Wednesday, June 26, 2013

49 is too young

I received devastating news that a classmate had a stroke.

That was last night.

I got up this morning, early, to work, and was preparing notes to write my rant about the Supreme Court striking down the key provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

Then the news came in a phone call.

He passed away this morning.

How? Why?

My entire class, the people I grew up with, are grappling with loss of life, barely six months after we experienced the loss of someone, also 49, just 3 months shy of his 50th birthday, who left here way too soon.


All we have is the dash, truly, that is all we have.

He leaves behind his ex-wife, the mother of his children, his grandchildren, his new fiance, his siblings, his mother, his grandmother, cousins, nieces, nephews.  And us. His classmates, his homies.  There weren't that many of "us" in our town so "we" all knew each other, even if our lives sent us in different directions, there is something connecting to that childhood cohort.

49 is too young, simply too young.

Living the dash has taken on much more meaning.

His mother delivered my son, my 26 year old.  Our lives are connected.  His eldest son is the same age as my eldest angel-son, separated by a few months, just like he and I were separated by a few months in age.


We ask the questions.  Friends just talked about him speaking in church Sunday, he was not a public speaker and while I vividly remember his playfulness and vivid smile, there was a quiet, shy demeanor about him.

That was his last speaking, his last day there, at the old church, before the new one is dedicated.  Now, he is at the feet of the ONE we all want to see.

But we continue to ask, why?

49 is simply too young to die.

Die. He is dead? You are kidding me, right?

My loss, our loss, the loss of our crew is nothing compared to what his family is feeling.

What is it about knowing someone, them being in the universe is all we need to know that they are ok, we are ok, they exist, a part of us still exists, seeing him in the halls of Jeff Junior High School.  We exist, now, gone, another empty space in our common experience.

I am numb and dumbfounded.

Simply too young.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Heartbreak in Kirkwood

Once again, my little suburb makes the news, and not for a good thing.

I was driving back from the airport this morning, my van radio dial set at 90.7, my mind blissfully thinking about the future, ignoring the traffic that had us at a standstill, when I instantly became alert.

19-year old suspect at larger for the murder of an 18-year old Kirkwood man, 2013 graduate of Kirkwood High School.

"What?!" I was driving and wondering what that was about.

Then saw a post from my 19 year old son, a 2012 graduate, identifying the victim, and expressing his disbelief, sorrow, and fear for the future generation.

Our little seemingly idyllic suburb is not so peaceful.

This shattering of hopes and dreams that has happened to these two families who simply wanted the best for their sons, both sons of color, both sons with potential, has been snuffed out for what?  What is the value of life?

I have experienced sitting in the hospital waiting room while the surgeons desperately try to save the life of your child.  My older son experienced his own face-with-death, but he is still here, disabled, but here, speaking up and out to the younger generation that his post quarter century status allows him.

But the mother of the murder victim and the mother of the shooter are both grieving beyond words today.  The small community of color that is in Kirkwood is torn in the heart, how do we put words to what should not be spoken? And why should we think that the helplessness of mothers in the north side of St. Louis and the south and west sides of Chicago should not penetrate our tree lined streets in West County St. Louis?

This community, all the communities must find a way to reach this generation and admonish them that there is nothing that can be solved at the end of a gun.  Death is final, over, and the argument, problem, is it over?  What now?

4:30pm.  Just after that tropical down pour of soaking rain, tears fell that will not know sunshine.


We may never know, the shooter is on the large and the victim is in the morgue.

And two mothers are awake this morning wondering what shattered their world.

As adults, we disagree, I know I have, but there is time, space, and distance that can bring healing to misunderstanding and slights.  We can all be examples of hope and healing, differences put aside to save this generation.  We can be the examples.

I am saddened.  I did not know the young man, my son was in a class ahead of him.  But not knowing the young men doesn't matter, we are the parents of these children, the village, and the village must come together and heal our children.

There is heartbreak in Kirkwood.

Can we heal?

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Plans He Has For Me Are Always Greater Than The Limitations Set By Others

I spent the morning reading emails for my new position and contemplating the future.  I have also been thinking a lot about purpose and timing and what happens when you stand.

Once-upon-a-time, I directed a  program and worked essentially free for three years.  My meager compensation was to help pay for school supplies for my children and really was not a contribution to my family budget, my husband took care of all that - it was to not simply give away all my years of experience, contacts, and donations to this fledgling organization.

Needless to say, it was not easy, nothing ever is when working with an entrenched family-owned non-profit that while saying it wanted to grow, expand, and reach new markets, really found itself hard pressed to move away from old, hindering practices.  Me and my primarily corporate background, advanced degrees, organizational skills, and management style came against their cultural norm of more laissez-faire.

It has been two summers since we ended our relationship and it came to mind today that it was simply a three year training for what I am embarking on now.  That was my appointed time to deal with those young people - the good, the bad, and the ugly.  To manage through relationships with vendors and to even shoulder the responsibility for things the staff did.  I stood and continue to stand in the face of opposition that came my way.

My proudest things were bringing in several hundred dollars, purchasing the entire new computer system from my non-profit, procuring and building a library, bringing in more volunteers, bringing in paying families, and elevating the image of the program in the eyes of several in the public.

The biggest regret is that I did not fully absorb the entrenchment of that insular culture, that family business, and that they would appoint an uneducated replacement because that was family that needed a job.  It was never a job to me, it was a labor of love.

As a new chapter of my life unfolds, I do have to stop and appreciate all that I learned and all that I was able to contribute during those three years.  The greatest reward has been the affirmation from former staff and students who did declare that I was the best they had ever had, that they appreciated my professional demeanor, and that the truth of things always have a way of surfacing, that people and their limitations can not stand in the face of the great plans HE has for me.

Life is a journey and a process.  It continues to unfold.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day Tribute

There was a man I loved more than the stars in the sky and the waves in the ocean.

He was the greatest example to me of what being a man could ever be.  He was triumphant in the face of trials too numerous to count and put his heart's desire aside to do what he thought was best for his two youngest children, babies when our mother died.  He risked a lot, worked hard, faced down oppressors, and provided not only for those of his loins, but double and triple that amount of another, right down to the grandchildren of another, he was a tower of strength in the village and his expansive soul reached greater than the breadth of his 6"4" frame.

My daddy was the best man a girl could ever have to be her first love and true heart.  He is the one who named me Taye and the one who gave me my first writing encouragement.  He is long gone from this earth now, but his deep baritone and twinkling eyes, his head full of curly hair and near-white skin he had to keep covered in the summer, his big hands and knitted eyebrows, his bushy mustache, his bear hugs all continue to live on in my memory and in the memory of my sons who had the pleasure of being "Grandpa's boys."

To say that I miss him is a deep understatement.  I miss him even more in this day of my life, my midpoint, when I crave his wisdom and can finally enjoy that Brent cup of coffee.

My daddy gave me himself and towers of men like my uncles and big cousins who all showed us what caring provision looks like, what honorable husbands look like, what brothers look like.  Each of them purchased homes for their wives and children and worked hard to provide for them, never demanding that they go out and work, understanding their role as head of the  household, provider, protector.  They each were men I wish my daughters could know, all of them, those magnificent men of my Michigan growing up, are all in that great tower of witnesses, they were mighty, gentle giants.

Time took my father away from me too soon, before I understood what was happening to him, cancer had ravaged him in one year.  He still was my protector and his last proclamation to me was that "you are still Daddy's baby girl and you came from love child, you came from love."  My eyes well up in tears now to have him weak frame let me cuddle with him, the man who would become my daughter's father keeping away anyone who would try to take away this moment, one protector to another protector.

My father set a standard that I hold high and expect of my sons and my husband.  He was the best daddy a girl could ever have and everything I am today was because of his encouragement, his love, and his support, even if, even when, he still loved me.

Daddy was not a perfect man, no one is.  I understand the choices he felt he had to make, I have made some too, for the good of the children, he was a man, simply, a gentle heart and a loving soul, but a man nonetheless.  I wish he was here for me to talk to the way my adult sons are able to talk to me now that they are men.  Daddy would be proud of them, his boys.  I have those cherished last photos and the thought of my now 24 year old insisting to remain with his Grandpa all the way to his last breath.  Towers of men passed down to another generation.

Father's Day was special to him, he taught us how to honor him, his birthday would be in another ten days.  It is from  him that I learned not to lump the two together and make that same insistence in May.  It is from him that I learned to celebrate birthdays and special days and watched him honor my Stepmother on her birthday, Mother's Day, and Christmas.  This man taught me so much that I am still learning the lessons.

He was the one who surrounded us with books.  He and my stepmother cultivated an environment where education was held to the highest standard and college was not optional.  They created a love of the library in us and listened to our reports about school. They found things that interested us and supported our endeavors. I  remember my father, his frame disabled due to the Korean War, a permanent neck injury that prevented him from turning it or doing those father-son athletic things.  This did not prevent him from supporting my brothers, though.  He went to basketball games and swim meets and signed them up for whatever athletic endeavor they were interested in.  I grew to be my best self with him at the helm.

I can't even say how much I miss him and how much I love him for giving me my Pops, the second best father a girl could ever have.

When I was sixteen and my stepmother went crazy, threatening my life, my father and brother stepped in as protectors and whisked me away to Michigan.  I was embraced and enveloped with a community of family that loved and protected me.  My pops and his new wife opened up their home to take me and make me their "first child" even though they were only about fifteen-sixteen years older than me.  They nurtured me and loved me and made me feel as if the sun rose and set on my clock.  They held my shaking frame through ravaging asthma attacks and supported my attempts to run track and go out for the volleyball team.  They walked me through the sorrows of first love and disappointing dates.  Pops remained my second tower until he passed away, all too suddenly, I would give him my other kidney, if I could still live with none, he was worth it and gave me his heart.

After my Daddy and My Pops, the next best daddy I now is my husband.

He dances with his daughters and has life talks with his sons.  He provides and hustles for them, shouldering sorrows and disappointment on his linebacker frame,.  He makes sure the lights are always on and the food is always on the table, cooking when he has to, and listening to their diatribes of tween girl angst.  He has combed hair and went shopping for bathing suits, smiling at the fashionista and attending every basketball game of the little one.

My husband and I married later in our lives, each of us having lived life, me bring sons from my previous marriage into our family, him embracing them as his own, leaving important meetings to go handle something for one of the older ones, advising, correcting, counseling, and yes, making mistakes that all fathers make.  Like my father, he loves his family and is just a man, not perfect, but striving to make his family all they could ever hope to be.

I watched this man take his daughters future into mind when the doctor proclaimed to him that his health was going to compromise his life if he didn't do anything about it.  Over the course of two years, he transformed it even more than the simple walking on the treadmill he used to do.  Dropping a person in weight, he runs 10Ks, rides his bike, eats healthy, and models perseverance.  Despite not growing up with his father there all the time, he has taken the time to try to learn all he can and be better than his example.  The girls have their best daddy at their beck and call, they know he is simply a man and not perfect, but they also know that he will literally give them the shirt off his back to make sure they are fed and clothed and educated.

My husband comes from a family of men who are great fathers.  Every last one of his uncles and cousins never cease to amaze me, at every reunion, it is the men playing games with the kids, handing out money and advice, being available, showing them men as caring, loving protectors.  Every last one of them, I have yet to meet any of them not doing their job as men.  His late grandfather set the standard and as the patriarch of his family, they all tend to follow that model.  In that, my kids have a wonderful legacy.

Fatherhood is a noble and honorable state of being.  Every real man that has joined that exclusive fraternity should recognize they carry the world on their shoulders.  It is that understanding that my oldest sons carry with them, the reason that I am still not a grandmother, they understand the importance of the role of a father and are waiting to join those ranks until they are solidly ready to sacrifice their lives if need be.

Generations of men, my message to the ones now and the ones in the future is that we honor you today, on Father's Day, and we also remind you to look around you, take charge, and be the towers of strength, the protectors, the providers, the fruit we need you to be.  Honor the women in your lives - mothers who through the sacrifice of their body and their dreams, made you fathers.  Do not dishonor your legacy by dishonoring her.  So what if you never married!  Be there, be there for your children and provide whatever she needs to nurture your seed, your future.  Turn it around, it is possible for you to do that.  Humble yourself and apologize to her for making her a mother if you never made her a wife, or for making her have more children when you knew she was tired, or for whatever wrong you did to her to make her not want you to be there, humble yourself and make it right.  She is reflecting back to you what you put out there, and your sons and daughters are watching.  To the men who are doing the right thing, married or not, and holding it down for their sons and daughters, I stand and salute you, you make me smile.  To the ones who will one day wear those letters D-A-D, learn the man you are and become the better one for your future seed.  Be your best for them.

I had the best, my children have the best, my future grandchildren will have the best.

Happy Father's Day!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

My How Life Changed In A Week or Ode To My New Career Move

The sun is streaming through the balcony, waves rippling through the trees in the mountains, birds chirping, morning waking up, Saturday waiting to happen, changes in the making, sipping a caramel and honey latte marveling at the week that was and the month that will be.  Moving from one thing to another in the space of seven days. Embracing a change and holding onto the steady.  Making moments count and living seconds fully.  Amazed. Up and down the highway training all day, meeting new connecting anew amazed at the cohesion.  Purpose and promise meet up with hopes and dreams for their future and their lives and making a difference and young people working with older people and everyone striving for higher.  How it all changed in a week, in meeting and knowing and answering and the Divine always guiding steps.  My, how it all shifted in a seven days. Still in a haze planning what to pack and living a month away will they be okay. Excitement and pride like summer warmth.  Time evolving to encompass ten years to this to do this to be this.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Summer Saturdays in St. Louis

Summer Saturday's in St. Louis are filled with many family-friendly activities that make this one nice place to live.

First stop was Soulard and the famous Farmer's Market and Marketplace.  Yummy coffee from a gelataria, mini donuts, fresh ginger, handmade head-to-toe butter, and enough fresh produce to satisfy the upcoming week's menu.

All spent - $23. Walked out with four bags and a bit of an eclectic experience that made us want to spend more time in Soulard.  On the way out, the sweet sound of jazz and the thought we should stay longer.

But, more things to do.

The Delmar Loop is one of those spots that ends up on the tourist list, but on the block just over Skinker, is a renewal with the promise of that thriving entrepreneurial spirit.

On the corner is an Italian bakery and next door is Callia Lily, a prom and special occasion boutique.  Next door, however, is where happiness was in a glass jar.  Miss M's Candy Boutique can make a grown woman act like a nine year old.

The best purchase was the custom gummy bears that were beyond anything those packaged things could ever hope to be.  Gourmet chocolate and yogurt pretzels that literally made one closed the eyes in deep appreciation.

After leaving a few dollars on the loop, a journey down I-44 to Webster Groves and the annual Art & Air show will completely satisfy all those creative juices.  Options from hearing great music, trying out the art, meeting artisans from painters to potters, and food vendors galore are enough to make one just camp out on the campus of Eden Theological Seminary.

Exhausted and satisfied, home was calling, bags of candy waiting to be eaten, and time to rest up for next week.

Summer Saturdays in St. Louis are pretty special, just get out an enjoy it.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Summer Kicks Off With Eager Minds

Today is the first Monday of summer break.  It is cooler than usual in St. Louis and the sun is streaming, the trees they cut down are waiting for the stumps to be picked up and the girls are already engaged in their summer learning.

Eager minds are like sponges, waiting to absorb experiences and learn more and more.  The school door closed on Thursday, but learning doesn't have to end.

I think that is the difference between the kids who advance and those who start off behind, they are not engaged over the summer.

It doesn't take much, a trip to the library, a walk around the park, a bike ride, or playing with legos are all activities that keep the elementary mind sharp.  The walk around the park can be a science lesson about the different trees, grass, and animals seen - it is also a physical activity.  The Legos are spatial, creative, and include math, engineering, and to a degree, technology.  That trip to the library is an adventure in a brick building.  Most of the libraries across the nation have opened wide their doors with programs that include incentives for minutes and hours read, computers for continued learning, and activities to curtail summer boredom.  I relish the idyllic summers of my childhood where I devoured book after book, my local library was my favorite place, it was also air conditioned!

My daughters are both entering 4th and 6th grades, respectively.  Both are eagerly spending the morning on their summer homework.  They have each come to appreciate how much the eleven weeks add to their overall learning goals.  They have already logged summer reading hours and are calculating problems to keep those math skills sharp.

Summer can be full of adventure, camps, and loads of fun just going to the pool with kids in the neighborhood.  It can also be a time of great discovery and learning.  Libraries are free.  Take advantage of it.