January 25, 2015

What I Learned From an Eagle's Rescue

On a rare childless night, my husband was out running an errand, leaving me in solitude save for the Animal Planet's drone about people and their preposterous pets.

A man somewhere in the British Isles who was a falconer and a classical guitarist was featured. He strummed exquisitely as the camera panned from his fingers to a majestic golden eagle perched just above his right shoulder.

As the guitar playing faded, a voiceover narrated the eagle’s story. The bird, once a resident at a zoo, had been stolen and then hidden in a closet of the thieves who spirited him away. The eagle was kept in this closet until he was rescued and adopted by the falconer.

Upon rescue, the eagle was alive, but had plucked himself nearly bald -- in fits of madness, I guess -- when he realized the fruitlessness of his escape attempts. The falconer nursed the eagle back to health and after a few months, the bird's plumage returned. The next step in rehabilitation was teaching the eagle flight and return patterns, since the falconer is a falconer after all.

Time in a closet taught the eagle that he couldn’t fly, much less fly and return to a falconer. The eagle had ultimately forgotten he was an eagle. So the falconer, somehow through his falconer prowess, reminded the eagle that it was -- well, an eagle -- and that eagles are created to fly.

And now the eagle flies as he was created to do and the falconer is his friend and his personal classical guitarist.

True story. I share it for anyone who’s in a less than comfortable emotional, mental or spiritual space...like I am right now.

Life is just sticky and ugly sometimes.

Sometimes circumstances or people whisk you from a comfort level and box you in, like our eagle friend. After enough time passes and when you’ve banged your head against countless walls and beaten a herd of dead horses, you begin to pluck at yourself.

For me, the plucking I’ve done to myself in the past year is not exercising, not moving and not getting enough restorative sleep. I guess you could say at twenty-five pounds heavier than I was last year and perpetually fatigued, I’m plucked bald.

And then, even if you break free from the box, or see a sliveriest sliver of open sky, time spent in a box teaches you that you can't fly and you second-guess yourself. You forget who you are and for what you were created.

Maybe you’re a parent trying figure out what you’re doing wrong because your baby has suddenly decided it can’t sleep longer than an hour. Maybe you’re a teacher and the kids you’re trying to help only resent you.

Maybe, like me, you’re a writer who’s been boxed in for so long, you second-guess whether you can write.

So I write this post as a reminder to me and to you that we need to stop turning on ourselves and damaging ourselves while we’re in whatever box life has imposed on us. And as I write this (because I can write) and as you read this, I hope you find the strength to do whatever it is you were created to do.

Even if you don't have a classical guitarist falconer reminding you of who you are and how to do whatever it is you were created to do and be, it'll still be beautiful.

December 18, 2014

What if I'M The Grinch

The premise of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is simple enough: furry, green man-beast has a heart that’s two sizes too small. The lack of room therein leaves no room for it/him to love Christmas. So much so that he hates the holiday and steals an entire town’s Christmas presents and decorations, lies about his identity to a toddler all in an effort to ruin an entire town’s Christmas celebration.
Photo credit: emmytvlegends.com
However, once he has a spirit of Christmas Aha Moment, he realizes the season isn't about all the packages, ribbons and bows. He repents and is forgiven of all aforesaid badness, and ends up loving Christmas and carving the Roast Beast himself in celebration.

Photo credit: magazine.uc.edu

I love that story. I think a lot of us do.

Here's the thing: after honest soul searching, I think I love it because it affords me the high road, especially this year. This year has been The Year of Being an Adult with Adult Challenges. I can easily identify the Grinchly areas of, and Grinchly people in, my life that/who are associated with these Adult Challenges (said with a condescending, pious gaze) all who are working to stop me from enjoying Christmas as I know it. (or so it seems if I think on it too much.)

Seriously. All I need are big red arrows like those styrofoam We’re Number One fingers and I can stick ‘em on those Grinchly areas in my life and Grinchly people, even as I piously (and sincerely) give credit and all kinds of love to my husband for carrying my emotions and me throughout this tough year.

But, tonight as I found myself fighting against my brain’s interrupting, nagging, nudging and complaints about the Grinchly areas and peoples all while the children’s choir innocently sang Away in a Manger at the Christmas program, the most worrisome thought intruded (because the truth is always worrisome):

What if I’M The Grinch in all this?

Crap. What if I am?

But, Rochelle, you say That's impossible. You love Christmas. You know the songs, you love the spirit, you love the carols, dressing the tree and the whole house. You don't hate Christmas. You’re not a Grinch. All you want is peace on earth. Just like the songs and the scriptures -- THE SCRIPTURES -- for Heaven’s sake, say.

And I’d say you’re right. But is it possible I’ve let the aforementioned Adult Challenges shrink my heart's capacity to hold Christmas spirit and grow my brain's capacity to worry about:...

...the unknowns and situations I can’t control
even as I want  and desperately need to reconnect with the reality of parents from long ago who faced an unplanned pregnancy of the most unplanned kind there has ever been, but had everything work out in the end.

...that no one really ever really sees the ruse of “the man behind the curtain” while the “little people” struggle daily
even as I want and desperately need to reconnect with the reality that the best news ever known to mankind was first shared with illiterate, blue-collar workers. Not the top fat.

...when will things be easy, and why can’t we ever catch a break, for the love of pete
even as I want and desperately need to reconnect with the reality that the Kid whose birth I’m so excited about in the first place never had it easy, was poor (although we’d call it economically disadvantaged in nonprofit-speak), was always misunderstood and treated pretty crappy but still found a way to love everything and everybody and have peace within.

Yeah. All of that. 

Guess I wanted that Christmas feeling, but was so busy blaming the Grinches for not feeling the feeling, that I forgot about the reality of Christmas in all it’s hopefulness and ugliness.

I forgot that it isn't always about the Grinches, the Christmas Haters or even the supposed War on Christmas.

Sometimes it’s about the Grinch in the Mirror. He’s not always a green, furry man-beast. Sometimes he’s a forty-something-year-old mom who believes she’s carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders.

Time to grow my heart and shrink my brain, because this isn't a Dr. Suess story, after all.

This is life, and no one's promised another day or Christmas to get it right.

November 19, 2014

And The Old Will Dream Dreams

“...and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” Acts 2:17

Did you get the blood transfusion? I ask.
He incredulously responds. WHAT?
The blood. Did you get it?
My husband condescendingly laughs and says
Frustrated by his condescension,
I roll over,
resume sleeping
dreaming the blood transfusion dream.
It’s 4:30am.

I’m not an old man, but...

August 15, 2014

Monsters Are Real

The more I think about it, the more I think we’re all on that plane with William Shatner flying through the Twilight Zone, seeing a monster on the wing that no one else does.

It’s one of the creepiest Twilight Zone episodes, not because the special effects were extraordinary, but because the episode tapped into our most primal fear and our most basic need: to be heard -- or at the very least acknowledged -- and the fear we won’t.

Shatner’s character sees a creature on the plane's wing. At first he tries to convince himself it’s only a manifestation of nerves, and his fellow passenger and flight attendant assure him that’s the case. And he desperately wants it to be the case.

Because he’d rather think he’s crazy then deal with the reality of the monster on the wing.

The events playing out in Ferguson, Missouri on the heels of an unarmed black teen’s killing by a police officer convince me that in some way, all of us are riding along with Shatner on his Twilight Zone bound flight.

All of us see monsters we think are real. Some of us try to convince our fellow passengers those monsters are anything but.

As a black person, I can tell you about the monsters I see from my window seat: a family history dating not only back to slavery, but lynchings on my maternal and paternal sides. I found out about the maternal side's tragedies through some jarring research only a few years back. On my paternal side, it was only in my thirties that my dad told me quite matter-of-factly, that
They killed your uncle. Shot him. Said he was a crazy nigger.

The menacing figure tapping on my window reminds me of a friend who really and truly believed someone on the job was committing acts of racial microaggression, only to have it fanned off by the higher-ups who said my friend just wasn't being a team player. Like Shatner’s character, my friend felt crazy and second-guessed what they saw, heard and felt.

 I suppose my friend’s higher-ups had a different window seat, or at least a different view.

Photo Credit: SciFi Channel

The other monster on my wing is even more sinister. It’s simply the understanding of what my mom meant when she'd warn my brother who’s big enough to blot out the sun that “You have a target on your back. You are BLACK and you are BIG.”

And I got it: the world thinks black men are scary. BIG black men are even scarier. They should be careful, watchful. They could end up dead...like that Missouri teen.

All while I’m seeing my wing-flying monster and hearing what it’s saying, I’m married to a white guy. He’s my protector, our daughter’s knight in shining armor, the guy who makes me crazy and who would fight for me. He’s the guy who spirits me away to Taco Bell to lift my sagging spirits and then tells me I still look good when my spirits have sagged too long after it’s been one too many trips to Taco Bell.

But yet, I know he sees something different from his window seat.

The gremlin he can see is one where news of the day seems to crucify white men for being white men.

The monster he sees hisses that people are judged only by what they do, and that color isn’t a factor when it comes to scuffles -- even those resulting in death -- with the police.

The same menacing figure reminds him that people don’t get stopped for driving in certain parts of the city. Like Shatner’s co-passenger, I tell him he’s seeing things wrong; there’s no monster on the wing: I get stopped all the time.

But from where my husband sits, it’s crazy-making. Because it is crazy.

While he believes me, it’s hard for him to believe me because he knows what he sees -- what he’s lived, from his window seat.

Until the day we’re riding in one of those places. He driving. I’m riding. A squad sidles up to my side of the car and the driver sees me. I say: We’re gonna get pulled over. My husband listens to the monster, and he waves me off…
...until the squad’s lights flash and the sirens sound.

He gets off with a warning, and he never doubts Driving While Black Syndrome again. And, of course, we talked about it.

And that’s the bottom line: we see different monsters, and we feel like crazy people telling the other person about the monsters we see. But we talk about them, and understand each of us is seeing something instead of telling the other person they don’t see anything at all.

And to me, that's the first step in getting anywhere in this racial thing we’re juggling in America right now -- in Ferguson, in Milwaukee, and in its posh suburbs: realizing that the monster a white/black person sees may be a different monster than a black/white person sees.

But if we stay on the route of arguing to the extreme, blaming, name calling, sullen silence, or denying that monsters exist at all, we’re all gonna go spinning off-axis and off-kilter into the Twilight Zone...each of our spirits killed by our own personal monsters.

Photo Credit: backtothecerealbox.com