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.

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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.

Two years……

As I thought about the past two years I kept hearing a reverberation of this line from ‘Ten Years’ by Paul Simon, modified to suit………..’Two Years come and gone so fast I might as well be dreaming’. We have no idea what is in store for us or what we can handle…….As I look back, these are the thoughts that resonate with me……and what better time to look forward but on the cusp of a new year.

1. I am grateful I have developed a strong loving relationship with myself, deepened bonds with friends (old and new) as well as family-but most of all is growing in one with God.

2. I wanted a new lease on life when I left home, and next time I will make sure I am careful to define exactly what I want; knowing now that God does give the desires of our hearts and it will come in unexpected ways. I am finally discovering the reason for which I was born, and it is empowering and peaceful and exhilarating and difficult all at once.

3. I have to admit that I had a misconception about adoption. I did not understand fully the ramifications of it and as such I had a very insular view of it. But I must open my mind to fully understand it, if I am to fully comprehend that each Christian is adopted into God’s family.

4. If we are to be honest, we are much happier when our relationships are in good shape. We are not happy if our connections are out of whack!

5. I think I am also learning to hear God’s voice with more clarity, which along with #3 are the two questions I have never stopped asking…………10 years and counting. It’s funny how God works, but always in the fullness of time……and usually through some wilderness experience.

6. I have learned that trust is earned…..people don’t trust you until you have earned it and the same should go for me…….Only God with perfect knowledge has no need to employ this strategy. Respect tends to work the same way with some, but I do not subscribe to that. I respect people from the get go…….as time passes that will change for better or worse…..

7. Love is a nebular term. I still cannot define it. It means so many different things to each of us…..for some you must perform and it must be seen tangibly. But love is not always shown in that way……I still think the best definition for Love I have found is at 1 Corinthians 13 v 4-7….

8. It’s okay, in fact it’s essential that we be vulnerable when necessary…..albeit with the right people. Admittedly, this is not the easiest thing to do. But I think of it, in this way, the more difficult thing to do cannot be the weaker option. Furthermore the easier option will not give you the results you desire…….but will only give you exactly what you wish to run away from in the first place…….breakdown in relationships, resentment, lack of trust etc. Choose wisely, what you fear the most usually does not materialize….

9. I love to quote ” God never leaves us or forsake us”. I have said it repeatedly and I believe it, but I always struggled to explain it. I think I can now. It’s true……….the reason we think he is absent, silent or distant at times is because we have an agenda for him, our individual and collective sights are blinded to what we want…….but according to GK Chesterton, “we must train our eyes until they learn to see”……

10. Christmas rituals are different in each place……..there are some things I have learnt here that I would love to replicate at home. Like reading the Christmas story with kids directly from the Bible…..having a really special candlelight service to commemorate the birth of that special baby……..and then there are the things I remember as I child that I want to share with other kids now. Receiving/giving Christmas cards and caroling……….we must hold fast to some traditions or customs, especially those that make Christmas special. I loved Christmas at home…..there was the north breeze, guango peas and Seymour grass in full bloom, sorrel, poinsettias, and Grand Market………I don’t want to be away from home another Christmas.

11. On what foundation do we stand? How do we define ourselves? Who am I, What matters to me? I was never one to give myself permission to ask, never mind answer these questions, it felt too much like narcissism. But I must. Am I a black woman, a daughter, a Christian, an accountant, a friend, a niece, a god mother? Are these roles or are they my identity? I have been seeking to acutely define myself on a strong foundation, as most things crumble or dissipate over time, what then? I am a child of God……

12. Oh and I cannot forget the stereotypes. I believed some things that were appalling, but I believed them just the same…………..like most stereotypes they were born out of ignorance and miseducation. Thankfully they have been shattered. That’s the danger of a single story and the beauty of diversity and inclusion.

13. Boundaries…..oh that was a word that had only face value in my vocabulary. I never felt it was right. Period. But then I learnt they are meant to keep us safe. And too, I saw how much I was abused without them. And then I recognized how I shortchanged myself when I ignored them. God has boundaries for us humans, so why shouldn’t we have them for people too? One thing I know, and it’s that a parent feel as much or even more pain when they have to tell their child No or enforce a rule……..but it’s for the child’s benefit….and they will be grateful for that later on……if not now. We have to look to the longer term benefits rather than at short term gratification……So shall it be too with us and our boundaries……..

14. Get comfortable in your own company and with yourself…….learn to go it alone.

15. For the first time in my life, I am learning self acceptance. I am learning to be kind to myself, to forgive and not be hard on self. To accept every single part of me…..including the flawed parts……self affirmation……..getting there. Self acknowledgement………..learning. Self-appreciation………learning.

16. I started a new job two years to the date I arrived here……and I have to wonder if that’s a coincidence. Patience is my Achilles heel and to be honest, it seems as if I have been in training to refine this attribute. From missing the bus and having to wait 30 mins, from waiting on people to call me, from waiting two years to find a new job etc…….and the biggest take away is just that I need to slow down……so many mistakes are avoided just by applying patience. So much time is saved by being patient, so much money is saved by waiting……and I am finding that I am becoming a better person by just by waiting. Give yourself some grace.

So as I move forward, I really am missing Home and missing my peeps and I really pray I get to spend time with them all again…..so much has changed at home. Friends and family members are having babies, getting married, dying …….a new year, fresh start, a second chance to do things better. And I can’t help but wonder what it holds.

Mom and Father

I am fortunate to still have both parents alive, to know them and to be at peace with them…….I live in this place of gratitude and blessing recognizing that many are not so fortunate. I have been reflecting recently on so many ladies and gents of my generation who have died……died before anyone was willing to let them go, died with unfulfilled dreams perhaps, died leaving orphans and widows/widowers, gone too soon.

My mom is a gift from God to me, and my frequent prayer is for my life to reflect the values she taught me as well as honour her for the rest of her days. I pray selfishly for my mom to live for a long long long long time……..even though I have never asked her what her desire is, in that regard. Some questions you just dont ask……..

Before the last couple of years I did not understand the power and beauty of a relationship with my mother. I am not sure I even thought it was possible and so I did nothing to nurture mine. I have since learnt that your mother can be your best friend, and in fact should be. Which other love on earth is as pure and loyal as a mother’s love? I however admit that it may not be so possible until a certain age or for some persons……and that is why I cry for those who ‘live’ without a mom.

She has taught me so much with her life, not so much via words. The virtue of kindness, contentment, sacrifice, commitment and the power of choice. These things protect me in so many ways, I could never repay her for these lessons.  I have watched her lose so many people who were dear to her, but God has always filled the void and empty spaces for her. He, I believe has also endowed her so well with mastery over letting go and adjusting to the changing scenes of life……These things I am learning to do, from her. Some days I wonder how she learnt these things so well; given there was no internet and social media, not many books, no television, no higher education…….but then I say there was always the Bible and people……and God uses these alot.

My Dad internalized a lot of pain……growing up without a mom because she died when he was 8 years old, not learning many many basic things, living without knowing he was loved. He repeated these things in all his relationships……with his wife, his kids, with siblings and with others. My dad is a good man, just ask those who know him. I believe them. Pain that is not transformed will always be transferred, and so I live in a place of awareness that I can easily transfer ‘my stuff’ to whoever I come in contact with. This I believe, is the primary reason I have to heal from the hurt of not knowing him, of not bonding with him. I must not transfer that pain.

I know he must have a few regrets, I see him trying hard to correct a few mistakes. I oft wonder what keeps him up at nights and what he thinks about on those days when he sits on his chair outside……..One day I must find the courage to tell him its okay……to let the past die. And even as I perceive all that, I have never heard him complain. He too seems contented in his space with his few possessions, routine, friends and habits…….set in his ways!  I know he has a few people who he adores and who has his trust, outside of that he is a closed book, an impenetrable wall. The truth is, it doesn’t matter- whoever he is, he is my father.

There was a time when I didnt understand the decisions my parents made, especially those that impacted me as a child. I felt anger at my dad and I analyzed my mom from a place of never enough. I have since recognized that they both did the best they could………that we make decisions without hindsight a lot of times and with the information we have at the particular time. A lot of times too we make the choice that suits our self-interest, hoping that it will redound to the benefit of others. I am learning to forgive, accept and appreciate them more deeply as a result of these knowings.

I am not sure if I got to this place because I see so much of them in me; and thus if I am to start loving me then I have no choice but to love them. I know it could be too that I am learning just how much I am loved by my Creator and just how much he loves every single one he created too. It may also be getting older and gaining deeper perspectives……….as Ravi Zacharias said “youth is what the young have but only the old know how to use” but what I do know is this. The relationship I am having with them or not having with them is a direct reflection of the relationship I am having with myself.

A successful Life

I have never had specific dreams, never really set goals and objectives. Not good. Everyone needs to have some of these.

But I do know that I always wanted a good life, a successful life, a happy life. As I think about those who have crossed over before me, and especially young people like myself, (😉😉yes I am young)  I cant help but wonder. If they could evaluate their life, would they say they had a successful life? And what does that look like?

This is what I have learnt along the way…..

i. It doesn’t happen instantaneously……..it is a gradual, slow process.

ii. Success looks different for each of us

iii. It happens at various points in our lives, usually birthed via a crisis

iv. It’s the depths from which you have risen

v.  It has little to do with wealth, fame, status, possessions, applause or likes, this leads me to think about Proverbs 13 v 11 and Proverbs 23 v 4-5. Solomon should know.

vi.  No one has ever reached the pinnacle of success, there is always way more to conquer

vii. Nobody becomes successful alone, we are not lone rangers …….we must trust God to provide and take care of us.

Success for me therefore is as below:

1. Loving myself…….forgiving myself……spending time with myself.

2. Setting boundaries and holding others accountable

3. Not hustling for love or attention

4. Speaking the truth lovingly and gracefully to others……more often than not, not recklessly but carefully.

5. A beautiful relationship with mom

6. Traveling without motion sickness

7. Going it alone……..a conference, a new church, a new destination, vacation or getting friends to tag along

8. Asking for what I want, learning to negotiate, learning to say No

9. Going to an interview and not crying

10. Going to a new job without being completely apprehensive

11. Having difficult conversations

12. Keeping and cultivating friendships, and not being needy or clingy.

13. Listening to sound advice before making a decision…….

14. Slowing down, understanding tomorrow is another day and if it doesn’t come for me, then oh well.

15. Learning to wait. Recognizing that truth will reveal itself.