Exhumed From the Tomb

‘What is ur tomb constructed with? Do you visit it often? Too often? Live there? Leaving ur tomb requires faith, courage, hope and love of God and Shannon!’ ~text message received from MD

I decided to follow the minister’s challenge from Easter Sunday’s message and pinpoint exactly who or what assembled my tomb(s). Now I believe in boundaries (if there are boundaries in blogging or all forms of social media for that matter) so I’m not about to rattle off a list of offenders, but I will release a few personal revelations.

1. This was no easy task. It’s natural to know people have hurt you but it is quite difficult to travel back in time and remember exactly who and exactly why. It is even more difficult when the damage is situational and not individual. For example, one may blame their child molester for their adult promiscuity but where do they direct the blame for the sexually transmitted disease they contracted during that time if the culprit is unknown.

2. In brooding over those things that others have done to you, you inadvertently recall those things you have done to others (at least half of it, ok, maybe a fourth); that is if you have a conscious and are in the least bit decent but let’s be honest, if you don’t and if you aren’t, you probably are not concerned with living outside the tomb. If you are genuinely trying to come out, you can’t come out hiding behind half the truth. What is done is done, own it, apologize for it, learn from it and move on.

You know what else…just because you are trying to come out doesn’t mean your offender will; your tomb may be their home. For the record, I don’t want to be in my own tomb and I don’t want to be in yours either!

3. At some point you realize that much of the tomb is built by your own hands. Maybe you didn’t lay the initial brick, or lay the complete foundation, but you didn’t need any help enclosing yourself. I realize that in some cases, I have closed the tomb over and over again as if putting a box in a box in a box. In other instances, I have found my way out of the tomb and then found my way right back in. I give the slow head shake-horizontally, to the idiot who continues to go to jail for the exact same thing. Yet I am guilty of the stupidity I mock.

By the way….if you must build tombs, build your own. Don’t go around engineering tombs for other people. Celie said it best in The Color Purple, “The grave you dig fo’ me is the one you gon’ rot in.”

4. There is freedom in speech (this is not a reference to the first amendment to the United States Constitution). Once you have spoken/written those devices of embalmment, your resurrection begins. The revelation is the beginning of the process by which we come out of the tomb. Undoubtedly, you will return to the misery of decay, but acknowledgement is a step toward freedom from darkness and toward light. Who doesn’t want to live in the light?

Today I had the opportunity to be entombed, I elected to be exhumed.

Tomorrow is unknown but I am fighting not to be buried alive. What is keeping you in your tomb?

Connoisseur of Peace for Happiness

I am a big fan of reading and writing (not so much of arithmetic) but I can calculate an additional 25% off a 40% off sales price in T minus 60 seconds while giving my eight year old the ‘you better not even think about it’ stare while talking on the phone and waiting in line for a dressing room vacancy during the Easter weekend rush at Belk’s. Some forms of math just come naturally.

By the way, the twenty-something, gum popper standing behind me learned a valuable lesson that day. Never question the focus ability of the ultimate multi-tasker, I see door number three opening and I see your size two, $200 skinny jeans trying to slide past me. “Excuse me sweetie, were you expecting to share this room?”

But I digress.

Reading and writing. My love of these has spilled into my décor over the past few years in the form of word art on canvas. My first piece was the definition of ‘connoisseur’ purchased on an end cap at Target for $9.98. It hangs in my kitchen, taunting my desire to become an authority on gourmet* cuisine and wine aficionado. When the weekend is extended to include Friday, the taunts shall be silenced.

My favorite canvas is a wordle of ‘peace’ in several different languages. This symbolizes my wish for multicultural harmony and if nowhere else it exists when I am curled up beneath the wall covering, wrapped in a zebra blanket, sipping Japanese matcha, eating Lebkuchen wafers and watching Frida.

While engaging in a bit of retail therapy this weekend, I ran across one of those pieces by which I am intrigued. Actually, I ran across two. One at half price had a slash in the middle of the canvas that was barely noticeable but visible nevertheless. The other, identical in every other way, was full price and flawless.

And so began the familiar debate with the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other, only there really was no right or wrong decision. After boredom set in amidst the myriad of household goods, my sons chimed in, “Save money. You can’t even see that little scratch.” “You’re worth the good one. Spend a little extra on yourself.” I considered the first word in the list, ‘happiness’. What would make me happy: getting the whole one at the price of the damaged one for sure. But with that option off the table (unless I wanted to consider an illegal activity) I had to choose between money and value.

In the end, the unblemished canvas found its way to the trunk of my car. After all, with two active sons, it won’t be long before we give it a scratch or two; but then, it will be ours.

Who wants to buy something someone else has already damaged? Damn. That’s an awfully loaded question.

*On the same day, at another Target, on another end cap, a girlfriend was purchasing the definition of ‘gourmet’. I have been trying to convince her to give me her hanging ever since we discovered our match. I am hopeful that this post will help.

To The Class of 2021

This is what I would want to share with the matriculating bears when the current students of Shaw University have graduated and/or moved on to other experiences and the events of what happened the week before Easter weekend in 2011 are nearly forgotten.

To The Class of 2021,

Just around the time you were enjoying the spoils of sixth grade spring break, former students were counting on two more weeks and a final exam to give them that extra umph. While you were lying your way through social networking activation sites, students before you were trying to find the truth through the chaos of half-truths and retweeted rumors. As you were wishing your parents would just leave you alone, students who carried the keys in your pockets were just wishing for a way home.

I can’t begin to describe what Shaw University was like before the storm.  Before the tornado came and ripped trees from roots, the tree that stood as guard over Henry Martin and Sarah Tupper. I don’t know how to articulate the spirit of Shaw, like many HBCU’s on ‘fried chicken Wednesday’ or ‘fried fish Friday’ when the lunch line spills out into the yard. The yard that is glass and debris ridden, outside of the café that served boxed lunches today. ‘Cold cut Wednesday’ just doesn’t have the same ring.

The rhythm of this institutional body moves to a beat that courses through the anatomy of other HBCU’s and like veins from one heart we dance to music that is felt and not heard. We sing to beats that are innate not synthetic and when it is time to sing together, our harmonies ring as one.

Yet, we are not just a historically black university; we are a world of academia. Often, that label diminishes ones capacity next to our predominately white institutional counterparts. Shaw is an association of scholarship. The essence of this first-rate, first built, first choice institution of higher education is inhaled in the air between its buildings on a crisp fall morning, its spoken in the language between student and advisor over plans after graduation, its understood in the movement of a young man who removes his hat and pulls up his pants in one motion as if rehearsed for eighteen years before.

This is not the most devastating event to happen on the campus of Shaw University; thankfully, all lives were spared but this was the most devastating to happen to the campus.

I am looking for the lessons to be learned from what took place on Saturday, April 16th, 2011, the tenth birthday of my oldest son. The tornado changed Shaw University. Students began to respect the opportunity of life more. One young man said to me on that Sunday morning “I would give anything to just have no AC again.” Staff began to show genuine compassion for one another. A staff member said a few days after the storm “I never even thought to ask if one of our own had losses.” Faculty began to understand that student affairs and academic affairs were a successful marriage not a dysfunctional family. A professor stated during a walk across the bridge after discussing a particular student “I can’t believe I never knew she was dealing with all of that and I’ve been her advisor for three years.”

To be honest, I was questioning my place at Shaw University. I was starting to wonder if my talents would be better fitted elsewhere. I was asking for answers and I believe now more than ever that they were answered that day. Somewhere in the tears of scared students with no way home and frightened parents thousands of miles away, I found may way home…right where I was.

So take a deep breath and inhale the past. Learn from it. This is not the new Shaw University. This is the same Shaw there always was. This is the same Shaw there always will be. The spirit has always been here, it just needed to remind the students of 2011 who they were and who they were meant to be.

Don’t you forget it, or else…

Why I May Never Be Invited To Another Baby Shower

Year round school is a dream come true for a single parent such as myself.

While everyone is writing parenting advice on cardstock decorated with foil embossed booties, everyone tells you the surface stuff. Read with sweet, innocent voice: “Get plenty of rest.” “Let your husband do the housework.” “Take people up on their offer to help.”

Screw that. What we should have been writing on those cards was the true stuff. The stuff no one tells you when you’re glowing, happy, filled with maternal joy and cake for four. Read with hard, militant, voice while using hand expressions: “It is scary as hell the first time you take a crap and yeah you may have to assist your body in the process. Don’t ask-instinct will take over.” “Your nipples will crack and bleed during feeding and those objects of sexual stimulation will be reduced to objects of nutritional satisfaction. There ain’t nothing sexy about smelling like spoiled contaminated milk.” “After the baby comes out you will spin the rest of your life wishing that crying, little brat would crawl back in there and give you a moment of peace.”

Peace. Ahhhhh. Do you know what peace sounds like? It sounds like three weeks of track out while the offspring spring off to the home of the noncustodial parent, at least that’s what it sounds like to the divorcee whose kids attend year round school. It sounds like a book being read without interruption. It sounds like being called ‘Shannon’ instead of ‘Mommy’. Do you know what it looks like? It looks like a clean house. Every shoe is in place, there are no toys in sight, and the one little pile of laundry that has accumulated sits patiently waiting for nothing at all. Do you know what it smells like? It smells like take out from exotic restaurants that don’t list chicken fingers and kids menus are comical. It smells like girly soaps, undiluted by too much cologne in an attempt to hide the signs of prepubescence.

Before year round school I often wished they would crawl back into the womb and give me a moment, a single glimpse of my pre-maternal self.

But Joanie Mitchell said it best. I had an undeniable craving for chicken nuggets today, from Chick-fil-a especially, on kid’s night. In the drive thru, I sat watching kids run wildly, laughing, barefoot. They were taunting the costumed cow and I can only imagine his thoughts inside the fortress that protected their sacred ears from his secular mumbles. My womb ached for my own little torturers watching them. My stomach was playing tricks on me.

There are only three days left in my kidcation and between you and me (assuming they are having too much fun to read my blog tonight), it’s a little too peaceful around here. I keep hearing things in the middle of the night. The sterile environment is freaking me out! And four-day old sushi stinks! If nothing else, they better get home and take out this trash. That’s another thing we should be writing on those cards “If it’s a boy, by the time he’s 8, you’ll never have to take out the trash again. Just remember to bag it up in your bathroom during that time of the month.” Besides, they both crushed my sciatic nerve when I was carrying them, I can only imagine the damage they would do now.

I should probably look into a traditional calendar.

“What’s up with u and all this biracial stuff?”

Dear Reader,

It’s been almost a month since I posted. Even now this feels contrived. I want to close this screen and return to my studies. My studies of myself.

If we are Facebook friends you may have noticed a recent change in my status postings. I often share articles about biracial/multiracial experiences. One of my favorite cousins asked in response to one of these articles “What’s up with u and all this biracial stuff?” I often ask myself what is up with this ‘stuff’?

Where did this stuff come from? Where has this stuff been the last 32 years? How did I not know about this stuff? Why didn’t I know that being biracial was a definition, a description and that I didn’t have to be black or white, that I could be black and white? Why did I think I had to pick? Wait. I didn’t have a choice at all. My birth certificate reads ‘black’. 

My mother admits that she didn’t know I could have been both and I understand. I can’t imagine being a black woman married to a black man and saying “My daughter is biracial.” That would mean one of two things: somebody cheated or somebody lied. I remember the stares she would receive when she announced quite proudly that I belong to her while in the grocery store. I recall whispers from onlookers when I tugged at her coat tail and called her “Mommy.”

I don’t believe my birth mother knew I could choose to be both either. She probably thought I would have to black in a nation where the one drop rule was the only rule and in a state where diversity was based on the color of your hair more than your skin, I’m sure she was terrified at the thought of my life with her. I imagine those same winces and whispers in the grocery store at her being called “Mommy” by a mudblood.

My imagination runs wild these days fueled by the pages Senna, Larsen and Cross. In every character I bear witness to who I was, who I am, who I am becoming. With each description, emotion, question of identity I see myself through the eyes of writers who I have never met yet they tell my story. The manicurist’s solutions enrage paper cuts, reminders of scenes too good to turn slowly. I have found myself in a new world and yet an old one, my old one.

I am amused in remembering that for many years, I believed that tracing my biological roots would give me the answers to my identity but now I understand that I looked at those answers every day.

Shannon