Put on your dancing shoes

by cocoa mama contributor rlb08863/mamatiti

I know that seems like an odd title given the events of the past year. We are coming fresh off the state sanctioned murder of Troy Davis. The anguish, pain, frustration and rage are still right under the surface. There was the trial and conviction of Raquel Nelson* who was senselessly charged with the vehicular manslaughter of her son despite the fact she was not driving and did not even own a car. There were the racist anti-abortion ads that cropped up in urban areas across the country, with a keen interest in black and Latino neighborhoods. There was the day of national shame when our President had to produce his birth certificate to the nation to prove he was in fact born here, a real American and thus fit to serve in a position that he was elected to. Across our great, post-racial nation, there are laws that seem to be in competition to see who can be the most xenophobic, the most anti-woman, the harshest against the poor and working class, the most draconian against sex workers, all in an effort it seems to prove who is the most American. The year started off horribly with the news out of Cleveland, Texas where an 11 year old Latina girl was gang raped by at least 20 black boys and men. The response by that community, in particular the women, seemed to confirm that the world was in fact going to hell in a handbasket.

So it would seem frivolous at least and idiotic at the most to ask any of you to dance. For many of us, myself included, dance brings to mind images of joy, abandonment, of lightness and exhilaration. We think of proms, weddings, birthday parties, and summer barbeques. It is a time of celebration and validation. It is more though than just a good time.

Our foremothers and forefathers understood  this. They knew dance, movement whether in harmony with other bodies or swaying on its own, was a way of communicating with their homeland. It was a way of connecting with the earth, sky, smells and sounds that had been so cruelly and irrevocably taken away from them. When they got together with a drum, all of the day events, the degradation, the pain, the suffering, the blood, the sweat, the anguish was expelled just for a moment. So long as their bodies were in motion, no matter the amount of time, the dance was the spike in the eye of those who thought they owned their minds and spirits along with their bodies. As arms, legs, torsos, necks, breasts moved, they became birds, antelope, fish, butterflies, and snakes. For that moment, they were free.  Lest you think this is trivial, think to many black churches who still understand the power of dance – yes “a shout” is a dance. The transformative nature of movement still has a place after all this time.

We need to dance by ourselves, with our children, our partners, and our families. We need to put the good foot down so that our sons and daughters will see that the world has not defeated us, has not taken away our joy. We need to throw our heads back and lift our hands while we shake our tail feathers so that we can get it all out. All of the disappointments, inequalities, the setbacks, the downgrades and the layoffs. If the sweat gets in your eye, wipe it away and keep dancing. The world, the Tea Party, Republicans, those on Wall Street, the rich and elite, want us to be defeated so that we can’t fight. They do not know about our ancestors and the power of movement. They forgot – or never knew that slave revolts were started by drums.

When you dance, laugh, cry, shout, twirl. Hold your children. Be silly. Jump on the furniture. Do a conga line around the kitchen table. Do a dougie in the family room. Hell, do the Macerna.  Just don’t be still.

After you are good and worn out, rest. Eat. Laugh some more. Snuggle or meditate alone. Call someone you haven’t in a long time and tell them you love them.  Take a nice hot bath or shower.  After you put your children to bed, if you are able make love to someone you love. Sleep as much as you can. In the morning, you will be clear-eyed, determined, steadfast and most of all, ready to fight like hell.

* Because of the power of  black blogs,social justice blogs, Facebook, Twitter, other forms of social media and ordinary citizens who were rightly outraged by her plight, Ms. Nelson was offered a chance for a new trial.

Joy!

I am somewhat newly inducted into the official celebration of Christmas. I was born in the Middle East where Christmas, if it was at all celebrated, was a small affair, mostly in people’s homes here and there. Oddly I don’t have specific memories of Christmas in Europe, where I spent a few years as child, aside from some references to Papa Noel, and special cookies and chocolates.

Christmas fully entered my consciousness in the 1980s when I came to America, and how! I love everything about Christmas. I love the decorations, the reds, the greens, the luminescent whites. I love the lights adorning streets and houses. I love the store fronts and hot chocolate and the smell of spiced apple and cinnamon. I love the nativity scenes, the dolls, the elves, the Santas, the reindeer. I love the way people seem warmer and kinder.

I mostly enjoyed all this as an outsider until about ten years ago when I met my husband, who is Catholic and in whose family Christmas is a big deal with family members traveling, sometimes cross-country, to be with each other.

I took to Christmas like fish to water, with one exception: the whole gift thing. The buying just to buy; the mountains of gifts for some and very little to nothing for others; the thank you for my ceramic buxom, blonde angel in a bikini statue that plays the muzak version of All the Single Ladies when you wind it up. All my gift apprehensions came to a head last year when my then-3-year-old stood before what seemed to me to be an obscenely huge pile of goodies and lamented in his lisp: “Thanta never bringth me anyfing!”

Since I recognize that this issue is the subject of long-time debate among the good people who have been celebrating Christmas their entire lives and for generations, and that anything I, Janey-come-lately, have to say about it has probably already been said before ad nauseam, I will now stop and instead let you know how grateful I am for the beauty and magic of the celebration surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ—that feast of tastes and scents and sights, and joy, love and service.

Merry Christmas, our beloved readers. May your lives be blessed with peace, health, abundance, and the gifts of spirit.

Namaste

I’m not even sure I can write a coherent post today. But even I, the founder of this blog, have been late and missing writing because of the things going on in my life, so today I am going to just write what’s in my heart and pray it makes some sense to some body.

There is just so much going on in the world –

mid-term elections, bomb plots from Yemen, cholera in Haiti, Twitter debates about whether MJ or Prince is a better singer (you know who wins that! *looking at Benee*) –

and in my personal life –

my son’s preschool teacher recommending occupational therapy, my waiting to hear if the abnormal cells on my cervix caused by a high risk strain of HPV that I didn’t know I had are something to worry about, the disgraced pastor at my church starting his own ministry 10 months after his announcement of his “moral failure” –

that I am finally starting to not know the difference between up and down, left and right. And this sense of disorientation was made even more salient to me when, on Halloween night, I had a moment of vertigo, lost my sense of space, and fainted into the wall at a friends house after gobbling down some oh so sweet and sour Lemonheads.

I’m tired, beat down, a little broken, a bit shattered, but completely surrendered. They say religion is the opiate of the masses, and I’ve been smoking a lot. A few weeks back, we officially joined the church we’ve been attending for the last few years. Why we hadn’t joined before then, I can’t truthfully say. Something was certainly holding me back, perhaps the lack of political activism at the church, I don’t know. But recently I’ve found that I don’t care about that stuff, as far as the church goes. I go to church because it is the one place where I feel I can be completely unburdened.

Every Sunday morning, during the time where we sing worship songs, there comes a moment where we can come to the altar and pray. Every Sunday, I take that walk, and kneel, placing my hands at what I imagine to be Jesus’s feet. And I pray. Sometimes I follow along with the person praying at the microphone, saying Amen at the appropriate times, or sometimes I am silent, after first asking the Lord to search my heart and mind for He knows what I want and need before I even stepped foot in the sanctuary that morning. Other times I pray aloud, usually through a waterfall of tears, laying each and every thing that has plagued my body, mind, and spirit over the past week, asking him to take it, asking him to remind me that I can’t do it on my own, and could never do it on my own. Asking him to once again take control of my life.

It may be a total placebo effect. While I believe there is a God and a Jesus who loves me with a love that is unfathomable and can carry my burdens so that I don’t have to and that knowledge makes me feel so grateful and so light, I can concede that it might not be true. I don’t care.

Because right now, it gets me through my day. Belief is enough for me. And I’m believing about something happening right now, not something in the future. I can feel the burdens lifting right now, and I’m not waiting for them to be lifted – they already are. I believe that whatever is happening, there is something for my good in it, and I have to be open and surrendered enough to see it.

This is a huge breakthrough for me. For now I am quiet and contemplative. And I’m waiting. Waiting to see what will happen. But not anxiously waiting, more just like…living. And I’m not afraid, although I am tired and hungry, sometimes in pain. I’m sharing this because I’m open.

Not only has Christianity taught me this, but yoga too. My yogi tea said today:

“When ego is lost, limit is lost. You become infinite, kind, beautiful.”

My Marriage To Jesus

“Today, you’re marrying Jesus.”  Spoken to me in Kreyol by Granny, my caregiver, those words could only mean one thing: a Haitian First Holy Communion was about to commence.  Most Haitian Catholics make a big deal of Communions, and my mother was no exception.  On the day of the Sacrament, I wore a brilliant hand-made white dress so intricately detailed with lace, white beads, and chiffon, that it could only appropriately be described as a mini wedding dress.  Topped off with a white veil, attached to a crown of flowers, I was the most ornately dressed girl in my Communion class.  After the ceremony, my mother threw a party for me at our house.  So large was the crowd that preparation of the traditional Haitian dishes that would be served to our guests—lanbi, griyo, diri kole, banan peze, pen patat—began several days in advance.  I ran around the yard with the other children, while my parents and their guests talked, laughed, and danced the night away.  And because no Haitian Communion celebration is complete without First Holy Communion party favors, the hand-made white-chocolate lollipops (in the shape of the Eucharist, and of praying hands), candy-covered almonds wrapped in squares of white lace, and white lapel pins, all bore a ribbon with my name on it—“My First Holy Communion.”  Marrying Jesus, indeed.

Years later, my marriage to Jesus went the way of many American marriages: we separated.  The day a Catholic priest advised me, and the congregation of mostly working-class Blacks, that John Kerry’s stem-cell research platform transformed a vote for him into a sin that must be confessed was the last time I set foot in a Catholic church.  The day a Baptist pastor running a “New Members” class suggested to the participants (also made up, primarily, of working-class Blacks) that we weren’t meant to enjoy work was the last day I set foot in a Baptist church.  The hypocrisy of the former (so, Bush’s death-penalty stance did not similarly convey a disregard for life?), and the classism of the latter (what, only wealthy Whites got to pursue fulfilling careers?) have led me to avoid organized religion in general.  I am now, however, the mother of a 7-month old baby; and not to be too cliché, but the development of her spirituality weighs heavily on my soul.

My mother didn’t stop with a First Holy Communion; she enrolled me in religion classes that ultimately led to my making the sacrament of Confirmation.  Her persistence ensured not only that I understood the tenets of Christianity, but also that I have a store of beautiful memories associated with Christianity, no matter how estranged I am from the religion today.  I remember releasing into an Easter Sunday sky helium balloons, stuffed with scrolls bearing the message: “He Is Risen.”  I remember playing hand bells at Christmas; I remember attending midnight mass.

Today, I do not believe in the things that human beings, in our limitations, make God out to be—racist; sexist; homophobic; classist.  But I do believe in God, and so it’s important to me that my daughter also develops an understanding of something that is bigger than her; that she cultivates faith in a Higher Power that is guiding her life.  The academic in me wants her to have an understanding of the doctrinal underpinnings of the Judeo-Christian religions.  The mother in me wants her to develop her own cache of warm memories, reminding her of her special relationship with God.  But memories are not reason enough to expose her to those teachings I find so unacceptable in most religious institutions.  And so, I find myself unsure of how to proceed.  Is it time to join a church, if only for her sake?  Will I be cheating my daughter out of important cultural experiences if we don’t return to organized religion?  Are there other ways for us to teach her to be grateful for the gift of her life, a gift that surely comes from a Higher Being?

I don’t know how we will answer these questions, or what lies in store for my relationship with Jesus, but like many marriages going through a separation, it’s often the children that provide the motivation for reconciliation.