Love at 30,000 feet – Falling in Love Again

So it was that Mr. Mack and Mr. Mali prepared my soul for the awakening.  With their songs brewing in my head I tucked myself into the flight to Pittsburgh, PA, surrounded by people I didn’t know, headed to a city I had never seen, to do God-knows-what there.  I was planning to sleep but was incredibly nervous in the way that only a small plane can make you nervous.

I lifted my new skull candy earphones to my head, squished them tightly in, and settled in for a wee nap to take the edge off.

Todo Cambió… cuando te vi….” slammed into me much louder than I’d expected, seductive and clear.  I was about to reach and turn it down when I decided nah… let it wash over me.  Settling back determined to nap, I closed my eyes and let Camila make love to my ears.  But the nap was not to be.

Soon enough I found myself rocking, as if possessed.  The power of Mr. J’s colourful stories and the richness of Mr. Mali’s blues bubbled up and met the Spanish lovers of my Pittsburgh flight.  It was like being earnestly romanced by all the beautiful men of the world.

I drifted out of my body, out of my flight, out of the United States, elevated well above and outside of my reality to a place where there is only love and music.  The place took me over with the softness of a down duvet and smelled like fresh laundry hot from the dryer.  It was warm and cozy, sitting in this place of grace and beauty, and I never wanted to leave.

A sudden noise, louder than the love song, woke me from the drift.  My eyes flew open and looked around the flight, totally startled.  All was as I’d left it – my neighbours were fast asleep and the attendant across the cabin was doling out weak coffee, totally unaffected by the sound that had brought me back to earth (or at least the cabin floor).

It took a few seconds for me to completely arrive and notice that the interruption had come from inside of me – my own voice – joining Camila in “antes que pasen mas…. quiero decirte amor…”

Like a mad woman I cracked right up, laughing out loud beyond the music.  A giggle turned into a frank and open belly laugh.  I was only slightly grateful for the deep dreams that kept my neighbours’ eyes shut because they may well have freaked out at this crazy half-young woman taking full delight in herself next to them at 30,000 feet.

Digging back into my cloud I peered out on the wintry world below me, organized very neatly into fields of rows and variations of greens and browns.  The love songs crashed over me like waves  (“Abrazameeeeeee”) and I didn’t want the flight to end!  Pittsburgh could well and wait.

At that I checked in with myself and questioned, why would Pittsburgh have to wait?  I could carry this with me.  The music is MINE.  The iPod is MINE.  The skull-candy buds snug in my ears are MINE.  And, most beautiful of all, the love is MINE.

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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.

City Dreams

Saturday morning sunshine woke me.  But I wish I’d blocked out the light.  I DID NOT WANT to wake up.

In my dream just before I woke up and rolled over on the softest bed ever, somewhere in New York City.  There was a duvet and loads of pillows covered in white cotton sheets.  The light was filtering in through a balcony door somewhere – I couldn’t see it from my nest but I knew it was there.  This was my room.  And I was not alone.  Through one half-opened eye I could see to my right, asleep on his stomach, was my life partner.  A well-built man with back muscles relaxed under tightly stretched nut-brown skin, he promised to be at least two inches over six feet tall standing.  I got the sense of comfort, security, belonging and strength from the moment.  And then there was a knock on the door.

In came our housekeeper to give him something important to sign.  “Come in” he grumbled from his position, head in pillow.  “We’re not doin’ anything.”  That one made me smile inside but I was too sleepy to laugh.  But I did draw the blankets up around my chin, snuggling deeper down.  She came in, gave him a pen and a piece of paper, he signed and she left as quietly as she’d come.  When she was on her way back to the door he turned to me and drew me into his space and we both went back to sleep.

And I woke up.

That day I decided it was ok to dream of love.  There is no shame in it and nothing dirty about it.

The dream followed me for days until I met its equal.

I woke up this morning to Lola licking my hand hanging off the side of the bed.  She spent some time on my fingers and started pulling at my whole hand with her two front paws.  My dog loves her hind legs so much I think she thinks she’s human.  She follows my every move when I put on my makeup and brush my teeth so that I’m sure if she tried she could do it herself.  Next she’ll want me to teach her to drive!  And so she took my hand in her two hands and tried to coax me off the bed.

But I didn’t want to wake up.

I had just walked into my Aunty’s house in London to tell her that I had found the perfect house!  Before that moment of waking, I had trecked all of the South East’s suburbs looking for a home for me and my two dogs.  It needed to be reasonably near to the train station, reasonably near to a park or a nice walking route, and reasonably near to my Aunty.  I had found the perfect flat for the three of us to live in and was going to take my photos to Aunty for her opinion.  And then Lola woke me up.  To reality again.

I am dreaming at night of a new life, travelling to new cities in my sleep.  There is a growing itch spreading past my toes and my ankles, telling me it’s time to get on a flight.  And so this morning I booked my flight to New York.

The Island Of the Now

It was a last-minute plan made by tired people.  We had four days off from work – public holidays around Easter – and we needed to get away.  From everything.  Tickets were bought and hotels were sold out so we ended up with a house.  On the South Side of Cayman Brac.

We arrived to gentle moonlight, near enough to the full moon to ease us into the silence.  Silence of phones, of computers, of television, of radio, of demands, of jobs, of drama… and heard the deafening sound of waves.  Quickly we were asleep.

This was to be a spiritual journey for me.  I intended to relax and renew but I also brought reading material – The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.  There was something fitting about this book because NOW is all I had this trip be about.  It was about sleep when my body called for it, waking when the sun rose, meditating in the morning breeze and eating whatever fish came our way that day.

On the first morning we began by taking a look around.

The property itself fit our needs perfectly – it was by the sea, had a hammock and lounge chairs, a few mean-faced guardians and a fire pit.  What more could a sojourner need?

Ready and waiting for us - a bonfire with a wood pile

One of three guardians

A pleasant walk down the beach to ironshore and tide pools

One tide pool covered with Sea Eggs (Sea Urchins anywhere else in the world). In the Far East these are a delicacy. In Cayman they are a beautiful but painful nuisance.

After the first walk we were hungry… and the kitchen empty.  And so we left the sanctuary and went in search of friends and food.  All the while savouring the warmth of the sun and the fresh air through the car window.

Out on the lonely road in search of breakfast

Driving up the only hill on all three of the Cayman Islands, The Bluff. This spine-like cliff runs the length of the island of Cayman Brac starting low in the West and rising to around 110 feet in the West where it drops right off into the sea.

An appropriate place of honour for Veterans and Sea Men on the island that once boasted of having more sea captains per square mile than any other land mass in the world.

Going down the Bluff on the North Side you can see the Eastern end of the island clearly.

Everything here but MEAT. Fish is all we would be cooking here on the Brac!

With food sorted, we decided to drop in on some relatives of one of our companions.  While the family caught up, we explored their garden, connecting with the flowers, the power of the Bluff face, the traditional decorations of this traditional sand yard.

Bouganvilla petals carpeting the Bluff-side garden

Gorgeous orchids... you know I begged for a piece of this to take home!

Bouganvillas climb up the Bluff face

Cooking was a joy and not a burden.  Fresh fish caught the same day and vegetables we got on our morning drive were thrown into the pot by the man that was with us.  My task was to make the fritters or the jonny cakes to eat with the fish.  It was a truly Caymanian vacation – not at all free from form or context but at the same time free of all restriction.

Steamed fish - MAN FOOD. Or at least man-cooked.

Each day I would "rub up" either Fritters or Jonny Cakes - traditional Cayman breads to eat with fish.

Fresh golden Jonny Cakes

Every day we rested.  Every day we read.  Every day we walked on the beach.  One day I went for a swim and came face to face with an 8 foot Nurse Shark – talk about feeling every inch of the NOW!

On our last day we drove up the Bluff and along the Bluff Road to the Lighthouse at the highest end.  We sat and soaked up the breeze of the moment, watched the Man-O-Wars glide up and down the Bluff face keeping watch over secret nesting grounds, and marveled at the blue of the sea.  I have never seen sea so blue as off the Bluff.  This has been a marvel for me from childhood.

Last sunset on the Brac watched from the Lighthouse

Determined not to dwell on our return to our home island, and determined to remain in the peace we had found for as long as we could, we lit a fire and cooked our dinner over it.

On our last night everything was cooked on the fire. Roasted fish with hard tack, fritters, a sweet yam, and everyone went to bed full.

It is so easy to rely on the past to tell you who you are and who you should be.  It is also easy to rely on the future to offer you salvation from your worries, your fears, your stresses and your pain.  But why would we rely on the past and the future when We and God are both here and the NOW is so very perfect?

Place of Rest

Weekend of the {RED}EEMER

The weekend was much anticipated.  Volunteers met, paid for their T-shirts, were trained in their tasks, and were told what time to be there on what day.  The YAG was fully engaged and many of us left work to be on time to work together with over 100 volunteers who put their names down to be part of this event.  We were bringing Nicole C. Mullen to town.

The Cayman Islands Baptist Church is quite new – just over 5 years old.  We’ve only been in our building for about 3 years.  Our YAG is only three months old.  But our mission, to be a Community of Love, is what led the missions committee to bring Dove Award winning artist Nicole C. Mullen to our island and invite every human being within the water borders of our islands to come FREE to listen to her and share in her worship.

Hearts were touched.  Lives were changed.  And pictures were taken.  This is the story they tell.

A volunteer designed this flyer. It was put in every mailbox, hung on every door, and used as the profile picture on facebook, bbm and twitter by volunteers for weeks leading up to the concerts.

Finally the day came and our Pastor and the Missions Team greeted Nicole on the tarmac at the Owen Roberts International Airport

The event organizer, Pastor Randy, and Nicole at the Airport with the Cayman Islands flag

Nicole took to the stage in our church with Andrew Thompson, her backup singer. The church was full to capacity but we had two massive screens set up with bleachers across the street in the park and more than 1200 people came the first night with a similar turnout on the second. The park was a truly festive place to be with a jerk chicken stand, hot dogs, cupcakes and ice cream on sale - as well as Nicole's CDs and {RED}EEMER T-Shirts

The YAG came out in force - several of us volunteered as greeters, parking lot attendants, merchandise volunteers, garbage collectors, a part of the prayer team that was praying through each concert upstairs in the church. I'm somewhere in here but the only thing you can see is curls 🙂

This gracious lady and her team members (one of them on the far left) signed autographs until everyone was gone. EVERYONE. Not one person who wanted a photo or an autograph was turned away.

On the second night (there were TWO free concerts) Nicole did things differently, going acoustic on a few songs and telling more of her story. The two nights were very different and both were amazing!

At the last song the backing track failed. We've had some trouble with our sound board for some time now but... right in the middle of "I KNOW MY REDEEMER LIVES"? Nicole didn't miss a beat. She sang that powerful song acapella and sent goosebumps up every spine within the sound of her voice!

We are so grateful that Nicole and her team were willing to come and share with us. The event brought our church family together even closer than we were before (which was pretty close!) and you have given our community a gift that will never be forgotten

These two ladies, one of them a YAG leader, worked TIRELESSLY to make this thing happen and pulled it off without a single hitch (sound board excepted but God knew what He was doing with that!) They are a blessing to us.