Love at 30,000 feet – Journey to Timbuktu

The Kora

The Kora

The shuttle was late and I was getting antsy.  Antsy is such a gentle word – who am I kidding? – more like I got quietly psycho, planning my death stare and sharp words for the late driver.

When he arrived it was at a run.  He sprinted to me, grabbed my bags and ran to the shuttle.  Having showed the appropriate amount of haste and concern I cooled out the laser vision and quieted the lurking killer just under my skin.

He put me in the front seat right next to him and told me he would let me drive.  His passengers behind me I sensed to be just as antsy (murderous) as myself, and so it was with great prudence that our driver, a tall wiry man from Mali, pulled out a CD of music by Ali Farka.

At stop lights and in bumper-to-bumper traffic Mr. Mali introduced me to the music of Timbuktu, the home of the Blues.  I found myself grudgingly falling in love with the Kora, a West African guitar that was probably what David would have used on old King Saul.  And even through I could see right through it – Mr. Man knew he was taking his passengers to breaking point – it was having the same effect on me!

We went from song to song, blocked bridge to clogged street, blues to ballad, CD to CD, until suddenly there was a break in traffic and JFK loomed ahead.

I said a rushed goodbye to Mr. Mali and raced to my gate.

But the music stayed with me until I boarded to plane to Pittsburgh and plugged in my iPhone to fall asleep.

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Love at 30,000 feet – The Brick House

It was at about 30,000 feet that I remembered how to love myself.  I had every intention of falling asleep – travel anxiety had kept me awake the night before and powered my frenzied preparation for the flight.  Settling into my delayed American Airlines flight, I reached for my iPhone, put her in flight mode, put my earphones in and willed myself to shut out the world and sleep.

What happened next was very different from sleep.

But now, as I’m telling the story, I realize that it began a few days before on a different flight to a different city.  Travel with me to Miami for a minute.

The Prophet?  Or not?

He was the craziest looking man in all of Miami International – a tall and slim black guy in his 50s pimp-dressed from head to toe.  The man I would name Mack Daddy (in my head) was in a black suit with white pin strips widely spaced.  The jacket fit his shoulders well and fell down below his knees and a black fedora sat over the smiling brown face.  He had just swept the tail of his coat aside to sit down with a magnificent gesture when our flight was called.

I looked at the man just as his curious eyes swept the line I was in and landed lightly on me before skipping forward.  Dear God please don’t make him sit by me!  Memories of a charlatan in a pentecostal church in the trouser part of this man’s suit had my shoulders tensed right up.

American Airlines boarded us all in their customary disorganized fashion and my neighbors were revealed to me one by one until there was only one seat left – the middle to my window seat.  Lo and behold who should next appear but Mack Daddy himself!  He politely spoke to the aisle-neighbor and she let him pass to his seat.  Sitting down he thanked her with a pleasant smile.

Ahhhhhhhhhh $h1+!

The flight takes off and now I’m curious.  Who on earth could think this outfit up?  As it turns out my neighbor to New York was open to share.  First he spoke to the aisle-lady again about the book she was reading.  At this stage I noticed not one but TWO worn bibles on his lap.  Yup – Prophet-man’s brother for sure.

I was glorying in my smug conclusion (Yup – I called it.  Uh huh I was right.) and thanking the hostess for my water when Mack Daddy turned to me.  By this time I had narrowed down his origin to one of two islands (later turned out I’d hit that one good too), figured he was a travelling charlatan, and was waiting for the preaching to begin.  Instead he one-upped me and pointed to my accent asking if I was a Trini.

“HELLLL NO!” came out before I could temper it.

And Mack Daddy laughed.  I caught myself in my own righteousness and laughed out loud too.  This flight was getting interesting.

Mr. J, I soon learned, was a DJ and entertainer by trade and an islander like myself.  He had found Jesus in his adult life after having spent years in the fascinating business of being a friend to famous people.  He was now using his talents to bring people to Christ.  He had managed and DJ’d at a few clubs in Miami, Puerto Rico and in England and had been quite a woman-tamer in his time.  The Jesus-man told me with a mix of wistfulness and shame the stories of his time before Christ took him on.  “I was not a good guy, Miss Bush.  Believe me.  There was one time I was rotating 18 women.  And I walked into the club with Joy and Sue wasn’t pleased and I had to say to Sue ‘Tonight I am with Joy.  Tomorrow will be your night.’  And she had to be fine with that.”  Turns out Bob Marley was much worse – he had 40 something kids.  But there was a guitarist in one of the other bands that was the worst of all.  Something like 80 women at a time.  INSANE.  If Mr. J hadn’t been talking like a spectator looking from the outside into his memories I admit I would have been a bit freaked out.  But the story was good and he continued to tell me of the fascinating club business in his heyday.

We then began to speak of islands, hurricanes, volcanoes, churches (only briefly) and family.  His heart was so open I walked right in and received the hug of his conversation.  20 minutes into the flight I loved the man and the rest of the passengers were about ready to throw us out midair   Our conversation was so animated and his laughter so unbridled that I’m sure the pilot could hear!

So Mr. J pulled out his phone to show me his gorgeous daughters.  My jaw dropped as he moved from family into photos of himself, his work and his friends.  He wasn’t kidding at all!  He showed me photos full of bell bottoms, guitars, Afros and marijuana smoke with the faces of Jesse Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Rick James (who was actually a pretty good looking kid!!) James Brown, Little Richard, and Bob Marley.  There were faces I recognized and others I didn’t and for those Mr. J would sing a line in a song that I would immediately know.  “Remember this one?  She’s a Brick….” (and I’d join in) “HOUSE!”  He told me of the Brick House competitions they used to have.  He was like “you think you would win a Brick House Competition Ms. Bush?”  FUNNY GUY.  I nigh split myself in half at that one.

The neighboring passengers would pretend not to be annoyed and turn their earphone volume up.  I was totally delighted!  His ex wife, his daughters, his most recent gospel concert, flashed past until we got to a photo in Puerto Rico with a young Mr. J in a white suit shaped just like the one he was wearing but with more bell in the leg.  He called it looking like a Mack.  I couldn’t help but laugh out loud – I had been calling Mack Daddy from the time I laid eyes on the man!

It was only a matter of time before the music changed.  We were soon singing old Jamaican 70s songs and trying to figure out by combining our memories the words to the Pluto Shervington song Dat.  I could just feel the tolerant Americans around us bristling inside about those effing Jamaicans (Let JA take the blame!  We’re Small-Island people, thank you.  And not Trinidadians either.)  My new friend and I didn’t care.

When I said goodbye to Mr. J in New York I was genuinely sad to part with him.  The professional Mack that he was, he seemed to take it more like a normal thing as he cordially wished me safe travels.

In a few minutes all that was left of him was the song in my head.

Black and Yellow

I liked the place from the time the plane landed.  It was night-time and American Airlines was late again (gonna rant on them separately – in too good a mood).  We hurtled to a stop at the gate an hour past plan and then walked off the little flyer over a two-foot-wide bridge to the terminal.  It was the cutest little thing, that plane.  The bridge, although smaller, was NOT SO CUTE.

The first thing that struck me as I walked through the gate was the stares of everyone as I walked past.  It was like how small-island people watch fresh blood arrive on the rock with open-faced curiosity.  Everyone watched me rush to baggage claim with my hair flying straight behind me and my scarf trailing off the bag I’d slung over my shoulder.

And then I noticed the second thing.  It was ME they were staring at.  The other passengers got the passing glance I had expected from the city-dwellers in the home of the Steelers!  Sudden burst of panic and a flashing image from a zombie movie hit me until a little boy strayed into the path of my half-run-half-walk with the most gorgeous open-faced smile with his grubby finger pointing up at me.  I couldn’t help but grin back a silly grin while his daddy swept him up and smiled an apology at me.  Panic gone, I realized the gazes were not unfriendly.  I decided to take them as acknowledgment – I’m a tall woman in not-so-bad shape in a pair of knee-high black boots.  Why wouldn’t people stare?

The third thing I noticed brought be back to center.  The only people of colour other than my tanned self that I came across in my entire airport experience were the rough and loud, P-Diddy and Apple Bottom wearing hard-ass African American.  There were four of them.  All there together – one family.  GOT IT.

Pittsburgh wouldn’t have a CLUE of what to do with a tall, smoothe, British educated, half-latina Caribbean woman in Ann Taylor and Tahari.  The total confusion I could now clearly see made me smile to myself as I hauled my bags off the belt and across the airport under the casually curious gazes.

The airport was a cross between the Miami airport I remember as a little girl in the 80s and today’s JFK.  It is efficient and unpretentious, aged but pleasant.  Winter was evident in the caps and scarves, coats and boots, the funny little kids dressed to be as wide as they are tall and the well established darkness outside.  The people were pleasant and getting on with their business with purpose and smiles.  Politeness was loud and clear in thank-yous and excuse mes as the airport hustled out with the feel of a new city.  Dark carpet gave way to a 1970’s tile job clearly chosen for its functionality rather than good looks as I rushed to the Super Shuttle counter.

The Super Shuttle guy didn’t see me approach.  He was singing and dancing and didn’t see me until I said hi the second time!  When he did see me he jumped, sending some stuff from his desk clattering to the floor.  “You scared me!  But I’m easy to scare – especially when I’m singing and dancing to myself.”  HILARIOUS!  Surprise turned to confusion as he heard me speak.  I repeated myself slowly and smiled a teasing smile at him as he processed my accent.

I sat for a while waiting and processing the tone, sight, smell and sound of the place and found the words innocence and openness, curiosity and growth, repeating over and over.  Before getting to where I was staying I had made up my mind.  I like this place.

Word-Wakening

It’s been ages since I sat down to write just for the joy of writing.  Today I’m in Pittsburgh, visiting an old friend, and I’ve caught up with a load of things that have been dragging behind for me while they are at work.  It feels good to be on top of my stuff enough to be cool to just sit down and write!  It’s a WOW for me – How long ago did I do this?  How much amazingness have I missed out on?

So much time has passed since my last casual page-blurt that I know I’m rusty.  I’m like an old hinge on a seaside door that hasn’t been broken open for years, constantly exposed to the salt spray, wind and rain without a bend and now scraping off the rust and stiffness to open in true expression again.  Now, wide open for the first time in ages, I never want to shut the door again!

The words are pouring out in waves of love pulling on memories of page-blurts-past, tingling with joy and talent, exploration and purpose, with memories of smells of other coffee shops and sounds of different cities.

Today it is Pittsburgh, a beautiful town-come-city waking up each morning with a welcome smile and a breath of fresh air.

singlestreaming

Ever have one of those days when you’d like to BLOW SOME $&!+ up??  I’m praying for Wisdom as James 1 has instructed me.

My prayer:

“Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me; fightagainst those who fight against me. 2 Take up shield and armor; arise and come to my aid. 3 Brandish spearand javelinagainst those who pursue me. Say to me, “I am your salvation.”

4 May those who seek my life be disgraced and put to shame; may those who plot my ruin be turned back in dismay. 5 May they be like chaffbefore the wind, with the angel of the Lord driving them away; 6 may their path be dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.

7 Since they hid their net for me without cause and without cause dug…

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SHOULDING all over your life

I, like the vast majority of the billions of people on this Earth, have a habit of beating myself up.  It’s one of those things we are socialized to do.  As a baby we bite mom’s nipple and hear her cry out in pain and displeasure, and so we learn not to do it again to avoid that punishing reaction.  As a toddler we learn not to leave our toys in the hallway because Daddy will put us in time-out. To avoid the punishment of time-out we pick up our toys.  And so it continues – detentions in school are avoided by us doing our homework, we work hard in order to not be told off for bad grades, scoldings and spankings from our parents teach us our SHOULDS.

We all have our own shoulds.  I should wake up early to get to work on time.  I should save money for retirement.  I should speak kindly to someone who has offended me.  I should protect my virginity until I am a married woman. I should go to church on Sunday.  I should pay my bills on time.  I should complete my education.  I should brush my hair 100 strokes before going to bed at night.  I should do this, I should be that, and I should go there…

Let’s face it.  There is a SHOULD for every minute of our waking lives.  In the words of one of my closest friends, a life coach, “We are SHOULDING all over ourselves!”

In a growing awareness around my own shoulds, I have come across some interesting understandings.  I don’t have to be right about any of them but this is what has been mined from my own life.

At the bottom of every guilt tower is the foundation of a SHOULD

  1. A SHOULD is a boundary past which a person feels it is impossible to cross without punishment.  It’s like an electric fence – you know the ones where the family dog has a collar that sends a jolt of electricity if he gets too close to the borders?  Well our SHOULDS are our collars.  They send a crippling fear through our being when we hit the edge of our comfort zone.
  2. We are fully responsible for the fence!  In fact, we set the fence up.  Now why would the family dog do that to himself?  Why would he set the stakes down at the edge of his family’s property and put the collar on his own neck?  A dog wants to be FREE!  Free to chase the neighbour’s cat or swim in the neighbour’s pool when it gets too hot.  It makes no sense that he would do that to himself.  Why then would we?  Why do we set our own fence up?  Yes, as children we are taught our shoulds.  But as adults with keys to the house, why do we keep the fence?
  3. Shoulds get in the way.  When you are put on a train running on rails you are only able to follow the direction that those rails go in.  People before you have set those rails down, toiled and laboured to lay those tracks.  And so, on a train set on rails, you are only able to go where people before you have been.  Think of all the places in the world that have never seen a train!  Think of all the places that have never seen a human being!  To stay on that train is to never be able to see those places. And so it is with shoulds.  Your shoulds keep you on the rails.  Shoulds take you only where you and those who have taught you have been before.  The power of your own mind and the uniqueness of your own creativity and your own journey cannot be found on the rails of shoulds.
  4. The punishment is never as bad as it seems.  Sometimes it doesn’t even exist.  Here we are referring to run-of-the-mill shoulds – not the shoulds in the penal code that say things like “You should not rape your neighbour’s wife”.  Laws and crimes aside, the freedom beyond your electric fence is more enormous and more delicious than you can ever imagine sat in your own yard.  The little electric shock that comes from busting through the barrier is often a small price to pay for so big a prize!
  5. How we experience the world beyond the should depends very much on whether we are able to leave the should behind.  Sometimes we pass the barrier and carry the fence.  From shoulds come guilt.  What is guilt but a bunch of busted shoulds?  Look at something that makes you feel guilt.  Look deeper for the should at its foundation.  If you took the should out of the foundation, like a jenga tower you’ll see the guilt fall down.  I’ll give you an example.  Last week I planned to run 9 miles.  I set a goal and went a step further and created a should.  Each morning, however, I woke up with a pain in my right foot and aches in my knees.  I have had knee trouble before and know the danger of pushing too hard and so I opted not to run on those mornings.  At the end of the week I had not run my 9 miles and was feeling quite guilty about it.  Looking closely at my guilt I found the SHOULD.  I SHOULD run 9 miles this week.  Taking the should out of the foundation I looked again at the facts – each morning I woke up in pain, that pain would have worsened with running, I was not wrong to not run.  And POOF – guilt was gone.
  6. There are no good SHOULDS.  In my humble opinion, shoulds are judgments formed about what is.  It isn’t the should that is important, but the thing that is.  Shoulds are statements of exclusion, limitation, and punishment around the thing that is.  It is very easy to find shoulds in your life that you think are constructive – we all have some shoulds that we like the most.  But are they really healthy?  A should makes you wrong or right.  If you abide by your should you get to reward yourself by feeling good.  If you breach your should you get to punish yourself for being bad.  I say quit beating yourself up!  The world outside of your shoulds is much bigger than all of this punishment and reward stuff!  More important still, the SELF you have outside of your SHOULDS is much bigger than all of this!

I’ll leave you with a test to perform on your own life – see if this Should assessment works for you.  If it doesn’t and you like your shoulds just the way they are, throw out my opinion without a second thought.  But if you face down even the shoulds you like and test them and find them wanting, please feel free to let me know.

Take your favourite shoulds – the ones that you like – and list them out.  I’ll list a few of my favourites out for you.

  1. I should work out and be healthy.
  2. I should speak kindly to my employees.
  3. I should work a minimum of 8 hours a day to enrich the lives of my clients.
  4. I should visit my grandmother weekly.
  5. I should bathe my dogs once a week.

Now turn your shoulds in to statements of fact, commitment or identity.  Neither right nor wrong, these are I DO, I WILL or I AM statements.

  1. I will work out and be healthy.
  2. I am an employer who speaks kindly to my employees.
  3. I do work a minimum of 8 hours a day to enrich the lives of my clients.
  4. I do visit my grandmother weekly.
  5. I will bathe my dogs once a week.

When a week passes and I haven’t worked out, what is there to do with my statement?  Working out is no longer a SHOULD but a WILL.  When a should is broken, the beatings begin.  I say, put the bat down.  Simply say it again.  I will work out and be healthy.  Recommit to who you have decided to be and what you have decided to be.  Is a should needed to make it happen?  I am sure you will see that it isn’t.

Looking forward to hearing about your shoulds!