Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Nelson Mandela

 "It always seems impossible until it is done." Nelson Mandela

I still remember where I was the day New York City was attacked. The day the towers came crumbling down. The day Nelson Mandela died I remember where I was. I was driving in a Houston suburb. In the deadlocked traffic I picked up my phone and there it was. I didn't turn to the radio to verify the news, I was certain this was not a hoax because the source was credible. I trailed with the traffic until I made my way home flushed in feelings of deep respect for a man I revered. As I prepared dinner that night, I listened to Wolf Blitzer and Christiane Amanpour amongst others pay tribute to a man whose mark on the world is indelible.

There were many things I admired about Mandela, but the chief qualities I admired in him were the dignity and grace with which he carried himself. Richard Stengel who collaborated with Mandela on his autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom," noted that the dignity with which Mandela carried himself was a result of his  close family ties to royalty. Mandela was in line to become a chief but was unable to because of his mother. Nonetheless he realized his lineage and acted as such. Stengel remembers Mandela as being more royal than the king and as possessing the dignity and speaking with the airs of a 19th century English gentleman. It was this sense of dignity with which he carried himself that made him loathe apartheid and the inhuman treatment of his people. The indignity his people received soon turned to defiance and a long prison sentence of twenty seven years.

However, it was while he was imprisoned that he developed a certain gracefulness about him. Referring to Mandela, pop singer Bono fondly remembers him as "a lesson in grace." Many years of imprisonment forced him into deep introspection and an understanding of self. He learned the art of forgiveness and embraced a level of humanity few of us even broach or barely touch at the surface at the least.

These endearing qualities are what I remember most about Nelson Mandela. It is not often that one person leaves behind such a mark on the world. Mandela must have been severely flawed but he didn't let his flaws or inadequacies limit his vision or his impact on the world. I believe sometimes humans are held back from achieving great things because of certain perceived inadequacies we spend too much time brooding over. Inadequacies and certain character flaws can be stumbling blocks but should not be obstacles that keep us in a prolonged period of inertia.

As 2013 winds down and a new year approaches many among us begin introspective journeys that often culminate in resolutions. In making those resolutions learning from Mandela seems like a good place to start. A graceful man or woman who not only embodies grace but extends it to others is not soon defeated by life's circumstances. So also, a dignified person, not to be confused with a prideful person is better able to stand for what is right when their dignity refuses to allow certain wrongs prevail because it bothers them to their core and they know that there is or should be a higher standard, a better way of relating with our fellow man.

I do not make resolutions because I believe that the best time for any type of change is the present. However, as I set my goals for the new year, I hope that I can learn from Mandela and embody the traits in him I believe made him the man I came to deeply revere.

photograph courtesy of consortiumnews.com

Monday, April 8, 2013

Where did the music go?

I remember the days when being in the car for a short drive meant listening to music so good I sung out my lungs on the drive. That was such a long time ago, because gradually the state of the music changed. While the beats made me want to move my feet and dance, my brain refused to communicate to my mouth to sing along to the lyrics because singing along meant I agreed with these lyrics, some of which were down right degrading and most often misogynistic.

Initially lyrics that were foul were often sung by male artists, but over time, female artists wanted a share of the foul lyric pie. Oddly enough though, they have managed to compete with their male counterparts and are holding their end in that regard. On a recent trip to Jamaica, as our tour guide drove us from Negril to Savannah La-Mar, we chatted about the latest songs on Jamaican airwaves and I was able to sample some. While I enjoyed the male artists, I wanted to hear what the females had to sing. Cue in Lady Saw one of the hottest females on the Jamaican pop scene. I could only stomach all of ten seconds as every other lyric heralded the virtues of her lady parts.

On my return back to the states, I was met with the same familiar misogynistic lyrics. But this time, the buzz was about a certain singer who might have performed at the inauguration of the President. The lyrics were an anthem asking female detractors to pay homage. If only the lyrics asked for a curtsey it would have been somewhat palatable, but then the lyrics and the name of the song were a cruel reference to detractors who were referred to as bitches and asked to bow down. The defense has been that the song is a part of a much bigger production. However, why release a degrading sound bite for sensationalism sake? Isn't there enough negativity on the air waves already.

It seems as though one female singer asking bitches to bow wasn't enough because soon enough the males had to seize the crown and show who was boss in the art of denigration. Enter in Rick Ross, singing the praises of date rape, followed by a half-baked apology after pressure from women's groups mounted. Since when do we glorify rape and make a mockery of sexual assault and violence against women? Maybe since the Constitutional Convention and the passing of a certain amendment protecting artistic freedom. Just maybe.

My commute is totally different now. Gone are the days of listening to music in the car. Sure, there are good songs on the airwaves but I'd rather listen to the news these days. The good songs are few and far between. Oftentimes on radio stations, the order is one really decent song and then a lineup of trash. My salvation comes in switching to an oldies station where I can be guaranteed that Earth, Wind and Fire will not be glorifying rape or Gladys Knight singing unashamedly about the powers of her lady parts.

Makes me wonder what the next generation will listen to. The airwaves are full of trash these days, but there's still hope. Try Adele, Bruno Mars, Pink, or maybe Amy Winehouse sometimes. While these artists may have some lyrics that are not all the way Kosher all the time, they are true artists with undeniable vocal talent something most other misogynists do not have or ever will.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Four More Years of the Obamas

President Obama took the oath of office for the fourth time before a crowd significantly smaller than that at the first inauguration in 2009. The theme of his speech it seemed was equality for all Americans. By far, the most poignant moment of all was Obama stopping as he departed the platform to take one last look at the crowd saying "I'm going to take a look one more time...I'll never see this again." Very evocative words.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Catfish, 787s, Armstrong, or Happy New Year!

What a week it's been! The "witch hunt" that began years ago with allegations of doping ended with Lance Armstrong confessing about his use of performance enhancing substances in several of his cycling competitions in a sit down interview with Mama Oprah herself. So, maybe it wasn't a witch hunt after all. Former cable television executive turned former mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin was indicted on 21 counts of bribery, Boeing 787s were grounded across the globe for faulty lithium batteries that were potential fire hazards, several foreigners were taken hostage in Algeria owing to the intervention of the French in the crisis in northern Mali, Ben Affleck won the Gold Globe Award for Best Director for his movie "Argo" despite being snubbed by the Academy, Ann Landers the advice columnist for "Dear Abby" passed away, I began the first week of my last semester in law school, I returned back to my clerkship at Halliburton, and finally Manti Te'o and Catfish were reintroduced as household names in a sick and bewildering twist. If this week is any indication of what lies ahead in the month of January or if it forebodes the rest of the year, then it will be an interesting and adventure filled year.

For those reading this, making it into the new year was a feat in itself, a defiance of the Mayan prediction of the end of the world. But getting past the Mayans, 2012 was an interesting year for me for many reasons. It was a sort of coming of age and one of those years where I can say I had so many experiences that shaped and are still shaping me into the woman that I am becoming. 2012 was a year filled with so many experiences, unanswered questions, bumpy rides and hot air balloon highs.

Approaching the new year, I had to change my resolve, look through a different lens. I did not make resolutions, I have not made resolutions in years, rather I set goals. I covered a page with about 39 of those and my list is still growing. I made some lofty goals and I plan to check periodically to see how I'm doing, see if those goals needs to be adjusted and of course I have my red pen handy to cross off goals once they are accomplished. As with years in the past, I always pick out a scripture as a guide for the year, and as 2012 drew to a close, I kept on running into the Proverbs 17:22, "a merry heart doeth good like medicine." It is a scripture I plan to keep close as a reminder to be merry, joyful, and cheerful all year long. King Solomon may not have made good choices with his lifestyle, but the proverbs he was inspired to write still hold true today if adhered to.

So, I am excited about the new year and although my post might seem a little late, there couldn't be a better time than today to publish it. It has not only been an eventful week, but the weekend and the week ahead will be even more climatic with the second inauguration of President Barack Obama following on the heels of Martin Luther King Jr. day. While the new slogan for the Obama campaign and administration may be "forward," the name Obama and the four letter word "hope" will always be synonymous. Today driving to work, I listened two clergy men speak about hope on NPR and I ended my day reading a poem by Emily Dickinson, titled, "Hope is the thing with feathers." While I don't have the poem memorized yet, I feel as though I could add my own words and give the word hope meaning just drawing from the imagery and symbolism of feathers.

But importantly, today, my brother sent me a forwarded email about change, moving on, and leaving. He and I always have the deepest and most enriching conversations, so it's no surprise the profundity of the email's content. The letter, the reflections of an artist struck such a strong chord with me. I read it parked in my car and then read it again curled up in bed. Certainly, there are changes I need to make because anything that doesn't grow dies and sometimes we just have to leave certain things to make room for the future and what it holds. While the letter was rather lengthy, I have included some excerpts from it below and hope it speaks to someone reading it as it did me.

I want to keep my soul fertile for the changes, so things keep getting born in me, so things keep dying when it time for things to die. I want to keep walking away from the person I was a moment ago, because a mind was made to figure things out, not to read the same page recurrently.

Only the good stories have the characters different at the end than they were at the beginning. And the closest things I can liken life to is as book, the way it stretches out on paper, page after page, as if to trick the mind into thinking it isn't all happening at once.

Here is something I found to be true: you don't start processing death until you turn thirty. I live in visions, for instance, and they are cast out some fifty years, and just now, just last year I realized my visions were cast too far, they were out beyond my life span. It frightened me to think of it, that I passed up an early marriage or children to write these silly books, that I bought the lie that the academic life had to be separate from relational experience, as though God only wanted us to learn cognitive ideas, as if the heart of a man were only created to resonate with movies. No, life cannot be understood flat on a page. It has to be lived; a person has to get out of his head, has to fall in love, has to memorize poems, has to jump off bridges into rivers, has to stand in an empty desert and whisper sonnets under his breath:

Photo credit, Steve Martin by Norman Seeff, 1978.