When You Walk through a Storm…

As I stepped out my front door this morning for a power walk around the neighborhood, I was taken aback by the rising storm. Just like that, a song I learned in junior high school came to mind and I began to sing it internally. 

When you walk through a storm

Keep your head up high

And don’t be afraid of the storm

At the end of the storm is a golden sky

And the sweet…something and something and something

 I couldn’t remember all the words, but the part I did remember brought a smile to my face.

Walk on through the wind

Walk on through the rain

Tho’ your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on

Walk on

With hope in your heart

And you’ll never walk alone

 I took in a deep breath as the main phrase filled me up.  I remembered vividly the music teacher and glee club director who taught us the song.  A smile curled my lips as I remembered Mrs. Overstreet, as heavy as Aretha Franklin before Aretha was heavy. Mrs. Overstreet was very passionate about her work and the messages she intended to impart.

 “Sing!” she demanded, pounded the piano keys.

“You will NE-VEEEEEER walk alone!”

“Louder!”

“You will NEEEEEE-VEEEEER walk alone!” We sang as loud as our voices could stretch.

The memory of the song and the woman who taught it to us quickened my pace as I race-walked through my neighborhood.  The winds whipped up dry leaves around me. Clouds darkened the sky. And the trees whistled, swayed, and danced to the rhythm set by the pending storm. I replayed the song in my mind. When you walk through a storm keep your head up high. But when I glanced down I noticed a shiny nickel and was reminded of another childhood treasure.

My uncles used to tell me, “Don’t take no wooden nickels.” I was delighted by the memory. I didn’t ask them what they meant, because I thought I knew.  A girl in my neighborhood had become the fool of the group because she had taken a wooden nickel from one of the boys in exchange for a sexual favor. We were only eight to ten years old and some of the kids our age or slightly older played a “nasty game” where a girl would let a boy hump her for a nickel. A “hump” was a boy’s bumping his pelvic area into the girl’s pelvic. For a dime he could hump her butt one time. It’s ironic that even at that age, even with strict parents, which most of us had, we found ways to test the taboo and to put a monetary value on sexual gratification and submission. Even at that age at least one of the girls, the one who took the wooden nickel and became the joke of the hood, learned to pay closer attention to what she was giving and getting. When I picked up the shiny nickel on my power walk this morning, I was reminded to pay closer attention to my gifts and exchanges.

Walk on through the wind

I turned the corner and noticed a penny on the ground. Yes, it was a shiny penny, not a dull, dirty one, ironically.  I put it in my pocket, too.  It didn’t generate any memories or inspiration. It was just a shiny penny that could close a sale at the grocery store I planned to walk to later. 

As the wind got stronger, I felt charged and wished I could breathe it in and harness for a flight, as if I could spread my wings and lift up like a bird. I breathed in deeply, thanking God for the fresh air, the charge, and the memories.

 Mrs. Overstreet died some years ago, but the lesson she taught us through a secular song was resurrected in my heart today. Our teacher loved Broadway musicals and used them to connect us to the whiter world outside our nearly all-black one.  This song she taught us for our graduation, had been written for the musical Carousel that opened on Broadway in 1945.  A song written by white men in the 1940s, taught by my school teacher in the 1970s, could still inspire me in the new millennium. Now that’s classic, I thought. Thunder clapped, then roared.  The skies opened up and the first sprinkling of what promised to be a downpour delighted me as I made my way back inside.

I looked up the lyrics on the Internet to fill in the words I had forgotten. Once in cyberspace I saw a news headline saying 250 people have been killed in storms ripping through southern states in the past couple of days; hundreds were injured. As the skies dumped torrential rains outside my windows and I hard the loud clash of thunder, I thought about natural disasters that tore up whole cities, states and rocked whole countries.

How blessed I am to walk through a storm.  To draw inspiration from a storm because it has not threatened my life and the very foundation beneath me. Even before the storm ended, I heard birds singing in the rain. Within minutes this little storm would be over, and I will step outside looking for a rainbow.  Then I’ll find a reputable charity through which to make donations to help others who have suffered life-flattening storms.

Keep your head up high.

Here are the lyrics:

When you walk through a storm

Keep your chin up high

And don’t be afraid of the dark.

At he end of the storm

Is a golden sky

And the sweet silver song of a lark.

 

Walk on through the wind,

Walk on through the rain,

Tho’ your dreams be tossed and blown.

Walk on, walk on

With hope in your heart

And you’ll never walk alone,

You’ll never walk alone.

Now sing! Just kidding. Here’s wishing you inspiration from the storms in your life and from your fondest memories as well. A yoga instructor once told our class she loves a storm because it seems to clean the air.  How have storms, real and figurative, inspired you? Does something you learned from a teacher – or coach – in your youth inspired as an adult?

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What Dreams Reveal

This morning I had a dream that reminded me of a pivotal experience in my life. I remembered taking my grandmother to a fashion show produced by one of my sisters, starring about a dozen of our cousins, all of whom had been raised as Muslim girls. My grandmother, as always, was dressed “modestly” as the Muslim woman she had become in her 20s. 

She wore a long skirt and a light-weight veil covering her silver, silky hair.  She favored soft, pastel colors and I marveled at her ability to remain stylish while beholden to a very old-fashioned Islamic tradition.  Out of respect for her, I wore loose-fitted slacks and a conservative blouse  instead of one of my sassy short skirts with bold high heels. I could tell we were in for a fun evening when we arrived, but I had no idea how adventurous the event would be.

We were settled into our seats, enjoying my mother’s humorous moderating of the program, enjoying the little kids sporting everything from traditional tiny tuxes and gowns to trendy baggy jeans and jerseys. My grandmother was all smiles, thoroughly delighted –  until the lights changed and the next scene unfolded.

In the blink of an eye, a parade of young women who had been raised with strict religious confines strutted out half naked in mini skirts and tank tops or swim suits and spiked heels. They held a handful of leashes attached to young men crawling on all fours in front of them. They pulled back on the leashes, struck a pose, and flashed their sass, yanked on the leashes. The young men in collars clawed at them, rolled over for them, made the crowd laugh for them and my grandmother was beside herself.

“What in the world?!?!?!”  She spoke only loud enough for me, sitting next to her, to hear. “Astafullah!” she said. that was the Muslim equivalent of “God forbid!” I was tickled through and through. 

“It’s a new day, GrandWillie. Women are owning their sexuality,” I explained. “Actually, it’s not that new. We’ve been celebrating sex since the 70s.”  I enjoyed my younger sisters’ vision and the young men’s willingness to play along. 

At the reception after the fashion show we enjoyed light fare and much laughter with the crowd. Back in my car, GrandWillie returned to our conversation.  She explained that she likes to support all her grandchildren, but she did not need to see what she had seen and she certainly did not condone it.

“These are the ending days for sure,” GrandWillie said. “I can’t stand to see young women giving yourselves away. You know we had a saying ‘why buy the cow if you can get the milk free’.” 

“Oh, GrandWillie I always hated that saying,” I said. “No disrespect. But that implies that I am a piece of meat a man can buy and milk to death or slaughter and eat. I am not a piece of meat.”

“Why would any woman give herself to a man who won’t even make a commitment? I just don’t understand it.”

“It’s not so much giving ourself away. It’s a shared experience,” I said. “We like sex. No disrespect.” 

My grandmother had given birth to eight children because birth control and abortion were illegal when she was a young woman. Sex had been a necessary evil to be endured by those lucky enough to get married. She had proudly told me that she had never been with any man other than my grandfather. I had respectfully declined to let on that I knew my grandfather had been with other women before they were married and during their 40-plus years together. (He was killed by a drunk driver.) Her children had enjoyed the sexual revolution of the 70s, and her grandchildren were celebrating it in new ways.  What would she do if she found out that women were now enjoying sex without a partner at all? She had never been to an adult toy store. Our orientations had been different. The landscapes of our lives were not the same. 

While focusing on the road ahead, taking my grandmother home, I could see out the corner of my eye that she was shaking her head in disagreement about our take on women’s sexuality. I did not tell her that she had been spared a fashion show scene dramatizing lesbian relationships. That would have been waaaay too much for her. The younger women in the family were pushing the envelope but maintained some boundaries in deference to our elders. I appreciated GrandWillie’s wisdom, but did not agree with it all. Conventional wisdom defied and denied too much of what I instinctively knew to be true. 

“Men have to get a license to fish, to hunt, to do whatever else they want to do. Make them get a license to be with you,” my grandmother insisted. 

“I am not a sport or a game,” I argued. “I am not a piece of meat, or a piece of property you can have license to. License to do what? Do you realize how many men think their marriage license gives them the right to sex anytime they want?”  

“You young women think too much,” she said. “The Holy Scriptures lays it all out for us. Ain’t nothing new under the sun. Human nature is human nature, and God knows human nature. When we try to change it or figure it out on our own, nothing good can come from it.”

I agreed with her that there are many benefits to marriage, that stating intentions up front and committing to work together toward agreed-upon goals could be more satisfying than a series of one-night stands. 
 

“I believe in marriage,” I told her. “But I need a wife.” 

“You need a what?” She seemed exasperated with me. 

“I need a wife. Somebody who’s got my back, who will support my dreams. I need a man who will pick up my dry cleaning if I’m working late, or have dinner on the table for me to take the edge off a long day.” 

“These are certainly the ending days,” she said. “You all, as you like to say, got it twisted’.” 

 I smiled, and respectfully disagreed. “I think we’re finally straightening things out,” I said as we reached her home where we would part ways. “GrandWillie, it’s all working out for the best,” I added. “You’ll see.” 

She cracked a smile as she turned to go up the stairs.  “I think I have seen enough.” 

My dearly departed grandmother is among the stars now. Thinking about fun times we shared brings a smile to my face, streaks of sunlight through the clouds of grief. The dream I had reflected sexual domination, but it prompted waking memories that confirmed a reversal of fortune.  We re-create, re-cast, re-fashion,and  re-model our outlook. We have, we can, we must.

Malcolm X, Manning Marable, and Me

The excerpts, for starters, proved uplifting for me. Reading excerpts from Manning Marable’s new controversial biography of Malcolm X, I was reminded of some of the “lessons” we learned inside Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam Schools, Muhammad’s Universities of Islam.  We were drilled, for instance, on Muhammad’s “Lesson #10: Why does Muhammad and any Muslim murder the devil? What is the duty of each Muslim in regards to four devils? What reward does a Muslim receive by presenting the four devils at one time?”

We were called on at our desk to stand and answer these questions. One of us young charges, dressed sharp in a long dress and head scarf, would stand and respond, soldier-like, “Because he is one hundred percent wicked and will not keep and obey the laws of Islam. His ways and actions are like that of a snake of the grafted type. So Muhammad learned that he could not reform the devil. So they had to be murdered. All Muslims will murder the devil because they know he is a snake and also if he be allowed to live he would sting someone else. Each Muslim is required to bring four devils, and by presenting four at one time his reward is a button to wear on the lapel of his coat, also free transportation to the Holy city Mecca.”

Marable’s book, particularly the interviews with some of the former members, will add historical context and overview to what was my personal experience in the NOI. I will pen a review of the book as soon as I have read and digested it completely. My experience in the NOI is shared in my memoir, LITTLE X: GROWING UP IN THE NATION OF ISLAM, and some of the bitter fall-out from the experience is detailed in my book, DO ME TWICE: MY LIFE AFTER ISLAM. But my years of reflection to finally make peace with that experience is something I will share as I reflect on Marable’s book.

Shop-Lifting

In the current economy I have learned to appreciate an activity akin to window shopping. I call it shop-lifting. I go to shop but lift my consciousness and character awareness more than my wallet. For instance, the other day I was standing in line at the Card Factory Store when I overheard a customer behind me explain the items spilling out of her hands.

“My husband’s 50th birthday is coming up. So, we decided to write 50 things we love about him and put them in a decorative vase he can keep on his desk at work,” she said. 

Now that’s a gift! I thought. Cheaper than the latest iPad or the next high-tech communication gadget, but a communication of something so much greater – love. 

It reminded me of when I was on a  shopping fast in November, following the advice of financial fitness guru Michelle Singletary. She suggested a 30-day no-spending fast. She also suggested that you not even go into stores, tempting yourself. I did not want to over-deprive myself. So, I went into stores with the idea that I could only lift ideas and enjoy the experience of exchange by watching others engage in it. 

Once, while in a dollar store browsing near the check-out, I overheard the cashier’s conversation with a customer and became intrigued. 

“Your hair is beautiful. Were you always blond?” she asked. 

“Yeah. Since I was a little boy,” he said. 

For starters, I never knew people’s hair changed colors except for turning gray. So, without spending a dime, I learned something. But there was more as I listened. 

“My husband’s hair used to be dark like his,” she said, pointing to another customer. “But as he got older it turned white. It’s beautiful.”

It sounded like she enjoyed growing old with her husband.  I found that encouraging for my own marriage. Encouragement – free. 

I moved to the back of the store so I could whip out my pocketbook journal and make a note. But while I was back there I noticed something else. A family – parents and kids – talking about what else they should put in their “gift baskets.”  Curiosity got the best of me and I drew on my old reporting skills to find out more. 

They belonged to the Chesapeake Christian Fellowship Church, which sends Christmas gift baskets to “third world” countries. Billy Graham’s son, Franklin, is in charge. The mother, father, and their two sons, each carried a box filling it with toys, candy, and other treats.

“We have a lot, so why not give to somebody else?” the mother told me when I asked about their motivation. 

Without spending a dime, I was inspired, and reassured that we’re not all a bunch of self-seeking, greedy, can’t-get-enough, no good people in America.

Shopping without spending allowed me to collect encouragement and inspiration that lifted my spirits higher than a new pair of heels would have lifted my frame. 

Another day during the 30-day spending fast, I went into a gift shop, browsing for ideas of gifts I might buy in the future. Instead, I got a great idea of a gift book I can create. I rushed home to write down my idea and more inspiration flowed. I followed up with a little research about how to market it. Made a list of publishers to pitch it to. 

I had loved shopping, justified it as retail therapy for so long, I am pleasantly surprised and thoroughly delighted these days to experience shopping of another sort.  I spend less money these days, enjoying so many other aspects of the shopping experience. I chat with the store workers now. I laugh at their jokes. I enjoy samples at food stores and have outgrown my shyness about asking for a sample before I buy something. Guilt. 

Yesterday I was browsing Whole Food, which I love because of the abundance of samples at the ready. After a few samples of fresh squeezed orange juice, fresh squeezed lemonade, chocolate-cherry coffee, chocolate chip cookies, and toffee-covered pretzels, I really was hungry for a purchase. I bought only a $3 jar of tomato sauce and left without feeling guilty. The guilt I may have felt for enjoying so many samples and spending so little cash was lifted as I realized the store did what it intended to do, which was provide a customer with an experience that would ensure my return again and again, and I did what I intended to do, which was – spend more wisely. 

In the interest of full disclosure, when I was a kid, I was once caught shoplifting, in the criminal sense. I had everything basic I needed at home, food, water, shelter, family support. But I envied my friends who had designer clothes and Tinker Bell lotion and lip gloss. I stole Tinker Bell lip gloss and lotion and got caught. Thankfully, my mother did not find out until I told her years later.

Shop-lifting this new way is alleviating my envy of others who still seem to have more – more job security, a bigger house, more financial wealth, etc. I am realizing that I have so much more than I realized. My mother tried to tell me this, of course. She insisted that I shop in my own closet. Now I, do that, too. I realize that I have all the pieces and colors to create my favorite look for any occasion.   I also realize that I have things to give away. I have more than I “need.”

What are you shopping for? Beyond the basics, what are you really hungry for?

What’s in Your Hand?

What’s In Your Hand?

Yesterday, out the blue, Adam Clayton Powell’s famous, “What’s in Your Hand Speech” came to mind. I remembered happening upon his speech about 15 years ago, during one of what would become a series of my mini-retirements (more on that another time).

I had been in line at a library when I noticed a documentary on him on a shelf nearby. I grabbed it, and when I watched it, I was so blown away by the clip of his speech at the end, I rewound it over and over again. I jotted it down verbatim in my diary and memorized it. I loved it so much. It was a call to political action, an attempt to jolt people from apathy.  But I imagined it could be an inspiring call to personal and professional action, as well as a call to celebrate the gifts that we have.

I imagined using it in a speech I would give someday, encouraging beauticians to realize they held in their hands the gift of making others beautiful, calling teachers to realize they have the gift of guidance and instruction. Everybody’s got a gift and often we don’t fully appreciate what we are giving right where we are.

I once envied a friend who made six figures as a personnel specialist. He lamented that he had no special gift. Money isn’t everything, he said. He prayed for God to show him his special gift.

“Are you kidding?”I asked. “Not only are you making money, adding value to your own life and by extension the lives of others you give presents to, causes you donate cash to, your church, which is sustained partly by your tithes and offerings. You have the gift of modeling a level of success that is possible. Plus, in your job you help match people with the right opportunities. That’s a gift!”

Of course, he was thinking of an artistic gift. He admired my gift of – and passion for – writing. He said he envied that I could be content in a corner anywhere with a pen and a notepad or journal. Of course, I did not see what I had as a gift because as much as I love journaling – and now blogging – there’s no money attached to it – yet.  

It can’t be a gift without monetary value, right? Never mind the peace of mind, and what we now call “psychological income.” That doesn’t pay the mortgage, right? At some point it will.  (I have complied trunks full of journals, that I am now considering a gold mine of material for novels.) That’s a gift to be shared, right? 

This morning I tuned in to hear Steve Harvey’s morning testimony, something I’ve enjoyed off and on for at least two years now. I like “witnessing” him share his love of God with his audience of millions. At the end of his 12-minutes of testifying this morning, he talked about gifts God gives us all.

“He gives a lot of people a gift. Some are not using it, now they’re life ain’t what they want. But, guess what? You made that call,” he said in all his sassiness. “You know how to cook, but you won’t bake a pie. You’re funny, but you ain’t on stage. You can sing, but you ain’t got a record deal. You can counsel, but you ain’t took up social work. What you want God to do? You the best painter, but you ain’t got your art displayed no where…That’s crazy.”

I considered the coincidence of recalling Adam Clayton Powell’s speech on using God’s gifts last night and hearing a similar message from Steve Harvey this morning an interesting enough coincidence to follow it somewhere. I googled Adam Clayton Powell and found a clip of him giving his speech on YouTube. I listened and not only felt inspired all over again, I felt compelled to share the inspiration.

Here is the text of Powell’s famous “What’s In Your Hand” speech:  

“As far as I know, here, you’re in trouble. It says you’ve got about 30 percent unemployment. That’s why I’m working hard to get this surplus food here. Some of you say to me, ‘well, I’m not like you. I’m not a congressman. I haven’t got education. I haven’t got work. But you’re a human being. And you know what you’ve got? You’ve got in your hand the power to use your vote and to use even those few cents you get from welfare to spend them only where you want to spend them.” The crowd applauded and cheered. “A young slave boy stood one day before the greatest ruler of his day. And God said to Moses, what’s in your hand? And Moses said, ‘I’ve got this stick, that’s all.’ He said, well let me use what’s in your hand. And God used that slave boy with a stick in his hand to divide the Red Seas, march through a wilderness, bring water out of rocks, manna from heaven, and bring his people to freedom land. What’s in your hand?”

“What’s in your hand! George Washington Carver, who was so frail that he was traded for a broken down horse as a slave boy, and George Washington Carver sitting in the science laboratory at Tuskegee told me, he said, ‘Dr. Powell, I just go out into the fields each morning at 5 o’clock, and I let God guide me, and I bring back these little things and I work them over in my laboratory.’ And that man did more to revolutionize the agricultural science of peanuts, and of cotton, and of sweet potatoes than any other human being in the field of agricultural science.”

“What’s in your hand? Just let God use you that’s all. What’s in your hand!!!!!!!” he boomed. “I’ve got a string in my hand, that’s all, and I’m flying a kite, and way up in the heaven’s lightening strikes, and I Benjamin Franklin, discover for the first time, the possibilities of electricity – with a string in my hand. What’s in your hand!!!!! Little hunch-back sitting in a Roman jail. ‘I haven’t got anything in my hand but an old quill pen. But God says, ‘Write what I tell ya to write!’ And Paul wrote, I have run my race with patience. I’ve finished my course. I’ve kept the faith. What’s in your hand little boy!!!!” ‘All I’ve got is this slingshot, but the enemies of my people are great and big and more numerous than we are.’ Well Little David, go down to the brook and pick out a few stones and bring them back, and put them in the sling shot and close your eyes if you want to and let them go. And David killed the enemies of his people, and his people became free, just letting God guide a stone in his hand. And a few years pass, and David is King. And God says, ‘What’s in your hand?’ And David says I’ve got a harp. And God said then play on your harp. And he played, ‘The Lord is My Shepherd I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. He leadeth me beside still waters. Yea thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil. What’s in your hand!!!!!”

Now here was my favorite part.

“A man hanging on a cross with two nails in his hands said ‘Father I stretch my hands to thee. No other help I know. If Thou withdraw thy hand from me, whither will I go. And that man with two nails in his hands split history in half, B.C. and A.D. What’s in your hand tonight? You’ve got God in your hand, and with God in your hand, He’ll let you win because he’s on your side, and one with God is always in the majority. So, walk with Him and talk with Him. And work with Him and fight with Him. And with God’s hand in your hand, the victory will be accomplished, sooner than you dreamed, sooner than you hoped for, sooner than you prayed for, sooner than you imagined. Good night and God bless.”

 Click here for link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuZjcd7t-sE&feature=related