What is Language?

I have been weeping for language.

Texting, emojis, and social media have finished its massacre.  I feel like I am fighting a losing battle…….but fight on, I will. I sometimes wonder if this is only happening to the English Language, I guess not.

There is something I would like to call ‘the un-codified power of language’. I am first to admit that  I have always taken for granted, speaking,hearing and writing; but not any more, not after I started wondering exactly how you teach a baby, or a young child your own language…..and I know it’s not by osmosis. Is it easier to teach the young a new language? This is something that boggles my mind, so I will leave that alone.

The next thing is, I am from an English speaking, patois-dialect-pervasive country which has various shades and forms of the latter-named spoken dialect. Every country has a unique ‘mother tongue’ or perhaps a powerful counter language, much like a sub-culture. Everyone in Jamdown can identify your ‘nativity’ from your speech…….and don’t mention when you leave the Rock, you might as well have a sign on your forehead. I suspect many can identify with that.

Many have oft remarked about a ‘face’ and then become totally disappointed when they hear the speech and vice versa. I have also listened to podcasts with speakers who have a perfect command of the English Language and right away I associate a ‘face’ to the voice. I have done the same thing with handwriting. Language has been used to break down and build barriers up……. I would love to ask skilled terrorist negotiators about the power of the human voice….

We hear someone speak, read newspaper articles and Face book posts, watch interviews and we do mental assignments right away……., “oh they got it all together, or what a tyrant, or what a messy life”. Maybe, maybe not!!! And have you ever heard your accent change to match your environment? And when you see certain people is it an automatic adjustment in your speech, and on a phone call do you have a phone voice? For all of us, it seems we are all different until we open our mouths……

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These Days……

These days…….I am realizing I didn’t consider myself a black woman until I lived here. This may have been due to the fact that back home I was considered ‘brown’ and with education, I acquired a privilege I didn’t know I had. Privilege is blind.

These days……… My perspectives and opinions and even mode of dress have changed and many things I now care about didn’t mean squat to me before. I know for sure that had I been home I wouldn’t have given much of these things more than a passing thought, certainly not motivated to act or speak out. God is a God of wisdom.

I recently had conversation with a fellow J’can who told me that I was not away long enough to stop saying “I want to go back home”. He is right about me missing home and wanting to go back, but I hope he is wrong too. I want to do it on my terms, I want the best of both worlds. I know we don’t always get what we want but still, I want what I want. Hearing of people who move back to their homes actually makes me feel sane. Almost like I am not crazy for having the desire to go back. I cannot own here as my own, this is not home, my home for now but not home. I friend of mine went to Jamaica on vacation recently and I cannot tell you how much I prayed for her to be safe and for her to have the best time ever. I wanted my country to look good, feel good, be good- as I know it is.

These days…….I am ridding myself of many of the stereotypes I had before moving here. Thank God. I am ashamed of some of the ones I had. Enough said. I am learning that humans are humans…..in need of validation, deserving of their dignity…..often refuses to be vulnerable, perennially searches for happiness and tries to dodge pain. At our core, we are alike.

These days…….I am thinking about what I love here- the transportation system, the family values, the health care, the walking trails and emphasis on the outdoors, parks, shopping malls, civic pride, library memberships, order and cleanliness. But at the same time what I am missing from home-hearing raindrops on my roof, seeing the glow of the full moon, smelling the dirt after it rains, being apart of the gossip and rumor mill, good food, taxi stands, funerals, sitting by the window at 3T’s, knowing who my Neighbour is, getting a good laugh from my cousins, hearing a rooster crow etc. And it struck me that we are a multiplicity of likes and dislikes, truths and contradictions, rights and wrongs, all mixed up in one- never any one thing. I must value that which can be measured and that which cannot be measured.

These days……..my vocabulary has changed. I now use words like, ‘awesome, gorgeous, admirable, fantastic, great’- quite frequently, liberally, sincerely and readily. Not only because of cultural norms but also because I really see the world that way. I find myself like the colour yellow……now this one is weird. I want to think its because I value the sunshine so much, or maybe its because so many yellow blooms are around.

I went on a work tour recently and as I listened to the commentary about city & urban planning, gentrification etc, I couldnt help but wonder what makes a country developing vs developed. When I remember how there were plans afoot to mine the Cockpit Country, I wonder if a developer or miner could be so presumptuous to even consider mining areas of the Rockies🤔. When I hear of setbacks, municipal reserves, environmental reserves, wetlands and storm ponds……I have no doubt these things exist at home too……I also think about the fact that even with all these tight and strict rules, houses still are built the wrong way and in the wrong places.

These days……I wonder if handwriting is becoming obsolete. When was the last time you wrote something on paper. I am hearing that cursive writing is no longer in the grade 1-4 curriculum. But as my friend asked, is that why we so now value handwritten letters and memos? And with all the various social media ways of communicating, is that why so much is written about the benefits of face to face and verbal conversations? The more we go forward the more we see the benefit of what we are leaving behind, which makes me wonder why we feel progress means we ditch what worked before?🤷🏻‍♀️

Joy inspite of……….

For a long time I believed joy, mirth, happiness and laughter etc. were synonyms and states of entitlement. In my mind, we deserved to experience them all and all the time; until a professor made it clear to us one day in class that no one promised us these things in life. It was a light bulb moment for me, although it took me years to reach the place where I could accept it, to be a fact of life. I just couldn’t swallow the bitter pill that pain and suffering, disappointments, grief etc were very present, impartial and common ways of life. I felt that these were based on cause and effect much the same way Job’s three friends chose to see his plight. I saw these latter states of existence as inconvenient truths, which could be avoided if we played our cards right. How wrong I was.

These days it’s not just that so many of us and especially the young do not believe or conceive (not sure which) these things……but that we do not seem to be equipped for a life that will bite. A life that cares not who you are, how special and unique you feel, how religious you are, or how beautiful, smart, kind etc you perceive yourself.

Some things that happen still puzzle me and the human I am still tries to figure them out. But I also know more now to know that we grow so much more, when we are uncomfortable and that God, my Sovereign Deity has way more wisdom than a finite human being. I must trust, even through the valley of the shadow of death. He doesn’t need to give us explanations. At this point I will recommend Kate Bowler’s book …’Everything happens for a reason, and other lies I told myself”.

I am nervous, very nervous about how we view life and ourselves because life does teach these lessons sooner and later, and I am seeing some crises emerging that keeps me up at nights….higher suicide rates, an opioid crisis, alcoholism, higher rates of loneliness and broken relationships….Sigh. But that is not my topic for today, I want to focus on Joy. I have written about success and what makes me happy, but what about joy? Joy, that three letter word that is so elusive.

                                               I feel joy when…..

  1. I walk across a street with trees interwoven at their peak….my mind immediately reflects on Holland Bamboo in Jamaica. How often do we miss these sparks of beauty because we really don’t take the time or because we tend to devalue things that are normal, ordinary and small? Much like I did not learn to appreciate sunshine until I lived through winters. I found myself giving thanks for the sunshine and praying for the sun.IMG_E1872
  2. I am waiting to see my mom or waiting for her daily calls, wondering where our conversation will go.
  3. I am strolling to the bus station and my mind goes all other the place, including to prayer.
  4. Spring approaches. I love to watch the trees awaken from the hibernation of winter. Each morning there is something new to see. I cannot believe sometimes that I am enjoying this when I had this year round back home and took it for granted. Sigh. I also find comfort in the fact that the trees do not die despite the ravage and rampage of winter……..they are resilient. Kind of reminds me that we are too.
  5. I am in any conversation- verbal/written, in person or not; meeting in every group setting- be it lunch prep, life group, church, staff meeting, lunch dates, Saturday morning walks, at the mall or the supermarket.
  6. I am anticipating a meal or having a meal- oxtail, stew peas and even fish that I didn’t like at all back home all are very appealing.
  7. Waiting to receive a gift or a package……..especially from my step mom.
  8. I am counting the days to a vacation…..the actual vacation maybe not as much.
  9. I read papyrus cards, or searching for a meaningful gift for someone. I love gift shops and book stores for this.
  10. I forgive or are forgiven.
  11. Giving some advice that touches a nerve……
  12. In my quiet times.
  13. I am watching water roll off leaves. I remember back home the smell after a heavy shower of rain and how everything looked cleaner. Trees and leaves glistened, the hills were greener and grass bowed in salute, even the dirt had a distinctly different smell. But my absolute favourite thing was to look for the cobwebs in the thistles…..somehow I know the spiders did not weave that after the rains fell
  14. Listening to music (when I feel like it), listening to a podcast or YouTube videos and people watching (from the office window).
  15. From any expression of endearment, getting a call or a message which shows someone is thinking about me, being told something positive about myself especially that which you were not anticipating or expecting.
  16. I give the benefit of the doubt, when I do not resort to the worst possible scenario……and get to a state of ‘okay’ in a world in which I do most things alone.
  17. As I learn how to take the good and the bad, and still know God is in control. Learning that life is brutiful is a beautiful thing. I find myself feeling peace in the most difficult times……which gives me more peace. Its a hard concept to explain….peace in the second derivative lets say.
  18. I am in community and especially at church, although some days I just want to curl up in a corner and not be in community. Those are the days when people and fellow faith sojourners too, kick my butt. But then there are other days, those days when I get a kick out of community. When there is encouragement, validation, feeding off each other, sharing, hugs, laughter etc. And that’s why I risk being in community, because I know I cannot live without these things. And that’s when I marvel at the wisdom of God. He knows we cannot practice faith in a solitary space….so church attendance is an integral part of the whole, of being a Christian.
  19. I hear bird’s chirping, really loudly above the din of cars and buses, cell phones, machines and the many thoughts in my head. I started to wonder if I am losing my sense of wonder. Birds play one of my favourite sounds, but in this land of busyness I find I have to be paying attention, really searching for them to hear them albeit they are ubiquitous. I love to watch them too…..not a care in the world it seems.

One of my favourite songs, is Lee Ann Womack’s ……”I hope you dance….”. The above things are my soul dance, my love dance and when I have them I literally feel joy swelling up in me.

Decisions

We make thousand of decisions everyday, however we won’t always know the important ones immediately, to paraphrase Wes Moore. Since this week, I have personally deep dived this one sentence. I think of this as it regards me relocating on two separate occasions……now that I have 20/20 vision I know that doing anything other than what I did, would have been tragic. My bones chill at the thoughts, although I can never know for sure what the alternatives would have been. Its humbling nonetheless to ponder on how I did know which option was better. I can’t answer that, except to give credit to that person who lives inside me, he guideth me. If I ever needed more evidence of that, it would make no sense I practice Christianity.

Our decisions do not have consequences for us only. They touch others, like it or not, believe it or not. This is something I am reflecting on too. We are symbiotic and interconnected beings. How then can I shower or flush the toilet excessively without thinking about someone who can’t pay their water bill or who lives without running water, or who is in a place where there is incessant drought? How do I decide to relocate without that impacting my parents, and those who are left behind with them? How can I take vacation without it affecting my co-workers? How can I see the homeless or the drug addict and not have some compassion for them?

And the biggie, is that I am not my own. I am now very cognizant of the fact that whatever I decide to do I must seek consent and permission. Is this the right path to take? Is this the right road to walk? How will this make you look? Am I representing you well? It reminds me of a quote from Maya Angelo, “I come as one but I represent ten thousand”. My decisions are important because others are watching.

So what decisions do I want to make today?

1. I want to be a positive force in the life of kids…..even those who may be looking without my awareness.

2. I want to be speak truth with love and open up conversations, I want to be kind….because everyone I see or know is fighting a battle.

3. I want to reflect light, I want to radiate light, I want to be light…….this is harder than I can imagine.

I think back to the many decisions that led to me being right here lying on this bed as I write. I know there were so many things that could have led to me having a different reality……what would have happened had I chosen different friends? What if my mom had not given me freedom of choice? What if she had given up? What if others had not helped her? What if the government did not subsidize university education or what if Jamaica did not have student’s loans? So much of this was outside my control and I wonder why God smiled on me. I can question and he may answer, he is sovereign that’s his right to decide. This I know is incontrovertible, I sit here in this space and time with the awesome responsibilities of my privileges, many more than my 9 year old self could imagine. It’s not just about me, I have a role to play and the sooner I figure it out the better. For who can forget the Bible verse, ‘to whom much is given, much is expected’….even when you didn’t ask for it, especially when you had no say in choosing it.

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. I know this from watching various family members grieve the loss of loved ones. 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. 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……..

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.