Thursday, July 12, 2018

R.I.P Mr. Manny

It's been a while since I wrote anything on this blog.  Discovered this as I was going through it. Not sure why I never published it, but here it is in memorial of Mr. Manny.

Today the oldest man in the world died at age 146. This means that when I was born in 1970, he was already a century old.  I wonder if a man that lives that long can ever be surprised, intrigued or impressed by what he sees.  It was reported that this man had long wanted to die, so I guess longevity is overrated. Since this man lived through many of the most triumphant and tumultuous times in the world’s history, one would think that it would’ve been fascinating or even inspiring to be a fly on the wall of his psyche while he thought his last thoughts and made his final assessments of the life he lived and the world he lived it in.  It is also possible that he could’ve just been thinking about how bad his heartburn was after that last sandwich or bowl of rice he ate.  The fact is, I’m not even sure if there is even a point to this anecdote, which ironically makes the point that this man’s long life may not have had a point either. 

Tonight, I was also informed of another death.  His name was Mr. Manny.  It’s funny, I don’t think I ever knew his first name.  But what I do remember is he had a daughter that went to my school and although she wasn’t my best student, she had a pleasant disposition just like her dad.  She inherited his short stature and immense personality.  His was manifested in his ability to engage people.  He was one of the first people to acknowledge my presence at that school at a time when I didn’t think my presence mattered.  I suppose I could regret not ever getting to thank him for that, but I have faith that somehow, he knows…somehow.  Mr. Manny didn’t live to be a hundred and forty-six, but I know that his life mattered because he was an artist at showing others that theirs' did. And for that I will be forever grateful. May he rest in peace.

Cancer Moons

Today marks the end of another cycle of moon ruled birthday’s in my home.  It was opened by my son, CJ who turned eight years old on June 26th.  If I could note any change in his new year, I would have to say that he is a bit more rambunctious than he was this time last year.  I find that I often have to tell him things more than once.  I have also found that I’ve been threatening him with whoopins’ more than ever.  My parents would probably tell me to actually make good on those threats as a sign of good parenting because that’s how their generation handled things.  I get it.  And I have no regrets about most of those whoopins’.  All accept for this one time when… and then there was that other time that I won’t get into right now.  Anyway, my son’s newfound traits do reveal to me that he is developing a strong will.  The only thing that I can do as a parent is make sure that he uses that will as an asset and not a liability. He is strong, sensitive and extremely self-aware.  Right now, he’s just testing me and making sure that I am present in his life and never ever aloof.  And I will always remind him that I am up to the challenge.
My birthday was next in the Cancer birthday extravaganza and as usual, it came in like a lamb and left like a lamb, beginning in a Mediterranean restaurant and ending in a relaxing spa.  I have no complaints that it usually goes that way.  I’m not sure how I would react to a crowded room filled with people all assembled to devote at least ten to fifteen seconds of their time to wishing me a happy birthday.  The thought of it is just scary for so many reasons if you let my ego tell it. During my time at the spa, I actually did something that goes against my normal birthday routine.  I usually find time to reflect and think about what I learned. But while I was at the spa I did the opposite.  There’s something about Swedish massage that can convince a man not to think at all.  I was definitely convinced.  But no one can ever really run from their mind and mine soon caught up with me to remind me of this.  But ironically, I actually learned something worthwhile.  I learned that sometimes the mind is our worst enemy.  And suddenly that revelation was followed by another and I realized that my mind was the source of great unhappiness that eclipsed all of my light in the past year.  And finally, I realized that like the title of this blog I really do think too much!
Today, Autumn’s birthday ended the cycle of Cancer birthdays for this year. She showed that she has her father’s gift for finding the greatest joy in the simplest things on a day that she could have had anything she wanted. But all she wanted was to go to Brooklyn Bridge Park and play on the swings with her best friend Gabbi.  I watched her as she joked and laughed while getting her feet wet in the Hudson River, skipping stones and telling funny stories.  It’s the most I’ve seen her smile in a long time.  I’ve seen her sad and as a writer, I have to apologize when I say that her sadness provokes feelings in me that are outside of my lexicon. I would trade my life for the ability to abolish that sadness but I know that she will need some of it to make her strong.  The good news is that I got to be a fly on the wall in her moment of happiness; a moment that I know she will never forget. I am so grateful to the creator that I got a front row seat. I wonder if she knows that on this birthday, she gave me the greatest gift of all.  We ended the night with dinner and we all took turns sharing words of encouragement, praise and honor for Autumn as a daughter, big sister and best friend.  When my turn came I got a little tongue tied because I didn’t want my words to make her feel heavy.  I was thinking about a conversation that we had earlier in the day about her tendency to sometimes be indecisive and asking others to help her. She struggled with this issue while trying to decide how to spend her birthday. I could feel her frustration as she asked me over and over again what she should do as I calmly repeated, “whatever you want, it’s your day”.  I was happy to see that when her fear of deciding subsided, that day really did belong to her and spent it exactly the way that she wanted. I wanted to remind her to continue this behavior in the upcoming year without putting pressure on her and making the moment all weird, so when my turn came to speak I did just that.  I told her that in the year to come, she should make sure that she gives herself something that she didn’t have last year.  And then I watched my wife’s cynical face struggle not to laugh and ask me what the hell I was talking about for fear it would offend me.  It probably would have, but it would have been funny and she would’ve been absolutely right to ask. This is my second attempt.  My birthday wish for my beloved daughter is to every now and then, find the confidence to say screw the consequences, make some moves in life and most importantly, avoid daddy’s bad habit of thinking too much.
Happy Birthday Autumn!  Daddy Loves You!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Embracing The Noise

As a resident of Brooklyn I have come to know noise intimately. It has become a necessary evil that occupies both my waking and sleeping hours.   Whether it’s the earnest chaos created by my six-year old son’s adventures with Lego blocks, action figures and household items that become swords, blasters and spaceships, or the unabashed bass and syncopated obscenities emanating from the car stereos that meet at the traffic light in front of my bedroom window, the sounds of this city always offer the same unapologetic answer to my need for solitude; deal with it.  I suppose this has always been life’s message to the living or at least Brooklyn’s message to the rest of the world. I guess quiet is for the sleeping, and in a city that never sleeps, quiet is just not part of the plan. My six-year old son seems to be fully aware of this arrangement. He is the walking alarm clock of my home, rising each day at about 10am with the same mission; steal my I-phone so that he can top his high score on Mine Craft, a game that he persuaded me to download on a day that I was truly convinced, that whatever temporary preoccupation I was engaged in was actually solitude. But of course, the joke was again on me as I rediscovered what I had been discovering since the day he was born; little boys have no use for silence. Noise on the other hand, is something they can use, especially in the form of words like “daddy can I’, repeated incessantly, proving that he is also quite aware of my need to temporarily escape the pummeling of adult responsibilities, which are always waiting for me just on the other side of summer.

There is an ironic solace in my son’s distractions.  Sometimes I’m fortunate enough to recognize it while he is waking me on a Sunday with the usual greeting of “good morning daddy, what’s for breakfast?”, right at that point when I am really enjoying being asleep and my dreams are just beginning to make sense, or when he starts asking a million questions right at the point when the plot of the show I’m watching is just starting to get interesting.  I can recall a time in my teenage years when I had far less appreciation for this kind of interruption because my older brother and cousin always made it a point to pounce on my solitude as if it was somehow disrupting the natural noisy order of things.  At the time I viewed their antics as malicious jokes meant to amuse not only themselves but all of the noisemakers in the entire universe.  They demonstrated their own twisted versions of mindfulness in their attempts to fight the quiet in our small bedroom where we reluctantly shared space and our teenage years.  These obnoxious intrusions occurred especially when I was doing homework, which in my view was the worst of all sins, because after all, I was only attempting to achieve what all “good” black kids wished to achieve; a way to get to college and escape the hood.  But it seemed that my sadistic roommates had a different plan.

Both had their own unique ways to disrupt my attempts at studying. My brother’s technique demonstrated nerve racking, middle school, finger two inches from the nose, “I’m not touching you” efficiency as he would simply stand directly over my shoulder silently for five to ten minutes reveling in my struggles with algebra.  And when I finally found it unbearable, he would deny any foul play. The game was never over and he was never satisfied until I finally yelled curses at him.  He would then just laugh and walk away.  My cousin had a subtler approach.  He would simply enter the room and turn on the TV and when I complained, he’d say: “it’s your fault! Nobody told you to do your homework this late!” despite my attempts to explain that the workload of my classes demanded that I at least study until midnight and that I had big dreams and doing my homework was the only way I knew how to achieve them, even though they were big abstract dreams that I could not articulate. I just knew that going far away from that little room would be where they began. But it seemed that this was of no concern to him, especially since this explanation has only ever occurred in my head and in my solitude.

 My cousin died last year.  Rene was his name.

Whenever I think of Rene, that familiar noise visits me in the form of grief, regret and anger all arguing for their rightful place to mourn his loss, agonize over not telling him I loved him and yell at him for being one of the multitude who stood in the way of my untapped potential.  I realize how selfish this conflict is, but it doesn’t change the fact that it exists.  It is a tug-of-war between the most vivid memories that I have of him as a teenager when all of us were struggling to find ourselves and him as a grown man that possessed the ability to make everyone around him smile. I only experienced the latter briefly, because I left to find my solitude.  And while I was gone, he lay in a hospital bed on life support, surrounded by all of his loved ones, except me.  My only account of his last days were given to me by mother.  She described to me the look of wonder, profound sadness and love that came over his face when the doctors took him off life support while he looked around the room and saw all of his loved ones, except me, right before he slipped into his final sleep. 

I often tell myself that I have always thrived in solitude and I have always expected the world to give me space. But my brothers showed me that that was not the case.  And since that time, God has found great joy in casting me into the noisy arena of domestic life, teaching me, the wayward soul, that He has never been concerned with my expectations.  For example, I am married to a woman that I expect to read my mind and know not to cross the boundaries of my solitude.  But she, God and my six-year old son find this hilarious.  She is a talented singer and whenever possible sings entire songs when they come on the radio, because it’s the only remedy for her singer’s OCD.  When she and my son are in a room together they do more damage to my solitude than my brothers ever could.  At times it feels just as malicious and those old hostile feelings from my past begin to bubble up.  But how can I be hostile when both of them are obviously following the same childlike instinct to simply do what makes them happy?  And how can I and my solitude compete with such honesty?  I guess the pursuit of happiness can get a little noisy from time to time.  Sometimes people just want to watch TV because it makes them happy.  For my cousin, after losing his mom and living with us, TV may have been just the thing.  Before he died, he had a big house with several TV’s. I should take comfort at least in knowing that all of the noise in his life brought him solitude in the end, which makes me wonder if I’ve had it backwards all this time.  Maybe I should learn to embrace the noise like the inhabitants of my adopted city. Maybe all of the distractions that I endured in that little room have made me a better husband, father and teacher. Maybe all the conversations that I have had in my head all this time are more debilitating than any noise anyone in my life could have ever made. Maybe somewhere Rene is reading this, laughing to himself and thinking that I should watch more TV.