Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Glass as Half Full

n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.

I enjoy talking to people, strangers especially, because most of the time, they are very unpretentious and do let down their guard down so easily. I find that I meet the most interesting people though in different locales, at airports and especially on flights. I have a special fondness for people I meet at airports, because tangled in their travels are deep webs of stories and when I have stopped long enough to listen, I often find that everyone has a story to tell. A friend of mine recently made the observation that I always meet so many interesting people and I realized that she wasn't far off from the truth.

Earlier in the month, I planned a trip from Houston to Atlanta as I had a scheduled race in Atlanta on July 4. I got to the airport at about 8am, and what began as a series of delays eventually turned into a cancellation by the airline. The airline provided little to no information following the cancellation, besides telling customers the only options were to either receive full refunds or be booked for another flight. The next flight out was on the day of my race and was scheduled to depart at noon. Rescheduling just was not an option for me because the plane was scheduled to land hours after the end of the race.

In spite of having endured multiple cancellations, standing and sitting in awkward positions by power outlets to charge my phone I remained so calm and used the opportunity to meet and talk to people. I met a lady who was departing for Atlanta on another airline to attend the 80th Anniversary of Alcoholics Anonymous, which was holding in Atlanta that weekend. I met a young lady who was flying into Atlanta with plans of visiting her boyfriend in Columbus who offered to give me a ride to Austin to get on another flight to Atlanta to make it in time for my race. Then there was the guy who was scheduled for dialysis treatment who banded up with several others to rent a bus and drive through the night to Atlanta. Then there was the woman with the son who reminded me of my nephew whom I helped with rescheduling her flight, an ordeal that lasted over an hour.

However, of all the people that crossed my path at the airport that day, none made as strong an impression as the man in the trucker hat. After retrieving my luggage and purchasing a new flight ticket on another airline, because I had to be in Atlanta and wasn't going to miss my race for the world, I looked for a place to sit in a coffee shop as I had been at the airport for almost twelve hours at this point. There were two men occupying the chairs positioned in the direction of arrivals and one was gracious enough to offer me his. As I settled into my chair, I read the writing on the hat of the middle-aged man that was still in his chair out loud. His hat had a scripture from the book of Proverbs, the third chapter and the fifth verse. The inscription on his hat simply read, "Trust God, and don't worry."

I mouthed the words out loud and told him I liked his hat as I sat next to him. At once we picked up a conversation. I told him about my cancelled flight and how I was in very high spirits because I had met so many people and had so many enriching conversations. I brought the conversation back to his hat and shared how my faith has always served as an anchor and helped me through so many challenges. He then opened up about how he expected to have his life figured out at his age and how oftentimes, he just wished God would give him a glimpse into his future so his mind would be at ease. He was a widower, having lost his wife of over thirty years three years ago and was at the airport to meet a lady he recently began talking to. He told me his intentions for her were good and he was going to let her have his bedroom while he slept on the couch while she was visiting. At the end of the day, he hoped their relationship would blossom into marriage but was also fine if it didn't. He shared about how deeply lonely he was as a widower and an empty nester and how he never knew such loneliness could exist.

In all, although it was clear his heart was heavy, he was still quite upbeat. There was a desire to want to know what was to come, but yet, a childlike trust in God and a willingess to follow as God led. As we sat there and talked for minutes, he felt like an old friend and we talked and laughed and shared stories mostly centered on our respective walks with God. I had to leave mid conversation to go back home and I always wonder about that man at the airport. His loss, his heartbreak and his resolve. He chose to see the cup as half full and I shared that same reslove with him. Had I let my long stay and disappointment over my flight cancellation get in the way, I might have missed that moment to share conversation with him. He was such a sweet man.

These stories at the airport always get me, and the people there get me too. On another flight ealier in the year from Chicago, I met a young lady, who had just recently quit her job to care for her dad who was battling cancer at MD Anderson. We talked the entire length of the flight and have kept in touch ever since. Or the women I met on the flight from Houston, one of whom was a marathon runner and wants to run a race with me some time in the year or the man I met on a flight to Mexico a few months ago who was silent the entire trip but gave me his number as soon as we landed and asked me to come out for a drink.

Whenever I fly, I'm reminded that the world is so vast. Maybe it's just the sheer number of people boarding flights for different reasons --weddings, bar mitzvahs, funerals, court cases, illnesses, honeymoons, job functions or just moving away to start life all over again-- or maybe it's the stories behind the faces. From the ticketing counter to the security line and the gate, these faces all have stories and I'm reminded that the world is a very big yet surprisingly small playground and the way to win is to choose and keep choosing to see the glass as half full.

Friday, July 3, 2015

33 Life Lessons

1. Always wear perfume.
2. I’ve learned not to call people out as much. First, life is way too short, secondly I honestly just don’t have the time and lastly, I’ve come to realize that when people act out of line, it has more to do with them and perhaps their present circumstances in life than it has to do with me.
3. Life can be very harsh and unforgiving.
4. Life can also be so beautiful.
5. Don’t let anyone tell you we live in a post racial world because we surely do not.
6. I have learned not to operate from a position of scarcity or to have a scarcity mentality. There’s lots of room for everyone and God is in fact very generous.
7. Paying for experiences adds a lot more value to life than paying for things. With experiences, you are left with so many stories to tell and importantly, your life is enriched and enlarged. How many stories can you truly tell about your conversation starter bracelet?
8. Listen.
9. Don’t wallow in regret. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “there are far better things ahead than any we may leave behind.”
10. If you have a chance to have children, do have a few or a truckload if you can. I haven’t found a more potent mood enhancer.
11. Your parents truly do want what is best for you and will always have your back.
12. There’s nothing quite like family and siblings truly do make the best friends.
13. The good thing about friends is that we get to choose the friends we keep. Good friends are hard to find and should be treasured.
14. Water your own garden and truly tend to your soul.
15. I have learned that we do not get to choose our personalities. In just one week, I was told by two separate people that I have a commanding presence. I’ve heard this for most of my life and I’m learning that it can be a snare or a great tool if handled wisely.
16. I’ve learned that many of the questions I have may never be answered and sometimes, it’s best to not overly seek answers but trust that the secret things truly do belong to God.
17. I’ve learned that in the midst of all the ups and downs in my life, there has always been something to celebrate and something to learn.
18. Challenging oneself is important. I never knew I could run a half marathon until I did. And I’ll never know I can climb Mount Everest until I try.
19. There’s so much life to live.
20. This lesson came at the end of my thirty-second year, but it was the most poignant. I’m not defined by my failures or past experiences. God makes all things new and beautiful. The same Peter who denied Christ thrice was the same Peter upon whom Christ declared he would build His church.
21. I still love ice cream.
22. Giving is so important.
23. Whoever said reading is fundamental never lied.
24. Travel. There’s so much world to see. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to travel and you don’t have to board a plane to do so. Even in your state or your present locale there’s a new and exciting place perhaps just an hour or two away. Make it a point to go somewhere new once a year.
25. I have learned that I am not perfect and never will be. I also am too introspective for my own damn good. But if there’s one thing, I want to be a better person each day and I work very, very, very hard at it. It might not be obvious to most people around me, but I really do. However, I’m grateful that the work of inner change is a work of God’s grace and does not lie in my human power.
26. I love to write. I just simply do and wish I devoted more time to it because it truly gives me immense joy.
27. The world is such a beautiful place. Each time I pick up a copy of Architectural Digest or even Fast Company and marvel at all the amazing things people like me are doing I realize that there’s so much out there. It’s a beautiful world out there, Harriet. Men built the skyscrapers in New York, the Golden Gate Bridge was wrought by men and the palaces in France were all built by men just like me. Thus, the persistent question I ask is what I’ll build and be known for.
28. I have learned that I still do not have the patience to watch television.
29. From watching the marriages of a number of young people, most of them friends, fail, I have learned that marriage is more about being the right person than finding the right person.
30. You’ll never be bored if you follow the right people on Instagram. Just ask me.
31. Tim Keller is that theologian.
32. I’ve learned to take big leaps of faith.
33. God is still good and I doubt that this will change. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Africans Killing Africans: When Lessons From Apartheid are not Enough

If any group of Africans should understand the sting of racially charged violence, it should be South Africans. While violence has been and continues to remain a common theme in most African societies the Africans on the southern most tip of the continent not too long ago were victims of the most oppressive form of aggression, relegated to living in abject poverty in shanty towns in a country they fully owned. In the last few weeks pictures, videos and personal accounts of xenophobic attacks by South Africans on other African immigrants in the country has made me wonder if South African history books have taken out accounts of apartheid or if South Africans are just suffering from a severe form of amnesia. The murders in the country of other African immigrants can almost be likened to Israelis killing immigrants in their country forgetting what they once suffered at the hands of Adolf Hitler.

Immigrant tensions are not new and years ago, flaring tensions in Nigeria caused then president Shehu Shagari to order immigrants in the country, most of them Ghanaian to leave prompting a mass exodus of Ghanaians and other immigrants creating rife hostility and bitterness. While I am not privy to any studies on the economic state of the residents post the exodus, I can almost argue that the life of the average Nigerian was not improved by sending their fellow West African neighbors home, if anything a dearth must have been created as teachers, seamstresses, store owners and other business owners fled. The situation then could have been handled better and most certainly, South Africans can come up with solutions to address the burden immigrants have placed on their country and resources that do not include brutal attacks and murders. 

Undoubtedly, as a continent, Africa is tremendously resource rich, however, it is no secret that the majority of Africans in almost every country live in quite deplorable conditions, victims of corrupt governments. Another known fact is that countries that seem to be doing relatively well are typically burdened by the influx of immigrants seeking better living and working conditions. Over time, for countries that are thus burdened with a heavy migrant population, it is inevitable that conflicts will arise as the citizens and legal residents of the host country struggle for what few resources there are. It might be frustrating when the residents feel that they cannot measure up either because the immigrant population is more educated or more financially secure, while they live on the margins unsure of their daily sustenance. But in spite of the arguments against the immigrants there are more civil ways to address immigration issues and violence of any form does not belong on that list.

But a number of South Africans have concluded that the only way to rid their country of the immigrants they have come to view as a nuisance is by staging attacks against them. It is interesting to note that besides African immigrants making a living in South Africa, there are immigrants from a host of other countries, with scores of Chinese immigrants leading the ranks, but there are no accounts of attacks against immigrants that are from without the continent. In my mind, the explanation as to why only Africans are targeted seems rather simple but complex at the same time. I can almost assume that non-African immigrants who are indeed prospering are viewed as deserving of their success because there is an arbitrary hierarchical system and already, South Africans perceive them as better than they. Thus, since they are better it only follows that their success should not be seen as a threat. On the other hand though, other Africans are not viewed as deserving, after all, they are just as black and perhaps seen as inferior and why should their perceived success be permitted when black South Africans cannot seem to get ahead?

While my argument might be flawed, there is a great deal of truth to it. The success of groups perceived as deserving or unfamiliar can sometimes be dismissed, but then when it seems as though those who are succeeding share some commonalities, their success then is perceived as a threat when in reality it might not be. Unfortunately, South Africans in their attempt to rid their country of other African immigrants are wrong in their logic and are making an already bad situation even worse. Interestingly, when a group has been marginalized for long periods and oppressed their views on perceived threats seems to become warped. Rwanda and the events leading up to the genocide is a marked example and now South Africans are joining the trend. If South Africans learned any lessons from being oppressed under the system of apartheid, those lessons have collectively been discarded and the scars might have been replaced with grafts as the oppressed have now become the oppressors. 

Friday, April 10, 2015


I'm sitting by the window at this really cool coffee shop in Houston called Siphon Coffee. I was supposed to come here a few weeks ago with a friend, but we chose a different place for brunch instead. Still, the curious bug in me wanted to see what the hype was about because they have a really cool method of brewing coffee and word on the street is they serve a mean empanada with some chimichurri sauce. So here I am. I opted against the coffee, but just scarfed down a chicken empanada and I'm here, sitting down, looking out the window.

A few minutes ago, I went back to my car to grab my Snuggie, as it was getting rather cold in the shop. After reaching for it, I sat for a few minutes in the driver's seat and the word punctuations came up in my head. As a writer, I'm always thinking about topics to write about all the darn time. Whether or not I do eventually write is a different story, but I could pitch upwards of twenty five stories right now if you ask me. I think about them and rehearse the introductions in my head as I do dinner, laundry and other mundane tasks daily.

So, about punctuations. I was thinking about pauses in life. Some that are temporary, imploring us to stop for a while and ponder, like commas, or maybe colons, telling us there's more to the story, it gives birth to something greater, or semi-colons, telling us that there's more while implying at the same time that we do come to a stop, and then there are exclamation marks, giving brith to that element of surprise, or shock, or disdain, fury, joy, and revolt all in one full swell! And then there are full stops or periods, which mark an ending and depending on how you look at things, beautiful beginnings.

In life, we all have to deal with these marks. These punctuations. The beauty I have discovered is not so much in the pauses, stops and all that comes with them but rather in understanding how to navigate these periods in our life. It takes a huge dose of wisdom, some deep introspection, sometimes a gut feeling and in some cases an attitude that just says que sera sera. It might be helpful if I had something deep to say about punctuations, but I too have limitations. I am not a philosopher or diviner, I'm just a writer. But if there's one thing I've learned about the punctuations it's that pauses are not bad. They might be unsettling, but should be embraced, because ultimately, they teach us more about ourselves than we would learn, if we never stopped, never pondered and just coasted on the sea because really a smooth sea never a skillful sailor made.