Episodes of Clarity

Trains, Planes & Automobiles!

Remember Oleta Adams’ breakout hit, Get Here?

You can reach me by railway
You can reach me by trail way
You can reach by airplane
You can reach me with your mind
You can reach me by caravan
Cross the desert like an Arab man
I don’t care how you get here; just get here, if you can.

Love that song. And when I’m asked for, I travel anyway I can to get there. I am now on hiatus for an undetermined amount of time from that tendency! I spent an extended Mother’s Day weekend being where people wanted me and I returned home with an adjusted outlook on life. A sharpened focus from a different perspective.

Day 1 – Rank Order Friends

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.”

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.

~ Ecclesiastes 1:2, 9, 17-18

My weekend started Friday on an express train to Chinatown to take the Fung Wah bus to Boston for an old friends’ wedding. Up to two years ago, I considered her one of my closest friends… my ace… my girl… my spiritual sister. Then she distanced herself with no explanation and wouldn’t answer my questions as to why. Most of last year (June to November) passed with no communication until I wished her a Happy Thanksgiving. I’m guessing that broke the chill of the silent treatment and a couple of weeks later she text’d me to tell me she was getting married to an old flame she had reconnected with that summer. The wedding was in five months and she wanted me there. I immediately put it on my calendar, promised to be there and offered any assistance she should want or need. She directed me to her sister for further details.

No details came. A couple months later I followed up with her directly, got the run around for a couple of weeks. Eventually, I received the official invitation with location details two weeks before the wedding, by which point I had stopped considering this event as something momentous or special.

Around the time she began distancing herself she had made a comment about how she had shared details of a prior romantic interest with her Muslim friends and was only mentioning the situation to me to see if I agreed with them, since she thought they were off. That was the first time I felt as if I was in a category of friend-type, not only that, but also became aware that I was in a lesser category in her mind. As a result, I was more uncomfortable at her wedding than any I’ve ever attended, even knowing I wasn’t her only non-Muslim friend.

However, my initial unease wasn’t an issue for me that day. What stood out for me was the realization that she had no intention of introducing me to her husband. Towards the end of the reception, I approached her and said, “I haven’t met your new husband yet.” The blankness on her face as she stuttered out an, “Oh, really?” pretty much said it all. Though she turned and said she’ll introduce us (I had pulled along another college acquaintance who hadn’t met him either) I had the distinct impression she would’ve preferred not to. The blankness on his face as she introduced us as “two college friends from way back who were interested in meeting him because she talks about him so much” spoke more than her “oh, really.” Awkward!

What I came away with: I’m glad she got married first. She held a place of honor in my heart and my life for nearly ten years, my wedding would have represented that. Seeing how little she valued me as a friend in return had me doubting my ability to be as open in future friendships. If such a closeness can be feigned or dropped, why bother?

Day 2 – Ill Appreciation

A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth.

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.

Frustration is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart.

The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.

The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.

~ Ecclesiastes 7:1-4, 8

The college buddies and I left the reception around midnight. We stayed up talking till 4:00am, at which point I headed to the airport for my 6:30am flight to Milwaukee. My Grandma S had been hospitalized the prior Friday. She’s been seriously ill for years and the prognosis wasn’t positive, in fact it was quite dire. Though she bravely or rather rashly told me “they should’ve had sense enough to send me home,” she admitted that a particular bout of illness one night that week had her scared.

Grandma S and I have been relatively estranged since I moved to New York nearly five years ago. Over the years, I’ve attempted to bridge the gap. Though she never rebuffed me, she never reached back. Of all the family I’ve had difficulty with over the years, our estrangement hurt the most.

I had asked her a couple of times over the last couple of years if she wanted to see me. She answered only, “I love you.” That meant nothing to me when she wouldn’t talk to me. This time, I said simply, “I’m coming.” She replied, “That would be nice.”

So I went. We talked nearly every day that week before my arrival. We hadn’t spoken so much since 2000.

At one point, as I sat at her bedside, she looked over at me and said, “Shawnda, your breasts have grown huge!”

“Yes, Grandma, but I plan to breastfeed for two years straight… that should shrink’em.”

With a wistful expression, she said, “Ahhh, a baby…. Please hurry up; I would like to be around for that.”

“I want you around for it too, Grandma.”

What I came away with: During one conversation that week, Grandma said she had “waited away her life” and when she got out the hospital she had a list of things she wanted to do. I didn’t ask what she had been waiting on because it didn’t really matter. I know she didn’t enjoy a good portion of her life because she was always waiting on something better, something else, someone else…. I’ve been living from her lessons most of my life: enjoy each day as it comes with the people who are present.

Day 3 – Blessings & Hellfire

Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom, and also madness and folly….

I saw that wisdom is better than folly, just as light is better than darkness.

The wise have eyes in their heads, while fools walk in the darkness; but I came to realize that the same fate overtakes them both.

People can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?

~ Ecclesiastes 2:12-14, 24-25

Sunday was Mother’s Day, though I hadn’t given that any thought. I drove to Gary, IN to see my other ill grandma. Grandma B should probably be in the hospital, however, every time someone somehow gets her to one, she unhooks herself and walks out. She claims the hospital staff doesn’t treat her well. When I spoke with her earlier in the week, she mentioned pains in various parts of her body and said she thought she had had a stroke a couple of days prior. When I asked her if she had called anyone (she lives alone), she said, “No, I wasn’t going to that hospital. I just talked to God. There’s nothing to worry about, baby, I’m fine.”

Wooooosaaaaaah….. I told her I was coming to take her to another hospital to run some tests.

When I pulled up to Grandma B’s house my uncles were barbequing and my grandma had a shocked look on her face. I read her like a book that day and it wasn’t nice reading at all. For years, she’s been telling me how horribly her children, especially her sons treat her, or rather neglect her. For the past several holidays, she told me no one bothered to show up or call her, and that she spent most holidays alone. Her coup d’état would be a sad, pitiful, “I wish I could live with you.” Over the years, I hadn’t been able to take her in because of my unemployment or small living space. That week, however, I started looking for two bedroom apartments in Manhattan. I was determined to figure out a way to ease her life and provide better care and figure out the wherefores and how-to’s later.

Well… when I got out the car, the first thing she said was, “I thought you were coming tomorrow!”

“No, I said, arriving Sunday, leaving Monday. Remember? Today I was going to take you to the hospital and tomorrow I was going to review your financials.”

She turned on her heal and rushed into the house. My Uncle M looked at me, shaking his head, “If you came to take her to the hospital, you may as well make other plans. She’s not going to let you do that.”

Apparently, I rattled her nerves and the Bessie Mae of legend came out. I’m sure she’s shown her to me before, but I had never really seen her. I visit my grandma and all the surrounding folks on average once a year. Usually for one to three days. Now, I’m sure on some level I sensed the menace… but this time I saw it.

So, this is how it all when down (condensed version). I’m out shooting the breeze with Uncle M while he’s barbequing; he looks me over and says, “Dang, girl, you done got big!”

“So? I still look good. Look at you, why you talking?”

Fast forward to Granddaddy coming in. After a barely lukewarm, “Hi, Shanda” (southern pronunciation) he looks over at me as I’m trying to talk to him, “You larger than last time.”

“Wow. Really, Granddaddy? That’s, like, your greeting?” An aunt reprimanded him for his rudeness.

A couple of minutes later, my grandmother came into the room and said with the most unsettling smirk, “Shawnda, your Uncle M said bring your fat bleep bleep bleep outside.”

Did I walk into the Twilight Zone?!?

“Grandma, you don’t have to deliver any such messages to me. How disrespectful! I don’t respond to verbal abuse.”

I sat there for a moment stunned. Then the tears came. I couldn’t comprehend how any one of them could think their comments were ok, but most especially my grandmother who apparently thought her message was cute (going by her smile). From my viewpoint, I was on a goodwill mission, – the “I come in peace” kind! How could they only have negative things to say to me? No kindness, no welcome (I did get hugs), no questions about my life (one uncle did ask if I had a man yet and how much money I made an hour – another “wow” moment). A few minutes later I stood and started to walk out the house. Another aunt got in my way in an attempt to apologize for her brother. My emotions erupted in a pitiful flare, “This is bullsh*t! I need some air.” Outside, I put on my head phones and turned on my audio Bible. Grandma followed me and attempted to apologize for her son. “That’s just how he is; he don’t mean nothing by it. Your fat is in proportion to your height. It fits you.”

“First of all, Grandma, I don’t consider myself fat. Second, you and Granddaddy also made unnecessary comments. But I’m fine; I’m listening to my Bible and want to be left alone.” {Btw, who apologizes for calling you fat by calling you fat?}

“You don’t need to listen to your Bible; you need to talk to God.”

“Listening is a way of talking. You should go back inside and enjoy your people. Go enjoy Granddaddy.” Popular opinion has it that the “Granddaddy” comment was the one that unleashed the Demon Lady of legend. They’ve been divorced since ’84 or thereabouts. She would gladly get back with him, if the philandering 82-year-old would stop spending his money on 40-somethings.

Grandma’s eyes blazed at me… “You’re gonna tell me to go enjoy Granddaddy? I should be the one pissed at you!” She stormed into the house. By the time I calmed down and went back in she was cursing everybody out. I can’t remember all the curses – it went on for about 30-40 minutes – as long as it took everyone to finish eating and to pack up extra plates. Ridiculousness! Standing in the kitchen with most of the aunts and uncles, I asked what happened. According to them the trigger (or final straw) was that no one wanted to gather around the table so she could bless the food. Everyone had scattered with their plates. Uncle M and others made loud comments about not wanting to sit through a ten-minute-long blessing before they could eat. She called all her children heathens and swore she didn’t raise them in such an ungodly way. At one point, as she stomped up the stairs, she glared in my direction and told us all to go to hell. Uncle L did some kind of whipping hand motion around his body and said, “That’s not where I’m going!” I chuckled and said, “I don’t receive that one either!”

A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.

~ Ecclesiastes 6:3

When she came back downstairs I followed her from room to room, “Grandma, you’re missing the bigger picture here. You have all your living children, except for the two incarcerated, in your house celebrating Mother’s Day with you. You have grandchildren and great-grandchildren here today. Everyone’s here for you. This day isn’t worth ruining because they didn’t want to gather around the table. You can still bless the food.

She sat there in tears and said, “That’s not the way God intend it. I’m the head of the family and they should respect that. No one is here for me. They only came to eat my food and then they’re all going to leave. No one cares about me; they’re not even paying attention to me.”

She had been telling me that for years over the phone. But that day, I was present to see people coming with dishes of food; they came to prepare, cook and clean. They came with presents for her. They came to enjoy each other’s company. Even her ex-husband was there to enjoy whatever he could with his children and their children. She didn’t see or appreciate any of that. I briefly thought of how controlling, manipulative and tyrannical she was being. I also focused on how she repeatedly claimed to be the head of the family, and thought that one belief could’ve led to the destruction of her marriage more so than all the wrong-doings she’s accused Granddaddy of throughout the years.

“We all came to see you, Grandma. Everyone brought dishes, no one came just to eat off of you. It’s a beautiful day and all your children are here to celebrate it with you. Why can’t you appreciate what you have?”

“Because I don’t have sh*t to appreciate!”

After that, I had no more words for her.

What I left with: Relation does not equal relationship. God showed me what He delivered me from. My mother was protected and guided away to such an extent that none of my grandmother’s venom ever entered our home or our hearts. Yet here I was planning to move her into my home – fully loaded and undiluted with just me as a target. I understood that was not part of the plan He had for me. He’s done far too much work cleansing me to allow me to put myself in jeopardy. So He allowed me to see. And by the time I got there, a cousin had moved in with her.

Day 4 – Love Covers & Soothes

Moreover, when God gives people wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their lives, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

~ Ecclesiastes 5:19

I stayed with two cousins over the weekend and their families. The one in Gary (I followed her home after Grandma’s blow-up) has four young ones. Her 2yr old and 8 month old were full of hugs, giggles and love. I couldn’t get enough. The cousin in Milwaukee and her three children nearly tackled me as I walked through the door. Her 8 yr old daughter stayed hugged up on me whenever possible. At one point, as we watched a movie, she laid on me and started patting my belly. “Why are you patting my belly?”

She looked up at me with a big smile, “It’s soft!”

With a bogus growl and a roll of my eyes, I said, “I’m working on my abs! But go ahead and pat away.” I fell asleep before she did.

Monday afternoon, I drove back to Milwaukee to visit a good friend. Her home, her presence, her children, her mother, her conversation relaxed me. Soothed me. The greetings were exuberant and heartfelt. It was a fitting cap to an exhausting, roller-coaster weekend.

My take-away: We will go through hardships but joy is always right there with us. For each negative comment, feeling, or situation over the weekend, there was a multitude of positives. I chose to enjoy whatever I could, wherever I was.

When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, you cannot discover anything about your future.

~ Ecclesiastes 7:14

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2 replies »

  1. Hi LaShawnda,

    I came across your blog via the christian women blogger network. I love that you were able to take away some lessons from your experience. I particularly like the following statements: “I know she didn’t enjoy a good portion of her life because she was always waiting on something better, something else, someone else…. I’ve been living from her lessons most of my life: enjoy each day as it comes with the people who are present.” and “Relation does not equal relationship.” Those are powerful statements and as a collector of quotes I’m adding those to my list.

    Like

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