Month: November 2015

The Evolution of Gratitude

cry
Hi, thanks for reading this. I am about to take you on a difficult, but necessary journey. Please share with anyone who needs this in time for the holidays.


Background…

It starts like this…I am at a family function or just sitting around my mother’s house-doing nothing in particular and he’s there or I hear that he is on his way. I can’t  put my finger on the specific distance between us, but I am always excited to see him. 

When I am in his space I feel normal and relaxed. It’s a familiar feeling, but not one that I have often these days-if that makes any sense.

….We talk casually and I tell him what I’ve been up to, he never responds and I always get annoyed like “Helloooo… I’m talking to you…don’t you care? Didn’t you miss me?! (Just being spoiled and obnoxious as usual).

…Anyway, this casual conversation goes on for a few and I start to realize he isn’t responding to me. I don’t hear his voice, nor his laugh. I don’t smell his aftershave because he never gave me a hug. I  think, “Wait. He didn’t hug me??? But we’ve been apart so long- did I upset him?!? OMG I forgot to ask him how he’s doing!”

 

And then like a ton of goddamn bricks, it hits me.
He has not been out of town.
He is not finally returning from the hospice.
He never came home.
He is dead.
And has been for some time.
He cannot hear me tell him about my day.
He is still not walking me down the aisle.
We will not awkwardly dance to the Chi-Lites, nor the Doobie Brothers at my wedding reception.
Because I am dreaming.
Again.

The realization always happens during this dream and it feels like my heart is being ripped out of my chest. It’s a fresh pain every time. I start to panic and reach for him and he moves further away.  I quietly plead “OMG Please don’t leave me again. I really, really need you. I can’t do this. ”

I never want to wake up and when I do, it HURTS. I feel abandoned, panicked, and all the other emotions I felt when I received the initial call that his battle with cancer had ended. I try so hard to go back to sleep and beg my brain to go back to the dream and to revisit where I left off and it NEVER happens. My stomach drops. It is devastating.

TEARS.
UGLY CRY FACE.
LOUD SOBBING.
It’s never a dignified cry. 

Evolution…

I have this type of dream pretty sporadically but it’s always the same. It always feels like the first time. It used to devastate me and I’d take a personal day and cry and just be a mess. But after a tearful conversation with my paternal grandmother, I decided to evolve this scenario and find the positive in the dream. And all of the triggers like songs we loved or movies we watched. I am learning to welcome them like a hug.

The positive is GRATITUDE. I am now grateful for these dreams because I realize they are visits. I find comfort in the fact that we are still connected in my subconscious. This means I have not completely lost him. I just have him in a different way now-and I must accept this reality and adjust. Just like I adjust to paying tuition in my mid-thirties, ridiculous traffic, bad breakups, etc. It’s all in how we choose to process the event. For example, I can no longer stay in the space of “it’s not fair, why did this happen to him?” Life goes on and we do ourselves an injustice by “crying over spilled milk” and staying there. We owe it to ourselves to live our best lives and that sometimes requires a shift in perspective…and everyone knows a shift in perspective requires work.
I accept that my life is different now. I am not just “thankful for food to eat” or “clothes to wear,” etc. I have a different level of gratitude to express.  


I am THANKFUL that I even realize this.

I am  THANKFUL to live in a world where technology allows me to view his Facebook page if I need to see him immediately or read his emails if I need good, honest comfort.

I am  THANKFUL that I could articulate the many life lessons/gifts he gave me into words that will live on for the future generations of our family to see.

If I need to cry, I still cry but I also whisper
“Thank you. Thank you for visiting me.” 


I hope this message resonates with those of you who have lost a loved one and try to get through the holiday season. We are part of a fraternal order that unfortunately bonds us in pain, but we can encourage each other and make the best of it.

It is not the easiest time of year, but maintaining a spirit of gratitude and demonstrating appreciation for family and friends who are here is a great way to survive the holidays and all days. Think of the positive energy this mindset can create. In my life, there are many kind people who support and nurture me, my mom & my sibs through this-especially my uncles and godfathers. And even my Grandma who put her own pain aside to help me reach this realization and decipher these dreams when we were supposed to be watching Scandal-what an awesome demonstration of love-what an awesome display of selflessness.  All of these things are reasons to go on and to be thankful.

I understand that this may not work for everyone. I wanted to get this out in hopes that it helps at least one person get through the upcoming holiday season. This is my heartfelt gift to my sisters and brothers in the struggle of  navigating life without a parent. This is my gift to the mother-to-be whose soldier will never return home. This is to the widow who now raises and nurtures her husband’s legacy on her own. This is to the man who lost a loved one in that car accident on 210. This Thanksgiving will be a difficult and new reality for him. I am in this with you all, as I would never recommend you do something that I don’t have the courage to do myself….and it takes courage to shift perspective-especially when it comes to grief.

So What Now?…
If this post does not apply to you, please think of the person in your life who is grieving especially hard during this season. Send them a kind word, offer to include them in plans, and just check in to ensure their overall well-being. We all wear tough exteriors to mask pain and vulnerability so just because a person isn’t screaming “I am so sad about Christmas. I feel so alone,” it certainly doesn’t mean that’s the case.

Think about the people you will be spending these holidays with. Think about the grudges held and how much they truly mean at the end of the day. What can you forgive this year? Who can you place ego aside for-and apologize to?

For those who try this approach, will you please let me know how it works for you?

Do you have any suggestions for coping with the loss of a loved one?

Be well.

-RLC

In the Spirit of 8/19… 20 Things I learned from My Father

dad

Note: This was originally posted on another platform back in August, my goal is to TRY and consolidate all of my work on one site from now on. Please note I said TRY lol. 🙂
This past Father’s Day was pretty rough for me. I found myself bombarded by posts from people with fathers and without active fathers, angry with their children’s fathers, exes, etc. I didn’t want to be one of those cynical assholes who wishes everyone would just shut up about their fathers who were still here…so I just opted to log off for the day.

I decided that would be the day I opened up some of my old emails from NKBJR@yahoo.com (my dad) and reflected on our interactions, his influence, etc. My dad and I were similar in the sense that we could text/email throughout the day but not require all the face to face interaction.

I got upset and couldn’t finish the messages. I opted to return to it this week.  Today marks the 5th year of losing him. I’m looking at this and realizing I harassed him constantly. About everything and nothing…Sometimes discussing random topics in the news, post 9/11 family safety strategies (this was SERIOUS for him), sometimes to help me with things, other times because I’m in trouble for doing something stupid. Who knew then that I’d NEED these endless threads now?

Anyway, the beauty of technology is that it enhances the immortalization of our loved ones in an even more engaging manner than pictures and mementos. I observed how much I sought his approval with everything. Do you think I should do this? Do you think I should get this degree? Have you heard this song? Dad, which of these cars do you like? Have you read this? What does this mean? Can I get on your insurance again? Can I have some gas money? Please look at my new web site!, etc. There was a serious rush of nostalgia and I started to reflect on the many lessons I learned from him-directly and indirectly. It was insane reading these things with an analytical mind all these years later.

As the oldest of six, I’ve observed that we all have our different frames of influence with regard to our parents. For example, I was the guinea pig so the things I was taught and influenced by likely differ from most of my sibs. They started to figure it out as they had more kids LOL… Seriously, I met my parents in their early 20’s. I’m not who I was in my early 20’s at all anymore so I’m sure I’d have a shift in focus by the early 30’s or so. Just like my mom, my father had a very strong influence on who I am and how I carry myself (especially my high-maintenance/princess tendencies and the amount of shit I do not take from relationships-see, I’m self-aware). I see it more and more daily-and not just when I shout expletives around the house or avoid unnecessary interpersonal interaction.

So here’s the list…in no particular order.

  1. Judgmental people are not better than you.
    judge
    They have shit with them just like you do.

2. Always leave a tip.
pizza
If you don’t, people will wonder who the hell raised you and I don’t need them looking at me.

3. Classic Rock is the greatest genre of music.
led
You don’t have to dance, you don’t have to talk-just enjoy it.

 

4. It’s okay to love your family but simply prefer to eat alone in front of the television.

introv
#introvertlivesmatter

5. You were born a woman. You were born a person of color. Okay so what? These things don’t have to be limitations.

bey
You’re just as good as everyone else at your job. Probably better than most of them. Stop crying, figure out how to navigate it and then help somebody else, hell-get me a job there.

6. Baseball is a sport for intellectuals.

nationals
Anyone who tells you that it’s boring is not an intellectual.

7. On Dating (several things here) :
kimye

a. Having a boyfriend does not define you. You have a father and you have your own mind. You’re too damn smart to chase after boys. You honestly need to be studying. (I will NEVER forget this high school conversation)

b. Never cry over these damn boys. If you’re not happy, you leave.

c.  A man should always pump your gas and he also should check your tires and oil before a long road trip. If he doesn’t do these things, he doesn’t value you.

d. Do NOT date a man who doesn’t know how to drive a stick shift.

e.Do not trust a lazy man-you know…the type of mf who cannot take care of himself. Definitely do not marry him. He will have plenty of women doing everything for him.

f. A man’s love is in his actions more than words.This isn’t something he actually, said-it’s something I observed in his behavior for years.

I don’t think I’ve actually heard my dad say “I love you” to anyone ever, but there was no question. None. He was so awkward about things like that. He’d say “y’all alright?” whether it was to one person or a group of us-but everyone knew it meant “I love you.” Weird, I know. Anytime something happened to me, the FIRST thing I’d yell, request, or cry (depending on the situation) was “Please call my father!” “Where is my father?” ” He will come get me!” And he was always there.

g. A husband should always ensure that his wife drives the nicest, newest vehicle in the house.

h. Most importantly, he MUST be a REDSKINS fan!

redskins
8. The Asshole Rule:

ahole

                If everyone in the room is an asshole, in every room you go to, chances are you are the asshole. It’s important to know that.

9. Everyone makes mistakes.
how
Most people will agree that my dad was the most forgiving and understanding person around. I could come to him with any fuck up and feel safe. I’d be disciplined but not judged-if that makes sense. He told me it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. 

“If you own your mistakes, no one can throw them in your face.”

“The people who won’t let you forget your past almost always have their own shit that they aren’t dealing with. You don’t need them.”

10. Stop spending your money on things you can’t afford.
bath
Unless it’s a car. Always get the car.

11. Please stop upsetting your mother.
stfu
I got this one a lot. Basically, I had to learn to choose my battles and stop taking every opportunity to prove I’m right or that I don’t agree…or that I could do something my own way. Sometimes, I just have to shut up. I was a shitty teenager.

12. Never EVER turn your back on those less fortunate than you.

ang
Until he passed away, my father was always closely involved in the community and established many bonds with the children in his elementary schools. He cared about the DCPS children as much as he cared about us. He set a great example of how to stay connected to the community and help others when it matters-not just when there are cameras around. He was also generous as hell.
I remember a conversation we had one night-we were talking about how bad the situation had gotten in the DC Public School System, and I said “Well dad, why don’t you look at another school system like in Virginia or something?” He shouted “If I leave, WHO is going to care about these kids?!?!” I was so impressed with him in that moment. I remember thinking “Damn, I hope I care that much about my job someday…”

13. Who said you could stop going to school?

grad
Get all the degrees you can. Do what the hell you want, but make sure you go to school. Do not conform to what society expects you to be or think. It never occurred to me that I should be average. I thank both of my parents for that.

14. Learn to drive a stick shift.
stick
What the hell are you going to do if there’s an emergency and all you have available to drive is a stick shift? This was a legit concern…especially post-9/11.

 

15. Never let me catch you thinking you’re better than anybody.
nikki
You already know you’re smart and can do whatever you want. Now you have to be responsible with it.

16. No one is going to die just because you said a bad word.
fword
This is probably why I have issues trusting people who don’t curse.

 

17. Engage every media outlet.
bbc

Only an idiot would limit himself to knowing what’s happening in his own world. You need to be exposed to everything around you. Believe me, it’s more going on than what YOU see.

 

18. Pay the goddamn parking tickets.
no_parking

19. Go further than me.

rmu
This one was hard to type. My eyes are watering again. What I take from this five years later is that legacy is important to him. I’m doing my best. I know if he were here, he’d be Dr. Brooks now…likely advising me through my struggle. I think he’d be proud to have two Future Doctors so far.

20. All people are deserving of LOVE and forgiveness, no matter how they may disappoint you. That doesn’t define them. It doesn’t define the relationship…he never actually said that but I watched it in his actions with others-especially with me.
Intentionally or not, I have seen him be hurt, I have disappointed him,  he has disappointed me. That’s life. What I take from these experiences is that it’s all a dance…a cycle. You don’t put people you love on pedestals, only to condemn them when they fall-you put yourself in their shoes and treat them with LOVE whether they’re up or down. I’m able to easily forgive for this reason.

My father sacrificed a lot to give me a great life and a clear understanding of what I want out of life. Even through his mistakes, there were lessons to glean-many lessons that he openly explained to me. He helped me understand when I needed to get my own shit together and not wallow in excuses and bullshit. I am eternally grateful to him for that. There isn’t much I can do to repay him for everything he gave me but I am constantly paying it forward by helping others, continuing my education, serving my community and living my life just the way I want to.

This hopefully has not painted a perfect picture of my father, that’s not my intention-and he certainly wouldn’t appreciate it. I just wanted to tell the world how much I love and appreciate his influence.

RIP Dad, I love you.

That’s it.

 

I Did NOT Wake Up Like This: 35 Things It Took Me 35 Years to Master.

beyonce-flawless
Hi There 🙂

 

Over the past month or so, I’ve been preparing myself for turning 35. And of course, everyone around me is freaking out on my behalf. For whatever reason, as it got closer and closer, I became more and more comfortable with it. 30 was my favorite year but I am pretty certain that this may be the best one yet.

There is a sense of awareness and confidence within me that is sometimes so overwhelming that I find myself constantly trying to help others feel the same about themselves (thus the podcasts, Zen in a Jar, and the column-writing). Of course, I did not reach this point overnight. I was once a bit of a self-centered shit show in many areas of my life-some areas I am still feeling the aftershocks from. But, as always, I am thankful for those experiences because I am not sure where or who I would be without them. So without further ado, here are some life mantras and habits I picked up along this 35 year journey that I hope you find useful too. Some areas I will expand on but most are self-explanatory.

I live my life as the personification of  fucking Black Girl Magic and here’s how:

  1. Self-care is non-negotiable. It is not a sin, it is a necessity. Go to the spa. Get some rest. Say no to events. Take off work. Go to spin class/yoga/boxing. Do nothing all day. Learn a new language. Learn to make your own salad dressing. Start a mason jar herb garden.
  2. Be self-aware. Know who you are and own your shit. It’s okay. No one is going to die if you admit weakness. Just be who you are. There is no greater relief for me than when I can tell people how awkward I am-and that I am clumsy AF. It was far more stressful to try and hide my clumsiness or “act normal” when I’m in public or around new people. And people are less likely to go into shock when I fall down the stairs or on the sidewalk.
  3. Confront your blind spots. Once we get the self-awareness going, it’s also important to confront your blind spots AND then address them. A blind spot is a mindset or behavior that you either choose to overlook or can’t see-yet it hinders your growth as an individual and often impacts your interaction with others. You know…the ugly parts of ourselves that we don’t want to deal with. Most of our loved ones and close friends know our blind spots-they’re sort of the “elephant in the room” about us. I will elaborate on this in another article but if you’d like to know more about it, check out the Johari Window.
  4. Have at least one REAL friend. You need someone around who is honest with you about what you’re wearing, saying, doing, gaining, etc. My BFF and I are pretty blunt with each other when we are being ridiculous so, for me, it keeps me aware of my blind spots. Oh, and having a southern mother and grandmothers helps too. It may hurt sometimes every time, but they can help you present your best self to the world.
  5. Don’t be afraid to tell people to get the fuck out of your uterus. For a while, I would dread being around members of my family and certain circles of friends without a friend or my significant other because I had to constantly answer questions about my plans for children and incessantly being reminded of my age. What would affect me wasn’t the fact that I didn’t have children yet, it was more so the feeling of shame that people would try to project onto me. I would leave places like “I didn’t feel bad about myself until people started telling me I should” and that’s not okay. It got draining at times because it wasn’t a primary concern for me, internally. Now, I don’t think people do this to be rude, but it comes across that way when it’s redundant. If the only value that people find in you is your ability to keep a man and/or have children, shame on them. Not you…. Which is why I started comfortably and confidently asking people to get the fuck out of my uterus and you know what? It actually died down. Believe me, when the time comes, I’ll let you know or it’ll be on facebook. Or something.
  6. Expand your circle. If you are the most interesting, well-traveled, motivated person in your circle, you need to expand your circle. Identify areas in your life that you’d like to grow in and find people to introduce you to those things. Don’t be intimidated by things you’re not experienced in-just experience it.
  7. Maintain a ZERO TOLERANCE policy for insecurity. Insecurity is truly a waste of time and energy. I do not tolerate it in relationships, friendships, nor within myself.
  8. LOVE people for who and where they are. Your friends have flaws and so do you. Placing unrealistic expectations on people upsets no one but you. Remember the blind spots we talked about? Your friends are dealing with yours. A technique I use is placing people in boxes:

For example, there are friends you can expect to attend functions and friends who flake. Know that the friend who flakes may be in a different space in life with different priorities. Don’t hate them, just extend the invite with YOUR expectations in check. You have no idea what people are dealing with. It costs nothing to adjust your response to things.

  1. Do NOT trust a person who actively doesn’t like Beyoncé. (I’m not talking about those who are Beyoncé-agnostic…just the “anti” folks. Think about what she embodies-she truly slays in a male-dominated world industry, controls the narrative of her career/personal life and does not speak up on issues that don’t concern her. She simply focuses on her craft. And slays that shit. Who could not appreciate that? I’m being slightly facetious but truly if you’re anti-Beyoncé (at the top of your internet lungs), think about what Beyoncé triggers within you that makes you dislike her and work through it. We’ll be here to welcome you on the other side.
  2. Stretch outside of your comfort zone. I live in constant fear of being the big fish in a little pond. There are millions of ponds. Always try new things outside of your box, take on new challenges like degrees, hobbies, etc.
    Spoiler alert: Being stretched is uncomfortable.
  3. Follow Your Bliss. Do what makes you happy in life, follow your passions. Don’t be the broken record of “shoulda coulda woulda.” Just fucking do it.
  4. Life is to be lived, not chronicled on social media. Leave that to the 20-somethings.
  5. Follow your instincts or not. When it comes to relationships, specifically:
    a. Do not go through anyone’s phone.
    b. Do not fight with another woman over a man.
    c. Do not air your dirty laundry on Facebook. Save it for the group thread.
    d. Skip the relationship memes. Please.
  6. Be vulnerable. Too often, I used to wear this hard-ass exterior and my ego would not let me express pain, regret or sincere apologies. It RUINED many friendships and relationships. In my old age, I find the following phrases extremely freeing:
    a. I am sorry.
    b. I miss you.
    c. I shouldn’t have said that.
    d. I am hurt by your behavior.
    e. I do not care about this as much as I may have led you to believe.
    f. I am feeling left out.
  7. Only accept love that you do not have to chase. When a man wants you, he will move mountains to be with you. There will be no questions. No quarterly “so what are we?” discussions.
  8. Don’t be a martyr. Nobody owes you sh*t just because you’re Superwoman. Be Superwoman because you want to be Superwoman-not for validation or to ensure people feel indebted to you. You will eternally feel slighted. That’s no way to live. (see item #1)
  9. If you are constantly in a state of being offended by people and things, you need to look at yourself.
  10. Partner with someone who is secure. You know, someone who is your biggest cheerleader, not someone who dulls your shine. I do not know where I’d be without a partner who helps me manage my time, helps me with my homework, and provides creative insight and encouragement regarding all the shit I have going on.
  11. Speaking ill of others says more about you than the person you’re talking about. Distance yourself and your thoughts from people who speak negatively about other people-especially unsolicited.
  12. Don’t cry over spilled milk. LOVE and FORGIVE yourself. LOVE and FORGIVE others. I once heard that your 30’s are the best years of your life. Don’t waste them dwelling on shit you can’t change or holding grudges that only matter to you.
  13. Being a mean girl is corny after 30. Don’t be a mean girl.
  14.  Don’t be offended by people who imitate you. It’s an indicator that you’re doing well and it’s time to step it up another notch. This has been my official struggle of 2015.
  15. Stop concerning yourself with haters. If you aren’t a public figure, you sound absolutely crazy talking about haters after 30. We all have detractors, but focusing energy on them makes you look insane.
  16. Never apologize for being a complete badass. Being on top of your game normally upsets the insecure. People who are worth your time will always encourage you to be your best self.
  17. What you put in your body is an act of self-respect. Eat responsibly.
  18. Keep your business to yourself.
  19. Sleep with whoever you want. Don’t deny yourself pleasure because you’re afraid of being labeled a slut. This isn’t high school, do what you want. With confidence.
  20. Know when you’re in a relationship and know when you’re just having sex. Dragging out one night stands is weird.
  21. Buy the shoes. Always buy the shoes.
  22. You do not need a large group of friends…but nurture the ones you have. Remember to ask how they’re doing. Make sure that you reciprocate the investment they make in you. Assess the value they bring to your life and vice versa.
  23. Assert yourself at work. Don’t restrain yourself because you’re afraid of being labeled a “bitch.” That’s a low-power strategy for the weak-minded. (With that said-be thorough and know your shit before asserting yourself).
  24. Pick your battles. Every moment that I hear/read something offensive is not the time to react. Every time someone talks shit behind my back is not a free pass to start kicking ass. A grown ass woman understands that what people say behind your back is none of your business.
  25. Know your audience. Determine within yourself what’s necessary to say in real life or online. Determine what’s Facebook rant-worthy and what’s better as group thread material. Think before telling a joke or a story-is this necessary? Does this bring value to the conversation? It’s okay to shut up.
  26. Always bring a gift. Always. Expressions of gratitude are classy AF. Whether handmade or store bought, gifts will always make someone’s day. You never know what people are going through. Make them smile. Do not bring me cheap wine.
  27. Keep your word and be honest, even if it hurts. Being a liar in your 30’s is weird. Don’t be weird.

 

Okay, that’s all I got. What do you think? Did I miss anything?