I called my dad and informed him that I was ready to end my life. This was not the first time I’d considered this course of action. This was, however, the first time I was bold enough to seek my father’s permission. I felt ready to do it a few times before but the thought of what pain that would cause my parents always stopped me. This time, however, I figured that perhaps if I just prepped them in advance, they would be okay with it (or at least prepared for it). My calculations were wrong. My father promptly informed that no parent would ever be okay with their child committing suicide. From time to time I hear of friends and others who are considering it. I understand completely.
She said to him, “shut yo @#$ up and come the f#*k on!” This wasn’t a scene I observed between two, grown friends at a subway station. Rather, this was a young mother screaming at her son; her son who looked to be no more than four years old. It’s a scene I’ve witnessed many times over in different cities and in various contexts. The basic themes are the same, however: a young single mother is trying to raise a child with whom they are, in truth, angry with.
How can one raise and love a child with whom they are angry? I’m not sure it’s possible. Yet this is precisely what I see over and over. Most view these scenes and automatically demonize these single mothers and their disposition toward their young, innocent children. I, however, see something very different below the surface. At the very core there are broken, unfulfilled dreams. At the very heart of the issue is a life- that of the mother- which has been radically altered and the anger they carry when confronted with the reality that all the responsibility has fallen upon them while the other responsible party is out on Friday night. Further, given that the man responsible for the child’s life didn’t want to be involved daily, it’s highly unlikely that another man not responsible for it would like to be. In the end there is a child they are left to raise, goals and dreams now unreachable (or deeply complicated) and constant attempts to persuade themselves that the love they have for that child is sufficient to justify all other disappointments.
Very seldom will a single mother open up about their true feelings and disappointments with their situation. Every now and then I come across one who, just for a moment, will let down their guard and candidly speak. They will tell me about the career path they wish they could pursue but can’t. They will tell me about the trips they can’t take, the life they can’t live and the hardships they face. Without failure, when those mothers slip into such candor, they immediately catch themselves and revert to their role as a mother. After opening up about how they are not living the life they’d hoped for, they immediately respond with something along the lines of, “oh, but I love my son.” Funny thing is, no one asked. No one questioned their love for their children. So why do they throw it out? I have to believe it is born of guilt and fear. Guilty that they honestly don’t truly want the life they have and fearful that such an admission must mean that they don’t love their child. Therefore, to assuage their conscience they routinely revert to declaring their love for their child whenever confronted with their distaste for their life.
I would submit that honesty is liberating. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with admitting you aren’t living the life you originally wanted. Very few are. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you are angry that two parties were responsible for a life but only one party is bearing the responsibilities while the other party is living a life largely unchanged. In all this, we must be open to the fact that two things can be true at the same time: you can not love the life you have but still love your child.
Question: when the slave cries out to God for liberation from his oppression, is he crying out to the same God the master appeals to for a bountiful crop? It is a fascinating question, one that has been asked many times and in many different ways over the years. Is it possible that the oppressed and those who willfully oppress them do indeed cry out to the same deity: one in support of liberation and one in support of oppression? Even in 2012, the jury is still out on that question.
Such questions have shaped the black worship experience. If honest, our theology (how we view, define, worship and understand God and God’s relationship to us ultimately) is shaped by experience. For those who’ve never had a hard day, God is a wonderful God who exists only to extend blessing and reward their wonderful actions. For us who’ve seen much harder days, it is essentially impossible to think that God exists only to bless. We are aware of human suffering and that God isn’t necessarily rushing to stop it. How then can we subscribe to a view of God that excludes those lived realities and present truths? This is the context under which blacks in America have come to know and relate to God. It is a context that necessitates God’s activity in the here and now as opposed to the bye and bye.
It is in this way that I was introduced to God. In my family’s experience, like the slave, we weren’t afforded the luxury of worshiping a distant God that only intervened in the afterlife. If God did not intervene in our day to day, the consequences were severe. I recall our family praying and fasting for the basic necessities: food, school clothes and housing. I remember those family prayer gatherings where we earnestly asked God to bless us in some spiritual, intangible way but most pressing, to bless us with daily bread in the literal sense. We couldn’t afford to have a God that sat idle in the heavens. We needed God to intervene radically everyday for survival. It is because the situation necessitated that type of God that I understood God in this way. Frankly, many others do not.
One might argue that while we understand and relate to God differently, God’s universality makes it possible that we cry to the same God. Certainly I do not battle that. God must be universal. Yet I still wrestle with the idea that those who are suffering and oppressed can cry out for deliverance from those who oppress them while those same oppressors approach the same God to bless that oppression. Yes, we may understand God differently and have different needs but can one God have a character that sanctions and supports the means of the oppressors while also supporting the goals of the oppressed? The question becomes even more challenging to answer when both sides feel at peace with their God. How is that possible?
My father drove the van around for what had to be hours. We drove and drove, never arriving at any particular destination. Eventually, he parked in the lot at his job, Borden Dairies (he was a milk truck driver/delivery man, in addition to being a preacher and carpet cleaner at that time). I woke up the next morning just as my dad did, saw him kiss my mother and walk inside. I was a kid and we were homeless.
These are the experiences that are most prominent in my mind as I reflect on my childhood. Were there fun games I played? Sure. Were there good meals I ate? Absolutely. Yet my mind is most bombarded by images like the one above. I automatically revert to the Christmas mornings when my father was watching our reactions but unbeknownst to him, I was intently discerning the pain in his eyes because as a grown man he couldn’t provide Christmas miracles for his children. These are the images that will never leave. More importantly, those images carry pain and although they are not present realities, the scars linger.
Last night I was on the phone with a friend and somehow my childhood came up. Without thinking, I automatically offered the story about sleeping in our van. That is an indication that my childhood still haunts me. Those scars manifest when I attend corporate events and everyone knows what to do except me. They manifest when I’m on a date and the lady opposite of me has to explain how to eat the dish we’ve ordered. They manifest when a client begins to share their vacation experiences and I have little to contribute to the conversation. They manifested when I was afraid to ask questions in class at the major universities I attended for fear that I, one of the few black faces, would appear to validate every stereotype about blacks- especially the not “well to do” ones. This very blog posting is a manifestation. The pain lingers.
It is a private pain, a pain you don’t feel free to discuss. It’s hard enough just trying to blend into the crowd and not do anything to completely humiliate yourself out of your ignorance. Who wants to add to that the ostracism that would follow for appearing “soft” because as a grown man, you’re still trapped in hurts from your boyhood? Hurts not stemming from sexual or physical abuse but hurts that stem simply from what you didn’t have, experience or know and how those things periodically handicap you in your adulthood. As a man, it is expected that you will be hard, tough, aloof and unmoved by anything internal. Would it ever be safe to admit that you are damaged by the things you’ve overcome?
To be fair, not everyone handles poverty in the same way. Frankly, my three siblings never internalized things to the degree I did. My father was the first to make that observation and he’s earnestly pleaded with me many times over to somehow get over the past and my “fear of poverty.” Even so, it is safe to say that poverty does have far reaching consequences, beyond those that can be empirically verified. They can be quite damaging and indeed those who suffer often do so in silence. Knowing this, I feel it imperative to offer my voice on behalf of those who are suffering.
I had an epiphany last week, one like never before. Now is a good time. I’m moving up the ladder, leaving behind once and for all the hard times I was born and nurtured in. I’m contemplating a couple of offers; offers I did not seek after but was sought for. Yet the thought occurred to me that although I’m climbing, my potential has a cap. There’s a ceiling on how high I can climb without the right woman.
Although I wrestle with my religious beliefs and very publicly, I cannot escape my foundation of classical Pentecostalism and the Bible I was inundated with as a youth and seminarian. I reflect often on the creation account of Adam and Eve when considering the topic of marriage. Adam was created and placed in a garden of extravagance and beauty. He was charged with taking care of it. At some point, God determined that it was not good for Adam to be alone. Further, it was determined by deity that a suitable helper was needed for Adam to fulfill all he was charged with. At that point, Eve was created.
I’m fully aware of how the word “helper” has been stigmatized and can even be interpreted as insulting. I’m also aware of how this passage borders on anti-feminist. Even so, stick with me. It hit me last week that yes things are good and will get better. However, without the right person beside me, perhaps I’ll never reach great. Adam could have continued alone but there was more to be accomplished with Eve. I find it interesting that in chapter 1 of the Genesis story, the charge to “rule” and “subdue” was given to male and female. Perhaps you can only reach that level- the level beyond taking care of a garden and actually ruling and subduing the planet- with the right one.
I believe the larger point here is that Adam could never reach that next level without Eve. In the same way I believe, based on this story (and plain old logic), that if you are married you should be accomplishing more than you could by yourself. Sadly, most married people I observe actually accomplish far less than they could alone. I find this problematic. There is obviously something wrong with a union in which one or two individuals are actually held back from reaching their full potential because of their spouse and could do better alone. That’s certainly not what I’m looking for. I’m already moving toward really good, the question is who the right individual to push it to great is.
Playtime is over. I’ve not dated much over the past four years. I’m not terribly anxious to hit the dating scene now. I did have this epiphany though and for the first time I feel a desire to be connected to the right person, for these reasons. This is new. I’m still much unpolished in certain areas, still raw in others and unbalanced in a few more. Maybe I’ll work some of that out alone; perhaps I’ll need some help. I’m looking to go from good to great, playtime is indeed over.
It was obvious to me growing up that there were at least two Americas: the one CNN talked about and the one I lived in. Many on the left are ecstatic these days because the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of “Obamacare.” They all feel that this was such a huge win for Obama’s administration, the Democratic Party and the American people, ultimately. Thing is, not much has changed in my neighborhood and I haven’t heard much talk about the whole matter lately, either.