911 still runs deep for all of us

Nine Eleven 1

Today is September 11. I sat at my keyboard early this morning, wanting to write something about September 11, 2001. Of course, that was the date of the tragedy involving the destruction of the twin towers in New York. There were many ideas circulating through my mind, but I couldn’t settle on just one. As I watched the national evening news, there were some images that cinched it for me.

Images often tell a story in a much more powerful way than words can ever do. It’s at that time when we see a certain image, the adage about “a picture is worth 1000 words” is arrestingly real. All the television news programs, local and national, devoted time to commemorating 911. The national news program I watched showed images of people standing at a podium, at the sight of 911, making comments about the loved ones they lost in the tragic event. There was also the customary naming of the nearly 3,000 souls who lost their lives that day. My television screen seemed to speak to me about the diversity of individuals participating in the memorial event. There were faces of all hues, making comments as they shed tears that were as fresh today as they were eighteen years ago. One lady even spoke in Spanish, which presented a degree of poignancy that I prayed gripped that hearts and minds of all Americans who saw and heard her.

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Many have said that America is more divided now than it has been in quite some time. I take issue with that characterization, preferring to believe that we’ve always been divided. There are times when civility places a thin lid over how we truly feel about each other and are willing to demonstrate those thoughts in actions. Why can’t we remember all the numerous times in our history when people from every stripe imaginable have paid the price in suffering unto death to preserve freedom, voluntarily and involuntarily, for all of us? Why can’t those of us, who think we are somehow superior to others, look at what I saw on the evening news and realize that the highest of prices have been paid by a diversity of individuals for these amber ways of grain?

I remember 911 and how it caused large numbers of people to visit houses of worship. People tend to think about the value of their relationship with their maker after such tragedies. Unfortunately, that need to connect with powers greater than themselves wears off soon. I also remember the hate many showed toward people who looked a certain way, as if the evil minds that steered the planes into the twin towers were somehow a contagious condition that affected others who had brown skin, or wore a turban, or spoke with a certain accent. The angel of death chose liberally on 911, taking the lives of people who represented a bouquet of colors and ethnicities. All the blood shed that day was red! All the lives sacrificed were God-given.

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It takes many, over generations to make a nation great. A nation’s greatness is not to be enjoyed by one group at the cost and sacrifices made by many other groups. God bless America and all who reside within her.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

The new norm: Not always born from light

Security 1

I just finished reading an article in my local newspaper about the soon-to-be completed construction of a new school building in one of our state’s communities. The superintendent was interviewed about the school, which will be an answer to a lot of needs in the community. The old school is no longer equipped to meet the needs of students and teachers. The superintendent extolled a list of features the new school building will provide: 128,000 square feet of space, an art classroom, fully equipped chemistry lab, a library, an indoor sports facility and more. All of this sounded worthy of lauding, but the one thing that caused me to take pause was the security measures that will be in the new building to ensure student safety.

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The writer of the article referred to a recent tour of the new school building, when the superintendent pointed out all the new security measures. These features include a bullet-resistant glass door, separating the main entrance area from the main building. This door can only be unlocked from the reception area, which is behind bullet-resistant glass windows. Are you seeing what I’m seeing here? Along with the new features this new school will provide, for improvement of the educational experience of the children who will occupy it, there will also be additional features suitable for any correctional facility. This is the new normal. This wouldn’t have ever been thought of when I attended public school way back in the separate-but-equal days of the mid-twentieth century. In the 1950s South, African American kids often went to school in old buildings, with worn classroom furniture and hand-me-down books, but security from wackos with guns was never given a thought.

There are many things to which we can point that have become parts of our new norm. Technology has had an enormous impact on our society, quickly ushering in new norms in every aspect of our lives. I have been dragged into contributing to the growth of e-commerce, purchasing clothing and other kinds of merchandise online, while I witness the slow death of some of my old commercial favorites like Sears and J.C. Penny’s. Just a few years ago, I wouldn’t have ordered clothing online under any circumstance. Shifts in how we buy and sell, communicate, connect with others around the world, receive our news are new norms that make life better for most of us; however, the need for extreme security measures in our schools, places of worship, and other areas in the public square are new norms which I wish we didn’t need.

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I’ve written before about the normalcy which has developed around the frequency of mass shootings in the United States. This stands out as one of the primary reasons for the heightened security measures we now see in many of our buildings that have been constructed to house workers, who are there to serve us all. Don’t you get a feeling that these people are, out of necessity, being separated from us, not being allowed to have close relationships with their fellow citizens? No matter how impressive the security measures in a newly constructed school building, a new post office, a new customer service center might be, I will try my best to not accept the high-tech security features they possess as the new norm. Unfortunately, my efforts will fail just as they did in my finally succumbing to the convenience of e-commerce.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Don’t like the narrative? Change it

 

Changing the Narrative 1

A recent sermon presented by our pastor was titled, “Telling a Different Story.” As normal, I found myself triggered to write something when I heard this. In recent years, I’ve been hearing more people talking about writing a new narrative or changing the narrative. Through social action, many today are not taking it anymore, and taking the initiative to change the narrative. The #Metoo, #BlackLivesMatter are two well-known examples. On a much grander scale, we see entire nations and continents that have been stirred to change their narratives. The large continent of Africa has been awakened. Some sectors, after decades of colonization, are raising voices in many of its fifty-four different countries to write new stories. There are those on this vast continent of 1.3 billion people, who would like very much for the vestiges of colonization to be permanently eradicated from the hearts and minds of the people. Many of these are within the ranks of the millions of young people, who had no personal experience with colonization.

One thing I’ve noticed is that movements to change the narrative usually occur when a few members of a group find themselves burden beyond the ability to suffer some indignity anymore. This point of consciousness, if powerful enough, can birth movements that cause tectonic-like shifts in society. A perfect example of that is the recent falls we’ve witnessed of men of power falling hard from their pedestals. They can no longer hide from the sins of sexual exploitation committed years ago. Women are coming forward, strengthened by the bravery of one or two, who have been willing to put themselves out front for public scrutiny, as they tell their stories of mistreatment received from unscrupulous men. For a long time, I’ve jokingly referred to the term history as “his story”, which cuts to the route of much of what is wrong with stories from the past. If it’s his story and not her story, their story or better yet our story, how can we have confidence in any version rendered that the narrative is as it should be.

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I realize stories are always told from someone’s perspective; however, if there is no effort to include diverse perspectives, especially from those who lack power in society, there accuracy is up for debate. As difficult as it may be for some to accept, each of us has a story to tell, a narrative to be chronicled. All of us may not be able to voice it well or write it for public consumption, but it can be packaged and presented by those of us who do possess the ability to tell the stories of others. I find myself, at this stage in life, regretful that I didn’t chronicle conversations I had with the oral historians of my family, my grandparents and their siblings, who carried invaluable stories of suffering, sacrifice, survival and victory that could provide inspiration to generations after them.

Don’t think that we all can’t change the narrative. We can. This past mid-term congressional elections showed us that women had the power to begin the process of changing the narrative of the story being written by the United States House of Representatives. Those elections resulted in the largest number of women to ever hold seats in the House. Most of us aren’t politicians, lawyers or some highly educated individual, who has the public’s ear. But, that’s okay. We can begin the process of changing the narrative in our community by volunteering to do something that maybe someone else hasn’t stepped forward to do. We can be a better citizen, a better parent, a better member of the community. We can start small, think big and write big, changing the narrative in ways that will not be ignored.

Woman in Congress

 

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

I’m tired

 

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If you’ve read any of my blogs, you know that I tend mostly to write about observations external to me. This piece is a little different. If you take the time to read this, I hope you don’t think it’s too self-focused.

I’ve written before about my illness. I’ve been battling Multiple Myeloma for over nineteen years. Just to review, Multiple Myeloma is a form of blood cancer. There is no cure; however, medical science has had much success at prolonging the lives of people with this horrible disease. I’m considered one of the “poster-worthy” stories. My long-term survival hasn’t been without its challenges. I won’t spend too much time going into details about the many challenges I’ve suffered. I’ll just say that there have been hospital stays, various infections and one brush with death. The latter involved an infection that entered my blood stream, which resulted in a long hospital stay. Five days of that stay was spent in a coma.

As I’m writing this, I’m asking myself why I’m penning these words. I would have to say my answer is because writing has come to be an avenue for me to think things out. I usually sit down at my keyboard with a rough idea, and a conversation starts. It’s a conversation with three individuals, my brain, my fingers and the keyboard. The conversation I want to invite you into now is the fatigue I’ve been experiencing the last few weeks.

As you might imagine, I’ve put a countless amount of chemicals into my body to battle the cancer that has invaded my biological space. The most toxic would have to be the chemotherapy-type drugs. For the last two and one-half years I’ve been taking a drug called Revlimid. This chemical is mailed to my home from a pharmacy outside of my state of residence. Someone must be home to sign for delivery when it arrives. It cannot be left on the stoop. To give you some idea of how toxic this drug is, consider some of the warnings that come with taking it: don’t break the capsules; it can cause birth defects; don’t share with anyone; it can cause other forms of cancer; fatigue can be a side effect. Somehow, I feel that if I were to remove the drug from the capsule and take it without the outer casing that allows for slow release into my system, I probably wouldn’t survive ingestion.

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The things I just mentioned are but a few of the elements that have peppered my life with cancer. There’s little wonder on my part that I go through these periods of severe fatigue occasionally. I don’t mean to sound like an attendant at a pity party, but I’m tired. Whenever I get like this, I don’t even feel like going outside of the house very much. Chris is here with me, and I have her to assist me with whatever I need. Chris, I know you’ll read this, so let me publicly say your love and support are two things for which I’m most grateful. This fatigue from rising in the morning to retiring at night wears on body, mind and soul. The only thing that keeps me centered is my faith in God. I must draw on His promises, greatest among them for me is that He’s with me always. Yes, I’m tired but I’m not alone.

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Time does fly, sometimes

Time flying

The end of summer is rapidly approaching. It’s mid-August in Arkansas and this is the time of year when ownership of the season has been assigned to the dogs. It’s hot, humid and uncomfortable. I suppose it’s fit for nothing alive but the dogs. I can remember the old hounds lounging about under our house during this time of the year when I was a child. They were quite efficient at conserving energy, never burning more than necessary. They would be hard-pressed to move a muscle when called upon to receive a pat on the head or a belly rub.

The approach of the end of summer marks the beginning of a new school year. I mentioned to Chris the other day that the start of school seems to ratchet up the speed at which the year marches to its end. Football is beginning to spread its pheromones in the air, and helpless fanatics of the gridiron antics are beginning to get antsy. They can hardly restrain themselves. There will be hayrides, fall festivals, homecoming celebrations, and Labor Day weekend will be the mark on the calendar that seems to be the start of it all. As Memorial Day (the last Monday in May) is the unofficial start of summer, so too is Labor Day (the first Monday of September) the unofficial start of fall.

I find fall to be that time of year when I can’t seem to keep up with all the celebratory stuff that’s going on. One thing that does seem to be missing in the Southern part of the U. S. these days though is the crispness in the air that was common after the first of October, when I was a kid. The last few years have offered up fewer chilly days to sit in a stadium watching a college football game. If ever there were a counterargument to launch against those who say we’re not seeing global warming, that would be one. Getting back to all the activities: After Halloween, there’s Thanksgiving, Veteran’s day, Christmas. Well, when you look at it, it doesn’t seem like a lot, but I think these holidays take up a lot more time, energy, effort and resources to plan for and enjoy. Christmas season for sure. Remember when we started to celebrate Christmas two weeks or so before the actual date. Now, we see Christmas decorations up in stores before Halloween. The god of commercialism is a jealous god, conducting market surveys of us all to see what our desires are for the latest junk.

Yes. I really do think time hunkers down after school starts in a four-point stance, with its heels pressed against the blocks, waiting for the pistol to be fired, as it rounds the field to finish up the year. January is quick to come around, and it’s not long before we start the whole thing over again.

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I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

Momma’s influence

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It’s been a year now, since my momma moved on. Isn’t it colloquial how we use phrases like transition, moved on, passed away and the like to refer to the death of our loved ones? I think it’s because death has such a disturbing and orally devastating tone to it. Getting back to what I started to say: This past year has moved with speed not appreciated until I looked at the calendar this past week. There is certainly more than a grain of truth to the trite expression, “Life goes on.” Indeed, it does, but those who were and still are an important part of who and what we are, continue to live with us. Momma is doing just that. How can I ignore the influence she had on my life and the lives of so many in the little hamlet of Wynne, Arkansas and the surrounding area?

Momma was not a highly educated woman. She had no string of degrees on which she could hang her hat and revel in notoriety among esteemed colleagues. She had her faith in God, her love for family and friends, and an abundance of honor and respect from her community. People knew who she was, and they trusted her for just that. She was a woman of her word. She didn’t always demonstrate a great deal of confidence in her approach to the things of life. I believe that was because she knew her strengths and limitations, and she never operated outside of her capacity. Without any hint of disrespect or debasement, I can say that momma was a simple woman of the highest quality. No, she didn’t understand how the Dow Jones worked, or how the political apparatus operated to affect the costs of a stick of butter, but she believed in God, and responsibly demonstrated His love to all she encountered.

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As you’re reading this, you might be asking yourself this question: Are you romanticizing beyond reality what your momma was really like? Doesn’t everybody, naturally, paint a rosier than reality picture of their loved ones after they are gone? I can understand such inquiries. I’ve made them about others as well; however, I offer an adage here: Perception is reality. This is my perception and it is my reality. My momma raised her family with but an eight-grade education, and she did it against an innumerable number of obstacles that would stop many people in their feet today. I can see her influence in the lives of her children and many others whose lives she touched. Her pull is still felt, and it’s real. Although she’s not God, there seems to be a manner of omnipresence about her; she’s gone to another place, but here presence is still felt.

To all who feel the same as I about their momma: Go bless you and enjoy her presence you still feel in your life.

Love you, momma!

I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.

I am

 

Images of America 1

I’ve been here for over five hundred years;
I’ve struggled to survive;
I’ve planted amber waves of grain;
I’ve constructed the greatest of edifices;
I’ve cared for our children;

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I’ve fought in what seems like countless wars to protect freedoms;
I’ve even fought each other when the arguments turned to outright violence;
I’ve suffered from indignities visited upon me by my brothers and sisters;
I’ve feared the worst when I’ve lost my way and turned on each other;
I’ve celebrated whenever there has been a collective conscious to do so;
I’ve mourned losses that have affected us all;

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I’ve developed into a colorful and diverse collection of denizens strewn about this land.
I simply want to live with myself in bountiful love and respect.
May God grant me the wisdom to understand that both my strength and weakness can be developed from within.
I am much more than what fear, xenophobia and marketers say I should be.

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I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.