An ode to those lives lost

I wasn’t sure I was gonna write about Ferguson.  Even as I am typing, I feel like I still won’t.

I have seen the posts on social media, watched some of the news coverage, spoken to family, friends, and police officers. One thing that is common throughout is a sense of hurt, and maybe even a sense of loss. Though many thought the election of a Black President said much about us become a post racial society, the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, and John Crawford III tell a different story.

I hurt as a Black Woman. It brings tears to my eyes to think about how these men could have been my father, brother, lover, cousin, uncle, or friend. More than that, I hurt as a human. It pains me to know how one life can have value over another, that people can try to justify a man’s death by the supposed content of his character or his life choices to that point. It pains me to know that some people can allows themselves to feel better about a young life gone too soon because he “might” have engaged in criminal activities. It pains me to know that people can gloss over the death of man by the hands of those who are sworn to “serve and protect” by diverting to discussions about Black on Black violence. It stings to know that social media and mainstream media are angling to make this a Black issue.

It isn’t.  It’s a human rights issue.

There is anger everywhere we turn. Some people are angry at the President for not doing more. Some people are angry at the celebrities who are going down to show face in solidarity. Some people are angry at the ones who aren’t. Some people are angry there isn’t a clear leader in this movement and belittle the efforts of the people who have come from all corners to show their support. Some people are angry at the twitter activism. Some people are angry as hell at the police not being policed, at the police for seeming serving and protecting at their whims and making justifications when they don’t. Some people are angry that their idyllic and bucolic world views have come crashing down. Some people are angry that people are attempting to make justifications that these men had to lose their lives for the greater good. Some people are angry that no one is trying to make any sense of these deaths at all.

All of that anger has a place and a purpose, because it allows us to check in with ourselves. When a death is senseless and sudden, no action or reaction seems quite good enough. None of this anger and no one’s actions are going to replace the life lost. I do take pause with people saying that it offers no consolation to a grieving mother to be told that her son died for a cause. If not for a cause, then what? It can be really easy to shake one’s head at what you term senseless acts of violence and lose the person-hood of the life lost. What I do know is that we are poised to effect amazing change in the policing and even the political system. For all the people pointing at the life of Oscar Grant as an example of how the system fails us -which is not an opinion I share- how many of us are looking at the life of Benji Wilson, whose death was a precursor to legislation that stipulated that a trauma victim be taken to the nearest hospital with a trauma surgeon, despite location. What about Mike Brown’s death, a death that has prompted the Hawthorne, California mayor to mandate that all officers wear cameras? What about the deaths’ of all the civil rights leaders who helped us usher in an era where people could believe that we live in a post racial society.

We forget that anger turns into action. Despite the critiques we might have for the activism of this time, it seems we forget that our social media presence is a valid presence. It is a place where those of us who don’t have the inclination or the means to stand in the trenches can voice our opinions and have our voices heard. Do we forget how often breaking news is covered on twitter before we see it on any other mainstream source? We have an option that was not available to our forefathers, so I am glad to see we utilize every means available to have our messages heard. This availability means we hear consenting, dissenting and all other voices, but it also offers us another opportunity to dialogue if we are willing to use it.

I have had the opportunity to dialogue with an aspiring member of a police department. Even though his reactions initially made me very angry, they also made me very sad. His first response was “well, I can’t believe that he didn’t do anything to make them escalate” though he also said that training for police men covers escalation and de-escalation of force. He also made clear that “I am trying to make sure I make it home at night, so if it comes down to it, I will do what I have to do”. This same gentleman also admitted that he had been a victim of profiling more than once, but also reported being more aggressive with Black Men.  He also suggested we teach our sons and daughters what passive and active resistance.

I hurt for him and others like him who take the oath to protect and serve and learn that this service may not be equal to all man kind, though it should be. I hurt for people who believe so hard in that motto that they can’t believe that people who swear that oath can betray it. I hurt for people who forget that police officers are people first, people with conscious and unconscious biases that they play out in in their personal and professional lives.

 

Situations like theses remind us of the opportunities we have to change. If one person changes their mind about the importance of basic human rights for all despite color or creed, then change has come.

 

Recovering Under/Over-lover

For me, it’s always been easier to cut and run than to stay and wait for the fallout.

 

I can’t even say that the problem is that I’m afraid of falling, it’s more that I am afraid I’ll fall for someone who won’t let themselves fall as deeply as I do.  For someone who won’t let himself go. For someone who doesn’t even know they are holding back. For someone who is always waiting for something better. For someone who isn’t sure he knows who he is or where he is going. For someone who would rather scrap everything than to build around something he might consider his one good thing.

 

I’m afraid of falling for someone who answers my questions with questions, someone who will probe me until the sunrises but hides himself from me like a pearl in a oyster. Someone who blows hot one minute and is cold the other. Someone who can make me feel like there is nowhere else I would rather be than in his arms and then decide to deny me entrance to that place. Someone who makes me think I am crazy when I tell him I feel like something has changed.

 

So what have I done instead? Put up a pseudo-impenetrable armor and challenged every would-be suitor to break it down to open the floodgates of love inside me.  I have been sharp tongued when I didn’t mean to be, insensitive when conversations felt too emotional and laughed off subtle and not so subtle declarations of like. I have played an adult game of hide-and-go-seek with rules that change at my whim that might let me win the battle but ensure I ultimately lose the war. I have examined my feelings so much I run the risk of talking myself out of having them.  I have made the other party agree to relationships that had to be on my terms or not at all while simultaneously hoping the he would could change the terms and make us meet on middle ground.  I have led the race with a strong first leg only to pull up in the middle of the turn to see if he would keep running…and maybe more to see if he would carry me until I found my own footing.

 

And still, I have made what I think are grand gestures.   I have cooked many a meal, made and answered many a late night phone call or text.   I have shared unguarded moments wherein I shared what was on my mind and on my heart. I let him ask me questions and answered without thinking about how he would take it or how it would make me look.

 

They say “nothing ventured, nothing gained”. I’m not much for gambling with my money, but ever since the first time I offered it up and it was returned to me, I have never been much for gambling with my heart. I used to think my heart and my love weren’t accepted because I wasn’t worthy, which made me afraid to place myself in a position to be judged. Now I know that what I am seeking is seeking me, that I can’t make a permanent residence of a temporary dwelling.

 

That said, I just let myself be who I am. I let myself feel in the moment. I allow my self to be at peace with and come to terms with my feelings. I take responsibility for my role in any relationship and appreciate what is instead of worrying about what isn’t. I don’t worry about my love anymore, because my love shines through in the moment. It’s always perfect.

 

Your Life’s on the Line

It was a beautiful day outside. I had gotten off of work early and decided to walk around the neighborhood a bit. On my way, I passed a clinic that offered second hand clothing and quick HIV tests.  I  decided to duck my head in. Once inside, I perused the clothing, shoes, VHS tapes, and the computer screens…and decided I would get tested.
It wasn’t like I hadn’t gotten tested at the Doctor’s office, but this felt different. I signed a clipboard and began to fill out the questionairre on the computer screen. Where did I live? Had I lived on the street? How many partners had I had? Had I had same sex or opposite sex parners? Had I had sex for money? Had I had unprotected sex? I finished the questionnaire and sat and waited for my name to be called…which happened about 30 seconds after I had completed the questionairre.
I walked into the room and was greeted by one of the most pleasant men I had met. He introduced himself to me, introduced me to the process, put on some gloves, and pricked my finger.
Then I waited with him for what seemed like the longest 20 minutes of my life.
During that time, we got to talk about how he had gotten into doing the testing and the counseling…and he also disclosed his status: He was HIV positive.
He had received his diagnosis in the 80s, a time where there was not nearly as much support, outreach, or knowledge about the disease as there is now. He told me he’d had no idea how he had contracted what was known as a ” gay man’s disease” as he had only had sex with women…though their had been many of them, in many different countries. He told me he had not only contemplated, but also attempted suicide. He told me that the fight for his life was brutal; that no one thought he would make it and he wasn’t even sure he wanted to. Then, something happened. He decided he wanted to live.
He recovered, though the road was hardly easy. He recounted nurses being afraid to touch him once they read those 3 letters in his chart and the good feelings he got from learning more about the disease to advocate for himself and others. He told me how he had come from being beaten by the disease to being able to offer support for people who were newly diagnosed.
And then he read me my results.
Even though I had been recently tested, a million different thoughts went through my mind, so I can hardly imagine how people who have played a bit of roulette with their parts might feel.
Though it might be scary to know your status, it’s probably scarier to not know. If you haven’t been..
GO GET TESTED!!!

A letter to your heart

 I have written this letter many times in my head. I have struck out, re-written, and revised with no real intent to send this to you…until today.

For a long time, I told myself and anyone who asked about it that I was happy for you and  your new love. Maybe it was the Lover’s Holiday, but I realized something this weekend.
I lied.

I know that probably doesn’t seem like the “right” thing to say, but it damn sure is the honest thing.   Trust me, I did feel really petty saying that. It pleases me to know you are happy, but it hurts to know it’s not because of me. I tried to tell myself that I’m too big to play small, but something felt off about that too.

I really started to think about it. I even asked some people about it. Some people told me I could really be happy for you if I was all up, in, and under love myself. Other people told me I could be happy that someone else got something that wasn’t a fit for me.  And then someone said something that blew all that other shit out of the water.

I am going to tell you what that was, but I wanted to tell you something I noticed about all the answers I got: they all included me.  I know that seems kind of silly, and maybe even kind of evident, but hear me out. In both of those other scenarios, I got to chose how I felt about you in relation to me. Even if I have someone, I could still be upset that he isn’t you. Or, I could be so caught up in him that you just seem like somebody that I used to know. In the other, I just really felt like I was dodging a bullet or I was relieved that you weren’t taking up a space that wasn’t designated for you. See, life or love or time or growth made me decide that things happened the way they were supposed to.

Here’s the thing: I don’t believe that. Alright, so yeah, I absolutely believe that things happen they were they are supposed to, that everything is in Divine Order.  What I don’t believe is that you aren’t it for me.  I have tried to convince myself that this isn’t true harder than you know.  I have prayed, meditated, affirmed, dated, fasted, to say nothing of the old “tried and true” remedy of letting time heal my wounds. Still, I have found my heart beating faster at the sound of your name and caught my breath catching at the sight of your face. I have pushed thoughts of you to the very back of my mind, tried to bury my feelings in the deepest recess of my heart just to find them catching me unawares.

So why am I telling you this? Partially, I hope that me being honest with you and myself will help me hold myself accountable. Maybe something about me burying my feelings for your kept me from really facing  or releasing them, and this confrontation is going to be what helps me get got a place where I can really be happy for you…and I do mean both of you.  But maybe it’s really just that I don’t choose my feelings, and I can’t think of a better way to honor them than acknowledging them and letting them be. I know that you will always have a place in my heart…even if another man ends up taking the biggest piece of it.

Loving you until…

Getting what you came for

If I were ever to write a “how to” guide, I think that this post might come closest to that.  Except I’m not going to tell you what to do. What I will tell you is that you will learn that for and about yourself by doing what “you shouldn’t do”.

The process of elimination can be very illuminating  as it can show us what we do want by helping us to identify what we don’t.   This is pretty straightforward when it comes to clothing, dinner, or drink choices. It becomes a little more involved when we start talking about people.

To illustrate the point, a scenario:

Boy meets Girl and both agree they have chemistry. Boy tells Girl he isn’t ready to be in a relationship, but the two continue to deal with each other. Boy develops strong feelings for girl, but decides he would rather have the freedom to live in the moment than to tie himself down. Girl goes along with this for some time but ultimately decides she would rather be with someone who is comfortable with a title/has solid future plans for the relationship. Boy and Girl part company,  and Boy is hurt about it.

Let’s start with Boy. On the surface this might seem like nothing more than a classic case of someone wanting to have his cake and eat it, too. I would say his life was probably much more difficult than that. If this gentleman was keeping a stable of girls, then he could probably attest to the same. Any man who thinks he can keep more than one woman happy and for any prolonged period of time is nothing less than a study of insanity. To simplify -0r over simplify- all relationships  need attention. If a man is truly cultivating and sustaining relationships with multiple women then he is doing so at no small cost to himself.  Perhaps he has convinced himself he has his composite woman, and that the burden is one worth bearing. Being “the” man to all of these women means disappointing all of them at one time of or another, as all of the woman will be demanding of his time, his attention, his emotional reserve, and perhaps even his physical reserve.

Boy came to a crossroads and was faced with a choice: He could make Girl his girlfriend or he could continue to play the field.  He took a gamble and lost. While some of his hurt could be ego, some of it could be the fact he lost someone he would have rather kept.

Now Girl also had a choice. Girl knew Boy wasn’t ready to be in a relationship, but she took the leap anyway. Maybe it is because she thought that what she had to offer would change her mind. Perhaps it is because she enjoyed the attention and she could have an easy, breezy tryst and move on. She, too, took a gamble. While she might have left because she didn’t “win” him, she also might have left him because she realized her worth.

Another scenario:

Boy meets Girl. Boy and Girl get in a relationship. Boy is willing to move heaven and earth to make Girl happy with no thought to the consequences of his actions. Boy finds that he is losing himself in the relationship, he becomes resentful f of that fact, and Boy and Girl break up. Boy goes on to date other girls, but won’t invest 100% of himself in any  of them.

While one could argue that Boy knows what he wants, they could also argue the he won’t let himself have it. Anyone who isn’t willing to invest themselves in a relationship would be hard pressed to say they truly want one. There has to be a “but” involved. It might revolve around fear, it might be because the person hasn’t really gotten over a lost love, it might be because the person isn’t sure who they are or what they want, but since it exists it will stop the person from getting something they claim to desire.

So how is exclusion related to these scenarios? I believe that every experience any person goes through is designed to teach him/her something. Sometimes he/she might not be immediately receptive to the lesson which is why he/she might keep revisiting it. To the point, any time you are in a relationship wherein you don’t get what you need, you learn about what you don’t want. Once you learn to recognize that you can save yourself a lot of heartache and a lot of time. Still, have the discernment to know what you don’t want is just part of the picture. What may be more important is learning how to recognize what you do want and how to make sure you get it.

That part I know I can’t teach. That part you learn through being willing to risk it all to win big.

What Black Love is

What exactly is Black Love? -@CoachGSeatbelt

While he is probably not the first person to ask this question, it helped to start some discussions that had me write this post.

Me: Why are you asking?

CGS: Because it seems like the term is used to hide underlying racism. It’s not about being Pro-Black..that’s a cultural and social stance. Black Love is a preference.  How is it any stronger or deeper or more real than “regular” love? Who puts a color on that?

Let me start by saying love itself is colorless. In my mind you don’t get to choose who you love, but you do get some choice in who you allow yourself to develop a relationship with…which is a conversation in itself. Neither I nor anyone else should value your love any more or less because of who you came to fall in love with and who came to fall in love with you.  Love is beautiful and should be revered and cherished whenever it is cultivated.

When I think of Black Love I think of so much more than a relationship between two people. I think back to times when people were property, to be bought and sold on the whims of a “master”. During those times “black” marriage  meant nothing, as a man could be separated from his wife and his children to never seen them again. A woman could be bedded at the discretion of her owner, whether she was married (or willing) or not and had no recourse for such actions.  I think of the children who had no choice but to watch and learn these lesson, and the conscious and subconscious messages they must have received about what it meant to be in a relationship.

While I certainly didn’t live through any of those lessons, I know that they existed. I see them in the books, songs, and plays about the “never do right” man;  the man who woke up one day to go get cigarettes and never came back. I see them in stories that were written about men who had other families “on the other side of the track”. I see them in songs like “Papa Was a Rolling Stone“.   I think of movies like Carmen Jones, who showed how love can go awry.

I also think of the children who watched families get separated by violence. I think of men like Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr., men who who were taken away from their families because of hatred and fear. I think of the countless men and women whose names I don’t know and whose stories aren’t largely told who were taken away from their families because of the same thing. I think of people who were executed by lynchings and shootings, and fires, and the like, whose children or cousins or nieces and nephews learned hard lessons about how little those lives, including how their losses would affect their loved ones, were valued. I think about people who did not have public and widespread outpourings of sympathy, how the way they processed that loss might affected how they loved and how they taught their children about love.

As an example of some of those lessons, I think about the people I know who have told me that their parents never told them they loved them. About women who tell their daughters that men are “only good for one thing”. About men who teach their sons to “love them and leave them”.  I listen to those lessons in some of the lyrics of the raps songs I hear, misogynistic messages that mothers and fathers don’t realize are getting ingrained in their children’s minds with every repetition.

I daresay that these lessons are self-preservation mechanisms.  Rather than make yourself vulnerable, you develop a hardshell and strike first. A “hurt or be hurt” mindset. No matter why they are in place, the very existence of these barriers makes any love hard to nurture and sustain.  Still, love manages to flourish.

So what I do think about Black love? I think it’s beautiful.

The Real Thing

Someone asked me what the benefits of monogomy were. Because I was caught off guard, I struggled to find an answer that I thought was fitting. I told him that, comfort stability, and companionship were the things that people gained. While I agree with my initial answer, I didn’t think I had given him the best answer I could. But now I do know what it is. 

The answer is intimacy.

Intimacy is multifactorial.  While it certainly encompasses sexual intimacy, sex in itself is not intimate. The thing that makes sex intimate is the soft touches, the kisses, the exploration of the partner’s body, and the cuddling.  When people confuse sex and intimacy, we might see men and women hop from bed to bed, or a willingness for people to accept anything less than 100% of what a partner can offer. Now, that’s not to say that sex has no place in intimacy. It absolutely does. But it damn sure ain’t the biggest part.

Intimacy satisfies the human desire to be loved and and express love, and we do that by opening up ourselves to another person. We have intimate relationships with friends, but I would argue that the intimacy we have with friends and loved ones prepares us for the intimacy we desire with our partners. It is in that space that we can explore the sharing of our most private thoughts, and learn how to reciprocate that sharing. In that same space we learn how to rebound from the disappointment of feeling misunderstood, feeling shut out, or our feelings of inadequacy. Our friends and families teach us how to communicate, hold up mirrors to ourselves, and explore who we are and what we believe.

Again, those relationships are but a stepping stone to the intimacy between partners.  In those relationships, the biggest part of our intimacy is the trust between us. We trust that person not to hurt us, to guard our dreams, to help us realize the future plans we make together. We expect to share values, we expect to share our failures and our victories. We expect someone to support us both publicly and privately, to challenge or cheerlead for us when we need it. We expect someone who can share our worlds and protect our privacy.  We expect a lover (in all senses of the word) and a best friend all in one.

Certainly this intimacy is not built overnight -just like our friendships are not built overnight- especially since it is based on trust. Before we can have an intimate relationship with another person, we have to have trust for ourselves. We have to feel confident that we have made a good decision about the person we have decided to attempt intimacy with. We have to feel confident that we are worthy of that intimacy. We have to be confident that we can receive and reciprocate it. This is something we learn by trial and error, because as we don’t get it right the first time. It is something we learn and relearn everyday, even if we maintain the same partner.

But when it’s mutual, it is worth the work.