Simply Speaking

Some say that I oversimplify things, that I break down profound truths using a few sentences, shrug casually and sum it up with, “That’s all I got.” Some believe that I often neglect the variables that create an adverse situation and that my reasoning at times belittle one’s past experiences.   That is far from my truth and extremely distant from the truth.

I have been impacted by unfortunate circumstances both within and beyond my control. Love has shattered me, grief has overwhelmed me, and loss has robbed me. In my pursuit of happiness, fear has gnawed at every inspired thought, every possibility, and at one time procrastination was as addictive for me as Pepsi.

If you have lived long enough, you too have suffered. No matter how safely you have played, how firmly you have adhered to the rules, or how strategic your plan was, some things just fell apart. Great decisions for one stage turned out to be disastrous at another. Or maybe the decision was never quite a good one, but you gambled anyway. Regardless, life has at some point exhausted you.

I get that, and I do not diminish any of it. However, through the ebbs and flows of my life, I have survived with two clear advantages – a sound mind and a relatively healthy body. So have many of you. Those two strengths carry a definite constant: the ability to make a new choice at any given moment. Therein is my truth: The power to choose is within my control, at least for now.

You, too, can choose differently.

There I am oversimplifying again. As if making a new choice doesn’t come with its own set of new consequences. As if it doesn’t carry with it a brief, sometimes lingering, nauseating discomfort. As if a new choice won’t garner guilt or grief or shame – or all three. As if choosing differently is just that easy to do.

Certainly, it can be a daunting, even heart wrenching, process. But it is the only option I can offer. I am merely a reflective observer viewing from a lens narrowed by my experiences and broadened by the experiences of others.  My perceptions of another’s journey are blurry at best. What is clear, though, is that more often than not we can decide whether to continue on that trampled, unfulfilled path we have followed or choose an alternate route. Ultimately, the decision is yours. Only you can decide the timing. Only you know if you can accept the consequences. Only you can determine if you are willing to put the work in. I can only remind you that you do possess the power, and do not need permission, to make new choices – even if it is in the middle of the game.

That’s all I got. 

Truly yours,

Mo~

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Their Vows

Rosa-Lyn, or Rose as they called her, was beautiful.  Her hazel eyes, golden skin and radiant smile trademarked her.  She had two children, reveled in motherhood and worked hard, and was about to begin Temple University.

However, there was one loose end:  a relationship she wanted out of.

Three years later her mother is adamant that nothing in that relationship predicted that Rose’s life would end with a slit throat and her profusely stabbed body laid bleeding, and her house set ablaze. Fortunately, the children were in Florida.

He didn’t want to lose her, he had said.

Rose was twenty-seven.

* * *

Andrea stands a little over five feet tall, but she is a powerhouse.  Soft-spoken with a gentle spirit, she speaks courageously about being a woman who compromised too much and said nothing when something needed to be said.  A woman who tamed her ambition because, according to her  husband, she was too strong, too independent.  Even some close to her had agreed.

Before long she was something she had never expected to become: a battered woman.  That is, until the day she was hurled against a wall.  She fought back. Hard.  He was severely injured and hospitalized.  She was jailed.

* * *

These ladies refuse to allow their stories to become mere numbers in domestic violence and criminal reports.  There are just too many casualties, they say, including 3.3 million children in the United States alone.

Rose’s mother, Rafeeqah Sanders, is intimately familiar with the trauma suffered by children who lose a parent to domestic violence – she was left to care for her two grandchildren, ages six and three.  Determined to make a significant difference  not only in her grandchildren’s lives, but in the lives of other children affected by domestic violence, Rafeeqah founded Rose’s Journey, a non-profit organization whose primary goal is to provide therapeutic and educational services to children impacted by domestic violence.   “Stopping domestic violence starts with teaching children that violence is wrong.”

* * *

The charges against Andrea were later dismissed, and her abuser is serving time for his offenses.  However, that wasn’t nearly enough.  Her life, her liberty and her health had been compromised by her silence, and Andrea vowed not to sit by and watch other women endure what she had.

She’s kept her word.

Through educational and social awareness programs, Andrea’s non-profit organization, Girl U Can Do It, Inc., empowers youths and young adults.  Tirelessly she advocates for AIDS/HIV awareness and domestic violence prevention, and every Saturday, she hosts the Real R.A.P.P. radio talk show, which brings awareness to issues that disproportionately affect the African-American community.

* * *

I watched these amazing women, along with two others, sit with straight backs and in unwavering voices share their poignant experiences with the world. They are not victims but victors who have made the conscious decision to rehash every gory detail until laws are changed, until men and women are properly educated, until each child is healed. They refuse to be still or be quiet because as they all agree:  silence equals death.

I salute them

Truly yours,

Mo~

P.S.:  To find out more about Rose’s Journey, go to www.rosesjourney.org, or contact Rafeeqah Sanders at (215) 767-5258.

            Check out Andrea Johnson , Torrance Young and Walil Archer on Real R.A.P.P. Radio at www.DownTownHottRadio.com every Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

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Thanks a million!

My Truth About Motherhood

I wish that I could declare that I’m a great mother.

I wish that I could boldly affirm that every sacrifice was unselfish, that every decision was solely in the best interest of my son, that strategic planning was always implemented, and that I took advantage of every grand opportunity. I really wish that I could.  But I can’t.

To be clear, I am not a bad mother.  As a matter of fact, my son and I are very close.

At fifteen, I became his mother.  Even with tremendous support, my foundation for motherhood was molded by fear:  fear of disappointing people who believed in me; fear of confirming stereotypes; fear of raising an African-American male in the inner city. So every “A” earned, every achieved accomplishment, and all three relocations, were steeped in dispelling any of those fears at any given time.

He’s twenty-seven now, and from birth I’ve loved him deeply and unconditionally.  However, for far too long, my fear for him felt greater than my love. I still fear some, but I no longer dwell or move or plan in that space because neither his greatness nor mine can thrive in such an irrational environment. He gets that, so much so that during his roughest times – especially during his roughest times — he has vehemently refused to allow me to deflect my fears onto him.

“Come home, just to rebound,” I have pleaded in my moments of panic.

“Okay, Mom,” he’s responded .

Yet, he’s never shown up.

Maybe one day he will, maybe not. I’m learning that he’ll be fine either way.  For that, I am grateful.

For over two decades, I have allowed senseless fears to deprive me from appreciating the fullness of motherhood. Yes, my pregnancy was a disappointment to those who cared about me, and yes, I increased the teenage pregnancy rate by one that year. Years later I would learn  that raising an African-American male anywhere in America – that raising a  child period – is challenging.  But none of that truly mattered anyway.  The disappointments were short lived, and  my hard work from then until now has paid off greatly.

My son is building his life brick by brick.  He has fumbled, even  fallen, but pure grit – the same grit possessed by countless of seldom acknowledged and productive African-American men throughout many inner cities of America – has kept him from showing up on my familiar doorstep and walking through my open door.  And, although so many years ago he opted for warmer climates, he proudly answers to a nickname that’s inked in his heart and represented on his arm – Philly.

There’s really nothing to fear. I get it now. 

I know better, so I’m obligated to do better.  And I will.  Hopefully, some years from now during the rewrite, I will have earned the right to audaciously declare, “I am a great mother!”

Until then, love hard and fear less.

Truly yours,

Mo~

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Be The Change, Or Be Quiet

I agree.  Change is necessary.

Something happens everyday that confirms it:  a flagrant injustice, a chance encounter with an insolent other, or just that nagging thought:  Enough is enough.

At those moments we’re roused, and like prophets of old we yell, swear, repent and  demand repentance from others.  In an effort to motivate swift change, through word of mouth or pen or taps on a keyboard (or all of the above), we prophesy doom and destruction of cultures, communities and nations. “Time is of the essence! Act now, or else!” we declare.

We mean well.  We really do.  Because the truth is, if we do not find effective ways to integrate generations and societies, or motivate our youth to reach their greatest potential, or commit to causes that will strengthen society, humanity will become permanently demoralized and minorities and the poor will continue to be marginalized and seep deeper into non-existence until they die.

However, threats and fear of destruction have never created long-term permanent goodwill, and being angry without courage and strategic planning accomplishes nothing.  For if those approaches were effective, we would not be prophesying doom and demanding change today.

Something different has to occur.  Now.  Like the so-called experts, many of us have ideas on what should be done and how it all should be carried out, ideas that still need to be fleshed out and tested.  But in the meantime, Mahatma Ghandi reminds us that there is something that we are capable of doing:  We can be the change that we wish to see in the world.

We can lead by example by committing to our individual paths while respecting the courses of others. We can adamantly refuse to succumb to fear and gracefully embrace the inevitable obstacles and sacrifices that are bound to surface. We are capable of interacting respectfully with everyone that we encounter, and we can choose to correct our own behavior.

There is tremendous work and responsibility involved in making society better, even if it is just the small piece of our daily world. If one is unwilling or unable or just not ready to put the work in, that is fine. If one doesn’t want to bear the burden or responsibility, that too should be respected. But to those, stop yelling, stop swearing, and stop demanding that others do something. Just be quiet.

For those who are yelling and swearing and doing, stay your course, but be mindful not to infringe upon others. Remember that your actions will determine if people trust and respect your words. Your actions will propel you to each next level.  Your actions, ultimately, will produce the change you are seeking.

Well, enough said.  Time for me to get back to being the change I wish to see, to being the leader that I expect to emerge, to being the shoulders upon which my granddaughter can stand upon.

This is just the beginning of the process, the very first step.  Hope to run into you along the way.

Truly Yours,

Mo~

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Losing Jayden

I was born on a Thursday, and on a Thursday thirty-seven years later my second son would not be born alive. I was close to six months pregnant, twenty-three weeks exactly.

His name was Jayden Brice.

It was 5:19 a.m. on Thursday, May 22, 2008 when my water broke. Within an hour I was at Chestnut Hill Hospital in a room staring at beige walls with flowered borders and colored canvases that seemed to blend into one huge space of nothing.

I hadn’t known Jayden’s identity the moment I arrived because the week before he had stubbornly refused to unlock his tiny legs. But I did know that his heart had been beating a healthy 160 beats per minute. I did know that he had opened and closed his mouth as he twisted and turned with much vigor before resting comfortably on his back. I did know that things were well just a mere week before.

But I braced myself for a different reality that Thursday as the monitor, that just a week prior had showcased energy and hope, was deliberately positioned to make it impossible for me to see the images. I laid without a hint of movement while the doctor and midwife probed my abdomen, reviewed the screen and spoke quietly to one another.

Softly, never taking my eyes off of the wall, I said it first.  “It’s gone.”

The doctor held my hand, confirmed what I had known since the moment I had left home, and assured me that there was nothing that I could have done to prevent it. That it was not at all my fault.

“Sometimes this happens,” she had said.

The doctor explained that the natural course of birth had to be followed – though birthing death seemed so unnatural to me. Labor would be induced the next day, delivery performed at five centimeters, and I needed to decide whether I wanted a natural birth or an epidural. Explanations followed medical forms and ended with, “Do you have any questions?”

Fragmented thoughts performed somersaults without graceful finishes in my mind, and although I wanted and needed to speak, I was muted by disbelief. My lips had refused to separate as if the mental conjunctures were a foreign language my tongue could not articulate. Heaviness was my only clarity. So I just dropped my head, and cried.

The doctor left the room first, the midwife a few minutes later, but only after she had given me one more thing to contemplate.

“Would you like to hold it?” she asked.

* * *

To this day, I have never felt as devastated, as deflated, as uncertain as I did on that Thursday in May. While losing Jayden did not kill me, I’m not quite sure that it has made me either any stronger or any weaker. It did, however, form new truths for me.

I know that I cannot plow through grief, that grief is a process with its own natural rhythm that cannot be ignored. No amount of work or grad school – or both – forfeits the process.  It only prolongs the start of it.

I know that no matter what I do, how well I do it, or how close things come to fruition, there could be a tragic disappointment, or two, along the way.  And though I am innately optimistic, I know that not all of my hopes and dreams will be fulfilled. At times, I will be able identify what went wrong and may even have the chance to correct some mistakes. Sometimes I will not. Either way, I will be fine.

I know for certain that even when I’m sad or broken or confused, or sad and broken and confused, I can still choose to love, that loss can be a powerful motivator, that life is fragile and any minute really could be my last. What doesn’t kill me may not make me stronger or weaker, but it will teach me something.

And, I’ve learned that people care. They really do.

* * *

I held Jayden, gave him the name that had been decided within the very same week that his little heart had stopped beating. I told him that I loved him, that I was sorry, and that I would never ever forget him.

That stands true today.

Very truly yours,

Mo-

Living on Limited Time

Our time on earth is limited and each passing minute reduces it even more.  Yesterday will not be recouped, past moments cannot be recovered, and time will never still. There are no exceptions.

But living on limited time is not as tragic as it sounds, at least not for me.

It’s actually exhilarating.  I know many ordinary people with extraordinary talents – gifts so remarkable that I can’t help but marvel and wish that I could do as they do, the way that they do it. But I don’t have time to live out what doesn’t belong to me.  Neither do I really want to.  So while I support, applaud and admire the genius of others, my gifts are just as astonishing.  Therefore,  my time must be invested in creating a better, greater me.

It’s liberating because time does not permit me to allow others to define or enclose me within four brick walls with concrete floors and low ceilings and call it my life. Forgive me if I ignore you at times, but though you mean well, your voice or your thoughts or your fears cannot become my guide. Nor will I become a caricature of a character in a world that you create for me.  No, there is just enough time for me to invent me.

But most important, living on limited time leaves no room for regrets. In the past, my remorse over lost time had posed an immediate threat to any future possibilities.  Thoughts like, It’s too late or I’m dug in now or I should have done it five years ago would plague my consciousness and conversations until I almost believed it, until my vision was nearly destroyed, until I just about accepted what was as what would be.  But time moved even when I didn’t until eventually my will to evolve into what I truly desired was stronger than any fret of wasted moments. Now, just the mere fact that I have life drives me into each new moment, each new hour, each new day fully confident that I still have the opportunity to do what I put off doing yesterday.

Yes, my time on earth is limited and each passing minute reduces it even more.  Yesterday will not be recouped, past moments cannot be recovered, and time will never still. There are no exceptions.  None.  So I’m grateful for each moment and take none for granted.

Sincerely yours,

Mo–

My Snapshot

Hello.  I’m Monique Danielle, but just call me “Mo”.

I’m proudly middle-aged with a strong measure of good health, so I’m still in the running to attempt the one, two or possibly three things I should have done sooner. The question now isn’t about capability but whether I have the heart for the sacrifice.   Everything cost something.

I believe in love in all of its forms. I’m strong enough to be a part of someone’s life and discerning enough to know when to leave. I care immensely and love intensely, but it is evil to infringe upon another person’s happiness or allow them to interfere with mine.  So I do neither.

I have three expectations of others:  (1) be who you truly are; (2) live up to your standards; and, (3) demand the same from me.

I’m tolerant, even of some things that I may disagree with.  I tend to go left when everyone is going right.  I’m exacting and demanding and sometimes my patience runs really thin. Empathy comes natural to me, shallowness bores me, and human connection drives me.

I strive for an “A” even when I know that my best is a “B.”  I’m innately curious and can never learn enough. In everyone and everything there is a lesson: even a broken clock is right twice a day. (Cliché, I know.)

My daily motto is: “I will judge nothing that occurs today.”  Each day I get better at living this out. Though honestly, it’s a struggle.

My spiritual journey is sacred and personal, and so is yours.  The road you travel and how you arrive are not my concerns. Not because I lack interest, but because I hold in the highest regard your right to define you, your life and God.  I will never interfere with another’s journey, and neither will I allow anyone to impinge upon mine.

If you need to know what type of daughter, mother, grandmother, godmother, niece, cousin, friend or co-worker that I am, confer with someone who knows me well.

Have I done things that I thought I would never do, said things that I shouldn’t have said, made decisions that I wouldn’t make again, apologized when I didn’t mean it, refused to apologize when I should have, loved good people at bad times, left too soon, stayed too long, talked too much or didn’t speak enough?

Yes.  I lack perfection.

I am not etched in stone.  Neither is my life.  Who I am today is the sum of my experiences thus far.  But each day I seek out and thrive for moments that lead me to different places, new people, and purposeful events that could ultimately change it all.

Eventually I may have to reintroduce myself.   But for now, this is my snapshot.

Truly yours,

Mo~

P.S. – Feel free to introduce yourself.  I would be interested in getting to know you.

Am I Crazy Enough?

The people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do.  Apple ‘Think Different’ Commercial 1997

During the Great Migration my maternal grandparents left Smithfield, North Carolina and settled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Although Philadelphia did not promise African-Americans anything easy, nor was the playing field anywhere near level, it was still a city that offered possibilities to those who were crazy enough to believe in something better.

On October 25, 1954, my grandparents purchased their first home on a block where neighbors welcomed them by breaking their windows at whim. When a police officer was not standing guard, an extended family member was.  But my grandparents were crazy enough to believe that things would change.  So they stayed, and things did.

My grandfather, a mechanic, was foolish enough to consider owning his own business, while my grandmother followed suit convinced that a domestic worker, wife and mother of four could go to nursing school. He saved his money, and his auto shop did exceedingly well; she graduated at the top of her class.  By my grandmother’s untimely death at forty-five, their daring to be crazy enough had well paid off.  Undoubtedly, hard work and pure tenacity were major staples of their success.  But just as important was their unwavering belief that they had a right, even under extenuating circumstances, to pursue their visions of happiness.

It’s easy to be audacious when we are young.  We feel invincible and believe that time is on our side. Like my father.  At 18, with a one-way ticket, a hundred dollars, a pint of whiskey and all grit, he left his London home, hitched a ride to the Heathrow International Airport and boarded a flight to America. He worked hard, did well and forty-two years later he passed away on American soil an American citizen, of which he was very proud.

Often though, when age and major life responsibilities are upon us we forfeit crazy and pledge allegiance to smart. We defer the life that we truly desire until the children are grown, or enough money is saved, or a better plan is formulated.  After all, is that not what responsible adults do?

Not long ago I came to a crossroad.  I had two options, one choice:  be smart or be “crazy enough.”  As I inched closer to siding with “crazy enough” amplified thoughts of the consequences of failure and set backs sent me scurrying back to smart and responsible, safe but unfulfilled. Because I am, after all, a responsible adult.

Then two weeks ago my grandfather passed, and through death came new life.

When I reflect upon my grandparents’ courage and tenacity under dire circumstances, I am honored. As I revel in the intrepidness of my father, I am proud.  When I ponder each of their steadfast allegiance to their individual pursuits of happiness, I am vindicated. I am stronger.  I am able.

Maybe my grandparents and father did not change the world, but they were crazy enough to change their world.  Now, they have given me the courage to change mine.

Wish me well!

Very truly yours,

Mo –

P.S. – R.I.P. Pop-Pop, Grandmom and Daddy.  Thank you, and I love you all for life and beyond.

A Flash of Prose

Prelude to an Episode of Snapped

She sat through four hours of Snapped. That’s six episodes of woman after woman after woman who executed in some form the men they once claimed to love. It’s Sunday, and she briefly thinks, Should this be on today? But then she ponders something a little deeper, a little more profound, a little more introspective.

Could I?

She scrolls through her mental Rolodex and stops at his name.  It was 1992, and they were twenty-three.  They exchanged numbers in the checkout line at Acme, and during week one they talked daily and hung out twice. Both were first year grad students who respected Coltrane but loved Boney James, and although each had acquired a taste for cappuccino, she preferred mocha and he black coffee.  Week one turned into week four, and the more they talked, the more they laughed.  Together they seemed good.

Within months they consummated their new friendship, and for the next year they did dates, game nights and holidays. That made them official, although it was all circumstantial. But that was par the course.  Innuendos had long replaced formalities like the “Can you stand a chance? Circle yes or no” note.       

It was sometime right before year two, as she was in the midst of making plans for the next level of them, that she first got wind of an indiscretion.  Not one based on thoughts of whether she was worthy or pretty or good enough.  Concrete.  Her best friend had saw him embracing some woman a little too closely for a little too long according to her estimates.  “It’s nothing,” he had said, “I just ran into a friend.”

Cell phones and texting weren’t heavy then.  Just pagers and busy signals – that irritating beep beep beep you get when you call someone who is  usually talking to someone else. So when his pager setting went from audible to vibrate to silent, and when she heard one too many times, “I didn’t realize the phone was off the hook” or “You’re tripping,” she became anxious.   So anxious that she and her best friend – the same one that told her that antifreeze was sweet tasting and hard to detect – plotted a three-part covert operation.

First, they would decode his answering machine.  The second random sequence of numbers yielded five messages declaring love and confirming plans.  Next, they would tail him.  His movements had been pretty mundane until the Starbucks.  Finally, she would confront them. 

Message number three had determined the day and time that she would show up and show-out. Like Columbo, without the wrinkled raincoat though, she would have just a few questions for both.  Silence would not be optional, and any actions after that would be improvised.

As planned, she borrowed her brother’s car, sat shielded under a tree that was far away yet close enough, and waited.  Before long he exited his home, duffle bag in hand. She put her key in the ignition, prepared to follow and entrap when he entered a car that wasn’t his.  It was her.  It was them.  It was time.

But she just sat under that tree far away yet close enough.

When they pulled off, she just sat there.  When they circled and rode right past her brother’s car, she just sat there.  For seventeen whole minutes she sat under that tree, far away, yet close enough.

Finally, she pulled her car up beside his, retrieved the folded half-sheet of paper from her glove compartment and slid it behind his wiper blade.  It was the letter she had written in all capital letters in permanent black marker well before that day.  It was the letter that her best friend had called a cop-out, a simple letter with just two words: THE END.

*  *  * 

She thinks it’s mostly funny now, back then not so much. She had run into him a few years back.  He had married her and was doing well.  He fumbled through an explanation. Said that he was immature, should have handled things differently, didn’t mean to hurt her.

He apologized profusely.

She, not at all.

We Will Burn

About twenty-six minutes into Kanye West’s short video-movie for Runaway, Kanye and the mythical phoenix are discussing her imminent departure.   He doesn’t want her to leave, but she must.  That’s her nature – she lives, she burns, then she rises. Rebirth – or renewal – is what she represents.

Give it some time. If we live long enough, the way that we live or think, spend or love will no longer benefit, nor satisfy, our being.  For some, this frustration will culminate into disastrous behavior. For others, it will feel like a volcanic desire for change boiling in your gut.  Either way, in order to rise, useless codes and conducts that have defined us up to that point will need to be eradicated.

It will be a difficult but necessary process. You will burn.

There will be major upheaval.  Things that were once absolute may become uncertain. Old wrongs will become new rights.  We will leave some people, or some may desert us. Not because love no longer exists – but because different paths must be taken at the crossroads. It is at this divulgence that we must allow others to burn, revive, and rebirth; and we must demand the same allowance from them.

What the Phoenix hates most about humans, she tells Kanye, is that we always feel the need to change or tear down anything that is different. “You rip the wing off the phoenix, and it turns to stone,” she says.  Sadly, we do. And although we can attempt to rationalize why, no reason can ever justify destroying spirits, deterring progress, or causing mental, emotional or spiritual anguish just to force others to fit.

When a cycle ends and it’s time to burn, let it happen.  Do not hold yourself hostage to a past that restricts your ability to rise, or one which forces you to live being defined by others. Refrain from judging and condemning while standing firm for what is right for you. Learn thyself, allow others the same courtesy, then soar boldly from the ashes. You will rise.

Until next time, I wish you peace, happiness and liberation.

                                                               Very truly yours,

                                                                        Mo —