Friday, August 28, 2009

Mother of All Questions

As you begin reading this, I’m sure your suspecting it will be something about children and “the question” they inevitably all seem to ask us at some point during their childhood. How close am I? Yeah, if you have children then I’m sure you’ve already had the joyous opportunity of attempting to respond to that age old question, without lying, yet without arming your child with more details than Wikipedia for them to simply take back to school and compare with the notes of other children.

That question has long since come and gone in my household (and if I do say so myself, I was brilliant in my response, but then of course, I was pregnant at the time so my memory of the event is a bit fuzzy). Yes my then six year-old daughter was very matter of fact in her line of questioning, managing to derail me with an even tougher follow-up question at every turn of the conversation. I finally had to counter with “Perhaps you should check with Yaya?” when she had officially cornered me for the last time. “Yaya”, for those of you who don’t know, is my Mother. And yes, as always, she was able to clean-up my mess and put things right again in my life; something she’s been doing since I was at least 18, if not before.

No the question I am referring to actually has to do with mothers. Being a mother myself, I get where mothers come from and all, but what I don’t really seem to understand is where exactly mothers go. It was, in fact, my now seven and a half year-old daughter, or so she claims to be, that got me thinking down this path. “Mommy”, she said to me innocently the other day, “I’m really going to miss you when you die.” Now, if there had recently been a death in my family I might have been on the look-out for such a statement, but since the most exciting change of events in our family’s recent history was that of the birth of my other daughter, I didn’t have the foggiest warning of what question was about to knock me out of my firmly planted seat. “When you die, I know I won’t be able to talk to you every day, because you’ll be busy visiting with Yaya and other people in Heaven, but do you think you will still have time to visit me sometimes?”

I should probably explain that I have one of those special children that most people just read about or watch being portrayed in a movie as they think to themselves, “Yeah, that doesn’t really happen.” Ever since she could talk, and if you know my baby girl, that’s pretty much been since birth, she’s talked; talked to me, talked to other babies, talked to the elderly, talked to our cat and yes, talked to what I innocently thought, at first, was to herself and random imaginary friends. Suffice it to say, my child has had entire conversations with people whom I’ve known to be dead for years, since she was at least two.

So keeping this background of my child and her grasp on the entire “life after death” gig in mind, because we had that talk many, many years ago, one would think, then, that questions like that wouldn’t throw me for such a loop; but a loop it did. “Of course”, I replied while hugging her. “I’m your mommy and I’ll never be far away, you know that.” Did I really just promise that? How was I sure I was going to be able to back that promise up?

Perhaps this would be a good time to explain that I was a Biology major in college, so I’m a big believer in the facts – just the facts ma’am. Here’s some more background: my Grandfather was a Chaplain in the Army; his father was a Church of Christ Preacher; my “god father” was an Episcopal Priest; and my Great-Great-Grandmother was a Cherokee Indian. My mother, a devout, continually learning and growing free-spirit, taught my sister and me to 1. live by the Golden Rule, and 2. to always be willing to learn as much as we possible could; the entire World, as I was taught, is not only your school, but also your Church, so treat it well and leave it in a better way than you found it. So you can probably imagine that my background is, well...well-rounded and a bit eclectic when it comes to topics surrounding death and the after-life.

My daughter’s question really left me in a pondering state though; as I said before, being a mother myself, I now know where mommies come from, but really, where do they go? After several days of working through this question in the back of my mind as I carried out my various activities, I came across the answer. They don’t go anywhere.

Looking around my house I can see the imprint of my Mother in the way I display my various chotchkies around my house. The colors and tone of my house are based on a variation of my Mother’s house. There are photos of all the great women of my family dancing across most of the walls of my house. My iPod is jam packed with songs reminding me of moments of my childhood, moments when those women would sing and dance with me.

It’s true, mothers aren’t born; they are made over years and years of careful cultivation by the amazing women surrounding them throughout their childhood and early adult years. Those same women become our sounding boards as we the dip our toes gingerly into the pool of motherhood upon the birth of our first children. They guide us through the treacherous, yet extremely rewarding, roads of being parents of teenagers. These same amazing women then become our Oracles during our own middle years; they fill our souls and minds with all the final teachings and memories they can before they physically leave this Earth. Then at the end of their own journeys, those blessed women become our guardians as we ourselves, assume the roles of Oracles for our own daughters. They watch over us from the walls of our houses and prop us up on days when we get knocked down by sneaking into our subconscious minds via a song from our iPods.

So looking back on the conversation today, I no longer fear that I lied to my daughter. Nor do I feel that I gave her an answer strictly based in faith alone. No, looking around my house today, sitting her in “my space”, I know I gave her the best answer to that, the mother of all questions...mothers never leave.

And that answer is based in fact.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dance Alone Songs

Yes, dance alone songs, not dance along songs. Dance alone songs are songs that, no matter where you are or what your mood is, when you hear it you find yourself instantly in a better state of mind; everything seems right again…..everything is suddenly once again possible!

So come on, admit it, we all have songs that feed on that secret pleasure…the one we’re all guilty of. You know the moment I’m talking about; the moment when you find yourself reacting to that music that seems to be touching your very soul and driving you instantly into a better mood. Sure, some times you might check to make sure no one is watching, but other times, it doesn’t matter because that song just takes over you and for that brief moment, you don’t have a care in the world and you dance with your kids down the grocery isle as if it was what you were born to do!

What is that song for you? “Thriller?” “Call Me Al?” “King Tut?” Maybe it's “The Coconut Song?” Perhaps it’s anything by the great Earth, Wind and Fire? These songs are typically upbeat and uplifting. Most of the time they are silly, somewhat random songs, but other times they actually have a more serious message; something the song composer is reacting to like “Bye, Bye Miss American Pie.” Take Marvin Gaye for example; one moment he’s guiding you through the emotions of sexual attraction with “Let’s Get it On” and the next, he’s taking on war and a country in turmoil with “What’s Going On?” Like “Rolling On the River”, you hear the title and suddenly the songs just floods in, filling your head with that particular melody. Whatever you were thinking about suddenly is pushed out by the music and the instant feelings it leaves you with.

Now that I’ve got you thinking, I’m sure your head is starting to fill with your own examples of just such songs. As you’re starting to enjoy them, look at yourself. What are you doing? Are humming? Are you tapping your toe? Are you smiling? When that song comes on and you’re in your car, do you sing and dance? Play air guitar? Pound along on your steering wheel as you sit idly in traffic? Why not, I mean, isn’t it an unofficial rule of driving that whatever happens in your car is something private, something no one else can hear or see? Regardless of how dark your glass is, in your car, you are invisible to the world; all alone, surrounded by the beating rhythm of the pounding music and free to dance and respond outwardly however you see compelled.

Wait, perhaps your one of those few who have better control than the rest of us and you sit with a calm appearance, just enjoying the music, appreciating the nuances of the lyrics, while inside, inside that inner child has taken over and you’re dancing and bouncing around uncontrollably singing as loud as you possibly can. But why? Why not let it out? Why not, just for a moment, throw that grown-up persona aside and dance, dance madly, sing loudly and find that feeling of uncontrollable laughter that you used to feel on a daily basis as a child?

Maybe that’s it, that’s the key to this whole phenomenon. Perhaps it all just boils down to one thing – it’s not the messages of these songs or the amazing, modern Bach-like qualities these melodies display, but rather the feeling of shear joy and momentary relief that makes them great. Like a great movie, these songs have hit a nerve that instantly hits your internal reset button, giving you that sudden rush of adrenaline you need to push through the rest of the task at hand.

Considering the state of the state these days and the amount of pressure and stress that just juggling those daily activities can pile on, I say dance! Get in your cars and trucks, crank that music up and sing! And whenever you have a chance, be it at home in your living room or while you’re pushing that cart down the grocery store isle, if one of those songs comes on and the moment presents itself to you, grab your child and dance as if you haven’t a care in the world; for in that moment, as that shear joy washes over you and you listen to the laughter coming from you child, you won’t.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Farewell to Camelot

As I was stepping through my morning routine this morning, I heard the news about Senator Teddy Kennedy.  The words registered as more of a string of thoughts the talking heads were spatting out rather than an actual fact of something that had happened.  That fact suddenly became a reality to me later that morning as I was pulling into downtown, as I do every morning, passing through Dealy Plaza It’s a morning ritual for me to greet President Kennedy with a hearty “Good morning, President Kennedy!” as I pass by the grassy knoll on my way to the office; however this morning, as I began to say the words, my eyes flooded with tears and my daily ritual conversation suddenly escaped me.

“Camelot is over!” That thought hit me like a brick wall in that instant. The final image of a historic dream-sequence that I grew-up with was really over. Perhaps it sounds a bit overdramatic, but if you understood how I grew up, then you would understand the true solace today’s events left me in.

I come from an upper middle-class family who hold values and education in high regard. My childhood however, was more like that of a Hallmark movie. My Mother married a man to whom she felt her soul honestly drawn to. He, their relationship and his very affluent family seemed like one of those childhood “happily ever after” fairy tales that destiny had laid before her. The fairy tale quickly came to an end after my Father returned from Vietnam. This changed man put my family through something I can only explain as an honest, living hell. My Mother protected my sister and me both physically and mentally. It was this mental escape from our reality that became one of the greatest gifts she ever gave me.

I became and avid reader, lover of music and art, and absolutely enthralled by the remembrances of the elders of my family. I would look at photos and listen to stories of their lives at every opportunity I was given. My Grandmother loved books and would talk books and current events with me often. I always wanted to have something new and entertaining to talk with her about, but due to our situation, we couldn’t always buy new books or even the newspaper, so I learned the beauty of libraries. I considered an afternoon at the library to be grand treat! Within the walls of a library were opportunities to learn and escape my life’s current challenges. Perhaps this is why to this day, I consider libraries and bookstores to be my churches and instantly feel a wash of calmness when I walk inside one.

Somewhere during this time period, my Mother realized the depth of my soul and began fostering it with Greek history and myths, modern poetry and stories and of the reality of inequality that existed in my great country. She was able to convey this information to me in a way that allowed my child mind to digest it and my soul to rise to the challenges this information brought to my attention. She shared history with as it was lived and taught by many great people who came before me.

I began to recite the works of Henry David Thoreau as the gospel and the voice and words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became the guide in my head. President Kennedy, and his brothers became the martyrs upon whom my dreams, and the dreams of millions of others, were placed. The American Camelot became the fairy tale that I told my children rather than the stories of Cinderella or Snow White.

It was these great men that taught me that equality is not a gift to be given as a token of “freeing someone”, but rather it is the born right of all. It was these men that taught me that it isn’t my responsibility, but rather my honor to volunteer to help those whom find themselves in a more precarious position than I might find myself in at that moment. It is these men that showed me that teaching our youth is not something done simply by what one says, but more so by how one chooses to live ones life.

These are feelings that suddenly rushed up into my eyes and sadden my heart in that instant as I passed by the grassy knoll this morning. For me, the last of these great men have now fallen and the torch has now officially passed to my generation to carry on and make better the world they fought so hard give me.