Tuesday, March 13, 2018

What I Would Have Missed

The rain was falling softly on my windshield as I cruised in my car rocking out to The Clash. I don't know what it is about driving on a rainy night with my favorite playlist flooding out of my speakers that elevate my peace barometer. 

I experience an unnatural state of happiness in those moments of solitude in my car. Yet, it wasn't always like that. 

As I drove two nights ago in my sublime state I had flashbacks of another time in my car when I felt the opposite. Actually, there were a handful of moments in my car when all I wanted to do was drive myself straight into a wall. 

The memories flooded into my car and mingled with the music. For a second I, again, felt the despair, hopelessness and oppression of being in an abusive marriage that would compel me to entertain the idea of smashing myself into a wall. But that second came and went like the rain that softly dropped on the roof of my car. 

I drove with a deep sense of gratitude for my present life, my present state of mind and my present spiritual journey. It was painstaking work to get here, the road littered with lessons of growth. 

There was a time when my youngest, my boy, was only three-years-old and I almost succeeded in ending my life. Hundreds of memories have faded into the ether but the time I sat in my idling car in the garage with the exhaust fumes lulling me into nothingness remains a technicolor snapshot in my mind. 

Had I not heard my sister's voice calling me in my almost unconscious state I wouldn't be here. It was her voice that woke me to reason and led me to turn the car off. It was only when I went back inside the quiet and darkened house that I realized she and the rest of my family were sleeping. 

I wish I could say that my life became better and brighter afterwards but it actually hit lower than rock bottom. When I say it was painstaking work to reach this half-a-century-young milestone it is not an understatement. As I write this blog post I have a smile of satisfaction on my face. 

It's the kind of smile that shows the world that I triumphed over the effed up mistakes I've made and learned to stop blaming others for them. Taking accountability for my actions unlocked the doorway toward my freedom. It wasn't until I stopped allowing abuse to define me that I began traveling on the path to inner growth. It's not easy and I've learned to forgive myself first before others; love myself first over others; and respect myself first before I extend it to others. 

Today, as I woke up on my 50th birthday I went down the list of everyone and everything I'm grateful for including what I would have missed if I didn't hear my sister's voice that one night in my family's garage. 

I would have missed...

This year my first grandkid turned 10, I turned 50, my mom will be 80 in August and my middle child will enter her 30s in the Fall. My youngest who was three when I sat in that exhaust-filled car almost 24 years ago is going to be a dad in June. His wife is more a friend than an in-law and will be the mother of my second grandkid. My oldest will be getting married next year to a man whom I already think of as a son. 

The boy I had a crush on when I was 15 has been my partner for the past 9.5 years and has taught me more about relationships than any I've been in.

My siblings (in-laws included) keep me grounded in who I am. Without them I would flounder with my head up in the clouds where I always seem to find myself in. 

My gang of nieces and nephews have brought me much joy every time I hang out with them from the littlest to the oldest. 

My cousins who are my closest friends make me wonder what my life would be like if we didn't have each other. 

My family (and the ones I've acquired through my daughter-in-law) remind me that it truly does take a village to raise one another. I don't know what I would have done during my dad's sickness and death without them. 

The friends in my life (y'all know who you are) bring adventure, playfulness, camaraderie and companionship that I look forward to all year. (Shout out to the friends who always invite us over for UFC fights!)

My job, along with my manager and teammates, give me a purpose every day even in the midst of hellacious busy seasons and heavy workloads. 

My activist life has expanded my entire being, first with fighting against human trafficking and now for social injustices in our current climate. 

The unsung heroes/sheroes I've been fortunate to meet who inspire me daily to be a better version of myself. 

My photography journey has been quite an adventure of Alice in Wonderland proportions with me picking up good friends along the crazy ride. It's helped me discover my authentic voice and how to use it to tell a narrative through my portraits. 

My dad's death almost two years ago was an experience most people would probably prefer to avoid. It was a difficult time, yes, but it was his death that helped me see the importance of celebrating birthdays and cheesy holidays. I used to be low-key on birthdays and militant about being anti-Hallmark holidays. But when you see a parent on his deathbed wishing he had more time to live life and celebrate another birthday you learn quickly to have no shame in celebrating each birthday and cheesy holiday. My parents were one year shy of their 50th wedding anniversary when he passed away. 

It was during this time that I also learned that living life to its fullest means embracing the bad with the good. I finally stopped running away from pain or protecting myself from it. One of the most important lessons I learned in my 49th year is summed up in a quote from the book, The Untethered Soul
The path of letting go allows you to free your energies so that you can free yourself. Right in the midst of your daily life, by untethering yourself from the bondage of your psyche, you actually have the ability to steal freedom for your soul. This freedom is so great it has been given a special name---liberation. 
I've always said that my 40s have been the BEST years of my life but I have a sneaking suspicion my 50s will outdo my last decade so I've buckled myself in and off I go! 

My friend, Isaiah, posted this on his
Instastory last night. It is exactly
how I live my life and will continue on to
this next decade! 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

I Want To Be The Female In My Family Who Stood Up and Stood Out

It was the eve of the Women's March and I could barely contain my excitement as I logged off my work computer for the day. It was time. 

I laid my camera gear around me to charge my batteries, format my memory cards and pack my rolls of film. This year, I was only going to take one film camera and my digital as opposed to the three I lugged around last year. 

While my camera battery was charging and I started cleaning my lenses my oldest spawn sent me a text. 

Hey Ma, excited for the Women's March tomorrow! Are you making a sign? 

Hi, I wasn't planning on it. Were you? 

Yeah, let me send you some ideas from Pinterest. 

I silently laughed when I received her Pinterest examples. I knew they would be the kind of signs she'd boldly display at her first march. The kind that had an expletive in it.This year I was taking my niece, Micaela, again so it was going to be a family affair with my eldest joining us. 

The lyrics of the song, The Schuyler Sisters, from the Hamilton musical replayed in my head. Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now. 

For thousands of us in this country we don't feel lucky with the present leadership. I mean, why would over 600,000 people wake up at the crack of dawn on a perfectly good Saturday morning to march down the streets of Los Angeles standing up for justice if we felt lucky? 

That line of the song was a reminder of the freedom we still have in this country called the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. It's the freedom of speech I don't take for granted and I'm grateful we can protest in this country without getting shot at or arrested by law enforcement as in other parts of the world. 

While I hummed along to the song in my head I reached for the white board I used in my photography shots. As if my hand was moved by an unseen force I started to create my own sign and knew that I would be raising my voice more than my cameras at the march the next day. 

I'm no stranger to hitting the pavement in protest against social injustice as I've participated in several walks for My Refuge House and other anti-human trafficking organizations. (Peruse this blog archive and you'll find my blog posts about them.) With the monumental wave of change happening in this country the time for standing up for what's right is crucial. People are waking up, putting on their activist hats and using their voice to speak up for the first time. 

Marginalized and oppressed people, especially women, are fed up and no longer remaining silent. With the advent of the #MeToo Movement that galvanized survivors to finally speak out about their experiences of sexual assault and harassment I knew the number of participants in the Women's March would double this year. 

We are now using our voices to demand respect, equality and fairness. This is not a new fight but it's a battle that needs to be waged instead of brushed under the proverbial rug. I believe that in times of peace we become complacent and I can only find the positive in this tumultuous time by seeing more people rise up and take a stand. 

Then there's the blatant, ugly evil of racism, bigotry and anti-Semitism that has risen and encouraged by the person I can only call #45. He is not and never will be my President. I've had a handful of friends on social media who seemed gleeful that they can finally express their true feelings about certain minority groups. Or, voice their support for this man who is emblematic of dishonesty, corruption, infidelity and hypocrisy. While I accept the differences in others, I know that I can't be friends with people who refuse to see the blatant wrongs this leader has committed. I can tell you that I no longer call them friends.

This isn't the time to tolerate pure unadulterated hatred. We need to collectively stand up and fight against the spread of hatred and ignorance that is perpetuated by #45's actions and words. That's the decree of the Women's March and the reasons I spent a Saturday with my daughter and niece to wake people up, get them to the polls and vote for those who would advocate for us. 

Today is International Women's Day and it's not a day I take lightly. While writing this blog post I saw a tweet from My Refuge House as to the origins of this historical day. 
The impetus for establishing an International Women’s Day can be traced back to New York City in February 1908, when thousands of women who were garment workers went on strike and marched through the city to protest against their working conditions. “Like today, these women were in less organized workplaces [than their male counterparts], were in the lower echelons of the garment industry, and were working at low wages and experiencing sexual harassment,” says Eileen Boris, Professor of Feminist Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara.
This year's theme is #PressforProgress which is "A strong call to motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.

Today I honor all the women warriors in their homes, jobs, families, schools, churches, etc. who rise up when no one is listening or paying attention. I bow down to the women who are activists in their own quiet, unassuming, yet, powerful way because I know you move mountains. I salute the women who oftentimes felt defeated but nevertheless persisted. I cry for the women who are victims of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual slavery, domestic violence and human trafficking---the ones who are paralyzed with the fear of retaliation. We stand with you and are fighting for you! 

As for me, I want my granddaughters (and future grandsons) to know that I was that female in the family who stood up and stood out. 

I want them to know that I marched and fought for the progress that they deserve. 

I want them to understand that I live my precious life today with their future in mind. 

I want them to believe that I used my purpose and calling to help create a better world for them and their children. 

I want them to see that I paved a way for them to make a difference in their lives and to use what they have to fight for others less fortunate. 

I want them to learn from my actions so that they can pass on to their children the empowerment we're all raising our voices for today. 

The Ancestry tweet today that inspired
my words in this blog post. 
These are the photos we took at the Women's March with our phones, my digital and film cameras. 

My niece, Micaela, is the assistant editor
of her school's newspaper, ZU Media and was
covering the Women's March. You can read her
article here.