How do I live without you?

Live is evil spelt backwards. The precise moment I recognized this, I also came to accept that evil coexists with life. And this is not to give credence or prominence to it, but just for us to reflect on what Jesus told us……..”in this world you will have tribulations……”

One of the things that bring us immense tribulation is grief. The loss of someone and something we love is both terrifying to contemplate and difficult to deal with. We grieve many times in our life over and over for varying things, we grief what we didn’t get and some of the things we get too……. but all in all grief must never be suppressed.

My eyes were always wide shut before Andrew’s case (not his real name. ) It wasn’t the first time I had heard of a boy losing his mom, but it was the first time I had ever seen a child (and a boy none the less) openly grieve like that. It broke my heart many times over, and it was my awakening. Only a broken heart can do that. It showed me so many things. I am ashamed to say that before this, I did not contemplate what it meant to lose a parent, I didn’t think about grief beyond a funeral day. I can almost say I didn’t care because it didn’t come home…..privilege can do this.  But from this one experience, I learnt:

1. Kids take their cues from us, and if we dismiss and behave as if grieving and crying are signs of weakness or are for ‘sissies’, then they will believe it too.

2. Any culture that revers rage and anger and tells us that that’s what strength resembles, then grief and mourning was bound to become a bad words in that milieu.

3. I could do something to help, anything. When people cry out for help we should find a way to help. And also when they don’t cry out for help, sometimes it’s not because they don’t need help. We need to share in pain collectively.

4. I want to start my own thing, where there is solace, comfort and healing for kids who are grieving. An idea was born, I knew the ‘why’ but the ‘how’ and ‘when’ are still conceptions.

5. It serves us well to own, acknowledge, welcome pain rather than dismiss it. I have seen how Andrew has progressed just because he was open and vocal about his feelings….

I have started reading everything I can about grief and grief management and I started researching how this is applied practically. Psyschologists and counselors have identified the Three P’s of grief…….personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence. I thought to myself this along with the well known stages of grief are enough to blow an adult’s mind, never mind a kid. Someone has to unpack these things for us and walk with us through these valleys. I myself am not even qualified to do that, I don’t even know where to begin but that doesn’t mean I don’t have some skills that can be useful.

Since Andrew, the stories have only grown in number. My cousin’s two sons- and that case is especially sad because they are acting up, I mean really acting up. I worry about the fact that they are loved but not understood. I also worry about there being no intervention for them. The side effects will be felt, not only by them but also by their families, the community and country. We have to make the connection………Another cousin of mine lost his life in a motor vehicle accident leaving behind his six year old daughter…….another little girl without a father.

There are also other cases. The nine year old daughter of a former student of mine, the eight year old who watched her mother die, and the teenagers who heard their siblings plea for mercy and help, the son who was with his dad when he was hit by the car……and the myriad others who we as adults just expect to toughen up, suck it up, forget and move on. Unfortunately that’s not how it works……pain not healed is only transferred. And this is not to say that those who access help ever forget totally. They don’t, they are only able to manage the feelings in a healthy way when they arise, as they inevitably will. Kids who have lost loved ones can become wholesome healthy adults but it’s not automatic, convenient or easy. There needs to be a lot intervention, they need to know that the love lost is about losing a piece of themselves, but also that life can be normal again. They need to know that this can be transformed into something positive, that it’s part of our shared humanity. They need to know that they are loved by others……sometimes that’s all they need, just the knowledge that they are still loved, that someone cares.

Eventually all of us will experience loss…….but what will we do with it? Life is like that, it rubs us up and churns us and forces us to either adapt or die. The funny thing is, adapting is just as natural as dying. Another thing is, dealing with grief is not trying your best to make them forget or stuffing it, just as I don’t believe forgiveness equates to forgetting…..it’s so much more. Memories must be honoured and treasured, that’s healthy.

I still have both parents alive and for that I am grateful, and I am blessed to never experience major trauma the way some have, yet I still carry with me from childhood a lot of brokenness and pain to adulthood. Children are fragile and are like sponge. It’s the adults job to train them and we have to train them about difficult and intangible things too. Unfortunately a lot of caregivers or guardians are themselves too immersed in their grief to properly process and help these vulnerable ones around them. That’s one of the reasons it takes a village. Then there are other issues, do boys grieve differently from girls? How long will it take to move from one stage to the next? Is there a one size fits all panacea? I wish I knew those answers……..

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Balancing Acts

I had a beautiful conversation with two friends who are older than me about aging and the essence of the talk was that aging is a trade-off. Aging comes with  losing teeth, ‘graying’ hair, gaining bags and gaining wisdom; can’t ask someone with an ounce of experience to make a pound of sound decisions……..

Since that day, I have been thinking about how much everything in life is a trade off, not just aging. Much is said and a lot of literature abound about parenting. I think of my own upbringing. I was spoilt in many respects….I didn’t cook, I didn’t wash, I didn’t have to work before I go to school, I was served dinner in bed and a lot of other things were done for me. But there were things I had to do too. I had to iron my clothes, wipe the floors apply Genie floor polish and then shine, sweep the yard, take the morning coffee to the elderly neighbour, I could not cry for things or pout because I didn’t like the dinner or lunch, or my dress for church. Which means I  had to go to church, I could not ‘back ansa’ my mom, I had to show respect to authority and elderly people and these were reinforced at school. I remember too that the rod was not spared for me……I definitely had a healthy fear for mom. Of course all this made me question her love for me, especially when I saw how others were not so ‘unfortunate’……but reference above, that’s the wisdom of a teenager. I remember graduating high school and wondering why my mom was treating me like a child(LOLOLOL) I look back now and think ……”you were such a baby”

I look back now with gratitude for the way I was raised, I know it has contributed greatly to who I have become. I cant say the same about some of those who I considered ‘lucky’. And that leads me to consider the flip side of this coin. So my mom, as the dispenser of discipline must have felt pain, emotionally exposed and uncertain while she was holding me to account. I am learning now that there is something called Mom’s Guilt………. But given the wisdom found at Proverbs 29 v 15 and 22 v 6, I figure she was balancing immediate gratification with long term gratification, whether she knew it or not. She, as well was modelling for me how to make decisions and how to navigate a life filled with trade offs, whether I knew it or not.  All members of my crew are parents, except three of us. And based on the stories I know they learn a whole lot from their kids, just as much as the kids learn from them….or maybe more. I love these days, when behaviours are given names and people are vulnerable and open.

So as I think back to childhood and how I was nurtured, I have to now find my own way in this world. I have to respect authority while showing exclusive devotion to my God. I should be proud of my accomplishments and achievements without hubris or idolatry. I have to speak the truth without judging. I must love people without condoning bad behaviour. I have to self-preserve but practice compassion.  I have to learn to make mistakes without considering myself a failure and juggle between feeling guilt and feeling crushed. I need to not betray myself while risking a falling out, I need to hold people accountable without shaming them…this list is never ending. Its a hard world, for these things test our resolve but teach us resilience.

Things on my heart…….

God has a sense of humour no doubt about that, and one of the ways we see this is to  consider how we learn, gain insight or understand the world. A lot of times from the least likely person, place or circumstance. And more than that, there is often no need to pay for this lesson….it comes freely. These bible verses 1 Corinthians 10 v 12 and 4 v 7 are resonating with me very deeply right now……….as I ask how many times do we have to be reminded of these things?

I started writing a post approximately 5 times now, each one I have discarded. Even as this one takes form, I have edited it so many times that I am not too sure if it will have a context or theme…….so I will focus on those things on my heart.

I think about the years of studying and the work that I am paid to do. This is not what brings the twinkle in my eyes and makes me feel alive. Kudos to those who earn a living from their passions and purpose.  Don’t get me wrong, I thrive at work because it allows me to do the things that bring meaning to my life…….and because without work I would have neither energy, freedom or space to focus on my passions. I have found however a peace and enthusiasm in other areas of my life. I am glad for that trade off.

Social awkwardness. I didn’t even know there was a name for this until I heard a nurse talk about its prevalence among young adults and then had a friend tell me about a relative of hers suffering from it. Is this what happens when children spend too much time around ‘smart’ electronic devices and not people? How do we create the balance between, doing everything online- from shopping, to work at home, online education……and the inevitable social isolation and disconnection it brings? Which is very weird because we share everything on the social media platforms…….and it certainly validates…….but then again validation is separate from connection obviously. I wonder if this social awkwardness is the modern equivalent to shyness? Or is it shyness with a different name? Which begs the question are people born shy, or is it a learnt behavior too? In any event, it is something we need to give urgent attention to. Too often these days when we hear of a mass murder, suicide or some other morbid crime; and  more often than not the perpetrator is described as being a loner, a socially bereft person. The cost of these things are more than we think- it is our responsibility to care. After all- who knows what, where and when things will happen.

This is my newest most favourite quote…..” Sometimes I open my mouth and my mother comes out…” YES INDEED. They say men if you want to know who your wife will become, just look at your mother in law. But apparently its not just for wives because, as I reflect I realize the one person I listened to the least turns out to be my greatest teacher.

I have always enjoyed amicable relationships with co-workers- males more so than females, and as I reflect on the MeToo Revolution, I wonder how this has changed the male-female dynamic in workplaces. Is it harder to develop romantic relationships now at work? Are there eggshells around platonic ones? Does this make work and workplaces harder or easier to navigate?

I was thinking about three ladies recently. These ladies have become big time celebrities because of their blogs…….I also attended a breakfast commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation of the city and the speaker was singing from the same songsheet. They were all afflicted by different maladies…….alcoholism, drug addiction, eating disorders and in all four cases they spoke eloquently about the fact that there was that one person who did not give up on them. Be it a sister, a grandfather, a father, a mother or a friend…….As I think about this, I consider how much pain both sets of parties must have experienced during the addiction and recovery processes. But worse than that, I realize that I tend to be the one to flee first whenever I am confronted by the brokenness of others. As if I am whole and blemish-less. This behaviour I must banish…..I need Grace.

And that leads me to this……..The PM of my country recently made a statement about discrimination, due process and dignity. (come to think of it, they all begin with letter D🤔)……..and there is a backlash in the country because we are so homophobic. He spoke masterfully I must say and lovingly, albeit possibly politicking…..but cut him some slack he is a politician, although who knows whether he wasn’t speaking from a place of purity of heart. Love is the answer, hate is too great a burden to carry we need to love sinners even when we hate the sins. We must banish fear. And by the way, the Bible outlaws a number of things ……..not any one thing, lets be fair and reasonable now.

I take the train to work, recently a lady was pushed down the steps leading down to the platform. Horrific- innocent lady minding her business. I walk a lot on the road ways- two accidents in the same # of weeks occurred where people have been mowed down either crossing the road or walking on the sideways. Its funny how the Spirit always prompts me to face the oncoming vehicle when I am walking. Now as I think of these incidents, I am tempted to cower in fear. But does this mean I stop taking the train or stop walking or should cyclists stop riding too? We need to watch and pray……..and by the way that is exactly what Jesus told the three who went with him to the Garden of Gethesemane……”watch and pray, so you do not fall into temptation”………and we also need to pray for those who are contemplating these things.

My mom is planning to go on a 4 hour church outing and it is scary for me. So scary I don’t want her to go, but I know I could never ask her to forgo something that is so important to her. Furthermore, I want her to live her best life for the rest of her years. I could also not in good conscience ask someone who has never prevented me from following my bliss to not do something that is dear to her heart. That would be unkind. So again, I see God is saying ….”Trust Me’…I will take care of her and everyone else.
It took a lot of courage for me to remain silent with her and support her on this one. I feel peace…..I must trust.

 

No, us vs Them…….Just Us.

I have recently completed the reading of ‘The Book of Forgiving’ by Desmond and Mpho Tutu and my mind is forever changed. Whilst I knew the benefits of forgiveness before and tried to practice same; there are so many little nuances they provided in the book. It led me to completely rethink how I perceive and practice the whole process…..

Anyhow, I want to speak about the aspect of our shared humanity. We at times tend to believe life is a zero sum game, a one-sided coin with some of us being on one side and others on the other.. I have lived long enough to know that’s a lie……we can be on any side at any time. So many things have happened in the week since I read this book that I have to reflect. Two people I know were involved in an accident this week. The victim died on impact and has predeceased a common law partner, young kids, other relatives and friends. That grief I know, is immeasurable and indescribable, especially because it happened right at home and not least of which is the untimely and unexpected nature of it. As they morph their way through the stages of grief and the pain of this experience I hardly think that any words can suffice…..only God’s grace can fill this void.

But then we must never forget the perpetrator which we almost always tend to, because somehow we forget it is an accident and he is a human being. This is hard for him too and there is grief and pain for him to carry the rest of his days……his family and friends will not be unscathed either. However, depending on who we are we tend to split things down the middle and take sides……and that’s the issue I am having with this particular case. I don’t know who to feel more empathy for…..or even if I should. My compassion I believe, should be shared equally. I pray for peace and justice, love, support and the beauty of the human spirit to permeate both sides as well as that God’s perfect will be done. I understand the demonstrations in support of the victim, but I also feel the pain of the perpetrator not knowing what the future holds……shattered dreams and broken visions in a moment. Sigh…….Life is hard; I could easily have been either or…… and nothing can change what has happened we just need to find a new normal.

According to the Tutus, one way to process this is to think about our shared humanity…..in this case, both sides need healthy doses of forgiving to move on and heal. The problem is that, this is not the path of least resistance and people usually see this walk in forgiveness as something for Christians only on the one hand, and on the other as the weaker alternative.  On days like this I wish I could wave a magic wand…….because I feel so helpless and because I know differently. Except I must never forget my role……which is limited to what God wants me to do…..and not to try to usurp him. I cannot carpet the world……..so I must wear socks. I only pray that good sense will prevail in this situation and in the many other cases that abound…..as I know the natural tendency is to retaliate and be vindictive.

Situations like these, seem to be the daily grind- the bane of our existence. We have to be constantly choosing between good or evil……no breaks or sabbatical. There are many other instances that we can all name of how things are never black and white. Empathy, courage, authenticity, forgiveness, surrender etc do not come naturally for us it seems, it requires practice. There are people I have to forgive daily, I have to choose courage moment by moment, never grow weary of being compassionate, show up each day, do what I have to and be real but only with the knowledge that I do all things, only through Christ who strengthens me………… But when you think of it, how else do we practice but to experience the cut and grind, ebb and flow of life. That said, I pray that my experiences do not carry me to the cleaners too often or even if they do, I pray I will never forget in whom I trust.

Caricatures…..

I got to thinking about respect. Is it true that this must be earned? I don’t believe that……I respect people. Full stop. Period. No one should have to earn my respect…….loyalty and trust well those are different kettles of fish.

I was reminded about comics last night as a friend and I spoke about everything and anything. Of course, whenever you have those conversations anything is possible….it just ebbs and flows at will until……well, until last night we got to talking about Mutt and Jeff, The Born Loser, Tiger and Peanuts…….her comment was “these were no surface humour”. It led both of us on a journey…..I started googling the comic itself and she Mr. Schulz….such an incredible man.

This particular piece resonated with me as it was earlier in the day, in another conversation I contended that I do not subscribe to the notion of getting a new girl or guy to get over an old flame. In my mind, that is just a band aid, as pain must be healed the right way. I felt vindicated my this……even as I chose to see the humour, sarcasm and profundity of it.

It’s a holiday today……holidays =freedom for me and this does not mean work does not equal freedom, because we all know it does, AND in a real sense. And if we want to get pedantic, holidays are not always = to freedom either……..But let’s keep this keep this simple,  like Charlie Brown.  I cannot tell you the immense joy that has enveloped my whole being. I feel full and peaceful……..and it’s not like I have major plans. I have an itinerary for the day, yes……but it’s indoor activities and all for me. I got to thinking how much I relish the latitude to freely decide what I want to do…..and then do nothing if I so desire. It is liberating to know you have your own schedule…..with things to do that are all about you. Now this is not to say, I don’t also relish the days when I do things with and for others……I love those too. It’s just that the former is new to me I have never before chosen me…….and it’s gratifying, and novel and self fulfilling to be doing so now. These days I feel humbled whenever I think about what freedom means……..and also what joy means. I find these states not in the earthshaking or extra-ordinary but in the mundane of every day……..

Choosing myself I find is a work in progress, I have to practice everyday………and it is hardly possible without understanding a deep firm fundamental truth-which is, that God loves me and he did so long before I was even conceived. He loved me when I messed up, when I felt dirty and in all of other my broken states. He loves me not because of who I am but because of who he is. Well, if someone loves you like that, then at least you know you don’t have to hustle. This helped me relax in the knowledge that I cannot perform or perfect or produce for love…..love must be free. What a relief.

Home is where the heart is………

There is an adage we used commonly at home……..”cow don’t know the use of his tail until he lose it”…..many days I feel that way living away from home. And when I say home I mean Jamaica, my community and my house…in that order.

We are a very colourful people…..maybe it’s our history or we are living out our national motto, but from the little I know there is no place like the Rock. I also know this holds true for all of us wherever home is because …..home is just sweet home. By the way, who remembers the lamp shades with those words written around the glass? Also I have not been to enough places to be dogmatic about this……so read what I write below with the same insularity with which it is written.

1. You have never heard curse words (bad wud) like those coined at home…I don’t use them but I can’t help but smile and shake my head when I hear them.

2. I don’t know if there is anywhere else in the world where phone credit, calling cards and synthetic hair is purchased more than school books and maybe even food.

3. We all know NYC drivers are infamous……I think Jamaican drivers rank right up there with them…..

4. We love to dress up……and we don’t limit this to our bodies…….we over do it in every situation. If it’s a Jamaican event, go all out. We compete with peacocks.

5. We sweep dirt, turn graves into houses, and prefer loud music with everything…

6. We can be the most rambunctious….and the most patrician of people you meet.

7. We love street dances, bomb boxes, eating out of styrofoam boxes, bars (not pubs), and set up (feast and celebration held night before the burial day)

8. I have never met someone who asked me where Jamaica is, or who has never heard of us.

9. We love our food well done…….and we love fried food…fried dumplings, fried chicken, fried breadfruit, fried bammies…….you name it we love it fried. Bun and cheese, mackerel rundown, jerk, jerk, jerk………..

Most day I worry about my country……we have so many ills and problems to fix, but not unlike anywhere else, It’s a broken world. Truth is, I miss home every single day…….albeit everything that is wrong, that is my home. I know it may seem weird that the things I named above are the things I remember and relish about home, but that’s how it is. We tend to be enamored with the small, ordinary and otherwise mundane and insignificant……or maybe I should speak for myself.

Have I changed? I don’t think so, aside from the fact that I find myself using words I learnt here. I believe I am too old to discard my culture…..but things have a way of sneaking up on you. I have to be intentional. Do we change to match our societies norms and values? Is this what it means when we say “When in Rome do as the Romans do? I am grateful I am now residing in a country which values a lot of what I value…….and more than that, I am grateful I always seem to secure jobs that subscribes to the values I espouse……now of course this doesn’t mean I am an inflexible or spoilt brat.

The funny thing is I didn’t consciously think of these things when I was choosing a new place to live or work……those things were not the nearest thing to my mind. But it occurred to me that we ought to know who we are and what we subscribe to, as I think of this emerging world in which we live. Will we be like shifting sands or just go with the flow? Will we drift as the wind blows? It is not true that what we leave behind is always inferior…….I know I will go back home (hope I don’t have to eat these words), I just see this as training ground. The way we zig zag our way through life…….

Probabilities…….

What are the chances of you being on a train and bus that break down, on the same day in the same hour?? What are the chances of you being held ‘hostage’ on a bus because the bus driver chose to be the Good Samaritan? These two things happened to me in the same month… I think there is something for me to learn.

  1. About myself
  2. About life and
  3. About circumstances

Life and Circumstances:

I refuse to believe I have no luck, because things like these happen even if its a probability of 1 in a million.  And, I also refuse to complain……..or roll my eyes….who am I to not meet misfortune? I mean, if you take the bus and train often enough, things will happen.  The good thing is, as I scanned the other faces on the train and on the buses, no one was annoyed. That’s good. That reassures me that patience and tolerance are things we still possess. …..we were not stalled long enough for me to test this theory fully.

Another thing is, we cant be late to get home…assuming we were all going home…….and that’s the perspective of a single woman. Although to be honest, on the day of the first incident, I was going home to do a few chores and this ‘inconvenience’ really messed up my plan….but so be it.

I was so happy that the train incident didn’t happen underground. I do not want to imagine being on a crowded train underground in total darkness…….add that to my claustrophobia issues. So today as I sat on the train again and feel it speed by, it occurred to me that I should be grateful this system works more often than not, as we just take it for granted that it will. I felt too I should be grateful for light………I would never want it to break down underground and lose light……Darkness changes everything……..including personalities.

For the first bus incident it could have happened in the middle of nowhere given it is  winter…..that would not have been ‘cool’. But it didn’t….we were about 5 minutes from the bus station and a warm waiting room for the next 20 minutes. And for the second bus incident, It was late evening way past my usual home time. I was cold and tired, and hungry………..but as I sat there, I was glad this bus was not at home…..as windows would probably be smashed and even shots could have rang out….I was grateful.

And since I am on the subject of trains this is my next thought. Each day as I exit the bus to enter the train or vice versa, I cannot get over the rush, the hurry and haste. Why do we always rush the doors to exit the bus, why do we rush the escalators, why do we crowd around the train doors when they arrive, why do we seek to press the ‘open’ button before it even is highlighted, why do we get out of our seats to exit even before the trains stops at the stops…….I just don’t get it. Why do we do that? I ask the same question when the plane lands……..

I have done jobs which require me to interact with people constantly and those that lead to me being as introverted as I want to be. I know I prefer the latter, but not all the time. I know too that this is one of the perils of work from home…….and so even though I am not really a social butterfly…I don’t know if I would relish work from home options. But again I say this from a single woman’s perspective. But when I think of the train driver I wonder if they are all introverts……..and then when I contrast them with the bus drivers, I wonder for how long I could tolerate it. I mean, is this job for extroverts? Because I know I certainly have met some very grumpy drivers for whom my first impression is ‘why do they do this job?’. Of course that judgmental part of me does not even consider how taxing it must be to always be in a good mood…..and that we all have bad days.

Myself

As I think about these things, I also begin to realize that there are many people around with manifested traits of mental illness. I would love to empathize but I feel more afraid of them than anything else and I know this fear is deeply entrenched in my ignorance of the various cases…..for instance I cannot even name the different diseases that exist. I just lump them all under the category of ‘mental illness’. So wrong. I will certainly have to get close so I can understand and dispel my fears (we never understand things from a distance). But I also know that my fear is due to things I have seen and heard done to innocent bystanders as well as those who choose to intervene.

There is a lot of talk these days about Mental Health sick days. I am all for it……because we really need to de-stigmatize this disease. Also, for those of us lucky enough to be undiagnosed, we need to understand it better so we can empathize. Furthermore, being undiagnosed doesn’t mean we are not mentally impaired. (sigh) Had it not been for God’s Grace I know I could easily have been so afflicted……. and who knows what is waiting for us around the corner? So yes, many things give me the creeps……..my next quest is to determine whether this is real or just imagined fear.