Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I just love the picture

Plus I need something happy at the top of my blog after that last post. I'm also missing that impossibly blue sea I just left, and better to focus on bright and beautiful things this morning, when there is so much that is heavy and ugly in the world. This photo reminds me there are still corners such as this on the planet, with loved children safely at play.

Photo: Kevin S. Bourke


I'm having trouble writing about Ferguson and the death by cop of Michael Brown, an unarmed young black man who was jaywalking. I am having trouble immersing myself in the details enough to write about them, because the whole thing is so distressing and commonplace that I can't even take it all in. At this moment, Ferguson, Missouri is burning, and journalists have been told at police gunpoint to stay behind a taped off area. There are tanks in the street and more people have been shot, at least one of them killed, and dogs and tear gas have been unleashed. The whole thing is a tinder box that has blown the fuck up.

I'm incensed that CNN reported this morning that Darren Wilson, the white cop who shot the black kid, is said to be "a good guy" by his friends, meanwhile the Ferguson police force is trying to paint the victim as a career criminal who might have reached across a grocery store counter and took something. The store video's not really clear and it's irrelevant anyway. The cop didn't know anything about that when he pumped six bullets into 18-year-old Michael Brown, two in the head, as the kid stood with his hands in the air begging him not to shoot, according to witnesses. The kid was two days away from starting college. I'm sure his friends thought he was "a good guy," too.

Check out this piece from Huffpo comparing how news headlines describe white killers compared to black victims. Here's an example:

What are they really saying? That unarmed Trayvon Martin deserved to be shot and killed while walking home from the store because he'd been suspended three times from school? And here's another more recent example:

The black man in the second headline, by the way, was a shopper in a Beavercreek, Ohio Wal-Mart who was holding a BB gun on sale by the store. John Crawford III had taken the air rifle from the shelf when he was accosted by police and fatally shot. Despite rallies calling for the release of the store video, police have refused to allow it to be viewed.

I'll leave you with this quote from James Baldwin because he manages to say everything there is to be said today even though he wrote these words decades ago. Has so little changed?

“It began to seem that one would have to hold in the mind forever two ideas which seemed to be in opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance, totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in the light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is a commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never, in one's own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but must fight them with all one's strength. This fight begins, however, in the heart and it now had been laid to my charge to keep my own heart free of hatred and despair. This intimation made my heart heavy...”

—James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Moon and Stars

We left Kingston on the 1:12 a.m flight last night and arrived back in New York at 6 a.m. this morning. Customs at JFK was a surreal, flights from everywhere converging on the International Arrivals Building as the sun rose. We inched forward in lines upon snaking lines, only to be directed to stand in more lines that zig zagged maze-like with our quarry seeming always to be further away. There was no logic to any of it. My daughter said, "Can you imagine what Ellis Island must have been like after that long sea voyage, the endless lines, the medical checks, the hooks in your eyes, and then being sent back after all that?" I looked around the arrivals hall at the thousands upon thousands of bleary-faced souls in the line for returning citizens, humans of all descriptions, and I couldn't help but recall my husband saying after one such return, "Look at all the colors of the people in this line. This right here is the Republicans' worst nightmare." We were huddled masses for sure, but most of us were not from anywhere near Europe.

When we finally got into the customs booth, the agent, an older Chinese woman, looked as if it was just way too early: She even blinked in slow motion as she rifled the pages of our passports listlessly, and was flummoxed again and again by her recalcitrant stamp machine. It seemed to need to be "set" somehow, a step she couldn't seem to bother remembering. She was so over it. She brightened up a bit when her eyes fell on my daughter's name, which I've been told means "Moon and Stars" in Mandarin, and she smiled fleetingly as she asked my daughter how she pronounces it. By then my girl was doing her darndest to keep a straight face. We were punchy from the long night of travel and everything was absurdly funny. I saw my child trying so hard not to laugh at the wayward stamp machine and the woman's utter indifference to it, and I nearly lost my own composure. As soon as we were safely out of earshot, we collapsed into giggles like silly schoolgirls. My son was much too tired to pay us any mind. Instead he headed for our bags, which were already off the carousel and stacked in the distance.

Everyone is sleeping now, exhausted from the quiet emotional reckoning of saying yet another goodbye to my mom, knowing each one could be our last. Before we left yesterday, my sister in law took us all for Devon House ice cream, a particular treat in Jamaica, so that my younger niece, who'd returned from summer camp that afternoon, could have some fun with her cousins. Outside the ice cream parlor afterward, I snapped a photo of Lady G's grandchildren, all five of them together for the first time in as long as any of us could remember. May there be many more such reunions, with my mom still around and able to enjoy them. It's nice to be back in New York, though. There's nothing in the world like your own bed. In fact I'm about to climb back into it. Welcome home, me.

Photo taken August 16, 2014 at Sovereign Plaza, Kingston, Jamaica. Ages from left are 10, 22, 13, 20 and 24.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

River Wild

“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. 
We shall get there some day.”

—A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Friday, August 15, 2014

Kingston, Day 5

My mom's voice is disappearing—it is her most troubling symptom as of late, more so than her quivering hands, which no longer ache as much as they did thanks to medication. She also sleeps a lot during the day, so long as she can find a comfortable posture in her chair. But her voice. She asked me to listen to her closely, but whatever it is she wants to tell me she is having trouble getting it out. My sister in law thinks it's due to underuse of her vocal chords but I think it might be overuse since we've been here, her grandchildren swirling around, her constant effort to connect verbally. And now we are already on our second to last day, the week has simply flown by.

I am so grateful to my brother and my sister-in-law for making sure she has really good care. They are both doctors, so the medical aspect of things is monitored, but they have also hired two really lovely women who rotate her care, switching off between day shift and night shift each week. They sleep in the room with my mom on a futon at night, and they are unfailingly patient and gentle with her, especially when she brushes her teeth, which she must do after each meal and which for some reason takes half an hour and drives me to distraction.

I am not feeling very reflective right now. I'm skating on the surface. I'll take it in later. Still, as I sleep next to my mother at night, I am aware of watching for the rise and fall of her chest, knowing that at any moment she could take her last breath. Nicole, one of her caregivers, is of the mind that she is still very present, her observation skills and sense of humor intact, which to her means she has two or three more years. In truth, when Aunt Winnie was at this stage (and my mother is following the very same path), she did indeed have three more years, though I am not sure it is what she would have wanted. I am so torn. I want my mother here with me. I don't want my mother to suffer.

I am editing a book by a hospice nurse who is also a Reiki healer. She says my mother is going to hang on until we give her permission to go. Am I selfish that I cannot make myself say the words to release her? Somehow it feels too soon.

On tap for today: My son and niece, the athletes, are going to Liguanea Club to play squash. My niece is a beast at the game and once made a male opponent from Notre Dame University cry after he lost to this diminutive powerhouse in a tournament.

My daughter has no interest in squash and plans to stay home with us and work on her Vitamin D intake by the pool. She says her two years in the frozen north where she attends college have compromised the ability of her skin to drink in the sun. She used to be able to spend ten minutes outside and look as if she'd been the entire day at the beach. And she never ever got sunburned. Now, even though she uses sunblock, her cheeks are sun red from yesterday. She plans to conquer this and recapture her usual summer shade of deep burnished brown.

A former high school classmate of mine ran into one of my cousins in a store last week. She asked my cousin, a stranger until then, if she knew me because she reminded her so much of me. I have not seen this classmate in more than twenty years. My cousin told her that I would be coming to Jamaica in a few days, and so a group of my high school classmates have planned a dinner for tonight so we can have a mini reunion. I don't know exactly who will be there, but I have not seen most of these women since I graduated high school back in the seventies. I hope I recognize everyone. Excited!

That's my cousin who everyone says looks like me. Do you see it? Should I go blonde? This cousin is for my mother what I was to Aunt Winnie, the niece on spot, the one my mother relies on above all others, to the point where my mom very often calls me by her name. I don't mind one bit. I am glad my mom has this super capable charismatic cousin, who my husband calls The General and whose birthday is today. Her mother Grace is in Canada, watched over by a grand daughter. My own niece said the other day, "It seems as if all the aunts have a niece or granddaughter nearby who is taking care of them," to which my mom said so softly, "We are part of a special family indeed."

Here's one more of the boy cousins playing FIFA Football on my nephew's X-Box and talking trash energetically as my 10-year-old nephew trounces my 22-year-old son again and again. "When are you going to admit defeat," he says. "Never," my son says, "and I'm going to keep talking trash till I beat you." His cousin's only response: "Ha!"

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Morning. Evening. Beach Wifi

The cousins and some of their friends headed off bright and early on a road trip to Frenchman's Cove. Their preparations and excitement brought back vivid memories of my own beach-going youth. I'm glad my kids are having this experience with their Jamaican cousins. Going to the beach from Kingston is generally an all day affair, necessitating some travel to the best beaches, unlike in Antigua and St. Lucia, where there is are gorgeous white sand beaches at the end of almost every road and people drop by for a quick morning or afternoon swim.

As for me, I'm staying home with my mom and hanging on her every word. She's hard to understand these days but this morning on waking she took my hand and said, "I want you to listen to me carefully, because I don't have time for you to ask me what I said again and again. Just pay close attention because every moment we have left is precious and I have so much still to tell you." Yes, she said that and it came our clear and whole.

This is my mother's view as evening slips in. No word from the beach-goers but I did see an Instagrammed photo of my niece hanging from a tree by the knees, hands swirling the water, laughing upside down. I guess this is what's possible with beach wifi. And this, which just arrived on my phone via What's App, courtesy of my darling niece.

The story so far

After  (see previous post)

Cousin reunion

Terra Nova for lunch

Father and daughter

Grandma and her devoted

The family name etched at Devon House

The verandah, a waterfall beyond

My big brother and me

"My eyes water, too, Grandma"

He tells a good story

Who: My son and daughter and me, my mother, my brother and my niece, and the rest of our family in Kingston.

What: Visiting my mom in Jamaica; my children have also planned some beach time with cousins and their friends tomorrow. The beach, they are told, has wifi.

When: One whole glorious week in paradise, except it is steaming hot and there are water lock offs at certain hours in certain areas due to a prolonged drought (third world problems).

Where: At my brother's house; at Devon House, which used to be owned by our wealthier ancestors and which we jokingly call "the family estate"; at Terra Nova restaurant, where my brother took us to lunch after the surgery he was scheduled to perform this afternoon was cancelled due to a power outage in the operating theater (third world problems).

How: My mom is pretty much the same as when I was her with her in May, but her voice is even softer. My children aren't freaked out by her decline. They just see their grandma, and do for her whatever she needs, sprawling across her bed and watching game shows as she dozes in her chair in between. She told her sister on the phone tonight that she has been graced with "honorable company," meaning her grandchildren.

Why: Because we love this grand lady and each other and distances must be bridged.

Also: Please forgive my spotty presence in blog world this week. I'm mostly reading on my phone when I can cop some wifi. Comments are a challenge.

Birth Mother

I love this post over at Medium.com by Denise Emanuel Clemen, whose short memoir, Birth Mother, was recently published by Shebooks. Birth Mother is an extraordinarily present work that lays bare the toll of sealed adoption on the ones who must relinquish their children in a world that gives them no other choice.

Denise's writing has a subtle power—nothing superfluous yet every detail is given its perfect weight, the sentences spare yet sweeping you into and through the story like a steadily building wave, almost imperceptibly gathering urgency, sorrow, poetry, force, until it breaks against the shore of a teenager's grief, a heart splintered in secret and the shame and broken fury that will forever after define her life.

Here is the editor's description of the book: “In this emotionally detailed memoir of an agonizing year in small town USA, Denise Emanuel Clemen takes us inside the shame, confusion and fear that attended her unplanned pregnancy in the days before Roe v. Wade, when the only options for an unwed teen mother were secret adoption or public disgrace. A shattering portrait of an American era.”

Read Denise's post today at Medium, follow her blog about adoption rights and her own story, then click on over to Shebooks or Amazon and buy her ebook for just $2.99. You'll never look at sealed adoptions or officially invisible birthmothers in the same way again.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Oldie but goodie

Growing up, these three spent their summers with us in New York and with their Grandma in St. Lucia, making them closer than cousins, more like siblings. We're on our way to Jamaica today, where my two will join their adored cousin (center) for a week with their Grandma and other family, and there will be beach and night life for sure, as these children, 10, 14 and 12 in the photo above, taken on a bike outing in Riverside Park, are now 20, 24 and 22. That photo was ten years ago. I'll take an update this week for a sweet before and after.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Fairy Lights

My friend and sister spirit Jax, who introduced me to my husband back when she was dating his cousin, is right now on her way to New York to spend the weekend with us. She and my husband grew up together in Antigua and when my own parents moved to Antigua back in the eighties, my mother couldn't wait to introduce me to her, the daughter of friends. My mother was so sure that the two of us would get on famously. And we did. And we do. I can't wait to see her. I'm thinking tonight my husband and I will take her to dinner at that Mexican place with the fairy lights and we'll sip mango margaritas and the freshest, sweetest pico in the city, and just-made guacamole, and we'll laugh and bask in the supreme comfort of such company.

My daughter is away for the weekend, visiting a friend upstate, and when she comes back, she and my son and I will head to Jamaica to spend the week with my mom and the rest of our family there. I hate to leave my husband by himself so soon after his father's passing, but he will be busy with some very important meetings so hopefully the week will go by quickly for him. He says, "Now I am an orphan" with a kind of bewilderment that such a thing could be true. He is stoic and pragmatic, this man, but even those walls of character cannot contain the need to grieve. And certainly his dad was a man worth grieving. He says he is fine when he is moving and doing, but when he stops he finds he just wants to lie in bed and stare at the wall. I remember when my dad died, it was months before I began to emerge from a kind of underwater numbness. I remember distinctly the feeling of just going through the motions.

This has been an expensive summer. I'm kind of missing that every-two weeks paycheck. But I do have work through the end of the year, and I'm going to trust that more will show up by the time I'm done with these projects. Life is uncertain but good. I'm sort of skating on the surface of it right now, accepting what is, noticing what isn't, and trying not to worry about any of it. My daughter's presence helps. Yesterday we saw the movie Boyhood, which I wanted to love more than I actually did. Still, ditching my work in the mid afternoon and going to the movies with my girl felt like a delicious escape.

Someone recently suggested there are light beings among us who can lift the mood in a room just by entering it. My mind went immediately to my daughter, her eyes alight and dancing. I mentioned this to a wise man who observed that we are all light beings, but that sometimes our light is dim and sometimes it is resplendent, and sometimes it is only our own ish that prevents us from seeing the light all around us. I pray there will always be light beings all around my children, and that they will be able to see them, and their own radiance too.

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