In search of Poinsettias…or so I thought….

“There’s a lady on Church St with the loveliest poinsettias at good prices” she offered.

I was looking for fluffy, good looking poinsettias that wouldn’t  break the bank and a colleague at work tried to help. She too wanted some and we agreed to pay this downtown Kingston vendor a visit. She reassured me that I would get parking (in the JPS parking lot…she had business to do at JPS so we wouldn’t be lying) and that she would direct me.

So at the appointed time, we removed our jewellery (Downtown Kingston, DUH!), grabbed our tiny purses (no need to advertise) and headed out in my car. Traffic was heavy going up Duke St. The commercial district that is Downtown Kingston was a bustle with pedestrian and vehicular traffic. On a regular day, Downtown is a bargain hunter’s paradise. So everyone and their mother trying to maximize their Christmas spend was out in the brilliant December sunshine in the middle of the day in the middle of the week.

The traffic was sluggish and I decided to make conversation as we slowly made our way up the road. You see, my passenger/guide is my co-worker but we’re not close friends, if you understand what I mean.

“So what are your plans for Christmas dinner?” I enquired. Food is always a great place to start as far as I am concerned.

“Well…” she hesitated…“We would normally go to my in-laws, but for the past two years we’ve done nothing.”

There was an awkward pause. But not for long. I sensed a story.

“How come?” I pushed.

She sighed. “Two years ago my sister-in-law was rude to me at dinner, Kelly. I was hurt but I held it in. And I decided that I didn’t need to put up with that ever again.”

As I listened, I sensed that she was conflicted, that she responded the only way she thought she could have, but that she wasn’t comfortable with her own decision.

“So how do your hubby and your kids feel about your decision? Don’t they miss the jollification and family togetherness?” I asked gently.

Another sigh. “I’ve encouraged, I’ve begged them to go without me, Kelly, but they don’t.”

I explained to her that as mothers WE are the nucleus of the family, that everything revolves around us, and that if we aren’t happy, no one else is really happy. Then I felt led to share a story with her.

I told her about my friend Rachel Cunning. I met Rachel on Twitter. She was a thirty something professional who was suffering from Lupus when we met. She was a lively and engaging tweeter, posting links to interesting topics and offering witty comebacks up and down my timeline. She tweeted in passing that she was spending Christmas alone. Immediately I perked up. No one should be alone at Christmas unless they choose to, is my belief, handed down to me by my own mother. Now let me confess, I am not the most sociable person. I am no social butterfly who loves to entertain. Not me, no Siree. But Christmas has always been a time for family and food and fellowship and so I reached out to her. She immediately accepted my invitation to dinner. It was a bit of a logistical challenge for me as she was not mobile and she lived all the way in Portmore, miles and miles away from my Coopers Hill home. But I planned around it, picked her up early, and warned her that she would have to watch me cook and prepare and just spend the day with me. I got a bedroom ready for her in case she needed to rest and took out blankets and socks since Coopers Hill is delightfully cool at this time of the year. I fussed for nothing. Rachel fit right in with the family and we all embraced her immediately. Our other guests came later in the day and December 25 2016 was another warm, enjoyable, fun time.

One Wednesday in early October I spoke to Rachel. She was in hospital but was upbeat that she would be discharged on the weekend. I was supposed to call her that weekend to make arrangements to get something to her later that week or so. I didn’t call her. The weekend passed and on the Monday morning heading out I remarked to Nick that I had to call Rachel “today today today.” Imagine my horror when I saw “RIP Rachel” on my twitter timeline later that Monday morning. Two phone calls later confirmed the worst: Rachel had passed away in hospital the previous evening. 

“Life is short” I told my colleague. “At the end of the day, is whatever you’re holding on to really worth it?

By this time, we had parked and exited the car. All the nice poinsettias were sold off. But I wasn’t disappointed. I had the distinct feeling, almost certain knowledge, if you will, that the drive out for poinsettias was not really about poinsettias, but more about the delivery of a well needed, perfectly timed message to my colleague that could potentially impact her life and her family’s life for the better: something infinitely better than potted plants for my home.

This morning she came in late and came straight to my desk. She was beaming and bubbling as she pulled up a chair.

“I know you were disappointed about the poinsettias, Kelly. But I have to tell you, I think the reason for our little outing was bigger than poinsettias.”

She shared how late into the night she wrestled with the challenge I offered her. She felt compelled to reach out to her sister-in-law to resurrect family dinner on Christmas day. She had discussed it with her husband and children and they all eagerly encouraged her to reach out. They were in full support. She eventually Whatsapped her sister at 7:30 this morning and almost immediately her phone rang. Sister-in-Law was on the other end, happy and eager to pick up where they had left off two years ago. My colleague told me that she felt a great weight off her shoulders and lightness in her heart. She was excitedly working out menu plans and best of all, the family was going to be together for Christmas. She knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that she had done the right thing. I have a feeling that this Christmas will be a very special Christmas for that family.

Is there a fractured relationship that you need to address? Christmas is as good a time as any to deal with it. 

Is there a lonely person in your circle that you can include in your plans? Christmas is a great excuse to intrude. 

Are you the lonely one? Are you the hurt one? I am sorry for your pain and hurt. I encourage you to reach out. You’d be surprised at the welcome waiting for you at the end of that call or text message. 

Here’s to an abundance of love and happiness this Christmas. 

Courtesy Marion Ann


 

“A Mother’s Reckoning” by Sue Klebold, mother of Columbine killer.

I knew I had to read it. I favourited the NY Times tweet with the intention of getting into it when I had time to click on the link: “Readers respond to “A Mother’s Reckoning,” the memoir by Sue Klebold, mother of Columbine killer Dylan Klebold http://nyti.ms/21bYr0z  

It had happened in 1999, the most horrific school shooting in the USA in history. I remember watching the horror story unfold on CNN. It was easy to try to make sense of the unimaginable tragedy with the “mentally ill white boy raised by naive idiot parents who didn’t do their job” dismissal that I was going to use again and again to explain the all too frequent occurrences of mass shootings in the USA. 

But here was a well written and reasoned review of a memoir penned by the mother of one of the teen-aged killers, a boy who took his own life too and I was intrigued. I suspended judgement long enough to be curious about her own processing of the events that took place and the role of her offspring in them, and by extension, therefore,  her own role in the tragedy.

I bought her book.


And last night, waking up drenched in sweat (that’s happening more and more frequently these days…did somebody say perimenopause?) I quietly exited our bedroom and took up residence on the couch with the book. I am only a third of the way through, and maybe I’ll do a full review when I finish the book. But I’m compelled to share my thoughts at this stage:

Sue Klebold is extremely articulate. This may seem like a trite observation to do with the horror story that she’s writing about. But it is important. Her use of language and choice of words leave you with no questions as to what she’s trying to say. It allows for the reader to enter her space and mind and form their own conclusions. She’s not looking for absolution. She’s not looking to unburden herself. She’s not trying to protect her son. She is simply adding extremely valuable data to a conversation that is mandatory in today’s society

We do the best we can as parents. Sure there are horrid parents:abusive, substance abusers, mentally ill persons incapable of nurturing the ones in their care, etc. etc. But most of us try to do the best we can with our children, hoping and praying that they turn out healthy, happy and fulfilled. Listen, we don’t get a manual with each child. And we act and react with filters brought about by our own experiences, dreams and fears. It’s all we can do. And for most of us, our imperfect actions come from a place of perfect motive, that of love for our children. And yet in Sue Klebold’s case, what she got was a son who took lives and dreams, and shattered families including his/her own. Why? Why? Why?

Love: it keeps us going. In the weeks and months following the shooting at Columbine, as Sue Klebold tried to understand, to mourn, grappling with grief and guilt, as she navigated her forever altered existence through the fog and haze of a mind and soul trying desperately to cope, close friends and family supported her with love, practical love. They reminded the Klebolds that they were loved. They cooked for them. They shielded them from the understandable hate directed in full force towards them. They helped them screen calls. They took them into their houses. They helped her mourn the son she lost. They attended without judgement as she faced the inevitable guilt she felt. 

I found myself crying, having to put down the book at least 3 times to sort out my own reactions to what I was reading and to wipe my eyes so I could go on. I wept with regret for the mistakes I have made as a parent. I wept hoping and praying that God Himself would compensate for my own human weaknesses and mistakes that I made in tending to the blessings and gifts he had bestowed upon me in the form of my children. I prayed for wisdom. I wept with the complete understanding of what True Love is, myself having been buttressed from below, above and around at a very difficult time in my life by love devoid of judgement. Without love my own story could have had a very different ending.

And so I read on, intrigued by her own story. It is a tough story to tell and I am glad that she has done it.

another (not so) random in-flight encounter

The drill was the same as it was a few months ago… I had just completed 2 days of meetings and was returning home, tired and thankfully not as dispirited as I was last time. I was still battling the tail end of the ‘flu and a tad worse for the wear having closed the bar a few hours earlier. Leave it to a real Rum Head like myself to spot the lone bottle of Wray and Nephew whites hidden on the second shelf to the back, pushed disrespectfully to the corner behind several other bottles of pretenders… I was literally standing on the lower rung of the bar stool directing the bartender and insisting that I needed “that bottle right there…yes…no…go more to the left…pull out those 2 bottles…no those….THERE YOU GO!” But I digress.

So I boarded the plane and made my way down the aisle looking for 11C. We were told that the flight was full (what’s new) and given specific instructions as to our hand luggage management. I thankfully had gotten an aisle seat and waited to see who my seat mates would be. Despite the ‘flu and the hangover (which had abated somewhat due to the Excedrin that I had snacked on earlier) I was in reasonably good spirits and had decided to play nice and smile.

You see, I have what people refer to as a “resting bitchy face”, which simply means that if I’m not smiling, I look as if I’m angry. I’ve been told that I’m intimidating and appear unfriendly and unapproachable. I’m not as bothered today by those judgments of others as I used to be, but I accept that a smile and a friendly word or two can lubricate deliberate and chance encounters making the experience more enjoyable for all. So, enter Rose. Rose came down the aisle, a woman about my age, short, round, wearing a sweat shirt, jeans and sneakers, hoodie draped over her handbag, pulling her carry-on down the aisle.  She smiled at me and said “this is me right here, but lemme find somewhere to put my bag”. I wished her good luck and she found a space way down in the plane.  When she came back and I extricated myself to allow her in, I remarked to her that she’s going to have hell retrieving it and disembarking once we had landed.  She agreed and said lemme go move it den. Ah boi. That decision resulted in me and Miss Rose playing musical seats, up, out, in, down over the next 5 minutes as she co-opted a flight attendant in her quest to optimally place her hand-luggage. I would normally be very irritated, but remember, I had decided to play nice and smile, come what may.  Miss Rose apologized as she squeezed in for, praise Jah, the last time and thanked me for understanding. We both laughed as I told her that I really was not about to stand up again and that she had better climb over me.  So she did and we laughed as she settled into her window seat.  And on that full flight, the only empty seat was the one between Miss Rose and me. My donuts (yes…7 Dunkin’ Donuts  for my favourite people back at home…it’s a thing I have with them…) and her bag and hoodie shared that middle seat.

“I like you” grinned Miss Rose at me.

“Well ok then!” I grinned back at her.  We exchanged names. Ever fass, I asked her if she was returning home, or going to JA for a visit. She explained that she was off to Jamaica to look for her mom and relax for 8 days. I told her that I was returning home after attending meetings in Florida for 2 days.

“Is yuh man that?” she asked as she pointed to my colleague who I was travelling with, sitting across the aisle from us.  Before I could answer, he said “yes…this is my wife.” She saw the look of horror on my face and realised that Steven was messing around.  I made the introductions, clarified the nature of our relationship and we settled back.  She complimented Steven and told him that he was a very handsome “half chiney man”.  Steven, good natured idiot that he is, remarked to Miss Rose that she too looked half Chinese…

I then took a good look Miss Rose.  I asked her if she was really half Chinese.  She was dark skinned, had in braids so I couldn’t assess her hair type and texture, had tiny, almost squinty eyes, high cheekbones and full lips on that broad smile of hers.

“Yes!”  I said to her…”you really look like you have some Asian somewhere there. What’s the dealio?”

Miss Rose explained that she was half Japanese (wait…what?!) and that she is this close to doing plastic surgery to shave down her cheekbones and widen her eyes.  I turned my body towards her and settled in for what I felt was going to be an interesting story.

“Tell me why” I invited.

Miss Rose’s mother is a black Jamaican woman who was married to an abusive man. He was working in England when Miss Rose mother went to work as a domestic helper for a Japanese family living in Jamaica. Mother ended up getting pregnant for the Japanese son. Miss Rose was born. She recounted this starting off very matter of factly, but growing hesitant as she revealed the truth of her origins.

“I guess you could say my momma was a ho” Miss Rose apologised.

“Oh hell no she wasn’t!” I countered. “She was lonely, abused and simply received affection where she found it…and look at the result of that..You!”

She smiled and wiped at her eyes, and said softly: “I guess.”

She went on: “My mother’s husband came back and she left that job and went back pregnant to live with him and their other children.  I was an outcast from the moment I was born. I was never accepted by the Japanese family, and my siblings mocked me and physically abused me. My step father was also abusive towards me, and my mother wasn’t able to shield me. I was made to do the hardest manual work while the other children played outside.  I was teased about my Japanese origins at school and tried to just keep to myself. There was a neighbour, a big man, who used to keep me company in the kitchen round the back where I often left alone for hours to work. From the age of  8 that man would have sex with me. He was the only person I had interaction with and he violated me and hurt me.” By this time she was crying as she recounted her story.  “When he died, I remember being so afraid.”

She explained to me that she was happy he was dead, afraid that it wasn’t true and that he would reappear to harm her and that she was once more alone…a contradictory mix of fears and emotions, too much for a child to bear, let alone process.

She went on to claim that she had made a good life for herself. “I’ve been living in the states for 33 years now. I’ve visited my Japanese relatives in Japan several times, and they have welcomed me.  I wrote to my mother and siblings and asked them to forgive me for anything that I may have done to hurt them.  I have given so much money to my brothers and sisters, my mother and even my now dead step father.  I paid for medical care for him in the years before he died and before he passed he asked me to forgive him.”

“So have you been able to forgive him and them?” I asked with some hesitation… You see, I accept today that forgiveness of self and others is the fundamental prerequisite for inner peace and moving on in life.  But I also accept that it is a process that comes after a decision to do so, and that to glibly admonish someone to forgive their detractor or abuser without acknowledging the hurt and understanding that forgiveness is not pressing a button is both disrespectful and inhumane.

Miss Rose wiped her eyes and was quick to say: “Of course I have. But I have a pain right here that never goes away”.

A pain right here that never goes away….

“So you think that by changing your face you will somehow expunge the cause of your unhappiness and pain, Rose?” I challenged gently. “You were not a mistake. You have survived and continue to make your way forward, helping others in the process.  Please don’t try to erase what God has put together.  You are perfectly beautiful as you are.  And wider eyes, more slender cheekbones looking back at you in the mirror will do nothing to affect the pain that you still feel, and they cannot erase the awful things that you experienced.”

She looked back at me saying nothing. I inhaled deeply: “May the God that has brought you this far, finish His work by hugging you tight tight and taking away the pain you feel. God bless you, Rose.”

I have been thinking about that (not so) random encounter.  I don’t know what I am supposed to take away from that encounter. What I do know is that once again it has been demonstrated very clearly to me that we all have a story…a back story. H and I have a list that we’ve been maintaining: “Interesting People We’d Like to Have Dinner With.” A bunch of people have made it to that list, based on things that intrigue us about the selectees: ” Fareed Zakaria, Hilary Clinton, Bill can come too, Oprah (at my insistence), Malcolm Gladwell, Lady Saw…to name some. To qualify you have to have original thought and a fine mind. Simple. These are all people in the public domain, easily identifiable because of their public personas. But interesting people are sitting right beside us on the plane, or lying beside us on the beach, or drinking to our left in the village bar, or waiting with us in the doctor’s office.

It is our humanity, our weaknesses, our strengths, our experiences that are all woven together to make up the beautiful tapestry that we are. To hide an experience or a failing out of shame, in order to project what we think is a more acceptable image, is to compromise the beautiful original work of art that we are. Miss Rose was open enough to share where she was on her journey. I suspect that her story is not over. I pray for the day when Rose realises that she can’t gift or buy her way to inner peace…that she is uniquely beautiful, a gift to the world…when the pain that sits right there goes away… that nothing she has done or not done has caused her adversity. And in the mean time, Rose lives her life. She goes to therapy, she works hard, she raises her family, she takes chances.  She has two failed marriages under her belt and she presses on in hope of finding love.

Last week I tweeted one morning that I was determined to listen more. One wise person on my time line agreed and admonished me to add “observe” to “listen”. Wise, wise words.  I have a friend who comes over as closed off, saying very little, arms folded tightly across his chest almost always. In response to my pestering him, he admitted that he observes people and tries to understand them and the context at hand. I suspect that there’s more that he’s not saying and that he too has some issues surrounding his own humanity that he’s processing. Listening and observing without a willingness to share will limit the value and beauty that can result from an encounter with another human, whether this encounter is deliberate or (not so) random.

So I have no profound revelation to share from that (not so) random encounter with Miss Rose. No ah ha! moment transformed my life. What happened was a memorable, interesting 90 minute trip back home, getting to know another human being, logging her story into my consciousness for later retrieval perhaps when I need to share with someone else or remind myself what strength and grace looks like. So I share it with you.  Take from it what you will. Listen, observe and be open. Let us acknowledge and embrace our own humanity as we journey on and share this planet. And know for sure, that our story nuh done yet.

A few Life Lessons

I don’t aim to be preachy.  I’ve been through some tough and painful times and I’ve thankfully been able to extract some key learnings that continue to serve me through the highs and the lows of this thing called life. I’d like to share three truths, lessons, learnings…whatever you want to call them.  So here goes.

GOOD FRIEN’ BETTA DAN POCKET MONEY (it’s better to have a good friend than a fistful of cash)
Oh.. this is so true!  I remember some pretty dark times when the 7:30am call from one particular girlfriend every single day over a few months, to test my emotional temperature, is what sustained me.  She listened to me cry, she commisterated with me, she offered help.  I remember after work drinks with girlfriends who listened and shared and supported.  I remember calls from my flesh and blood sister at just the right times, with words of comfort and faith and support and love.  We laughed, we cried, we cussed.  And after all was said and done, I came out on the other side with my friends’ support and love. 

SELF FORGIVENESS CREATES THE CAPACITY TO FORGIVE AND LOVE
“Be gentle with yourself” is one of the best pieces of advice I ever got.  Face up to your mistakes and missteps.  Accept responsibility.  Make ammends.  And then offer grace to yourself. 

BE KIND 
I know what it feels like to want a kind word.  A sympathetic ear.  A word of encouragement. Some tangible assistance.  And I know the difference it made when I received them.  So I would like to believe that I’ve become a kinder person.  Everybody has their own story.  You may never know what someone is going through.  There are people working with you and people who cross your path as you go about your life that have experienced heartbreak, hurt, rejection and loss.  Sometimes a kind greeting or a sympathetic ear may be all that it takes for them to keep on keeping on.  Bring to mind the times when you were on the receiving end of an act of kindness and resolve to pay it forward.  Resolve to be more understanding and tolerant.  Demonstrate kindness at least once per day.  Volunteer to help those less fortunate than yourselves.  Be kind to those close to you and be sensitive to their feelings.

Have a great week!

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