Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hotel California

I miss the days when dreams were just dreams, not windows into the psyche, or a replaying of the days events. I miss having dreams that were a form of magic and fantasy, rolled into one.

When I was a kid, I slept with the radio on, back before I was such a light sleeper, needing absolute silence. And I dreamed an entire movie to “Hotel California.” It was me and my friend (I was the sidekick, not the main character) riding our motorcycles and stopping at this hotel. It was odd, and dark, and seemed deserted, but it was about to rain, and we were tired. So we went in. It was deserted, but clearly an old hotel-like the tower of Terror ride at Disney World, although this was before I’d been. There was a plot and a subplot as I wandered off and found out the truth about the hotel, and he went off separately where he met and fell in love with this girl. The girl ended up being chained in the basement, and he was bound to free her as the building started coming down around us. I struggled with him, and had to fight him to get him out, because he wouldn’t believe what I had found out-that the girl was part of the hotel, the lure in a venus flytrap to get you into the bowels of the hotel, from which you would never leave. You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave. We rode away on our cycles as the house shook and convulsed and exploded on a bleak horizon behind us. A full story, in the space of that single song.

I know it’s dangerous to tell your dreams to others, especially those who know you. They know how to read the symbolism that you are blind to, and thereby fold back the banana peel, exposing your soul to light and spoilage. But I miss those kinds of dreams, and much prefer them to the ones I won’t speak of, now. I miss those days of dreams with a beginning, middle and an end; simple story arcs, excitement, and drama that was real. I like that much more real than the subtle drama that life seems, sometimes.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent

Today, I felt great. For a time, I had all the ducks in a row, all the stars aligned. There was hope in my heart, light at the end of the tunnel. And I don’t know why, because nothing was different.

Tonight, I went out with a friend for dinner, whom I had not seen since my mother’s death. He was sorry that he had not gone to the funeral. We spoke of many things, of ships and sails and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings. Of death and family and obligation, and how easily all our miniscule problems would be solved by the gift of a million dollars. Or two. Or maybe not.

And I felt like shit. My personal roller coaster was going down, and I hadn’t even noticed until he highlighted it. He mentioned that I was lower energy than he had seen me for some time. It was like the acknowledgement made it so, and despite the fact that I felt great earlier, I felt lousy. And I don’t know why, because nothing was different.

Or maybe it's that everything is different, so many times a day, so many times a week, that I don't notice it anymore.

I once read that the definition of insanity was taking the same action again and again, and expecting a different result. But an opposite allegory is the definition of frustration; taking the same action and expecting the same result, and having it be different every time. And not knowing why.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Big T's Triumph (Part 2 of 2)

I'm back in the office, back at work, back into the chaos that passes for life, these days. And in the aftermath of my Mom's funeral, it occurs to me that I never posted the text of Big T’s speech, which I promised a while ago. It's especially poignant in the face of how much a support he's been for me through the funeral of his Grandma. A 10-year-old shouldn't have to hold up as emotional support for a parent. But I was glad he was there.

The only change I’ve made is to take out his brother’s name:
A couple of Fridays ago, (Lil’ T) was sad because he lost something. He thought he was bad and that he could not do anything right. He sat down on the floor and started wailing how he was the worst person in the world and how nothing could make what he did forgivable.

I felt like I should do something. His crying made me feel sad, as well. So I told him how God could not push us away from him. God would always forgive our actions and sins. We sometimes forget that the meaning of the word sin is to push ourselves farther from God. But Jesus Christ gave us forgiveness of our sins and brought us closer to God. I told Trace that God did not make us perfect so that we could have pride in our achievements. If we were perfect then we would achieve nothing. But by learning from our mistakes, we can become better people.

When they think of God, many people think of humans or animals, but I think of a tree. Trees can live for thousands of years and are, in many ways, superior to humans. Humans depend on trees for shelter, paper, furniture, and in some cases, fruits. I have heard of trees over 900 years old, but not a human over 150 years old! From one seed can grow a forest. God is the seed who grew us, his children, his forest.
Imagine a cup. If one piece breaks off, then the rest of the cup may still be usable, but it is not as good as it was before. We are each a piece. Will we join our hands and be one? Or will we separate and leave one another alone in the darkness? If we support each other, we can hold more.

I believe that God does not control our actions physically, but does mentally. We have His voice in our heads, whenever we do something wrong. Our conscience tells us what we are doing wrong and what we can do to fix it. You can choose to listen to it or not listen to it. If we listen to it then we will feel good about ourselves. If we don’t, it will drive us mad until we tell the truth.

God’s tool of our conscience is nothing compared to what he uses to hold us together! His pride and glory, Love! Your last name does not make a family, nor does blood. It is how much one person cares for another person.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

My Mother's Obituary

After 89 years, Esther Beatrice Stewart McLaurin completed her life’s journey on Monday, February 25th, 2008.

The daughter of Hosea Henry Stewart and Gertrude (Grady) Stewart, she was born on September 27, 1918 in what is now Princeton, Indiana, but what was then a specifically African American township separate from Princeton, called Lyle Station. When her mother died of cancer while she was in high school, she took on the responsibility of being the homemaker for her father and her four brothers and single sister, and remained so until she graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School. At that time, she left home when her father remarried. She received secretarial training and became a legal secretary to her uncle, Cornelius R. Richardson, Esq., who was among the first Negro Attorneys in Indiana and a delegate to the Republican National Convention. Through his generous assistance, she was able to attend nursing school at Provident Hospital, Chicago, Illinois, a school created specifically for African American patients, which set s new level for care in a separate-but-equal segregated north. This chapter is seldom talked about, but you can find the history of Provident Hospital here.

She graduated with honors, a member of the first class of nurses eligible for registration, and successfully passed the Illinois state examination for certification as a Registered Nurse. This was during the start of World War II. On becoming an R.N., she volunteered to the Negro Army Nurse Corp during World War II and was commissioned Second Lieutenant. While stationed at Fort Bragg, she met the man who would become my father, Staff Sergeant Johnnie W. McLaurin. Both served at the 25th station hospital, Monrovia, Libera, West Africa, where they married.

After the war’s end, she moved briefly to Mississippi, and lived for a time in Indiana, before settling in Massachusetts. They had a total of six children; Michael, Martha, Allan, Melva, John, and myself, the youngest. In addition to mothering and nurturing her family, she obtained her Massachusetts State certification as a Registered Nurse. She then joined the Staff of Wesson Maternity Hospital (now a part of the Baystate Medical Center complex) as its first Registered Nurse of color. After over 30 years of service, primarily in the premature and neo-natal intensive care nurseries, she retired in 1983.

She was preceeded in death by her twin brothers, Denver and Henry Stewart of Princeton, Indiana, and her parents, and her husband of 53 years, my father, who passed in 1996. She leaves two sisters and one brother, Alice Williams of Pennsylvania, Marva Stewart and Felton Stewart of Illinois, and a sister-in-law, Jessie Ruth (McLaurin) Willis of Springfield, Massachusetts. In addition to her six children, she leaves behind 13 grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.

My mother’s life was one of quiet pioneering, breaking gender and color barriers that we have a hard time even appreciating today. She joined the army, before women were officially accepted int the army, and achieved an officers rank due to her level of education. She became a Registered nurse, a level of education on par with a doctor’s medical degree, in order to fulfill her calling to serve and care for others. She met a man who was of a lower rank than her officers status, and engaged in a relationship that was illegal under military rules, marrying him and remaining so for over 50 years. She broke rules, stubbornly and with a purpose, through the strength of character and a firm belief that she could achieve anything she wanted through hard work and perseverance. But within ad beyond all of this, she was my Ma, the person who raised me most directly, and influenced me most. And, though I never really appreciated it as a child, she was my hero.