Today is my birthday. I remember as a kid waiting on pins and needles for January 16th to arrive each year: planning what I was going to wear (a few years I adorned a birthday sash--overkill I know), making a list of birthday wishes, waiting for a call from my cousins who were always first to call. It was all I could do to contain my excitement. This year I forgot about my birthday. I seriously forgot it was my birthday week. How does one go from waiting for a day with bated breath to forgetting it?
Could the answer simply be, Life? This adulting thing is NO JOKE. I wish I could say I have mastered it. I wish I could say I was waiting for the clock to strike midnight, so I could greet 44 years old with open arms. Nope, I was mouth open long sleep on my left side as not to aggravate my bad back or broken elbow (these are the types of injuries of a 40+ year old).
Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against the number 44. I am not experiencing the anxiety I felt turning 40 (I had lost it then!) I am learning to care less about the opinions of others and to live to please no one. I have learned to talk less and smile more (which ain't easy might I add). I am enjoying the person I am (and the person I am BECOMING --if you don't get that reference close this tab and lose my web page)! I can say I have hit the prime of my womanhood: You can't tell me I ain't fly. I know I'm super fly! And still, I am not rejoicing or even lamenting adding another year.
There is so much I still need to do! That little fortune teller fold-able I made when I was in about 4th grade (the age I am in the picture above) that told my life story has a few fortunes left unfilled. I think I forgot my birthday this year because I was less focused on the calendar change and more focused on life change. I got stuff to do. I have goals to meet, lands to conquer and dragons to slay, so I can storm the castle, take the throne, collect my jewels and adorn my crown.
You bore the weight
all the heavy things
from carrying children
to lifting your family
out of a living wage.
You bore the weight of secrets and lies
of being an assertive, smart and dynamic
You bore the weight
of a pregnant teenage daughter
of college tuitions
of debts (emotional and physical)
on your back.
You bore the weight
of making it
of now thinking you're too good
of who does she think she is
of white men
of black men
Bore the weight of past.
Bore the weight of pain.
I wish I'd lightened the load
more for you
Took the invisible jug you balanced
off your head
and let you take a long
drink from the river
without having to
This summer having all the kids home has been so good for my soul.
Today, June 7th means everything and nothing.
Makes no sense right? I agree. Two years ago today made no sense to me either. It is, itself, a day of contradictions. It was not a surprise, but I was stunned. It is one day, and yet it was a lifetime. It has been two years, and it was yesterday.
I truly am wrestling with how I am suppose to feel, think and act today. The one who gave me life lost her life on this day. And as I write this, I realize I hate that terminology... lost her life. What does that even mean? To me, its use implies being able to be found or retrieved (think lost and found) and is therefore a misnomer in the context of death. I digress.
Should I think of her more today? Impossible. Everyday for the past two years, I have at some point in a 24 hour span not NOT thought of her. That's a fact. I look in the mirror and see her (more than ever lately) or I say something she always said or I retreat into memory.
Everything: On June 7, 2016, an extremely intelligent and insightful mother, wife, daughter, sister, grandmother, aunt, cousin and friend closed her eyes to this world. And as a result, there is a gaping hole in my universe.
Nothing: One day dare not define Beverly Ann Bradley-Flanagan. Were I to dwell on June 7, 2016. I would miss some June days on Prospect Ave in Chicago on the deck or in the pool splashing and talking as she picked some vegetables from her illustrious garden or helping her roll out a blanket and grab the footballs for an impromptu lakefront barbecue off 67th & South Shore Drive or on Danas Path sitting with our feet in the pool admiring the backdrop of gorgeous flowers forever in bloom on Cape Cod or watching the deer retreat from the forest preserve into the backyard from the sunroom as one of her grandchildren rode around the room on a tricycle on Notre Dame Street or sitting on the back porch on Kingston Avenue with her arms around me and our heads leaned back looking at the sky with no words, only love flowing between us.
Surely, June 7 will always be a paradox of my everything and nothing.
Absurd you say? Really consider it. Omniscient. Omnipotent. Omnipresent. Savior. And that's just Oprah.
Who saved Alabama from Roy Moore?
Who is leading the charge to seek justice for their dead sons and changing the trajectory of what it means to mourn while birthing activism?
Who is calling the President out on his bull at every turn and every time?
Who started a movement to uncover pervasive misogyny?
Who stares in the face of those who refuse to acknowledge her greatness and blatantly question her beauty?
These brave black women persisted and continue to persist in the face of fear and doubt. Like any deity, they understand their power and know the outcome of their efforts is for the greater good. Sacrificing. Taking the lashes. They are saving us. All of us. That is nothing but God. Nothing absurd about it.
How can I harness my own goddess energy (the energy of Serena, Tarana, Maxine, Sybrina, etc.)? What am I brave enough to do in spite of fear and doubt for the greater good?
Those are tough questions; the type of questions I typically run from or like a friend told me today, those are ones I cover with a band-aid instead of addressing.
A Goddess, product of the divine, doesn't cower. She stands alone with herself and listens to her heart. She dreams big and then bigger because like Liberia's former President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, once said "The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”
It is time to bravely stand and walk boldly knowing the Gods have paved the way.
This post is inspired by this line from Angie Thomas' young adult masterpiece The Hate U Give: "Brave does not mean you're not scared. I means you go on even though you're scared." This is my 8th day of writing as part of 100 Days of Summer Writing.
The cursor blinks. My thoughts rush. My emotions rise. Words come and go today with chaos and uncertainty.
First came a tribute: A poem for Zack TV, a man I never met from a city I know too well.
They done gone and killed another.
Someone's son and everyone's brother.
My thoughts rush. My emotions rise. No more words come.
I try again and get ...
Silence commands blood on our hands.
The cursor blinks and blinks. The poem gets crossed out--overwhelmed by the weight of the conditions of black lives.
I try my hand at a more historical approach,
I write of civilization's cradle, of the Niger and Nile Rivers, and of Empires. I describe the homeland and connect it to theft and robbed identities. I write about the New World and its free labor source and its ugliness swept under the rug of patriotism and capitalism and every other -ism. I write about the fight for rights, and I stop.
My thoughts rush. My emotions rise. No more words come.
Because my thoughts converge on ...
I've known rivers.
And heart completes:
Rivers and deltas.
Where cotton grows.
And nooses still hang.
The cursor blinks and blinks. History gets crumpled up and tossed to the side--too much, too much.
I consider simple commentary next.
I scribble thoughts on the diametric differences on labor and justice.
I juxtapose Pain. Push. Pain. Push. to Privilege. Rest. Privilege. Rest.
I argue justice from different planes never intersect.
I assert that trauma passed down in the cells creates a genetics of fear.
I connect this to systematic racism and systems like schools.
Systems like schools and I stop.
My thoughts rush. My emotions rise. No more words.
I remember a recent meeting hosted by my kid's high school administration, a secret meeting invitations only distributed via word of mouth "as to not alert anyone" else, where the students in middle class mid-America said they experience racism on a daily basis from students and staff and don't feel safe at the school I send my children to each day.
The cursor blinks and blinks. The tears fall.
I can't be sure I know justice, and can not speak on that which I do not know.
I stop writing.
Let others labor while I sit in the pain of this realization.
100 days of writing begins today. For the next 100 days, I am committing to write for clarity, therapy and because a teacher told me to (as part of a teachers group connecting an image or idea each day to writing). Whether for intimate sanity or broad consumption, I am eager to see where my pen or keyboard takes me. I do know I always find it easier to write when the summer sun is high melting away the worries and stresses of "real life" so let the journey begin.
Lately, my days have been as crazy as sharing a train car with a reindeer on my way home from work.
A list of my crazy over the past 3-4 weeks:
All those moments and events crystallized into the realization that my babies are growing up incredibly fast--light speed fast. Sooner than later, it will be just Marcus Sr. and I (pray for me). How did this happen? I remember vividly the day of their births. I remember the first flutters as they grew in my womb. And now that connection seems usurped by their friends and Netflix. I keep looking at massive Marcus (the nickname his teammates gave him and that totally fits) as he's grown facial hair and more inches and an attitude. There's Katie baby, as I used to call her, who is only a visitor in our home. She comes periodically and grabs clothes before heading out again. Kayla has not lived at home since her freshman year of college and to see her as a real adult taking the train downtown everyday is unreal. And yet, this is the new normal.
Don't be crazy enough to miss the reindeer!
It is crazy how quickly time passes; if you blink or look down you might miss the reindeer and no one should want to miss the reindeer or your kids growing up or your emotions as they do!
What happens when your A game becomes your C- game? Society is conditioned to celebrate success, and recently popular is the idea of even celebrating failure, but mediocrity is seen as an abomination. No one dare say they are mediocre at what they do for fear of receiving a serious side eye. Success comes with smiles and high fives and failure comes with pep talks and pity, but mediocre comes with judgment. That's why "my friend" dared not admit that she'd existed at less than her best this school year.
My friend was afraid of the judgement. She had been on her A game for so long and to fall so far from grace into the mediocre was just embarrassing. She'd attempted to rationalize and reason her behavior: Did she simply not give a flying rats ass anymore? Were there internal or external factors? Is it okay to kill Wonder Woman? (<-- That itself deserves its own blog post!)
It was hard to just sit in the fact that "my friend" had simply been okay with, ahem, being average. I think about it as it relates to my children. I am quick (on the ready) to share my kids successes and failures. The failures provide comedy and an opportunity for me to get advice from others. The successes make me look and feel good. I never call my friends or share stories at work of Marcus playing a mediocre volleyball game or Katie getting into the College of DuPage or Kayla having an okay day at work. Why? Why do we despise average? Is it because, going back to the example of my children, that I'd have to be accountable for that mediocrity and have to ask and potentially answer some questions about it?
But that's where my friend found herself this year--average/mediocre at best. She didn't know how to feel about it. She really didn't know what to do with it, so I write for "her" asking: Is being average okay?
It ain't sexy! But it ain't hideous either! Here's what I told "my friend:" Sometimes it's about recognizing where you are and if that place is mediocrity and you survived it, then that's okay because you survived it!
What would you say to her?
There are things we say aloud, and then there are the things we think but don't speak. Much of what I communicate externally is NOTHING at all like what I am thinking internally...Thank goodness (for me or society---depending on the day)! Sometimes even when I am trying to communicate the 'sanitized' aloud version, my face communicates my internal monologue.
Here is a list of some of the things I have said this week coupled with the subtitles:
"Okay, so I'll say it again."
"I need a change."
"As one of the only black (insert any applicable noun) ..."
"Yeah, you can go."
A punch in the gut. I was not expecting the letter to start with, I regret to inform you, instead of Congratulations. Certainly not. I had envisioned it arriving in a gold lined envelop with a single ivory sheet--CONGRATULATIONS scrolled atop in curly calligraphy. Not so. I regret to inform you, instead.
Deflated. I read the first line nearly 10 times never moving beyond, I regret to inform you. After read #10, I tossed the flimsy, thin, single, colorless paper to the side and grabbed a long stem glass. Not sure if I expected the line to change after a number of readings or if I was just waiting for it to crystallize for me. I regret to inform you the thing you really wanted is a NO.
Breathe. I had to tell myself, but the spiral began anyway.
What the hell? WHY?
What now? I regret to inform you ...
How dare they? WHY?
They will rue the day! I regret to inform you ...
WHY?! WHY?! WHY?!
Nobody puts Keisha in a corner! I regret to inform you ...
Panic. Fear. Angry. Sullen. I shut myself up in my bedroom for the weekend, spoke only in grunts to Marcus and the kids, and ate every meal in my bed while flipping between Bravo and HGTV. Feeling sorry for myself did not heal or help.
Picking myself up. Meant facing the failure. No excuses. Real self-talk instead of corny cliches like everything happens for a reason. It meant taking a long look inward and asking myself what I really wanted. And awaiting without fear and without filtering what might come. I got some surprise answers. Answers only I regret to inform you could have elicited. Being told "NO" means I am going harder than ever after my real "YES." Get ready to CONGRATULATE me (a few times)! I am failing forward.
*Loved this message from Will Smith & thanks to Nicole V. for introducing me to it and inspiring this post.
Documenting my evolution by filling in space and matter one word at a time.