A touch. A glance.
Enough to stop the whole universe in motion.
One day a stranger, the next an unforgettable friend.
How does she resist the perfection of his touch?
All she can do is embrace and call him another soulmate.
No. Not one that will forever hold her hand.
Just a soul mate that can pause her heart between beats.
Make a simple sentence sound like a sonnet.
And be a forever friend in this cold lonely world.
Never to touch how they may sometimes want.
but always to understand how souls could never be
fully apart again.
You are enough.
Words spoken that cover the immeasurable
immensity that is human insecurity.
You are enough right now.
For one small instant you allow those words
so subtle, so pure
to free you.
To free your striving
You alone are enough in every way.
Void of any conditional fragments
that one small phrase stands alone
in front of all humanity.
You are enough.
But you throw off this simple phrase
struggle to grab the chains of perfection
that had finally fallen to the ground
to become your own slave master
Every minute, punishing, critical.
Every minute unworthy.
Chains of doubt and worry cling to you
painfully etching scars into your wonderfully flawed skin.
You, my love, in every single way
are not perfect because humanity’s beauty
is found in our many unworthy imperfections
But you, my darling, are in this moment
and in every way
As you sit alone, smiling but struggling beneath these heavy chains
you are completely and utterly enough.
Chicagoans are nothing, if not hopeful. We spend every day of at least five months out of the year (and that’s being generous) hoping that the sun hasn’t crawled into an eternal cave never to be seen again. We hope that our snot can last the five minute walk to the bus stop without completely freezing our nasal passages solid (yes, this is a true story). We hope that the icy-slush-puddle that we are forced to navigate through is only an inch deep and not the rabbit hole that brought Alice to Wonderland. We hope that our car, which is buried in four feet of snow, has steadfast determination to start on command and get us to work in the morning. But above all we hope we survive this year’s winter to make it to spring and summer.
We live in a city where most of the year we are miserable so that a few months of the year are paradise. And we are proud of it. Put a long-time Chicagoan in Southern California during a “rain storm” as all the bleach blonde, Hawaiian-shirt-wearing hippies run around in terror with their hoodies, Ugg boots and scarves. Come to Chicago, the Chicagoan would think. You wouldn’t last a day, even a day in March. But why is it that most of us voluntary choose this torture when so many great cities have vacation-like climates all year round?
I was thinking about this hope phenomenon walking home from work today on this year’s first 80 degree day. (And, as usual, I was thinking too much and too deeply about it, because I have a tendency to do that). But I kept going back to the idea that this hope is a similar hope that we all have or wish to have about our own lives. Most of the time, life is full of suffering, pain, disappointment, loss. Most of the time our life is spent in the winter. Clinging to warmth and safety but hoping that another day, a warmer day, a brighter day will come.
Depression reminds me a lot of a Chicago winter. You feel like you are trapped, constantly inside. The cold and unwelcoming outside makes even getting out of bed a struggle. You don’t care to look at anyone in the eye or even give a friendly head nod in their direction when walking down the street because even a momentary glance will halt your eventual escape out of the bitter cold. Winter is about survival. A survival in hopes that a spring will one day appear.
And right as we all begin to lose hope, spring arrives (as much as Chicago can muster a spring) and reminds us all that the winter is only a season. Winter is only a season. Depression is only a season. While we always seem to hold in the back of our heads the reminder that one day spring will turn into summer, which will turn into fall, which will turn into winter once again, we know that spring has come. Chicago comes to life. Those of us that struggle with depression know that a good day, week or month is something to be celebrated and enjoyed but we are always haunted by the day we wake up and the cold has engulfed us once more. But we revel in those warm days, weeks and months, just like Chicagoans spend entire weeks outside when the temperature is a mere 40 degrees. For we know that even spring is a season.
As I walked home from work mulling over these thoughts, I came across an open field, which had once housed the many public housing projects that were scattered on the near west side of the city. Now this field is home to knee-high grass, weeds and gleeful dogs playing endless games of fetch with their owners. I walk past this field nearly every day but for some reason as I walked past, feeling the warmth of the sun on my conspicuously pale skin, it gave me pause.
Scattered in between the neglected blades of grass were hundreds of dandelions swaying gently in the soft spring wind. This is why we hope. For dandelions. When the fuzzy white tops of these flower-like weeds float or are blown away, leaving the stem naked and vulnerable the plants look like they no longer have meaning, no longer have life. But what I have always found mesmerizing about these weeds is that with each white seed that disappears in the wind, another dandelion is planted wherever it lands. In seeming death, new life is created. Before me lay resilience. Before me lay a field of endless possibility.
I paused to take a picture of this beautiful image and continued on my way. But before I reached the entrance of my apartment, I thought: this is why we hope. This is why we Chicagoans are crazy about our city, despite our weather. This is why we can survive chronic depression even though we know it will always be our unwanted friend. We hope for new life, for renewal, for a fresh start even in the face of cold, death, and isolation. We hope in winter that we will just survive the cold, bleak conditions so that we can thrive in spring. For, even in spring, when winter feels imminent once again and even though the warm wind can strip us naked, vulnerable, alone, we can have hope in knowing that, with that strong gust of wind, resilience is built and possibilities are endless.
I walk, I do not run for justice
Oh how I wish I could fly.
Soar above the despair.
Yet, the burden is too heavy.
This load, this crushing weight
My own, my brothers’, my sisters’
Forces me to take slow, heavy steps
Forward, always forward
But I fall, often I fall
For justice is not perfection
It is a devastatingly human desire
Full of lust, envy and failure
So I walk, I do not run for justice
For each human failure
accepted, noticed, loved
Makes the steps easier, the burden lighter.
My stumbles bring healing
For me, for my brothers, for my sisters
Their stumbles bring healing
For me, for my brothers, for my sisters
For how can I run?
When millions struggle to simply stand
Under these structural burdens
For only my privilege lets me run.
But if I run, I stand atop these burdens
Pursuing a lofty end of justice
While adding more weight to these burdens
So I choose to walk, to carry this weight
Not run above it, adding to it
For a justice, sustainable
For a healing, universal.
May we walk, not run for justice
Noticing people, dreams, failures along our way
Building community that chooses to carry this unbearable weight
Understanding our privilege to even dream about simply running.
There is no victor in this war
A boy not nearly twelve
runs down the streets of a village.
For days now the jets
have haunted his village
his own mind.
This boy’s imagination,
the one sign of childhood still preserved,
has now even turned against him.
Every whistle or change in the wind
carries the threat of danger and death.
Even the loving call of his own mother
startles him from a numbed trance.
For such a call could mean another raid
on the horizon.
He used to have dreams of being a pilot.
Flying his family to far off destinations
and returning safely home.
But now the faceless, unknown enemy
has captured that vision as well.
Turning his jet into a weapon.
Now even this dream haunts him each night
as he prays to Allah that each sound he hears
isn’t the hum of that now-familiar jet.
For there is no certain tomorrow in this war
Each day, though, his hope seems to hobble forward
even as his village crumbles
because at least Allah has heard his prayers
and protected his family.
Each new morning he gasps
with his first conscious breath to make sure
in his now fitful sleep
he wasn’t named the next victim.
A moment of relief is all he receives
as he races to the bed of his family
hugging each still sleeping body
with the force of ten men
for he now knows Allah has heard his cry.
Yet, it wasn’t his imagination that betrayed him today.
as much as this scene can seam real in his young mind,
floods in as single tears fall urgently
to the cracked dusty ground.
Even this pure nourishment is rejected
by the parched earth beneath him
for nothing seems to heal this war-torn land.
Today he has lost his family.
He screams and cries
loud enough to block out the thoughts that
maybe Allah had not cared enough to save their lives
and the lasting desire that his life would be taken instead.
But there is no mourning in this war.
Men surround the child
each dressed in fatigues engulfing him in his new reality.
Tears will not bring back his family
and he is asked to quiet his hysteric yells.
His cries for revenge tell the story of this cycle of war.
For the fight for peace and a voice for the people
can rarely be distinguished from the ever-present
hum of the jet engines overhead.
When the mouth of the oppressed tastes despair
that cannot be contained any longer
it will cry forth for more bloodshed
in hope of justice not peace.
For peace will not be found
within this well-known cycle but
beyond its bounds.
For there are no victors in this war.
Every time I try to write this my hand won’t let me
won’t let my pen solidify in ink, which seems more permanent now than ever,
the fact you are no longer here.
Each word I try to suppress like the tears that I won’t let myself cry for you
but as my pen now confesses the truth that we all know
tears fall with aimless rhythm.
And I finally let myself cry
because you were a child
because you were a child
because you were [in some ways] for a year my child
I wouldn’t let myself write for each word etched into
the tightly woven fabric of a page
felt like drops of your blood now forever confined within the concrete
the asphalt, black as death.
No I won’t let myself write because it can’t be real
but every time I pass that corner I’m forced to remember
It is reality. For this whole city. It is reality.
You are gone, ok? You are gone.
But I won’t let myself think of your face
the one that looked at me most of the time with the
assuming suspicion of an outsider.
It takes all of me not to wonder
if those same eyes that once looked at me
stared down the boy that held that gun.
But I won’t let myself remember you that way.
You were a boy full of promise with a smile that everyone
everyone, felt like they knew.
Yet, you were the streets that raised you
and you learned too soon from that unforgiving parent that
a young man of color must put on toughness and resolve
in the same swift motion
that he instinctively lifts his hand to his hat
tilting it ever so slightly to the appropriate side
because a mistake with either instinct
summons a most definite punishment.
No, but you didn’t deserve that life…
No boy, no child ever does.
I won’t let myself believe differently
I do believe though that with these streets as your parents
like any obedient, loving child
you would have died
you did die
just like your brother that night
raised by the same streets would kill for them.
Your harsh and unrelenting parents
these concrete guardians
would be proud
but if only you were here to see it.
See, that’s the problem…
You gave your life to these dark streets,
your blood flows through the cracks in the poorly paved asphalt
your brothers mark you as a local hero
but, see, the problem is next summer
this memorial will be paved over fresh.
Fresh for a new boy’s blood to be offered to these streets
But I will not let myself forget you, brother
for when blood is shed
and at too young of an age
there must be more to the story
we must stop paving over the memorials of these boys
because I know one day in the place where the
bloodstained asphalt is the darkest
a flower will sprout its way through an unseen crack
And I won’t let myself stop looking for this hope
I saw a boy walking the other day
and I thought it was you.
Before I said anything, I slammed my lips together
so that my voice couldn’t form your name
because I remembered, it’s real…
As I watched, the boy walked across that same
fatal, fateful street
and with each step he took I prayed
that those feet would tread respectfully on that pavement
aware of any sprouting flowers
hopes or dreams
for on it Omar Castel, forever a dreamer
lost, gave, lived his precious hope-filled life.
RIP Omar Castel (1995-2013)
Now I lay me down to sleep…
as the news
hangs heavy around my bed.
A boy, with a face sullen and cold,
like the face of my own son,
was shot tonight.
…I pray the Lord
but, oh Lord, I pray much harder.
Much harder than I imagine my fellow mothers pray.
I pray for my chocolate-skinned son.
Long, silent nights. Alone. I pray.
My God you have blessed me
not with peace
but with this unbearable burden.
For the freedom and unending mercies
of each new day wrought from your word
seem not enough to release my son from this:
a life filled with violence at the hands of sons
of other mothers,
backs broken by the same humble position of prayer.
The weight of the minutes I endure
when my son is late from school
crush my knees
even harder into the ground
once again burdened by a load not my own.
My soul unsettled by the guilt
that my very own flesh and bones
bore this young man into this
…my soul to keep
from questioning whether with each prayer
I am stealing away the minutes from
thousands of other mothers
pleading for the protection of their children.
keep my soul, oh Lord
from questioning why some black mothers
both young and old
must devote hours, years, lifetimes
to this unbearable burden
when other mothers
yes, both black and white
can sleep in relative peace
knowing they can save their prayers
for such extraordinary things:
success, satisfaction, and happiness.
…and if i should die before i wake
I pray my Lord my sons life you will not take
and for the years that he may be alone
I pray even harder, even longer for
oh Lord, you only know
I am the one and sometimes the only one
that knows the value of the life of my son.
**This poem is loosely inspired by a recent movie I watched called Fruitvale Station, which shares the tragic and heartbreaking story of a 22 year-old black man that was accidentally shot and killed by a BART police officer a few years ago. As I was watching my attention kept being drawn to his mother who, despite her many efforts and prayers, could not keep her son safe that night.