Sunflowers & Snippets | In This Very Moment…

Suzette's Sunflowers

I am back with another “Write Together” snippet. This piece was written in response to the prompt “In this very moment…”

In this very moment I am excited by the possibilities of who I am becoming. I am shedding the old casing, tossing aside ideas and versions of myself that no longer serve who I am in this moment or who I am becoming. Up to now, what has made giving up the former self so difficult is that she was good. She was organized, oh-so-together, and well-equipped for the journey—that bygone journey for a me that is skipping into the past of known worlds. This present me spends a lot of time in overwhelming chaos because transformation is not neat and tidy. It’s messy, confusing, and sometimes traumatic. But I’m learning not to fight it. I’m learning to partner with it in a new dance, a new becoming. I see glimpses of this new person. I can’t wait to meet her.  –Chandra Lynn, Write Together, 01.25.21


About the Image: Today’s gorgeous sunflowers were crafted by my Love Notes friend, Suzette R of Desert Blue Sky. She sent the oversized postcard because of my love for sunflowers and my enthusiastic response when she posted them on Facebook. Like many of us, Suzette is also processing grief. Part of her healing this year has been in planting and growing in her garden. Check out two more sunflowers from her garden: Here and here.

Sunflowers and Truth | #truthbombs

Martha Slavin Sunflower

Are you familiar with Danielle LaPorte’s #truthbombs? On 4×4 white cards–in beautiful black script–LaPorte offers pithy bits of wisdom, encouragement, and in-your-face truth. Every now and then, I pull a random card out the elegant encasement, and think, “Whew! Now, that’s a word!” The cards offer perfect journaling prompts and discussion starters. [Click the link above for more information, see sample #truthbombs, and download the app. For the record, this is not an ad]. 

Before heading to work yesterday, I grabbed a handful of random #truthbombs from their box and dropped them on my bag. I thought they would complement the sunflowers I’d planned to share on the blog, but yesterday did not turn out as I planned: By 9:00 a.m., I was annoyed with no less than three people. By 10:00, the number had increased to five. By 1:00, I had a searing headache that made me want to pack up and go home. When I finally arrived home just after 5:00, I wanted only my bed and a good book. When today began to feel like yesterday, a couple of short walks and three of the #truthbombs became the medicine I needed:

  • Notice how you feel
  • Defend your tenderness
  • Compassion is so often the solution

Those three sentences “can preach,” as they say. For me, they were a call to pay attention to my responses.

Yesterday, I was extremely disturbed by individuals who acted selfishly and lacked compassion. When it comes down to it, this was no different than any other day. Almost every day I encounter people who look out for themselves and show little regard for others unless they can benefit in some way. Of course, by the end of the day, I’d pretty much gotten over it and pushed the experience out of my mind. I realized I had to cut those folk some slack. They are human after all, and like me, they deserve room to be just that–human–and perhaps there were good reasons for what I considered their not acting with the decency I expected under the circumstances. 

But I was still bothered by my own reaction: Why was my response so different? Why did I allow myself to become so uncharacteristically entangled with other individuals’ attitudes and behavior? And why am I again feeling out of sorts and bothered?

Annoying people, gloomy weather, frustration over lecture notes I can’t find. All of that is superficial, the easy things to focus on because the real thing–the underlying thing–is big and scary and too much to handle at the beginning of a packed work week. The #truthbombs were a reminder to pay attention to my feelings and not just stop there. I had to get to the root. And I did.

I miss my sister. Her birthday is tomorrow. There will be no celebration. 

Thankfully, the sunflower provides light…in the darkness of the cave in which I have to dwell for a moment. 


About the Image: The watercolor sunflower is the work of my Love Notes friend, Martha S. She was one of my exchange partners in Louise Gale’s Global heART exchange. It was a pleasant surprise to find a postcard from one of my snail mail regulars in my mailbox. Thanks for this gorg sunflower, Martha! It has brightened my days and will soon find its place my the sunflower wall. 

To Grieve? To Celebrate?

The holiday season is here in full force. Even though I love it, sometimes, I struggle to get into the “holiday spirit.” However, this year I wanted to begin the Christmas season months ago.

I need the tree, the blinking lights, the decorations, the cheer. There has been so much loss and chaos that it’s a relief to focus on something celebratory.

Conversely, there has been so much loss this year that it is difficult to be present for all the magic and beauty of the season. There are no words to lessen the burden of grief for those who have lost spouses, parents, children, siblings, friends, especially when the entire world seems to be grieving.

I wish I could reach out and hug the world with my words, but nothing I write would suffice.

But there is healing in words. Especially those we speak. I know everyone grieves differently, but I wonder what would happen for us if instead of suffering in silence, we’d wail in agony and expose the gnawing ache and gaping emptiness.

How liberating it would be to not “handle it well,” but give into it en masse!

My favorite bard places words of wisdom in the mouth of his character, Ross, who, after relating the slaughter of Macduff’s wife and children at the hands of Macbeth, urges him [Macduff] to express his grief because unexpressed grief burdens and breaks the heart:

Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak
whispers the o’erfraught heart and bids it break.

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act IV, Scene 3, Lines 245-246

Maybe in speaking, those all-consuming emotions will begin to feel more manageable and we’ll eventually find our way to celebration. Maybe, we’ll breathe and feel alive again and welcome the sadness of loss as only one part of life’s story.

Grief, Impatiens, and a Mother’s Love

Two years ago today I lost my older sister Lori to breast cancer that had metastasized to her brain. I think about her and my younger sister Karlette every single day. Some days are harder than others. The hardest part [besides losing them] has been accepting that nothing could have been done to keep them with us.

I absolutely hate cancer, but what can I do about an enemy that doesn’t fight fair?

What I know about grief is that it does not dissipate. It evolves and we learn to walk with it, allow it to partner with us. It becomes a friend, even, as our hearts mend.

I photographed some fuchsia impatiens a couple of days ago while taking a short break from the computer screen. I transformed one shot to reflect a shade of Lori’s favorite color.  Impatiens are appropriate for today; they symbolize motherly love. Lori loved us all deeply in the various ways that the relationships called for, but today, I think about her sons, the children of her womb. Most of our conversations during her illness were about them. She wanted so much for them.

My prayer is that they recall her voice, her godly character, the values she quietly instilled. My prayer is that they ever feel her love and that all she poured into them fuels and guides them as they move through life.

Seven Days Ago…

Seven days ago
my oldest nephew was murdered…
while helping someone in need…
in a case of mistaken identity.

I have not
found the words to name this pain.
I do not have the capacity to hold it,
so I hold my breath
and scour his Facebook page
for pretty words
and praise for who he was

and think about small moments of joy
and celebration,

like the time I spent two weeks ago
with Colleen’s flowers.

Rest in Peace, Dear Byron.
Thank you for the gifts of your smile,
your open heart,
your joyful presence.

Until we meet again,
I will hold you in my heart.

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.  (I Corinthians 15:51-54 KJV)

Step by Step

I experienced a “letdown” a couple of days ago. It wasn’t exactly unexpected, but it crushed me. In trying to sort things out and figure out the reason for the deep ache, I arrived at grief. It becomes entangled with everything: the loss of my sisters mingles with other [unrelated] losses; the wound reopens, the healing process begins again, and I have to remind myself to breathe.

When we were little girls, my three younger sisters and I loved singing together. One of my sister Karlette’s favorite songs was “Step by Step,” a traditional gospel song. My sister Angie and I sang it to her in the hospital two days before her passing, and again at her funeral. I don’t think I’ve sung the song since, but today a poem my friend Chella shared put the song in my head. Both the song and the poem are what I need right now–when I feel immobilized by disappointment and loss.

We are all experiencing loss right now, trying to find our way and a new rhythm. Maybe, you need these words too.

Midwives of the Soul
Elena Mikhalkova

My grandmother once gave me a tip:
In difficult times, you move forward in small steps.
Do what you have to do, but little by little.
Don’t think about the future, or what may happen tomorrow.
Wash the dishes.
Remove the dust.
Write a letter.
Make a soup.
You see?
You are advancing step by step.
Take a step and stop.
Rest a little.
Praise yourself.
Take another step.
Then another.
You won’t notice, but your steps will grow more and more.
And the time will come when you can think about the future without crying.

About the image: The lovely purple and yellow flowers were created and sent to me by Love Noter Rae L. She sent the postcard for International Women’s Day 2020.

“Separation”

The short poem for today is for those of us who are suffering the sting of far too much loss during this period of COVID-19–when in many cases we can neither see nor touch our loved ones as they slip into rest.

Separation by W. S. Merton

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

It’s perfectly okay for you to sit with the loss. It’s okay for you to shut down and cease all the doing and shun all the words firing at you like darts, making your head spin.

This loss, this separation gives you permission to lean into the grief and allow yourself to feel all the things. Or to not feel anything.

The Gift of Rescue

I mentioned in my last post that my favorite uncle passed away last week.

Some time ago, one of my paternal aunts–my Uncle Joe’s wife–told me the story of when and where my bond with my uncle initiated: I was not quite two. The family had gathered and there was a heaviness in the house because of the passing of my paternal grandmother and one of my paternal aunts–my dad’s older sister–within six months of each other. With the curiosity of a toddler I was drawn to the trash receptacle, and my Uncle Joe patiently and repeatedly pulled me away. He followed me and stuck by me for the rest of our time there. Since then, she told me, we became each other’s favorite (Shhh…don’t tell the others).

My uncle served as a pastor for almost 43 years [in many parts of the United States], and I often called him my personal pastor. When I had a spiritual dilemma or crisis, I called Uncle Joe. When there was a wedding, Uncle Joe. When it was time to dedicate my child to God [christening in some denominations], Uncle Joe. When Karlette’s life was waning, Uncle Joe. When the family, again, needed ministering after hearing of the imminence of Lori’s passing, Uncle Joe. Funerals, Uncle Joe. No matter where he was in the country, Uncle Joe would come, my aunt a willing travel companion.

When my not-so-little one was baptized a few months ago by a pastor we respect and admire, if I’m being frank, our one disappointment was that Uncle Joe [because of a recent stroke] could not be in the water alongside him.

Beyond the rites and rituals of religion, Uncle Joe was my counselor, my spiritual advisor, and a friend of my heart. His compassion for others was palpable. It’s clear I’m not the only one who felt this way. Since their move to Northern Alabama a few years ago, I’ve noted the steady stream of former church members, friends, and people picked up along the way in their home.

I’m convinced he, like my mom, was a saint. He loved and adored my aunt and tolerated her strong will and the zaniness that comes with the family genes. [See the post on my dad to get a glimpse of my aunt’s personality]. He graciously tolerated my dad’s other two sisters, both divorcées, lightheartedly calling him their husband too.

My Uncle Joe had a keen spiritual wisdom that I rarely encounter. I’m not referring to religious rules or doctrine or biblical exegesis—though he was expert in each–but I’m referring to a wisdom that was steeped in a committed relationship [with God], in faith, belief, and trust; it resulted in a spiritual practicality that often unseated me.

When he preached my sister’s funeral sermon, in his urging us to take all the pain, anger, and suffering over the loss of Lori to God, he reminded us that God doesn’t cause death, that because God is Light and Life, death cannot abide in His presence. Instead, he taught, God stepped aside.

I’d never, ever thought of the relationship of God to death in that way, but there’s incredible [mind-blowing] common [and spiritual] sense in that statement.

While I don’t know all the whys and hows, I’m grateful for my uncle’s life. I’m grateful for his light and for the gifts he gave. He had a sharp wit and unique sense of humor that didn’t abate even though he experienced a brain injury.

Last November—out of the blue—he suffered a major stroke and a massive heart attack. Doctors did not think he would leave the hospital, but he survived and thrived for 10 more months. Fourteen years ago, he suffered a major heart attack—the one called “the widow-maker.” At my sister Karlette’s funeral six and a half years ago, he commented on the fact that the time of his heart attack [in 2005] and her first breast cancer diagnosis coincided. He mused that perhaps God kept him here so he could minster to us. Last year, he officiated my sister Lori’s funeral. Two months later, he suffered the stroke and heart attack. I’ve often wondered, was he kept here to minister us through two of the most difficult challenges of our lives?

When my sister Karlette passed away, another one of my dad’s sisters pointed out that by holding on till we could travel to her and say our good-byes, Karlette gave us the gift of time. As I think about my uncle’s crises last year, I’m sure that is exactly what God gave us—the gift of time. Ten additional months for the people in his world to go to him and love on him and support him and let him know how much he meant to them. Ten more months for his wife to dote on him and show him that she would be okay [eventually] if death were part them. Ten more months for his sons to express their love for him through giving their time and through the intimacy of care. Ten more months for us to witness his fight, his strength, his wit and his humor.

I’m grateful that I was given time to express to him how much he meant to me. I’m grateful that since their move here, my hubby and son were able to develop a relationship with him. I’m grateful that my aunt was given time to adjust to a different type of life and pull from stores of strength she may not have known she had.

The knife of grief is sharp and [seemingly] unrelenting, but I’m grateful for my uncle’s patience and the gift of rescue that brought us together. I’m most grateful for the power of the resurrection, the sure to come great reunion with our loved ones who fell asleep in Christ, and that final moment when “death will be swallowed up in Victory.”

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.  (I Corinthians 15:51-54 KJV)


Note: No worries about the whole “favorites” thing mentioned above. It’s a game my dad’s sisters and first cousins started when they were young. I fully intend to keep it going, but we won’t let the others know there is verifiable proof that I was his favorite. 😉

Today…

Today marks one year since my sister Lori’s passing, so I punched purple tulips in her honor.

Today, my sorrow over [both] my sisters is tangled up with grief over the loss of my favorite uncle, who ministered so ably and lovingly when we lost Karlette and Lori. He passed away two days ago.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to put into words all the things my uncle was and is to me.

Today, I sat in front of my window–journal and pen in hand–and desperately willed the words to come. They refused. Usually my readiest companions through the most challenging moments, lately, they have failed me time and time again.

So today, I punched purple tulips in honor of my sister.

Sylvia Barnes and Toni Morrison | Teaching, Preaching, and Doing the Work

Dr. Sylvia Barnes, October 2014.

Last week was not a good week for my heart.

Before I could digest the news that the literary goddess herself, Toni Morrison, had passed, I learned that Dr. Sylvia Barnes, one of my undergraduate mentors, had passed. With the news of both deaths, I felt as if every bit of oxygen was squeezed from my body.

As I sat through a brief meeting holding in the knowledge of their passings, I realized with everything in me that I am sick and tired of loss.

I’m tired of trying to find the words to express the deep sense of emptiness I feel when someone significant to me dies. There are no words for the love I can’t give, the unexpressed admiration and near deification of those who have profoundly impacted my life and who have had a strong hand in shaping who I am as a person, a writer, a scholar.

Sisters. Aunts. Uncles. Friends. Mentors. Professors. Literary goddesses. I’m tired of processing loss.

It is interesting that both women died the same day, August 5, 2019. I held both in high esteem for their unapologetic focus on black lives, for their commitment to excellence, for their wisdom, for their very humanity.

Dr. Barnes was the Toni Morrison of my undergraduate world. We were in awe of her—her standard of excellence, her fiery passion, her unflinching dedication to the deep study of literature, language, and light. Her dignified presence filled any room she entered. She taught eager undergraduates so many things, not just about literature but about life and love and how to navigate the madness of the world. I distinctly remember some of the wisdom she shared about the importance of reading in gaining and creating knowledge, about relationships and love and attraction.

In her raspy voice, with polished Jamaican accent, she urged us to “Read, read, read everything you can get your hands on. Read!” She wasn’t just an English professor. Like Baby Suggs Holy of Toni Morrison’s Beloved–preaching in the clearing–she was a divinely inspired preacher offering keys for life; every single class with Dr. Barnes felt like a sermon of love for our beautiful Black selves.

When I struggled with racism in graduate school, I reached out to her for counsel, and she candidly shared stories of her own similar experiences while in pursuit of the doctoral degree. Somehow, just knowing she overcame them intensified my determination to push through.

Toni Morrison speaking at “A Tribute to Chinua Achebe–50 Years Anniversary of Things Fall Apart.” December, 2008. Photo by Angela Radulescu

I spend a great deal of time studying, teaching, and writing about Toni Morrison’s novels. My first real encounter with her came when I was in college through my own not-for-a-course reading. The Bluest Eye left me in utter despair. I had read other black writers. I was drawn to them because of the way they spoke to an American experience with which I could identify. But it was Toni Morrison who awakened the scholar in me, who made me ask questions and drove me to write about books; it was her body of work which led me to theorize through literature the unique experiences of Black girls and women.

It was Sylvia Barnes who showed me I could, who encouraged me to use my singular voice to speak about Black girls’ and Black women’s experiences.

It has only been a week, so I’m still processing these losses and what they mean to me. These women—goddesses, really—have filled me for more than half my life and have prepared me for their parting. Though they toiled tirelessly, there is yet much work to be done. The mantle has been passed on, and we—those of us who write about, think about, theorize about Black experiences—must get down to business and with urgency do the work.

I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge–even wisdom. Like art.  Toni Morrison, The Nation, 2015

Photo from Pixabay