Saturday, March 7, 2009

Who Will We Be Now

Our country has lost another 655,000 jobs in February. There were 2.4 million jobs lost in the last four months alone. It has all changed forever the landscape of our country.

This got me to thinking this morning, who will we be now? Who will I be now?

I woke up thinking about the process of redefining and renewing the definition of oneself after a major change. This morning as I was getting ready for my usual Saturday morning escape, I thought how differently I am now versus twelve years ago when I was in grad school.

My baby girl, age, woke up joyfully and eagerly. The world seemed like an endless playground for her. She was ready to jump up in my bed and watch Jimmy Neutron. She looked at me with her curly wisps in a morning tussle and a kilowatt smile spread across her chubby face. Her sister, age seven, was cocooning under the blankets, trying to escape the invading morning light. They were in the last moments of "howl out night", a long-time family tradition. With their dad out-of-town, they added to the adventure by making a camp out in my bedroom and eventually swarming on me like bees. The life of these two little girls has been the definition of myself for almost six years.

I braided my daughter's hair and finished getting ready, gathering up my books and pens for a morning of reading and writing. "Have fun mommy." They in turn nestled back under the covers and turned their attention back to the scientific antics of the cartoon character. I took a longing look at them and knew that time would continue to pass quickly and my definition of who I am will change some more.

The news of the economy greeted me as I went downstairs and all the news programs are reporting all the losses. The usual online spots I visit, especially Huffington Post, all proclaimed the mess we are in. Then I thought, like my changing role with girls getting older, is it a mess or is it an opportunity?

My life changed completely when I carried the last box from my corporate job. I was making a pretty high salary, over the middle class figure, and pretty comfortable in my life. We had our favorite restaurants and things we did, the boys involved in activities, the only girl the doted on princess. As I put away the business suits and donned jeans and a blouse, somehow, I knew this would be a journey.

The years have gone by so quickly, I can hardly believe in May it will be six years. I have been writing, consulting, teaching, organizing, facilitating, reading, cooking, cleaning, shopping (not for me!), healing, being, nurturing, loving, creating, motivating, mentoring, tutoring, celebrating, connecting, leading, inventing, speaking - I have been busy. My dread locs have nestled beneath hats of wife, mother, professor, teacher. The things I gave up have been replaced by things that are irreplaceable. And that made me think about the opportunity for our country.

We have been inundated in a sea of big box stores, big box houses, and big box cars. Our nation entered a self-centered, self-absorbed, self-indulgent period of me, me, me over the last decade or so. The start was so subtle that if we weren't paying attention, still can't be pinpointed. Was it the boom time of the 1990s or the protectionist times of the 2000s? The bubble burst like the savings & loan bubble, the dot com bubble, the housing bubble - it all burst and has left a nation scrambling for meaning.

I am not sure where we go from here. I know that sometimes the way forward is to look back.

The country did not need mega mansions popping up faster than the howl-out night popcorn kernels. Every piece of available land was gobbled up to feed that insatiable need to be lord and ladies of the manor. The definition of middle class changed and then the measurement of worth became where we lived, what we drove, where the kids went to school, who was on our feet, what bag we used to hold our wallet, what clubs we belonged to, how many soccer games or academic camps we had scheduled, the more and more became so much that up sprung new storage businesses touting themselves as the third or fourth garage. And then it all came crashing down and we as a nation are left with feelings of shock, awe, fear, and disbelief. It seems as if everyone from the pundits on the television to the old men at the coffee house are musing about how did this happen and how do we get out.

Redefining oneself, redefining the nation will not be easy. We have to shake up age old notions of what makes success, what defines joy, what measure of peace.

The Bible has a great passage in proverbs about how much better it is to live on a corner of the rooftop than with a nagging wife. I can take that to actually mean that nagging wife can be the bills that constantly fill up the mailboxes of this country of unemployed and over-extended status seekers. The continuous pounding on the door and the stress related illnesses as a result of financial failure the likes of AIG, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Bernie Madoff, and even the KB Homes head honcho. All of this excess has become a nagging wife for this country and I think it is time to just start over, rethink happiness, rethink joy, rethink success.

One of the biggest changes, besides giving up my huge paycheck, that happened when I became an at-home mom, was the need to continuously reinvent myself. I threw myself into doing laundry, cleaning my home, making increasingly more and more tasty meals, taking on the role of waiting for the school bus, and making sure the house was ready when my husband came home. I, without knowing it, took on the childhood role I saw of my step-mother. She always made sure dinner was on the table when my dad got home around 5:15pm. I grew up with her admonishing us to do our cooking chore (by the time I reached high school) and get things ready for daddy coming home. He was the head of the house and we all prepared for his arrival. I found myself taking on that same role because this was all I saw of an at-home mom.

The mundane part of doing dishes, washing clothes, cleaning the house was not enough to fill the expanse of my heart. I had to redefine myself again. I reached out to the community and joined Mocha Moms, a national support group for mothers-of-color who have chosen to put their children and family first. This helped me realize that as a woman, I could still be a full-time mom and still pursue those things that brought me joy in my life. The definition of who I was extended beyond a corporate marketer or an at-home mother.

I think the process will be the same for this country. For some, people of color in particular, financial difficulty is nothing new. The unemployment rate is at 8.1 nationally but for African-Americans it is over 13% and has been at that rate for a long time. There are some communities that have always had to redefine, renew, and reinvigorate themselves in order to exist in a changing landscape.

America has an opportunity to learn. We are not a monarchy. We are not the 1400s where there were surfs and so many levels of hierarchy. We are more than the expansive manor with the servants inside to cater to our every need. We are a nation of people first. We all have the capacity to grow and change, love and live. WE must realize we are more than the things we own that will not follow us to the grace. We must know that life is meant to be lived and the one with the most toys does not win.

Redefining is not easy. It takes effort and it takes creativity. It wakes up the soul to the possibility of wonder.

I am not who I was twelve years ago. I am constantly changing. And this country will also. I am comfortable in the many hats I wear. I have looked through the lens of possibility and learned that life is fluid, meant to be experienced and not ignored in an endless pursuit of more stuff. We are life and we will be fine.

The years ahead hold a lot of change and a lot of possibility. It is refreshing to think that this country of over 300 million holds within our collective minds the creativity, inquisitiveness, and wonder to ask, "what if we do...?"

Reinvent, renew, reinvigorate, rejuvenate, feels free!

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