You need to know two things about me. Number one, I am a firstborn in a family with four younger brothers. Number two, until I got almost to high school I usually thought I had the right answer. About everything. I remember the first time I did not have an answer to a question. One summer, I went to vacation bible school at St. John A.M.E. Zion Church with one of my brothers. I have mostly good memories of the experience, I may have even known some of the children who were there from my first two years of grade school at Rockdale Elementary. By that summer, I had spent a few years at Annunciation, a Catholic school, where I did well in school, all As except for one in handwriting, which although it broke my streak, I did not fret because after all, it was just handwriting. Continue reading
This past weekend I was in Washington D.C. for a friend’s birthday. I used to travel to DC often years ago for work, and for a few years I lived in Reston, which is not far away in northern Virginia.
My friend had been planning his event for months, and kept the guest list small so he could gather some of his closest friends and family (many of us had gone to Notre Dame together, but there were people from all phases of his life). The invitation said black tie and we were excited to celebrate him and see what he had curated for the evening experience. Continue reading
Father’s Day has always been special for me; I have such a good father, and the day also comes so close to my birthday that my birthday and being a daughter have always felt linked. Today we celebrate the fathers, godfathers, other family and friends who have raised us and in many cases, helped to raise our children. We also remember the fathers who have passed on, and those who miss them.
Aviya Kushner, author of The Grammar of God: A Journey into the Words and Worlds of the Bible, wrote about her father in a way I could relate to. In this book Kushner, who grew up reading in Hebrew, explores how differences in translation, language, and culture affect the understanding of the Bible. It is also a fascinating story about her family and I highly recommend you read it. Here are her words from this memoir:
My father taught me what he has always taught me: how to ignore the disapproval of the world, no matter how loud it is. He taught me how to listen to myself, and how to hear that same thing in other people and places: the quiet beating of the individual heart.
I hope each one of us would have such a person in their life.
My husband and I sat with my father at mass this past Sunday, the ritual and order of the service familiar to each one of us, imprinted in a combined nearly 200 years of experience with the Roman Catholic Church. This church, which was renamed the Church of the Resurrection after three predominately Black churches, St. Andrew, St. Agnes, and St. Mark were merged, is where my parents attended church together for the last several years until my mother passed away in 2017. Continue reading
This year was a milestone for me—I turned 60 and it was the first birthday that my mother was not able to celebrate with me, call me, or sign her name with my father’s to my card. When she passed away in late summer of 2017, I had no idea of how her passing would change me. I learned very quickly it was a hurt for which I had no words or experience.
I was excited about my 60th birthday and had planned a party (theme: Honey, I’m Grown) months in advance. As the June date drew nearer, I became apprehensive about how I would feel on that day, and wondered if in the middle of the celebration, I would realize that it was not a good idea. But that didn’t happen. Continue reading
May has been a whirl of activity but let’s start with the 30-day challenge I began in April. My goal was to wake up every day, at 5:18 am, for 30 days. I missed a couple of days, primarily because after the second weekend I asked myself, “Why are you getting up this early on the weekend?” I modified the challenge and did not set an alarm on Saturdays and Sundays; however, even without an alarm, after about four days I found myself naturally stirring around 5:15 am.
Rising early set me up for the next goal for May. I had been accepted for the Vermont College of Fine Arts Novel Retreat, which took place May 15-21. This experience was positive and affirming for me as a writer because I was able to accomplish a few goals I established for the retreat:
I’m back from a writing retreat, one that I scheduled and planned at a cottage near Lake Michigan. I spent the first day alone and then a friend who is also a writer joined me for the remainder; she is working on her book and an amazing project.
Writing has been hard the last few months. In August, my family learned that my mother’s illness was serious; she was very sick. Thirty days later, she passed on.
I cannot find the right words to tell you more about her at this time, other than to say I love her and I am so grateful to have been blessed with her as my mother and guide. I had no concept that grief would be so heavy, numbing, and unpredictable, but since her passing, I am learning more about the impact of loss than I knew before, even though I have gone through other challenges. At the beginning, grief caused me to switch between two impulses—a total retreat, into myself, to deal with the hurt; and a persistent urge to open my front door, and walk and walk and walk, until I arrived…somewhere.
I felt my mother’s presence over the last few days, encouraging me, happy that I had found yet another place to visit, wanting to hear the details of how the cottage looked, how the rooms were arranged, if it was near water.
Alone at the dining room table, I began to write and feel happiness creep back into my life. I slept well, full of words and ideas for future writing. When it was time to leave and close the door to the cottage, I felt like I could walk through another door. One where I could grieve my loss and yet be happy, retreat for healing and come back renewed.
This is for mothers everywhere, and for those who have poured their love, patience, and wisdom into the life of another person, whether it is your own child or someone who needed a gift that you were able and willing to provide.
Despite going to Catholic grade school and college, there was a verse in the bible that eluded me for most of my life, until a few years ago. It seems it would have been brought to my attention in religion class, Sunday school, or perhaps recited during the month of May. (I loved the month of May, with its songs that celebrated Mary. Those songs were among the most joyous of the ones I remember from grade school.) I stumbled on these verses during my own reading, and it was like that piece of sidewalk that juts up unevenly from the path and forces you to slow down and pay attention.
In Luke 2:19, after the birth of Jesus, it reads:
“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
Luke 2:51 says:
“But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.”
Mary’s reaction came after she watched her 12-year-old son as he listened, questioned, and learned from the teachers in the temple. Even when Jesus was young, his mother realized there was something special about her child. She may have sensed that his path was not going to be easy, and that everything he was doing as a child would prepare him for the challenges ahead.
By the time I read these words my daughter was already an adult, and I knew what it meant to know that your child would have to go through prickly thickets in the midst of sunny meadows. But what really struck me was how my own mother, also named Mary, must have known the same thing about me. Surely there were times when she just watched, observed, being aware of what might be ahead, but allowing me to go my own way. That had to be hard at times, but she did it. I am grateful for her guidance and quiet wisdom.
On this day I want to thank all mothers who have to sort this out—when to step in, and when to intercede and step back—knowing that you cannot completely prevent a loved one’s suffering, but you can love them through it.
Happy Mother’s Day
I am excited about the arrival of a new anthology that features one of my essays. Family Stories from the Attic, published by Hidden Timber Books, was released this month. My essay, Without Words, appears in this wonderful anthology that holds stories about what we learn from the items our loved ones once cherished enough to hold onto. My story is about a different way of coming to learn more about someone when they are no longer able to talk with you. Through the words of the 22 writers in this book, you will come away with what it means to be in family, and how many questions are left unanswered if we don’t seek the deeper meaning in these artifacts. If you are blessed enough to have family members around whose stories you do not yet know, spend a little time with them, ask them about their favorite memories, lessons learned, or people they loved growing up. Then be prepared to sit and listen.
I hope that you will consider picking up a copy of Family Stories from the Attic; it is available from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and some independent bookstores will soon be carrying it. I’d love to hear from you if you read it, and let me know how conversations with your family members are going.
Peace and blessings,