A Mixed Reaction

IMG_5731I look at my canvas and think that Liberty is a bitch.  She has a decidedly European face and means freedom but not for all.  What if I were to make her black with a hint of caramel?  Give her dreadlocks and a spear, a nose wide as the horizon, a red dawn of pain to be born upon? Keep her eyes green for balance?  I think of my own power and how I’ve been protecting others from it.  I think of my art as a guide to what I need to be paying attention to.  I find myself reeling, hurting, needing to see my grandmother as the world goes mad.  I need to see her and let her love me and let her know that I love her as the world goes mad.

 

We are veterans, she and I, in this war against hate.

IMG_5735I need her to know that our hard-fought-for-forgiveness still stands and towers over the harm she did before my life began.  I need her to know that I remember she tried to destroy my father and my mother’s love for him and that her family wanted to have me killed in the womb.  I need her to know that I remember AND love her still.

I need her to see the truth before she dies – the impact of her upbringing on her family and the fact that love can conquer even this.  I need her to know that I am here and I will hold her hand as she struggles over the stones placed in just the right places to be treacherous as her old feet seek a solid place to stand.  She will not fall because I am here, black and white and strong and forgiving all that has been done.

I also need to thank her for showing me hate and how it works and for making the journey to the half-way point where I could meet her.  Contrary to jaded belief, I did not need to defeat her.  It took listening to understand from both places on either side of the divide.  It took hearing the hurt beneath the hate, the love beneath the pain, the cry to be seen and accepted for us to be one again.  Because we weren’t born to be two.  Disharmony is learned and distrust is hard-earned.

IMG_5741My brown arm reaches out to steady her age-spotted once-white frame as she shuffles one uncertain foot in front of the other, reaching out unsteady, shifting weight slowly so as to allow the ground time to earn her trust – as she must have done with me.  I need to see her today so she can put a balm on my wounds, rub my scars with gentle hands now wise to the lie she was told and told herself.  We are not so different.  I need to clean the flesh wounds and bind the bones from the week spent fighting with her kin struggling to let the light into their dark thoughts.  I need her to remind me that the love on the other side is worth the war we wage today.  My own blood – her people – would care as little if it were me shot in cold blood in front of my children or my local supermarket.  My own flesh and blood would be fine with it if it were my blood spilled.  When those who love me cry out “her life matters!”  they will counter with “All lives matter.”  They would help the system find a way to say I’d asked for it – after all “she was no saint.”  They would care more about the police coming and taking their gun from their suburban homes than the white hoods or blue uniforms drawing me – their cousin – from my bed and hanging me from the nearest tree.  She was no saint.  She drove ten miles above the speed limit to work every day.  She never used her turning signals to switch lanes.  She was asking for it.  She was no saint.

IMG_5777I need my grandmother today.  For her I don’t need to be a saint.  She won’t say a word.  She won’t mention the news she’s been glued to immobile all week in her house alone.  She won’t mention the hurt on my face or the limp I walk into the house with.  She won’t even see the blood-red paint on my hands from the blood of Liberty that I’ve been moving around to keep my longing limbs coiled for a fight from adding to the harm already happening in the world.  I will have to show her.

She will be glad to see me, pat the arm I offer, and squeeze my hand as she draws me closer.  The best thing that ever happened to her, she says.  God gave me to her, she says.

May God give every one of my racist kin a black baby to love.

923362_857916997528_373385260_n

I am serious.  May all the young of my family find love in smoothe black embraces and may they kiss the faces of the killers of their hatred.  May a beige-coloured love be our only fate as humanity faces the dawn of a new age.  As people picket, pretending that the line between them exists, I will raise my afro-hooded face and lift my green eyes to the sky and call the divide of race a lie.  The black spots of age bursting through the milk-white skin on my grandmother’s arms reveal the false god of white-supremacy.

In the end only the colors of love and wisdom win.

INDEPENDENCE

Fifty years ago today a three-year old boy stepped off a ship from London and into a foreign land.  It had been his second ship that year.  The first was from Ghana to London, from all that he had ever known and ever lost.  His Daddy was a few steps behind, shoulders ramrod straight, big hands holding his baby brother.  He was only a babe.  The little boy didn’t speak English.  His baby brother didn’t speak at all.  All that they knew of life had changed overnight.

An air of grief clung to the party of three – the giant man and the two little boys.  The toddler’s eyes would have been as wide as saucers as he was prodded ahead down the gangway.  Trunks and cases would have followed – but not many.  Maybe just one.  Their Mummy did not come with them.

I can imagine him now, forgetting for a second that she was not there and searching the passengers behind him for a sign of her skirt, her hand, the sound of her laugh.  No one had explained to him but he understood – the knowledge broke his little heart as he remembered he would not find her here.  Or anywhere.  She was gone from him.

What greeted him at the end of the pier was another world, another life, another language, another people.  They were dancing in the streets.  His grief collided with their jubilation on this hot August day.  Colourful skirts would have been twirling, women with round figures and heads tied with colourful cloth would have been dancing around with bare-chested or cotton-clad men singing, lifting their arms in excitement, bawling out in prayer and praise.  He heard one word chanted over and over from the boiling masses on land – In-dep-end-ence.  Was it one word or four?  What did it mean?

It must have been something very special but he would not have known for a few more years.  It would not be his first English word.  That word would be “For”.  The first phrase he would speak in the language of his parents would be “For health and strength and daily food we praise Thy name oh Lord, Amen.”  He would learn to sing it from the woman standing waiting on the shore.  She looked a bit like Mummy had but tiny and with more wrinkles.  She wasn’t much bigger than him and she was a good deal smaller than Daddy.  As he walked down toward her she would have bent at the waist and wrapped her arms around him and lifted him into her embrace.

I wish I could tell him to be brave, this little boy, as Mama Birdie held him to her chest and reached for his sickly baby brother.  I wish I could tell him you will grow.  You will learn.  You will travel.  You will succeed.  You will play football with Bob Marley.  You will climb a mountain in Cumbria.  You will race go karts with your children.  You will meet Fidel Castro.  You will know God.  You will know love.  And you will have me.

A daughter who loves you and is proud of who you have become.

Happy Independence Day Daddy.  Happy Birthday Jamaica.

I hope God was ready…

…cuz his hands are now full, with a gal made to grasp the horns of the bull.

A woman of spirit, ahead of her time, she cut her curls short 60 years before mine.

To Christ she came laughing, handed over her debt, said “He took the cussin, gamblin, drinkin, but never the cigarette.”

To Aunt Natalie… God’s own spitfire.

The cloth from which my own spirit was cut – gone to be with her Father but on earth never forgotten.

 

 

 

 

Flashback I: Truth and the Shell

It has been a hard day of grief and pain. This time he is heeding my request to please stay clear and allow me to do my growing and grieving alone. But oh does it hurt!

“What hurts?” I have asked myself. It is the sucking drain of the disappointment drawing back the wave of joy that flooded over me at the realization that “I have found someone who I can love for the rest of my life!” It is a pain that tells of the stripping bare of the garden that bloomed in my heart, watered by that wave of joy. New leaves and fresh blooms all viciously uprooted in their youth, torn from my bosom. Holes that once held clutching roots and ground that was not so long ago shaded by trees are now dry and cracked and gaping, assaulted by a burning sun of Truth.

Truth that reveals every weakness in blinding, sweltering brightness. Truth that cuts through the beautiful words and whispered dreams passed lips-to-ear by the seaside. Cuts through the mirage of lies and folly-happy belief. Truth that burns away chaff. Leaving grief. Grief that the leafy ferns and tender orchids were not real but a bedtime story that needed to be grown out of. Grief at the loss of the cool, damp earth and fragrance of jasmine under a bright full moon all lost to truth.

Even when you tried you lied. Your lies covered my days with painted colours, a full garden of imaginings. Now all swirled and sucked into the vortex of the drain. If only I had not believed. If only I had not allowed you, time and again, to deceive. Truth tugged at me, peaking through the sky-flung Poinciana branches and so I slipped to the side to a greater comfort, deeper in your fanciful creation each time. Until the midday of my heart came and truth, right over my head, burned the matrix away. I am the one. The one who has to see and now must live in TRUTH.

And now… in the glaring light of the Truth that destroys all lies, I sit on a real stump of a real old tree – solid, dry, dead wood with the reprieve of Certainty that comes in the presence of Truth and the sound of the sea. Julius keeps coming back to check on me, walking only so far with the girls before coming back.

The darkness I battled with threatens to return and my mouth calls out for numbing rum. Things of the past. Tears come at awkward times, tugging on my composure and pealing the edges of my theater mask, my warrior mask, my happy mask. No mask sticks to a slick pair of cheeks! I sit with myself, in myself, smothered under myself and vomit onto the page every bilious thought that steals my quiet. And I glance down and see a piece of something shiny and pink. Shining through tear-chafed eyes. A gift, simple and rugged. A full and pink conch shell! If I had not sat there with my tears I would not have seen it.

After seeing the shell I put my book down and stooped to get it. But it was stuck. I dug around it with my fingers clearing the sand away between the roots of the old dead stump. The points at the top of the old conch shell were buried in the dead roots, cured by salt and covered with sand and thoroughly stuck. Stuck so fast that no amount of wiggling made it give. And so I searched for a piece of stick and dug with the stick. My right hand had already gone raw by now and threatened to bleed. I lost track of time in my focus and dug furiously. Hand and stick, hand and stick, wiggle here, tug there, still no give.

And so I called to the girls down to beach to come and help me.

Thus the shell had become my only focus, a symbol of happiness. I dug in relentless pursuit of it, the dig itself a fierce determination not to give up my hope. A struggle that brought blood to my hands and tears to my eyes.

The girls didn’t hear me and I began to get frustrated. Why didn’t they pay attention? The sky was darkening and the fireball to the west had begun a low, dripping, over-ripe mango-sticky descent through the clouds. I called out again and they began to walk ever so slowly to me. It angered me that they weren’t there and didn’t care, that they couldn’t hear my calling out. Didn’t they know how important this was to me? Couldn’t they see me and my gestures and waves saying hurry?

And plain as day I got it. THE POINT. Like a dream that gives such aching clarity to a situation obscured by daylight wakenings I saw. This is the purpose of my pain.

To bring me to call on Him, the Most High. The One who can answer all my questions, cure all my ailments, and dig out all of my shells. And right there I looked up and said to him Father, the girls aren’t going to hear me. They aren’t here where I am right now. And they probably couldn’t help me anyway – I am stronger than they are. Please help me get this shell out.

And so I bent over again and began to dig. It wiggled more and I dug some more. I stepped on one side to turn it loose and dug some more. I took my hands and scooped under the shell with sand cutting into my raw flesh. By this time the girls had strolled over to me. One came and reached down to help as I straightened up.

It came loose in her hands. First try. No struggle – out it popped.

MADNESS

But it was my struggle. There was a reason.

Later at home I took that shell into my bath tub. There it will always stay pink and fresh with constant watering. It will also remind me at least twice a day, at my most naked and exposed moments, that my God is with me in every struggle and will be my armour when I feel exposed.

And so I prayed into my little book. Father, please put that gem and hide it in my heart like that shell. Stick it in there and never let it wiggle free I pray. Please remind me that You are never going to leave me and that You are so much better than anything else I could ever find. Help me remember to call to You first because You are always right here, right now, where I am. Help me remember that when my friends are far away, or when they are up close – it doesn’t matter! They don’t have Your power.

Please also use these struggles of mine, these battles I face, to strengthen the people around me. Help my struggle to allow them to find their own shell loose and ready for them to just pick it up. Take my writing and use it to Your honour and glory I pray.

Amen

It seems I knew once how to deal with pain.  I knew once how to reconnect to the core of me and commune from that core with the Source of all things good.  I am so blessed to be reminded of that knowledge today.