What it requires is the essence of existence. I mean, what it means to be. In the moment. In the present. A pendulum in its stillest, most vertical position. In order to do that, you have drop everything even your bones and muscles and organs. And just be. That’s some hard ass work.
On a cold January morning, I remember waking up, opening my eyes, and breathing a warm smile. In the peace of that moment, I realized that I had not awakened on my own. I had help. The divine essence of life pushed my eyes open and allowed me to be conscious of my being. The protection of my home and the love of my family made it worthwhile. My sense of destiny and purpose kept me from rolling over and going back to sleep, and instead sat me up and prepared me to stand. As I sat on the edge of the bed, I also realized that the day will come when I will need even more help than that
At the time, Mom was still working; still being Ms. Dee at 89-years-old. She knew that the Divine awakened her, but she also believed that she was doing everything else on her own; that it was she alone who got her on the set, on the stage, at the event. In reality, we got her there. All she had to do was get in and out of the car and be Ruby Dee in between. We kept close watch on her sense of freedom and independence, and when she would curtly remind us that she didn’t need any help; that she had been doing “this” all her life; that she could do it, go alone, and be OK, we sucked back our concerns and left them in her echo: “Don’t you know me? Don’t you know who I am? Sometimes, later on she would hear us. She would thank us for taking care of business, and she even talked about getting the help that she agreed she needed.
The transfer of care-giver to care-receiver and care-receiver to care-giver requires a sensitive compass. One that belongs to both, and one that is guided by the steadier hand. I know I will need more help than I now need or want, but I feel blessed that I have three children who have already contributed to the care of their great grandmother, four grandparents, and two parents. I still have an independent compass, but I have begun to navigate this part of my journey with grace. I am relieved to gradually relinquish control, agree, and trust blindly the love of my children and their direction.
I awakened today. And I am divinely grateful to all the folks who helped.
It’s a continuous pendulum ride. And it takes some work to hang on.
JUST HOW IT FELL
Mom had visitors on Sundays. Her friends. Our friends. Food, music photos. Lots of slapping five while talking about history and current status of designing the infrastructure for the Struggle.
The visitors came when they could, and the folks who showed up on those days were perfect combinations of a life span of extended family, neighbors, friends, actors, musicians, activists, writers, and sometimes just us.
This particular Sunday, Susan Taylor, Kephra Burns, Ambassador Shabazz, Pamela Poitier, Sherri Poitier, and Gina Belafonte came to visit. That’s just how it fell. We sang Oh, Ruby, Ruby to her a la Smokey Robinson.
We talked, ate, laughed, and cried. Each of us took private moments with her. All of us surrounded her. Held her hands. Rubbed her arms and kissed her. While we were visiting, Mom said quite clearly and completely out of the blue: We who know enough about the past, know enough to hope. it was the last crumb she dropped.
Mom and I were eating at the kitchen table, and I told her that she looked good. She laughed and quoted a birthday card that I had given her a few years back, “It’s nice to see you doing so well at your age…You know, breathing and everything,” and we both fell out laughing. Then she said: You know you’re getting old when ordinary things seem like miracles. And we fell out again. Mom kept making funny remarks about aging until we dropped our forks and lost our breath.
You know how 30 is the new 40 is the new 50? How Thursday is the new Friday, and gray is the new black (Not orange, but that’s another story)? Well sitting is the new running.
I challenge myself to exercise everyday. I have done 65 Bikram yoga classes in 65 days. I’ve alternated swimming, walking, running, Gyrotonic, and yoga for 30 days straight. During a more recent 30 days, I did whatever I deemed to be exercise, and couldn’t make the 30 days. I feel that my body is begining to take longer to recover. Now I plan to exercise 7 days a week, but I’m satisfied with 6. I know that at least by day 15, I will have to take a break.
I also know that there will come a day when exercising everyday; when swimming a mile or doing yoga in a hot room for an hour and a half will be too much to expect of myself. Putting one foot in front of the other will be the best I can do. Sitting down will be my new workout.
Fathers are for their children
Mountains to look upon
Worthy of a special journey
Embraced by meadows at their feet
Children climb these mountains
And cross the terrain
No matter their ages
Children reach for their father’s
Hands and arms
And the warmth of their chests
As their fathers rock them
Dance with them
And show them the way
No matter how close they are
No matter how strong or not
Fathers are for their children
A pulse in their lives
Momentum for movement
A reason for being
Children who climb mountains
I’ve seen my mother in dozens of performances. And although I connected with the characters she played, I always looked for a layer of my mom; not Ruth or any of the other names she would slip on, but Mom. No matter how closely she wore her characters as an actor, I usually found just a hint of her in her hair, her voice, or the expression on her face. I knew that the woman on stage, on screen, or on television had not been consumed, and that I’d have her back at the end of the day.
It was when she played the roles of William Shakespeare and the Greek Theatre that I could not find her. No matter how much I tried, I found instead Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, Cordelia in King Lear, Gertrude in Hamlet, Cassandra in Orestei, and Iris in The Birds. My mother had disappeared, and someone else emerged to tell the story that thrust my imagination like good theatre and good actors always do.
During every performance of The Taming of the Shrew, I secretly wished that she would not be tamed. That she would defy her suitor and live single and triumphant. When she flew onto the stage in The Birds, I was less her daughter and more her fan as my little girl mind believed that she was really flying. After the performances, I would rush backstage to find her. She would still have on her costume and exaggerated makeup that looked so natural from the stage—red lips outlined in black, penciled brows, lots of eye shadow, and thick black eyelashes. Her gowns flew behind her as she reached for me. I would touch the thick brocade and hug the heavy velvet or delicate lace as if I were playing in her closet, and she was Mom again. She’d hug me and leave a lipstick smile on my cheek.
Visitors would interrupt our conversation with compliments and roses. She’d introduce me as her baby who was already taller than she. I’d carry her pocketbook, her glasses, and the bouquet of flowers and walk out of the stage door in front of her like a guiding light. She spoke with people and signed Playbills all the way to the car where Daddy waited to take us home. I didn’t know then that she was the first black woman to perform in the American Shakespeare Theatre.
My mother gave many memorable performances, and I continue to be mesmerized by her talent, skill, and craft as an actor. Each of her performances evokes a personal memory of Ruby Dee—the mother, the actor—but her Shakespeare and Greek Theatre performances have a special place in my heart. –Hasna.
Photo from THE BIRDS, Ypsilanti Greek Theatre, 1966.
Crumb #102: I can be me. You can be you: I know now that rejection is the greatest lesson that I will have to learn. Part of rejection is accepting who I am and the decisions I’ve made including the corners that I didn’t turn. Part of rejection is the lack of response to stimulus of outreach. When you reach out you run the risk of being ignored or turned upon. Neither of which allows my confidence and satisfaction with myself to settle in. So I have a choice. I can reach out and be rejected and feel badly about it. I can reach out and be rejected and not care or otherwise be okay with it, or I can keep to myself and not reach out at all. I need to figure out which approach to take. Feeling badly about rejection doesn’t help. Not reaching out when I want to hurts. So I’m left with reaching out because it’s what I want to do and accepting the silence from the other side as what others want to do. I guess that’s it. I can be me and you can be you.
I’ve been to three funerals just this month. A friend. A mother of a friend. And the husband of a friend. Each close enough to my heart to cause me to drop tears and suffer the passing. Inevitably, I found out from their obituaries something that I did not know about them. Something unique and marvelous. Things I wished I had known about their lives, their families, or their work.
If I had known, I would have asked questions and paid close attention to the answers. I would have thanked them for being who they were and doing what they did for themselves, for me, for their families, or even for the world.
It’s too late for those three and the many others before them whose final days revealed something new to me. So I say to the people whose lives are intertwined with mine, tell me now. Tell me now that you took gourmet cooking classes. That you wrote 76 songs. That you were married before and had a lung removed. Tell me now. I don’t want to find out at your funeral that you knew five languages or drove across the country with a stranger and a three-legged dog. I don’t want to be surprised by what you did. What I didn’t know. Tell me now so that when I read it in your obituary, I can say, “Oh yes. I knew that. I knew it all.”
I don’t want another friend to die without me knowing all about them. I don’t want another eulogy to reveal anything new to me. So I say to my friends and loved ones, with the time we have, let’s stop and tarry awhile. Let’s share stories and create memories. I will tell you about the way my spaces and breaths and footsteps shape the world around me then take a sip of tea. Then you, with cup in hand, will tell me the same. Now.