The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones. William Shakespeare

via Daily Prompt: Volume

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Youth makes us invincible.  The young are edgy and restless because of the great energy that their bodies produce. It seems like they are in a mad dash to get all they can in that space between birth and death. Young men take risks and old men practice restraint because they carry memories or bear the scars of past actions. What we do in that time is what defines us: whether we are trapped by fate or by our own volition.

It is during the early part of their lives that men marry, fight wars, conquer lands, start businesses, make discoveries and create inventions. Optimism and ambition drive them: one conquest is the fuel for another. Satisfaction wanes as quickly as it appears. They have not acquired the burden of knowledge that comes from experience and they leap into situations where angels fear to tread. However, a man’s life does not stop because he gets older. Rather, he narrows his field of activity for reason of strength or lack of it; the weight of responsibility; and wisdom acquired through experience.

To err is human and we cannot escape missteps and failures.The frequency and the magnitude of our errors; and how we handle them contribute to the tales of our lives. How we treat our talents, time, the earth, ourselves, and others also increase the volume of our story. To what extent our lives are determined by the nature-nurture argument is yet to be answered. However, we are certain that the choices we make daily impact our lives greatly. Choices have consequences, whether those choices are good or bad. Shakespeare notes that “The evil that men do lives after them; but the good they do is oft interred with their bones.”

Although there is some truth to this belief, I think both and good actions have lasting effects even after a man dies. Children will continue to live out the virtues and vices that have been taught to them even after several generations, and others reap the benefits of both the spiritual and physical legacies of their predecessors. We are the ones who write the story of our lives and not others. Although we write it, we will never be able to read its final chapter because we all have an expiration date.  God alone will be able to truly judge the volume of our lives. Therefore, like Solomon, I adjure all men to know that”

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Dreadlocks and all that…

 

  • Image result for pictures of bob marley

via Daily Prompt: Natty

When you are over fifty, you can’t keep up with all the new words that have wound their way into the English Language. Forget about the various dialects of this language that straddle the globe from the Tower of London to the Melbourne Cricket Ground of The Down Under, and it can even be daunting trying to understand all the slang words of the younger generation in your local community that become outdated as fast as they appear. To add to the pot, there’s urban slang and rural talk; technological buzzwords; and then, there’s class and racial overtones and undertones mixed in with this linguistic potpourri. It’s confusedly beautiful to speak this ever-evolving language that re-invents itself and yet remains the same.

Now consider me. I am of Jamaican descent, so I move seamlessly between English and what we call patois each day. And did I mention that I also teach Spanish? For those who don’t know, Jamaica was once a British colony, so English is our national language. We also speak patois which is a mixture of English, African, and even a smattering of Spanish words. You are considering what’s the point of mentioning all of this. The answer is that my brain is a heady swirl, infused with the scents of various cultures that impact my linguistic repertoire.

Can you imagine when I saw the word “natty.” It seemed like a word from a foreign language vocabulary list. Where did I hear that word before? Yes, it has something to do with clothing…fashionable, dapper, debonair. However, that was not what my brain wanted to hear. I don’t how, but I stumbled upon another meaning that I was not aware of: I found out it was a slang abbreviation for the term “natural” and for a cheap light beer. It was an eye opener for me that there was a beer by that name because I avoid drinking like it’s a plague.

Despite my new knowledge, I was sure I was missing something. It finally dawned on me a day later when my brain defaulted to images of the sounds of reggae music, island smells, and dreadlocks wafting in the tropical breeze. How did I forget the pulsating rhythm of Bob Marley and Rastafarians chanting his music like they were under a spell? “Natty Dread!” I said in a Eureka fashion, “How could I have forgotten this?”

My euphoria was only short-lived because my analytic side took over and started to examine natty in the Jamaican context. To truly appreciate the term, we must have a background knowledge of Rastafarianism. Rastafarianism is a movement that originated in the slums of Jamaica during the 1930s to empower black men and as a form of protest against the residual effects of British colonialism like class disparity, poverty, and racism. During the 1970s it gained popularity through one of its most famous adherents, Bob Marley

It is also considered a religion to some because it has borrowed some teachings from the Bible, especially from the Old Testament and Revelation. Many Rastafarians believe in the Judeo-Christian God whom they call JAH. However, many older Rastafarians consider Emperor Haile Selassie as a messianic figure and Africa as the Promised Land. They have also developed a variation of Jamaican patois and are strict vegetarians. They smoke marijuana for ritualistic and medicinal purposes. Their long, matted hair and bright headwear of red, yellow, and green are visible marks of their religion. However, other people may wear a similar hairstyle and are not associated with this way of life.

Adherents of Rastafarianism emphasize natural living, ethnic pride, and purity. Therefore, men allow their beards and hair to grow without combing or cutting.  The hair becomes kinky and coils into long locks. Sometimes wax is added to the locks to make them stronger. Because the locks grow so profusely, some of these men appear more formidable than they are and may create fear in others, hence the coinage of dreadlocks.

When natty is combined with dreadlocks/ or dread (as it generally is), it is used to describe its condition. Therefore, it may be the accentuation of the word knotty since the sound of “o” is sometimes pronounced like a short  “a” in Jamaican patois. It is interesting to note that a natty dread is a person who wears dreadlocks, but is not a practicing Rastafarian. Natty may also be the diminutive of “natural” because it refers to hair that has not been processed with chemicals. Rastafarians despise anything that is artificial, fake or impure and associate it with Babylon. Babylon in the Bible represents a place of moral decay.

Rastafarianism, although it employs biblical language and some of its tenets, it is not part of the Christian religion. It is more a way of life that appeals primarily to people of African ancestry in various regions of the world who feel disenfranchised. Many people have adopted the dress and speech of Rastafarians and sometimes have committed acts that have caused the police to be suspicious of the members of this group.

 

 Lesson to be Learned 

One lesson we can learn as Christians after reading the information above is to understand that appearance can be deceiving. We often take things at face value and get carried away by wrong doctrines because we do not check the word of God to see if it is right. In the same way that dreadlocks does not make one a Rastafarian, someone quoting Bible verses is not necessarily a follower of Christ.

In the midst of life…

 

 

via Daily Prompt: Distant

There is nothing more elusive than death, yet it is very close. My mother’s most over-used expression was the same every time she was told that someone had died, “In the midst of life we are in death.” Before the words could come out of her mouth, I could hear myself saying them in my head. I wanted to ask her if she had nothing else to say, but I dared not open my mouth because my prized white teeth would have suffered the worst blow that any mortal could have inflicted on a child. Moreover, she said it with such “other-worldly” solemnity that I feared that by uttering a word I would be the next person to whom those words would relate.

Anyone within earshot of mama’s declaration would become quiet although she never requested a moment of silence.  The response was born out of an understanding of a dimension of life that my young mind did not comprehend. It was like the hushed respect of a congregation before a pastor prays. It happened so quickly regarding time, but the moment seemed interminable to me. There was nothing orchestrated about the silence so I could never plan for my response regardless of how uncomfortable I felt. The truth is my mother never prepared her reaction to death or dying so although her verbal response was always the same, it was still spontaneous and sincere. The news of the death was unexpected because everyone was concerned with living.

During my childhood and greater part of my early adulthood, the people who died in my extended family were few. Sometimes, I felt like death only occurred in other families and not mine. When I turned 27, my maternal grandmother died and then as I approached my middle thirties two of my older relatives died. During my forties, one of younger cousins died of cancer. His death was the most unexpected because he was tough, fit, and vibrant. My mother was on to something – he was fully in the midst of life when death grabbed him. My maternal grandmother would have reflected on his death and quoted the words of Henry W. Longfellow, “The young may die, but the old must die!” and she would have added her own, “One thing in life is life is sure, and that is death so it does not discriminate.”

As a child, I thought my mother was always going to be with me. As I grew older, I accepted the fact that my parents were not immortal. However, I expected them to live to a ripe old age, and in the distant future, I would have to deal with their dying. God had other plans, and my mom died as soon as she celebrated her 71st birthday. It’s still hard to believe that she is no longer alive and I cannot communicate with her. I can still hear her words and I understand them better now that she is gone.

Death is not a distant concept because it occurs every minute. Every living person is going to face it whether he thinks about it or not. We also do not have the opportunity to return to this life to tell our friends and families about it. All that we will know about it is what we already know about life. The best preparation for it is to live our lives fully: loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our soul, all our strength, all our mind; and our neighbors as ourselves.

 

 

 

 

It’s a man’s world

via Daily Prompt: Brassy

Somehow the term “brassy” never conjures up the image of a man in my mind. Perhaps my social conditioning has trained me to expect a man to be tough, strong, and even crass because those adjectives align with brassiness. Therefore, it generally goes unnoticed if he lives up to those expectations. On the other hand, its feels like a let-down when our male counterparts do not display or fit the John Wayne brashness that we often see him portray in many of his movies. In fact, we admire the rugged individualism, grit, daring, bluntness, and “I-don’t-care-what-you-think” attitude of his characters. So what if a man breaks the rules? There is no negative consequence because a man’s a man.

That seems to be the consensus – tacit agreement. James Brown, et al (1966), the popular American singer, expresses it very well in one of his songs – It’s a man’s, man’s, man’s world. Well, if it’s a man’s world, he sets the rules, and everything else is an exception. As a consequence, a woman who is expected to be mild-mannered, delicate, nurturing, and submissive deviates from the norm if she displays behaviors that are similar to those named above. She may be endearingly dubbed as brassy if she possesses other socially redeeming feminine qualities or she may be seen as overbearing if she does not possess any. Physical beauty is one sure way to receive the lighter sentence of being called brassy; while a lack of this blessing will receive “an overbearing conviction.”

The latter is in many cases a euphemism for crudeness and manliness – two terms that are denigrating to women. These words carry their own baggage by themselves; they have literal and connotative meanings that will not be discussed here. However, language is contextual, and even stand-alone words carry an implied context. Therefore, when we hitch these terms with overbearing and women, we create various tentacles of social stigmas.

However, my goal is not to lambast anyone who may hold a negative view of a brassy woman but to highlight the virtues of a brassy woman in a positive light. This woman is of Moabite descent and her name is Ruth. She later adopted the Judaic religion and culture and became a citizen of Bethlehem.

Ruth and her sister Orpah married the sons of Bethlehemite immigrants to Moab named Elimelech and Naomi. Unfortunately, her father-in-law died, and later his two sons suffered the same fate leaving three widows. Her mother-in-law Naomi decided to return home to Bethlehem and leave the younger widows in Moab with the hope that they would remarry. However, Ruth resolved to go with Naomi to Bethlehem without knowing what her fate would be. Naomi was past childbearing and had little or no prospects of remarrying. Moreover, she had nothing to care for herself or Ruth.

Despite her mother-in-law’s desperate situation and Ruth’s better prospects of remaining in her homeland with family and friends, Ruth vowed her loyalty to Naomi. Her famous words are quoted over and over today:

16 And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:

17 Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me (Ruth 1:16-17).

Not only did she swear to give up all that she knew, but Ruth honored the oath that she made. She placed the need of Naomi above her own and went out in her new country to find a way for them to survive. God saw her righteousness and blessed her efforts. As a result of her perseverance, she met Boaz, a wealthy and respected relative of Naomi’s husband. Boaz would redeem the lost property of Naomi’s husband and return it to his widow so she would have the means for supporting herself. Moreover, he married Ruth because he loved her and also to “raise up seed” through her in remembrance of her dead husband. It was customary in Jewish culture for the brother or male relative of a deceased man to marry his widow and the first child from the marriage would be named as the deceased’s offspring for the perpetuation of his lineage. This practice was called the levirate custom.

What I have written here does not do justice to the magnitude of virtuous Ruth and it would better serve the reader to read the book of the Bible that bears the same name as the heroine. Through the loyalty and nobility of the actions of Ruth, the passage for Christ’s genealogical journey continued. Ruth and Boaz produced Obed; Obed became the father of Jesse; Jesse fathered David, and Jesus would be the son of Joseph who is from the line of David.

Ruth had to overcome many obstacles to do what she did. She had to overcome the psychological effects of losing a spouse and a brother-in-law. There were not many options for a woman to make a living in her society and it was even harder for an immigrant widow living with a mother-in-law who was also a widow without means. Ruth took a big risk relocating to a foreign land with her mother-in-law who was unsure how she would be received in her homeland since she was returning worse off than she had left. Most likely, Naomi had prepared her for some cultural differences, but not for all the things she had to learn. And she had to learn them immediately after arriving while trying to eke out a living!

Even in a post-modern world where some of the conditions for women are better than in Ruth’s time, it would have been overwhelming for anyone to accomplish what she did. However, she rose to the challenge and became one of the women who would make way for the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

*For further reading on Ruth and the levirate custom, check out “The Scarlet Thread: Tainted Women.

Ignorance is bliss

via Daily Prompt: Exposed

My 5-year-old grandson likes to scoot down the stairs and lands in the middle of our den in front of me. Usually, I am sprawled on the couch trying to stay awake so that I can watch my favorite show on television and does not want to be disturbed by a naked child who should have already been sleeping. I respond in the same way that I always do. “Get back upstairs and get to bed or you’ll get a spanking, ” I exclaim. He runs, stops and giggles and waits for me to say, “Where are your clothes?” When he hears that question, he giggles and dashes upstairs to his bedroom.

I never follow him to there because I know his mother will dress him and tuck him into bed. He does not like going to bed so he finds excuses to stay up. Sometimes he slips out of the bathroom and hides in unexpected places in the house. Clothes or the lack of them is no problem to him. I believe that he enjoys the freedom of running around without clothes. He expresses sheer delight whenever a family member comments about his nakedness. Neither does he appear ashamed nor self-conscious about his body.  His eyes only reflect innocence.

No Charge

via Daily Prompt: Knackered

Warmth, love, caring, sharing, safety, protection and support are some of the words that come to mind when one thinks about family. Somewhere, tucked among those words are aromas of slow-cooked meals, bedtime stories, birthdays, dogs, presents under the Christmas tree, blankets, and the old family Bible.

Funny how we keep the warm fuzzy memories of childhood and family. The two are inextricably tied together; we don’t remember one without the other. The reason is that a child’s world is centered around his family and the experiences he has there will shape his worldview for life. His mother is the first person with whom he develops a relationship, and in many ways, he sees the world through her eyes. On the other hand, a mother will always seek to protect and love her child even when he becomes an adult.

Rarely, she will remember the long sleepless nights trying to rock a colicky baby to sleep and hoping that morning would be delayed so that she could catch a snooze before the daily demands would come crashing down.  Breakfast would have to be ready for a hungry family, school lunches packed, clothes laid out, and getting the children out of the house to school. With all she had to do, the baby would have to be fed, burped and changed. The more she did, the more she had to do. And she’d better look perfect.

No one would hear the silent screams – not even the man who swore to love, cherish, and honor her. She bore it all with a stoic face. The challenges to her were just a natural part of the circle of life because of the joy of nurturing her offspring. No charge would she lay to her children for the sacrifices she made for them. She could with Shirley Caesar “No Charge.”

Only God knew at the end of the arduous journey that she was knackered, and she needed rest. 

I am my mother

via Daily Prompt: Roots

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During my teenage years, I secretly despised my mom. It was not that she did anything wrong. As a matter of fact, my parents were good people, salt of the earth type. They had no noticeable vice, and they worked hard to take care of my siblings and me. My father was a subsistence farmer, and my mother – a sort of housewife-cum-small businesswoman. She eked out a living by buying ground provisions from struggling farmers in our village and selling them in open-air markets in the city.

She did not have a high school diploma because secondary education was only available to the privileged few in Jamaica during her childhood and her parents were not able to afford training for her beyond the elementary level. Marriage was the only respectable thing to do for a girl in her position, and she remained faithful to my dad during tough economic times. I believe that my mother worked even harder than my father to support my family. She had a good head for business, and she took risks that my dad would balk at because he was an overly cautious man.

Nothing flew outside of my mother’s radar, and she could easily spot a lie. Other than the fact that I did not want to upset her by misbehaving at school, I stayed out of trouble because I did not want her to pop up at my school in her work clothes. I hated her rough clothes, sensible work shoes, and the hats she wore to protect her hair from the sun and dust. Generally, she would wear her Sunday best clothes for special or planned occasions. However, if any of my siblings or I had done something wrong at school, we ran the risk of incurring her wrath and having her come to the school in her work clothes. That was my greatest fear that my friends would laugh at my mother’s appearance. How I wished my mom would dress like the mothers of my friends!

The truth was that my friends were respectful and had never laughed at anybody’s parent as long as I knew them. I also realized that my mother dressed for success: she wore the clothes that suited what she did for a living. Fancy attire would not be compatible with large food baskets with dirt on them, juice leaking from scratched fruits, stems and leaves of vegetables. Mama’s dressing was a testament to her individuality and the sacrifices she made so that we would have it better in life than she did.

My mother did not know that I was once ashamed of her. A stupid kid I was! Had she known, she would have forgiven me and loved me no less than she did. All I have for her now is admiration. God was her beginning and her ending. She was not afraid of her hard work, she never took hand-outs, and she never complained about her problems. My mother made it very clear that education was the way out and she expected us to do well in school. Although my parents experienced financial hardships, we always had a roof over our heads, food on the table, and clothes on our backs.

Whenever it rains, I feel a sense of nostalgia. I can still smell the aroma of delicious soup coming from my mother’s kitchen, wafting its way to the end of the dirt road that leads to our house despite the pit a pat of the rain trying to wash it away. I always knew that on Thursdays, especially on rainy days, my mom would reward us with a hearty Jamaican soup chock-filled with red beans; speckled peas; vegetables; starchy yams; rolled dumplings; pumpkin; salted pig’s tail and beef; herbs and spices. Mama never measured anything, and yet she was an excellent cook.  I believe her hands must have been coated with an invisible liner because she never used potholders in the kitchen.

She didn’t cry when my eldest sibling died of a heart attack. Everybody said she was steady as a rock and they admired her for the way she managed her grief. However, she had suffered a stroke around the time of my sister’s death, unbeknownst to us until her doctor informed us after she had had a second stroke that made her unable to speak. Despite her sickness, she remained a happy soul until a third stroke took her life.

There is a bookmark that I keep in the top drawer of my dressing table with a photo of my mother that was displayed during her homegoing service. She is the vintage picture of me.  Her friends and relatives usually look at me and exclaim, “You are the spitting image of your mother!” Their declaration warms my heart because it affirms that I’ve been engendered from a healthy root.  Here is an excerpt from a poem titled “Don’t Mourn,” taken from the back of the bookmark mentioned above that echoes the sentiment:

 Life here for me is ended, but

   memories don’t die.

   Don’t lose the love I gave you.

   Feed it with your care,

   Grow it with devotion and spread it everywhere(Author unknown). Continue reading