Self Help

A picture of a picture of the baddest man in show business that I took.

I bought my Christmas cards in Spanish. Not on purpose, of course. I even read the back, and just assumed that the words written in Spanish were instructions about not letting children near the small plastic circles that sealed the box shut tight. It’s too late now to change them, so I went right on ahead and wrote out what I think are beautiful messages to my family members, and a mentor or two. I asked my Mother what she wanted for her gift, and she let me off the hook easy. “Surprise me,” she said, which is her way of saying that she understands I may not be able to send her something expensive and then added, “And Grandpa could probably use a tie. Or a handkerchief.” I laughed and told her he doesn’t need anything, but she insisted that he has parties to attend. My Grandfather, the 90-something year old retired small-town American doctor, and his party attire. I let her continue talking about his parties while I moved the garbage can out of its regular spot to see what might have fallen behind it. It could use a good scrubbing.

The speakerphone is my best friend on a long call with friends. I got a phone call late the other night, and to my surprise it quickly became a three-way call. I didn’t even know three-way calling was still available. It was invented for us. We cut up on the phone for almost two hours, and I happily cleaned the majority of that time. I pulled out the shelves in my closet, swept the floor out, hand-mopped it with lysol, and then repeated the same steps in the rest of my bedroom. Except that when it came to hand-mopping my bedroom floor, I used Murphy’s soap, specially made for hardwood floors. It smells so sweet, so clean. I smiled. There’s something about cleaning and doing a good job at it that makes me smile. It’s the same thing that I suppose would cause your mother to smile. I leaned in the doorway watching the floor dry, listening to two of my best friends holler until finally I yawned. I said goodbye, and then crept across the last remaining wet spots, socks a little damp as I climbed into the bed.

Without anyone’s permission, I took myself on a date the other night. I viewed “The Help”, and I loved it. If you don’t sob a good two or three or six times from this movie, then fear not because I did it for you. Scene after scene of touching moments between disadvantaged Black maids and their hardened White employers. And then again, multiple touching moments when you see people who have so little taking such great pride in what they do have. Smoothing down maid collars, slicking back hair that’s always done at home and never in a beauty parlor– which is what I call all beauty shops, even though it is 2011–, and just making the most out of a life that to you or I seems so hopeless.

But I sobbed because it’s real. Those stories come out of somebody, out of the misery they endured. Those stories are changed to entertain us, but they are real testimonies for a person who probably died long ago. My Grandfather was born in 1912, just a year after the main character in that movie. So when she takes the bus and is kicked off for being Black, I’m watching him. I’m seeing his life when I watch Blacks file into separate entrances in the backs of buildings. And I know this, but I forgot it. And I want to apologize for forgetting. I would be happy to get him a tie. I would be happy to do it because by the grace of God, he can go to any party he wants to and nobody can tell him differently. So in a couple of weeks, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

I’m not quite sure what sparked the descent into the hole I mentioned in the previous post. But I do know that it was harder than I’ve been accustomed to when it came to climbing out. That doesn’t make the first breath you take at the top any less sweet. No. On the contrary, it makes you glad you’re still a fighter, still in a class with fewer people in it, it seems. There’s something about being resilient. Something about picking yourself up when you feel down. And not needing anybody else to do it for you, though you’d be silly not to want people around you who have sense enough to talk you through a problem. You climb out and you breathe, and isn’t it funny how almost immediately your eyes survey the land for something new to seize.




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