking would shut down my seeing and my hearing and my feeling. Why would I want to be in the world if I couldn’t touch the world with all of my senses intact?

Today is December 26th. The 27th has already started in New York City. And I’ll have survived 76 days without using alcohol to cover my nervous , awkward, scared feelings. It’s been scary confessing that I used alcohol to ruin from guilt and fear.

Today, I also got my own disability placard. I used to feel like I needed to cover certain differences about being disabled just because people have shamed me about needing extra help with specific things.

It was nice to approach Christmas without needing to perform holiday cheer if I didn’t feel it. It was good to sing only when I feel happy enough to do so. It was great to admit that I had every right to choose to be around only the family members that made me know that I deserved to be there.

This year was more about finding my own facts. They say loving God is about loving mercy. Shouldn’t I be afforded the mercy to find acceptance with people who don’t force me to be something I’m not. This Christmas I was at peace because I allowed the people in, that took off my training wheels.

I probably have laughed more this year… than I ever have in the past. I’ve forgiven myself more this year than I’ve shamed myself. I’ve been straightforward about my own senses without rushing to betray myself in the process.

People say that I’m snooty just because I’m bookish and quiet. I think that’s all smoke and mirrors to save these lost people from consciously choosing to know the real me.

When you anoint something, you smear oil upon it. Jesus is supposed to be the anointed one. His blood was SMEARED upon a sinful human generation. And surely, people smear their beliefs, faults, and attitudes upon each other. I’ve learned this year that we have no control over the people who “smear” us. WE don’t control what influences become the product of the campaign. The campaign may never win over our enemies.

But I’ve learned this year… that the campaign is me. The campaign is about your process not those who vote.

The campaign is using every opportunity to forgive because we desire the smear of God’s forgiveness, his version of perfectness. We often forget that it’s not our job to make anyone change. We are to simply influence them.

I don’t know all about my future. But I am growing into what it’s like to trust God’s spiritual fruit: the love, peace, long-suffering, goodness, and faith.

My body

My body and I have a very complicated relationship. On an unplanned trip to a financial institution someone who had once known me said that I looked as though I was losing weight.

Nervous and unsure of how to respond, I replied that I had been battling a sinus infection for quite some time. Maybe, this was why I looked “like I hadn’t been eating” as this person said. That explanation seemed to be the one plausible enough to drive this conversation away from the condition of my body. I told myself internally once I got in my car and drove away that there was nothing to worry about. Surely, people are just curious about my ability to care for myself. After all, I am a disabled adult that has led a very sheltered and (up until 10 years ago) under-stimulated existence.

Weirdly days after that exchange with this well-meaning individual, the opinion that this person made about my body stayed with me. I do believe that people who are plus-sized, heavy, or large tend to impose an undue stress column on us thin people. Please hear me out on this.

There is always the implication, suggestion, and picture that the pinnacle of health is large. This is the new fad given all the “body-positive” media I’ve seen in the last few years.

I can tell you that I have been adversely affected by gobs of men and women who flaunt their large-sized pride in front of me as though my smallness as an African-American 140-ish weighed person is some kind of off-putting dig at the fact that most people are normal because they weigh more than I do.

I need people to know that it has taken me all of my life to finally not be ashamed of how small my waist is. I just recently accepted and felt grateful for the fact that I haven’t had many weight problems.

It’s been painful to watch black and brown people criticize me for being the size I am. I have been present for every accusation that I don’t eat enough of your heaping plates of spaghetti, greens, cornbread, chicken, pasta, yams, and etoufee.

I have also in my struggle with my “sliver” of thin and lean meat imagined that I would meet a heavier, nerd-ly, more brusque, opposing, full-bodied partner with which to balance my paper-weight frame upon. I have kept pull-over jackets and sweaters at the ready to cover arms that I once believed were scrawny and emaciated looking. I have buried my social media account with images of men that pump more iron than I do because secretly I’ve wanted to look as protein-shaked, bulked, and built.

I fetish-ize and fantasize about being “full-bodied” enough. This is because all the men I’ve ever met seem to dwell endlessly on how much they can benchpress. My own father implanted the burden of shame upon me. His own spouting on about working among men and women who needed strength gave me these very scary notions of what male strength and valor was supposed to be.

I’ve never had the urge to shame any person for how much they weigh. I’ve been always obsessive about looking in my own mirror. I’ve been afraid that I’ll blow up to a weight and waist-size that my disabled muscles cannot manage.

I’ve wished upon a star for a time that some “protector” type could cradle me and save me from my thin, self.

Do you know that I used to see how much I could eat because I secretly wanted the bulked up frame that is so celebrated. The bears, pandas, and cubs whether straight or not have a loving community that celebrates their heaviness even in the face of thin, wine-glass, coke-bottle woman or men.

I watched in horror how “Precious” star Gabourey Sidibe was attacked once she had decided to get her weigh under control for health reasons. It was painful seeing how she gained and lost fans all because she worked to be a little smaller and more fit.

A similar story seemed to unfold for once “heavy” songstress, Jennifer Hudson. Some women remarked while in my presence that Ms. Hudson looked too thin or sick, just because she was the version of “fit and trim” that she wanted to be.

It’s a challenge to love the me… that I am. And it’s hard (given the positive media that has elevated body-positive medium and large people) not to look at my own body and wonder if my “healthy metabolism” is less than the blessing it is.

Yes, I love my body now. But I remain intensely aware of any insult from those who believe that my “thin frame” is counterfeit. I always feel like I must defend myself for eating “vegetables and fruit” “soup”, hummus, feta cheese, or any whole grain. I like eating GREEN things. I’m trying to live better as a black man who is disabled.

Yes, I like fried chicken. But why the hell should I eat chicken every week just because you do? Why do I have to perform some ridiculous tradition just because you seem obsessed with performing this “blackness habit” that seems to encourage me to get diabetes?

I’m sick enough with worry monitoring how many steps I get on my Samsung Health app and my fit-bit that my sister bought me. I’m worried enough that I don’t hear people who love me talk about changing their own diets.

Let me worry about my own body please. Let me decide not to eat what you eat if that’s what I want to do. I think I have earned that right.

I’m scared enough about the day I won’t be able to walk around by myself. Let me have my apples, oranges, and spinach. I didn’t bother you decided to order that seafood platter. I let you put it in your body, and didn’t complain about how often I saw you grab a bag of chips or a mini-sized candy bar.

I don’t think that these body positive people ever consider how their anger about (weight acceptance) ever made me feel.

I don’t want to be suffocated under the weight of your scale reading heaviness. I, personally never criticized your size. I accept your weight. I kept silent when you had your strokes, your diabetic comas, and your high-blood pressure. I did that even while being terribly afraid and grief-stricken that I might be on a pill regimen just like you.

I love Subway sandwiches. I want to drink more water. Leave me alone. I don’t look at you with contempt. You have your own internal struggle. I ask that you be patient with me.

I have a nagging orthopedic doctor’s voice that’s long been in my head telling me that I don’t need to gain much weight. I agonize that one day I won’t be able to walk around at all.

That is my problem with my body. And I try everyday to smile at this arthritic, small, collection of arteries, lungs, ventricles, veins, skin, and bones. I want to take care of it better. I need you to stop pumping me with me shame because I want to treat it differently than you treat yours.

Just stop.

Love your own body. I’m gonna try and love mine better. I’m gonna try and move. I’m gonna try and lunge. I will try my best. I don’t miss the awkward stares of angry men and women who blame me because their body composition is different.

Whether you’re black, white, brown, Spanish, Dominican, creole, native, gay, or transgendered. WHAT ever you are… Love that body.

Love the skin you’re in. Take care of the one body you have. Stop entertaining people and their criticism and go to your doctor.

I just learned how to appreciate going to the physician. I am just now learning how to celebrate the fact that someone cares that I am loving my body.

I just learned that being thinner than a chubby person is okay. I just learned that I can be grateful for being a disabled guy that doesn’t rely on a wheelchair to do most things.

I just learned not to take my frame for granted. I just learned that I can wear clothes that are comfortable and classy without needing to write a thesis on why I chose those garments.

This is my body. I only get this one. And I must WORK HARD at loving this one body.

Deliver Me

My Aunt Mavis and I were on the phone the other day. We were having one of our many phone fellowships. She is an A.M.E. minister’s wife and serves as an awesome encouraging force in the Christian church. Anytime I can get her opinion, I take it. We were placing our own problems and fears at the altar. She shared what she was in the midst of. She talked about her grandchildren, who I miss often. She asked me how things were with her siblings. She made space for me to talk about my work life and ambitions as a library worker. 

We made one another laugh with a few choice expressions. But when we talk about the Savior and his presence in our lives… I truly feel connected to my aunt.

When we refer to the goodness of Jesus, each of us is filled with joy. 

I asked her: Is there a song you can recommend to me that helps you.

She said: “Exodus”. Specifically, the song is called Deliver Me (This is my Exodus).

This song was a Dove Award recipient in 2018. It was recorded by Donald Lawrence and the Tri-City Singers.  I have several Donald Lawrence tracks in my music collection.  But I had only heard “Exodus” during an impromptu car trip to Beech Grove Baptist Church last Friday. My aunt and my cousins (who are like extended mother, sister and brother to me) needed to run to the church to do some preparation for an event.

 I have been having an Exodus on an epic scale. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, an “exodus” is movement of a large group away from some place. In the Greek, the Collins Dictionary says an exodus is “going out of the way”. 

Last October, I had my last alcoholic beverage. I had been using alcohol to fight my loneliness and ultimately the fear that comes up from not fitting in with everyone else. I was so afraid of my different-ness that a good drink was often used as a buffer against social environments in which I felt un-prepared for.

Whenever someone aggressive, more extroverted, or brave intimidated me, I would use alcohol to numb feelings of regret, rejection, and unworthiness. I also used it as an exodus, a running away from who I was deep inside.

 I was afraid to be different and alcohol helped stretch my desires out so far that the desire to connect with people who were “not safe” outweighed the desire for self-care.

Since I stopped drinking, evaluating has been just freaking HARD… so complex. When I check in with God and look at myself, I see pieces that I never knew. Some of the new pieces make me laugh. But most of them send me into fits of mourning. Although I have much more peace and positivity inside now, there are still rough episodes.

And I have to stop and process those mixed-up emotions.

I have been bravely attacking bad habits that limit my ability to be emotionally, mentally, and physically present. 

 It’s been a scattering to see what actually works best.

It’s troubling as I discover things that I need to get rid of.

When I heard “EXODUS” on the radio, I had been out of the “gospel” loop. 

I’ve been rotating alternative rock songs, pop songs, and specific gospel tracks on my smart-phone.

I have taken to listening to our K-LOVE affiliate when I spend time with my friend running errands in Baton Rouge, LA.

I had not truly heard “Exodus” before. The conversation that had taken place between my aunt and her children in the car on the way to Beech Grove Baptist Church about this Exodus song felt disconnecting. 

 My Aunt Mavis told me that she had been meditating on this track. I similarly told her that I had been playing and re-playing Kirk Franklin’s “Father Knows Best”. Examining Franklin’s track and “EXODUS” is quite enlightening when looking at my own journey.

Father Knows Best by Kirk Franklin talks about the mysterious plan of God and the idea that believers never truly know the reason he takes people, things, and situations away from us. 

This is my Exodus reflects a new take on an old story, the migration of the Israelites to a new homeland. The Israelites in the second book of the bible must struggle with the tyrants of Egypt to eventually turn away and scatter to a new land. 

Father Knows Best refers to Isaiah’s prophecy about the Jehovah. Isaiah said of God “Your ways are not my ways… (Isa. 55)”

Exodus is about healing our souls…and how we un-willingly hurt ourselves because healing paths are blocked our refusal to be humble with ourselves.

I believe our going away, our leaving, our Exodus has everything to do with believing and hoping past the people, things, and relationships that have hung on to us like anchors at the bottom of the deepest lake.

As a disabled person, my Exodus has been learning to trust God when it comes to searching for the people and things that are custom-made for me.

There are billions of people in this world. I believe that God is a God that clears space for us. He can clear the way for us, driving away those people and things that are not healthy. But we MUST be willing to look deep at the core of our close relationships and face the painful reality. And we are not always ready to do that.

God is not going to make you depart a situation if your pride is not ready to leave it. This goes for every destructive pattern and relationship in your way.

We cannot scatter ourselves or our resources on the water of life if we are bound by any abusive structure. Abusive structures are any substance or person that is keeping us bound.

When we start relationships, the need for closeness is so desperate. We cling to the first person willing to accept our broken parts. This closeness becomes more layered if the person accepting our broken parts is someone who we grew up with.

Sometimes our need for “togetherness” and mutuality is stronger than our need to choose what’s best for us.

I used to believe that I needed to be together with family at the sacrifice of my own sanity. I needed to be together and mutual in order to be (good). Any different choice was bad.

But this is my exodus. I cannot be a slave to anything that draws me away from the love of God.  Anything that disturbs the peace in my heart must be examined.

The father God knows best. And God’s way is better than my own selfish way.

I am still mourning. I still get truly scared.

But one day I will be totally delivered. One day soon, God will give me total peace that none can understand.

In recent years, I have given up what I used to love… or what I thought I used to love. The spiritual war toward deliverance is about self-control, self-discipline, and accountability, among other qualities.

On the push toward a new me, there is a struggle to release the past.

You must claim your own exodus, and pray and plead for those that are not ready to do the work.

Don’t ruin your exodus journey by refusing the clearing up of the brush. God has cleared much hurt from my life. And I am still working on my freedom. I needed someone committed to seeing me the way God already sees me.

 I needed my best friend Greg to help me discover the person I was without the guilt and trauma of my family structure.

I needed a therapist to help me learn about the hidden triggers within my own temper. I needed a new network of loving support to make hard, difficult and new choices.

The network is incomplete. But I love the person I am becoming. I am on the exodus and I believe that Father God knows every new path I must take.

I am straining to let God’s light in. I’ve discovered that competition does not serve me well. I’ve learned that quiet observation is better than yelling to prove that I’m right, even if it turns out I am. I used to believe I needed to be the loudest voice.

Before I began my exodus, I watched films without unpacking them. I heard music without asking myself what it meant to me. I joined environments without meeting crucial needs I had.

I still struggle with anxiety and its triggers but I know that conquering anxiety is all about understanding our bodies. We must listen to the tones of people’s voices, the intention behind actions, the tugging of our hearts when we feel fear. We must release away our authentic voices in a calm, safe environment.

I had a trigger today. Some said something to me that literally ripped my heart from its chambers.

I want whoever is reading this to know: WORDS have power and they damage places that the eye cannot see.

Some way God allowed me to stay silent when I was verbally assaulted. Luckily, I had a non-judgmental friend to process my anger and trigger with.   

I’m glad that God allowed me to hold my tongue before I acted in anger and malice.

We don’t always see how aggression and anger from others, can wear us thin. For black men and women, we come into the world front-loaded with anxiety.

Before we can understand the anxiety in relationships, we become stuck in the anxieties of racism and intolerance.

If we ever learn to express our anxieties around racism appropriately, we then can tackle the triggers and pain of mental illness.

But sadly, some of us never reach beyond that first tier of “racial anger”, the problem of us versus the others.

When you’re African-American the sources that drive anger, anxiety, and mental imbalance blend together to create a confusing mix of terrifying emotions.

Le’Andria Johnson sang: “All I seem to do is hurt me”. We don’t always see how we are killing ourselves. We don’t always see how we numb our pain. I had to learn how I was hurting myself before I could learn how to love myself again.

There are still days when pain blazes up. I still fight anxiety. But I can thank my colleagues, my church community, and my former instructors and mentors for choosing to see me in terms of my future self.

I am growing day by day. I am creating new memories. I am upholding new values. I am a constant work in progress. But for the very first time, there is REAL AUTHENTIC JOY in this journey. And it’s a joy that I found by being patient and kind to me and those around me.

There is still bread to cast on the water. There are still new roads to discover.

The beginning is the Genesis, the Exodus is the migration, and finally we separate. I am ready to separate because I’m certain that God will be me wherever I will go.

Embracing a “scattered” future

I have trouble remembering people who really do not remember me. I did torture myself assuming that my relative youthfulness meant I was a bad guy for not immediately latching onto these missed connections.

Why did I care so much about saving face? I think elderly and middle-aged people had wormed their views into my brain and wrought their folklore into my programming. I forget all the time that we don’t consider “MEDIA” as gestures, exclamations, guffaws, sighs, facial expressions, or awkward silences.

But that’s the way of some people. We have been lied to. We think media is just TV, streaming stuffs, and whatever comes from some executive’s idea of a “channel”. But media is very much a scattered thing. And how people relate their memory of me scattered my whole world.

I believed once that my future was fixed on the few people and things I had.  But maybe it’s time to re-evaluate.

Some people need to bust your chops about what they believe you should and should not relate about. People are full of their own prefabricated ideas about what things mean, what you mean to yourself, why you remember a song, or a conversation. And often those people are so spoiled in their own web of memories, the things that make them most happy and comfortable, that before you know it, being forced to save face and acquiesce to being “bad” for not savoring someone else’s connections is easier and more honorable, than admitting that you were never supposed to care as much as you once did.

A great example of that scattered future thing would be the time I told someone a story and that someone only seemed to “get it” if and only if I was shaming or mocking the other people in my story.

We get a very human satisfaction from being Annie, saying that anything you can do, I can do better.

I have discovered that less and less do I care to remember stories that don’t build groups up or come with a character evaluation that has a sidecar of myth debunking.

For if I’m buried in the scattered mess of that, I cannot truly see what project I am building and what it matters for me. To go back to what I said…

I now mourn as often as I deem necessary for the present state of my scattered memory. And I accept that I do not have to know why that matters to you… if you are not going to help me fill in some blanks.

 For I have gleaned from experience and life as a single man that community only reveals its true self by the grace and bravery of time, awareness, and steadfast repetition.

If we all purposely accept the ascetic identity of the revolving door, there can be no way to understand who is an intimate connection, and who is simply “traveling light” with the intent of passing through.

How are we to consider our main-stay support from the “edited out” one-night stand?

When I remember the one-nighter, I refuse to limit it to the unbridled erotic creative sexual expression or the mass-produced empty longing. One night stands and standards are the minimalist, random texts and calls from people who never reply. “One-nights” are the strippers who wanted your tips but won’t remember your name from the next patron who grins at them 10 seconds later.

“One nights” are the “hole in the wall” places, people, and scenes wherein the lines blend together. There is no demarcation that suggests your finding a place where belonging is celebrated, necessary, or even optional. And so that is why…  

I no longer blame myself for the many faces of disgust I receive when I say with honesty and grace: “No, I don’t remember you.” Or NO…I don’t quite get that reference point.   

I am fresh off a 4 day run in the Midwestern United States. In my estimation, the Midwest is idolized as the breadbasket, the easel and canvas of the “All-American” boy and girl, the Old-Glory fantasy often reserved for a painfully specific American person.

We celebrate these towns on our televisions. When we are not doing that, we are hemming and hawing rivers, lakes, and streams of California’s fastidious spectacle, New York’s fruit-syrup that doesn’t skimp on diversity or fructose. We smile longingly then on Georgia’s peaches. And someone’s beach-combing and pining about the water in Florida.

My friend and I go to the Midwest for the scenes. I believe we need authentic proof to convince ourselves that communities can be well-kept, that roads are not always over-run with potholes that people with grateful attitudes are still in our nation. Alongside the autumn glories and frosty dunes of Indiana, Missouri, and Illinois, America seems more statuesque.

 It’s so unlike the jazzy haze of my own Southern life.

While living that kind of United States, I fought every frayed fiber of my being to forget the Louisiana I had left. Not because I hate where I am from. No. To be fair, Louisiana’s people have everything thing to do with why my scattered memory is what it is.

Louisiana is a bowl of culture confusion. We’re every color and most of us here do not fully understand what that can mean for the way we remember and relate.

We like our tribes, our football games, our team colors, and our breakfast and dinner behaviors. And we hold our gossip higher than we’ve held our connections with ideas, feelings, institutions, and churches.

If I do not always have the people who remember me— and who knows what ME they remember—neatly marked with the place and time they marched through my life and took what they wanted, I release the right to intuit where it all fits.

I am one month alcohol-free, trudging slower across my life here in this Southern crucible. Everything here is some kind of test of your attention and I’m always fighting to pay attention. While I was Mid-Western Harold, I was seeing a play called Alabama Story about why libraries, books, stories, love, passion and information get complicated.

While I was Midwestern Harold, I slowed down and held on to scattered ashes, hung garland and tinsel, and a really good cup of black coffee.

 I was able to put the madness of my chaotic Louisiana self down. I wrote on most days. I read my Bible every single morning. I prayed to God without always needing a reason. I turned my fears about the future into words, movements, music, and re-connection.

When I went away, I remembered me. I remembered the “me” in the near future. I realized that I am without as many fixed roots as others have placed in my soil. And if I were a tree, I would readily understand when the yield was not scattering and migrating to a truly transforming renewal.

 I remembered my education. I remembered why in this new scatter future I discarded so much. The Midwest beaming up to the grandeur of Lucas Oil, Castleton Square, Carmel, and Blytheville, Arkansas let me peek behind the curtain of my own becoming. What I saw made me so frightened of my beautiful self. I can now admit that I have been using fear as a bonding agent for so long that I needed to re-visit where I’d been to remember where I’m going.

I don’t remember people who do not remember me. Those who authentic see my “becoming” don’t rely on fear, guilt, or shame.

Best of all, they seem less worried about my ability to perform tired soliloquies that hit all the “right” targets. I was not worried about the qualities of my steadfast repetition. I was just repeating a posture that made my joints ache, made my heart hard and my feelings numb.

It was not the states we visited. It was not the play I watched. It was not about me and more about everything I failed to notice. When I faced the fears and pains within me, I realized that I cannot remember when I have not worked to build.

I never built my past without fear as a bonding agent. And that explains why I don’t connect the same anymore. The Midwest had no nostalgia of the old Harold just the continued thrum of new roots. My new roots have come from understanding that my future self is scattered like bread upon waters I haven’t seen. The new “me” must be free to go. The new Harold in 2019 must be willing to question more than just tree. I must dig into the soil.

The Saturday before having dinner at a McAllister’s deli, God revealed a mystery to me that I had been too hurt to grab hold upon. I noticed that I was walking on a snowy pave where salt had been sprinkled. Ice needs salt upon it so that people do not stumble. And there in the white specks, revelation blazed up into my spirit like fire. God revealed scripture to me and said: See that salt? It’s you. You have allowed the gifts I gave you to lose their intended use. You’re the salt and you must start working to make your seasoning worth something more than being a mere step-stool. I cried and laughed in my heart. I knew what God meant. Salt is a life-giving agent, but we choose the remembrances, the magic, and the force with which to share that life. I can either be psaltery of tragic comedy or the psaltery with purpose. But before the salt does it job, I must keep facing forward and attack the old bonding agent… thawing the ice that threatens to kill the scatter of my hope. Thank you, Indiana. I received my sight back.

Waking Up

Yesterday, I spent a long while talking to another library worker about life. It’s fall. Louisiana is finally getting cold. It’s not the cold that exists in the Northern and New England American states where it’s more likely to snow and roads are almost always covered with black ice.

This cold is the kind that make you unsure about whether to choose a long-sleeve shirt or a hoodie jacket or both. It is a windy cold that blows hard and seeps in around and under your socks and shoes. It a cold that leaves you with sinus infections because tomorrow could be twenty degrees warmer.

We don’t have real winters here. When it does snow, the city is at a stand-still because there are no snow plows our government has paid for. If we had a snow plow or street clearer it would be used once every decade. This morning I woke up to a drafty home that has no central heat. But I was grateful for a roof that keeps most of the elements out. The roof is awesome given the years of hurricanes my grandmother’s house has seen.

Once I bathed and got my head on straight, I walked out to greet the finally turning auburn pecan tree in the yard.

I saw my cousin “stoop-ing”, perched on the step gazing into her iPhone. I decided to go over and talk to her about her day.

She is like a sister and she’s struggling through her 20’s just like I was. Although she’s a young woman she has that same cocky, curious, strong-willed spirit I had when I bore my college 20’s

She is trying to awake to the life around her. And she is wondering who is going to be consistent and listen to her. She is very unimpressed by words. She notices human patterns much faster than I did. She looks with urgency on the word and examines if speech connects action. She asks: What will you truly do when I help you? Will you fall away like the shedding leaves? Or will you be there? Will you judge me or will you teach me how not to fall back?

Fall or Autumn is a falling way. Trees shed like furry dogs trying to renew themselves with a touch God’s grace and environmental elements.

I worry more about my cousin as I join other adults in the circle of life. Am I walking worthy of the blessings God has given? Or am I like the colored leaf in the driveway?

Have I despite my effort failed at waking up to the fresh hell in my own backward?

In her falling, there is the sea of love. The erotic, the ethos, and the energy is a Charlotte’s Web of choice-points. There is the sea of ignorant men who tell her she’s pretty just so they might fool her with charm and status.

As she is growing into a tree that might not be moved, I look into her eyes. Her eyes speak volumes about the stress of being a woman. I have had to learn through her how not to use my maleness to treat her with nothing less than grace and elegance.

It is not easy to do. For I have fought. And I still fight the PROGRAMMING of my male community. I scream back to a persistent, gruff voice that says women are to be used for upward mobility.

And I have had to re-program my mind and heart toward gentleness. I am still falling way from a brotherhood that taught me that women are not deserving of real trust. I am falling away from a program that says women are only child-bearers, burden-bearers, saviors of men, and problem-fixers.

For in her eyes, her mother’s eyes, her auntie’s eyes, her grandmother’s eyes, I found my true essence of manhood.

I would hope that she knows that in my mind learning to value women like I value myself wasn’t some easy transition that I just happened upon. I have needed black women, white women, all kinds of women… to understand myself. I finally get what my own story should be. But I needed women to throw me about, to mine my heart for pure gold.

I learn to respect women only when I understand that they are gifts and not people to be owned or experimented with.

Only when brave, outspoken women awakened me to how I became a tool for sexism, for homophobia, for machismo, for false strength could I began a hard shift.

A woman inspired my librarianship. A woman taught me what a life without feeling is.

And women are my team-mates. And while I’ll never understand women… I don’t need to. I need to listen. I need to show mercy. I need to forgive. I need to shoulder weight. AND I NEED to wait.

Autumn leaves have their purpose. I can only hope that I continue celebrating the women who give me the ticket to my own authentic self.