Life has both a tenacious and fragile grip on our flesh. Acceptance of its challenges is the beginning of enjoyment. The rose bush comes with her thorns, and her flowers are much less fragrant than we expect. Her flowers are beautiful and surrounded by sharp barbs. How we deal with the thorns is all we can pretend to control. Life is the struggle.
I will push on. I will not allow the pain to prevent me enjoying the fragrance and the beauty. I will enjoy the jabs and chant the reminder. Life is the struggle.
I will allow the breath of life to penetrate deep into my soul and catch the fragrance of the flower. The struggle is life as the scent of a rose is fleeting.
As I slide down the backside of life, I will not forget that life is the struggle. I will hold tight and breath deeply as I traverse the thorns. I will lick my wounds and recognize the magic of my bleeding. I will affirm that life is the struggle.
On that day when the struggle becomes too much, I will exit on my terms. My exit may be your thorn. Feel the pain, breath deeply and remember, life is the struggle. The rose is less fragrant that you remember and the view from the mountaintop is only as beautiful as the struggle to get there.
Enjoy the struggle until the enjoyment is gone. Exit without any apologies.
I could feel the heat of the morning sun sneaking through the crack in the heavy curtains keeping my room dark and cool. As I tried to hide from the heat the cacophony of bird chirps irritated my ears. I was usually an early riser but I had a little too much fun before going to bed. I dragged myself out of bed and pulled the curtains open and my eyes were assaulted by the brightness of the early morning sun. Ben was still asleep, neither the light nor the audio assault of the many birds stirred him. I could not sleep anymore. It was time to start my day. There was only one problem. My head was paying the price for the excessive of the night before. It came on slowly but I was definitely nauseous and the room was spinning faster and faster the longer I stood. My stomach felt like it was lodged in the back of my throat. My salivary glands oozed increasing quantities of fluid. I had not felt this poorly in many years.
I slowly backed up and rolled back into bed. I closed my eyes tightly, but there was no relief. Suddenly my stomach blew up like a tense balloon followed closely by the release of its contents up my esophagus and through my oropharynx and out my mouth onto the floor. The taste was not as bad as I thought it would have been. The back of my throat relived the bitter taste of the IPA I had had too much of the night before followed by the saltiness of the fries. I was happy not to locate the taste of the fish, it was not that good. It was a very fast review of my last meal followed by another quick reminder. After the third time I had had enough reminders. The bed had collected the last two explosions and the smell had gone from beer to unbearable.
The room was spinning and the light of the sunrise was burning my cornea. I closed my eyes tightly and remained still. I was not rewarded. The room continued to spin and the volcanic activity in my stomach continued. I lost count of the explosions, but the worsening taste did not escape me. I was certain that my stomach was empty but the expulsions continued. It seemed as if my duodenum was collapsing under the force of the attempts to pull the fluids from my small intestine. Closing my eyes did not stop my world from spiraling down the drain. Ben did not move a muscle. I felt as if I were dying a long slow death. I was too weak to get up and was now laying in foul-smelling cold vomit. All I could remember was my grandma, Mama, quoting the bible “Wine is a mocker, he so deceived is a fool”.
Next time, I will not deceived.
When was the last time you looked up at the night sky? The beauty of the natural world seems well hidden from us. This weekend I had the opportunity to send my auntie off to the land of painless rest. The sadness and joy of the occasion was not lost on us. Her relief had come. I love my extended family for how we show up for each other in times of difficulties. We came from near and far. I am proud to be a member of the extended James family. I continue to be amazed by the strength of the children of Wilhel and Clarence James. They are my heroes. What does the traditions of a funeral have to do with the night sky? It is about the beauty of the universe and the short time we have to enjoy it.
The night before the funeral is ‘set up’. It is a festive party send off before the day of mourning. As we drove to the setup at the home of my deceased auntie I noticed how dark the roads were. The darkness was intensive and reassuring. No light pollution to distract. It was a wonderful contrast to the intense sunshine of the daytime. Once we arrived at the destination we parked about a third of a mile from the home and walked. As my practice I looked up at the sky and noticed the depth of the darkness. as far as I could see there were stars and the their brightness seemed many fold brighter than the night sky I had grown used to in Florida. I looked up at the Pleiades and counted 8 sisters as opposed to the 6 I usually see in the Florida night sky. I felt an excitement to be under a truly dark sky. As I arrived at her home I hugged many family members and got introduced to some new arrivals. I love my family, because at times like these we are pillars of strength for each other.
The band arrived after 10 PM and the party went into full effect. The street was blocked off and the music rang loudly through the valley. All joined in the dancing, old and young danced. The elders seemed most enthusiastic and I noticed many in their 70’s who danced all night while the youngster exchanged social media details. This was a time of cheer and remembrance. It was a celebration of life. It was the celebration of a wonderful mother, auntie, cousin, grandmother, wife and child of God. The melodic voices of the male and female lead of the band kept us all engaged. The key board player and drummer were excellent compliments. The band played until well after 1 am and we all danced and enjoy the company of family and friends.
A wonderful night and festive remembrance came to a close and we all need some rest before the continuation of auntie’s send off. As I walked back to the car I looked up and again and there it was, an awe-inspiring star filled sky. It reminded me of how often we take life and the people who share it with us for granted. The older I get the more I understand my mortality. The older I get the more I appreciate the wisdom of my elders. The older I get the more I love my family. The older I get the more I realize that my family is not perfect, but that we make up for that with commitment to each other. The older I get the closer I get to the end of my time and the more time I want with my family.
Another one gone but never to be forgotten. I love you auntie Peggy.
This is the time for resolutions. It is almost the new year. Have you met your goals this year? If you have not, there is nothing to be worried about. There is still time. If you have run out of time you are not alone. Most of us are too busy living life to focus on our resolutions. I would suggest that we all use this time to look back over our year and be thankful for all that we have accomplished. We all have come a long way and are on the brink of a new year. Let us be happy.
The new year will bring new challenges that will give us more opportunities to grow. Let us take hold of our challenges and continue to succeed in spite of the opposition. All our challenges should be viewed as a means to success. It is only by confronting and overcoming that we can advance. Wipe clean the slate, start anew and conquer. The only person standing in our path is ourselves. Set that goal, make a plan, hold yourself accountable and make it so.
The new school year starts with that optimism that is potentially infectious. Our children love learning and helping them learn is the primary job of their schools. The challenge is to present a plan and educational approach that brings the best out of all our children. How we do that is not as important as the philosophy of the system. The primary tool is between our ears.
The training of our bodies for athletic improvement is one of ever greater physical challenge and our brains are just another muscle. Only via challenging exercise can we have growth. The current obsession with providing advance programs in schools is commendable, but is missing the point of advanced programs. The focus as devolved into an attempt to promote and glorify the early learners. We are missing the biggest lesson of advanced programs. Our children can handle the challenge. What is missing is the capacity of the system to provide challenge to all our children. All our children will excel if we provide the challenge needed to grow their brain capacity. The is no genetics that provides advanced learning skills. Those skills are a result of the milieu to which our children are exposed. If expectations are high for all our children and the bar is set high for all we can achieve great things.
The constant excuse is that children arrive unprepared. It is a poor excuse. The function of school is to mold and challenge the brains of our children. How we express that challenge is less important that the fact that challenge is provided. The goal is to provide a platform of learning. The current en vogue system is for bringing computers into our schools. Computers are a commendable introduction and like with all tools the approach to their use is the only important factor. The hardware should be cost-effective and our children should be allowed to break and repair them. Learning how to take care of the hardware develops confidence in a meaningful way. If the cost of the systems are low it provides the system with savings that can be better applied. Learning is about having the confidence to explore and fail. Failing in a supportive, constructive environment is where the most learning takes place. Failing at tasks in a system where the expectation is that all will succeed is the real challenge all our children need this new school year. Working hard to overcome failure is the best part of school. Let us provide that safe environment for success for all our children.
Leadership cannot be taught, it has to be encouraged. That is my view of the world and nothing I have seen in my very short lifetime has shown me otherwise. The problem of leadership in American culture is a complex challenge. We have bought into the idea that leaders are created in business school with ever more specialized management degrees. This philosophy could not be further from the truth. Leadership is about getting those around you to perform above their own expectations and to feel included and empowered. Leaders are great managers, unfortunately great managers are not necessarily great leaders. Business school can turn poor managers into great managers, but cannot create leaders.
The education that creates leaders starts in early childhood. It starts in the home at play. Creating leaders is about allowing your toddler to make decisions. It is about allowing her to be her own change agent. It is about explaining why. It is about explaining your yes and no answers equally. It is about recognizing that our toddlers learn from us. They are sponges and their best and worst habits are learned long before they can explain their decisions. Early training prevents later correction.
As the father of the two smartest daughters in the world I can attest to the strength of character of toddlers. My girls are now 3 and 5 and it is clear that they have very different personalities. In spite of their differences they both are confident and insist on making their own choices. They don’t readily follow the crowd. They, like little girls everywhere have been infected with the princess bug, but I smile when they choose the “boy” toys or face paint patterns. I am happy that they have been allowed to make their own choices and will not follow the other girls to the dolls but more often than not want both the doll and the truck. Having a community that supports our girls is vital for the development of future female leaders.
For me, growing up around equally strong men and women instilled a powerful sense of place and robust confidence. This is what I want for my daughters and all our daughters. However, there is a noticeable lack of strong female leadership in our country. I would consider myself a feminist and believe that my girls are capable of doing and achieving anything they desire. Because there are physical limitation does not mean that she is not capable. The question is, are we willing to design and improve so she can express her full potential? This is the key question that needs answering. I know what my answer to that is. My daughters will never be told by me that they cannot. No one in my presence will go unchallenged if they suggest that my daughters cannot. I will lovingly push and challenge them, because they are just as capable as their male peers. It is time for us to use technology to level the playing field and allow all who would to be challenged by all this worlds has to offer.
Every July 4th I remind myself of the courage of the founders of my country. The beauty of the declaration of independence is in the broad inclusiveness of the sentiments expressed. The global equality of mankind as expressed is at the root of the American dream. However, the history of our country is littered with the carcasses of failed policies and leaders who have not lived up to the lofty expectations of that celebrated document. The 4th should be used as a time to refocus on the sentiments expressed. This land of immigrants is not about where you were born, but about what you believe in. It is about fairness, equity and the continuous match toward a more perfect union.
The dream of America is alive and prospering despite all the attempts to distract. Some have lost hope in the self-evident greatest of the American experiment. I am not one. For people of color the American experience is that of continued heart-break, but there runs a determined strain of hope that as continued to improve our lot in this union. I read the declaration of independence on the 4th to be reminded of the promise and the progress. This is a marathon not a sprint, and we dream of true equality as we march toward that goal. This is my American dream.
I have hope because I have to be hopeful. I have young children and I know that the world has changed for the better and that change will continue. Most importantly I know that the growth in American society is irreversible because my generation and the following have made it so. As the country ages those who express the old prejudices have been out numbered and embarrassed into submission. There will always be a few stubborn ones. There will always be some expressions of darkness, but the light of equity is here to say. Progress has been slow and inconsistent but it is here to stay.
The continuous expression of hope and growth is why I continue to love my America. American greatness is derived from the philosophy of her people. If you were born in this land or emigrated the dream is the same. We are a people buoyed by hope and the understanding that we can be the best and always expect to be.
Our lives are short and then we die. How are you going to make the best of your experience? Are you going to be conservative and play it safe?
We often worry more about others and are less concerned about how we are using our limited time. Ignore them, because in the long arc of time they do not matter. I say wake up and dream. Dream of your adventures, but make sure you wake up and experience them. Do it now because only you will live the regret. Do it now because there is no better time. Do it now because we hold the keys to our happiness.
Take hold, escape and live it.
Because life is what happens when we are making plans, plan less. Life is in the moment. Make your list and check it off, because time will not wait for you. We have come too far to give up now. We have survived for a reason. We have survived so we can enjoy. We are here because evolution has chosen us. She is a strict master and only those who take hold and grow will succeed.
We have gotten lucky, we have come too far to give up.
We need to raise the bar. We need to go out and take our rightful place. Do not get pushed, go do the pushing. Brush off the dust. Go dancing in the rain because you are a champion and the world is your play ground. We are like butterflies. We have survived a long birth, it is time to explore. The world will hear us. The world will respect us. The world does not matter. It is our world. Hold on, but not too tightly. Enjoy it, do not stifle it. Take hold and make it count. Be a little breathless, but mostly keep your smile on and remember that it is your world.
Having children has changed my life for the better. Having girls has allowed me to see the world through changed eyes. I often do not like what I see, but there is always hope. I am hopeful because I can see strength in my princesses and I can see the world evolving. The change is not as fast as I would like, but change is happening. My princesses have been born into a world where they have access to opportunity and much improved safety. As women of African heritage they have unique challenges and strengths, but mostly they are from a long line imbued with confidence and self-sufficiency.
I continue to be sure of their success because they have great role models. My instinct is to protect them from all that is bad in the world by building a wall around them. My struggle now is to determine the height of that wall. I want them to grow by learning from my successes and failures, but understand they will learn best from their own experiences. All parents have that nervousness, but for a father of a women of African heritage the world is a little different.
My princesses are still innocent to the crazy world and I will protect them from it for as long as possible. They are three and five years-old and their life is changing fast. My five year-old is ready. She is the love of my life and I worry, and I am excited for her. I am ready for her to discover more of what the world as to offer. The world has already expressed their low expectations of her, but like her ancestors before she will perform above and beyond because her corner expects her to be the best. High expectations lead to commensurate performances. I will continue to protect and love her, and be her shield and sword. I am a parent, I am her father and her friend for life. I will always expect more.
As the sun rises above the gray misty sky I remember. I sit facing the sun with the warmth slowly climbing up my arm and bathing my face. There is a cool breeze that ruffles my shirt and the stars and stripes above me. There is peace in silence. The chirp of a distance bird can be heard and there is peace in her melody. I put my feet up and accept the gift that nature is giving. I accept because I have no control. I accept and love it because love is my only outlet.
I love because I need love. I am a lover because she requires it. Mother nature gives as she gets so I give love. Mother loves because she knows no other. I accept because I am her son.
There is loss but we have her gifts. We are stronger than we give ourselves credit. We are more resourceful than others credit us. We are more resilient than we can imagine. We are powerful, but only if we believe. We are greater and stronger than our loses. Our tears express our strengths. In our tears is expressed our resilience. In times of great loss we may crack, but we will not break. The cracks only serve to expose the depths of our strength. We hold ourselves together in spite of the tears. We hold ourselves together because of our tears.
We are sad and we are happy. We are complex and simple. We are strong because it is required. Our strength is required and is ever-present because we know no other way.
Mother nature gives and she takes, but we are strong because she has strengthen us.
Happy are our days, because we have the strength of our tears.