I AM Whole

Ten days after my 16th birthday, I found myself standing in the midst of hell. It had a physical location. It was at the foot of my mother’s hospital bed.

At the end of my mother’s three year fight with breast cancer, I heard a sound that made my arrival in hell undeniable. It was the sound of my mother’s last breath.

I took inventory of the faces in the room. All had my mother’s nose, cheeks and lips and all were soaked in sorrow. They heard it too. This was the second time they stood at the bed of a sister as she was snatched from them by cancer.

I was a balloon released from its tether. I was a tiny particle floating aimlessly in the universe. Standing in that little room, surrounded by my family, I was now an orphan.

My Grandma Lila said, “Ain’t too many people can say they were there when their child took their first breath and there when they took their last.” What an honor and a horror in the same statement. A blessing and a curse.

I wanted to hug my grandma but the thought of touching another human being was unbearable. If I hugged her and she hugged me, then I had to feel. I would have to get in my grief and wear it like a heavy fur coat. I would have to walk around in the heat and weight of it. If I did that it would make my heart explode.

I was in so much pain, my bones were aching. My skin was aching. My hair was aching.

Mommy’s brother Tom walked to her bedside. He leaned over and began tending to her. He called for a wet washcloth and someone passed it to him. He started moistening her face in hopes she would look as normal as possible at the funeral. His remaining living sisters were surrounding him and offering direction on what to do next. They fussed with her hair a bit. They discussed what she should wear and how she should be made up.

Even as a child, I knew what they were doing. Each movement was so deliberate. Every touch given with such care. They were not preparing her body for the funeral. They were honoring her. They were loving on her one last time.

When the room got quiet, it was my turn. She had been my safe place. She had been my shelter. She had been my heart. A little girl’s heart in a woman’s body, shattered in the speed of an exhale. In pieces, I sat on the bed next to her.

I needed to mark this moment. It had to hold weight. I did the only thing my 16 year old mind could think to do. I held her cold hand in my warm hand and I sang to her.

Over tears I started, “Lord, pass me not, oh gentle Savior. Hear my humble cry. Lord, while on other’s Thou art calling, do not pass me by.” My voice was a whisper and sometimes did not leave my throat at all, but I kept singing, “Savior! My blessed Savior, please Sir, hear my humble cry. Lord, while on others Thou art calling do not pass me by.”

She sang that song with her sisters. Now, I sang it to her. I sang it for her. I sang it for me.

I’m not sure how long I sat and sang. In a way, I have been singing that song every moment for the last 21 years. All this time carrying a broken heart that sings a song pleading for mercy. All this time wandering in the wilderness, knowing God is with me but still looking for a resting place.

A few weeks ago, I was driving into work like I do every weekday morning. Right in front of me, my mother appeared. She was not flesh but she was visible. I knew she was purposely showing her spirit to me.

She smiled at me then lowered her head to draw my eyes down to her chest. In a sweeping motion as if she was opening the front of a shirt, she showed her chest to me. There were no scars from the surgeries. There were no burns from radiation. Her body was totally restored.

As easily as she had shown her spirit to me, the answer to what it meant was clear. “I am happy. I am smiling. I am whole.” Even in death, she is still teaching me about life. Teaching me no matter what I must overcome, in the end, “I am happy. I am smiling. I am whole.”

I Must Flow

A cloud, heavy laden with potential, opens itself and pours out its gift of rain upon the earth. It nurtures and saturates until the earth can no longer contain it. This union gives birth to River.

She is beautiful. She is powerful. There is purpose that drives her. It is all she can hear from within. “I must flow. I must flow. I must flow.”

As the sun rises over her head in the East, she moves on knowing, “I must flow.” As the sun sets in the West, she moves on knowing, “I must flow.” Even in the winter when her surface covers with ice, underneath she churns and knows, “I must flow.”

Brother Tree speaks as she passes by. “Beautiful River, come close to me for awhile so I may drink of you.” She leans in towards him and satisfies his thirst but whispers, “I have given you all you need to live, but I cannot stay. I must flow.”

As she goes, Sister Heron flies overhead. “Lovely River, may I fish within your waters? You are so full of life.”

“Of course, my Sister, you may fish. I have plenty. Take your fill, but I have no time to stop and talk. I must flow.”

She comes upon a boulder planted firmly in her path. She calls to him, “Brother Rock, please move so I may pass.” He is huge, stoic and refuses to give way.

“Oh lovely River, I must stand. I have always stood alone but now you are here with me. Stay here with me, in this place forever. Your beauty brings me joy.”

“Brother Rock, beg pardon but you are in my way. I live to flow. I flow to live. I must flow.”

“I love you, River but I will not move. You must stay and stand still with me. There is no way around me.”

“How can you claim to love me but not let me flow? Possession and love are not the same. If you love me, let me go.”

Her power is building within her. Her waters begin to rise. Even as she sits in this place for a time, she is getting stronger.

She is now more powerful than ever. She knows it is time. Her waters have risen high enough that she can flow over him.

As she leaves without looking back, she speaks to him one last time. “Brother Rock, you were able to keep me for awhile. You made it so I could not go, but watch now as I rise above you. This was never about you. This is what I was born to do. It is not personal. It is my purpose. I must flow.”

An Eagle Among Chickens

On the strongest bough of a massive Oak tree, Golden Eagle sits alone in her nest. The sun beams down upon her chocolate plumage but she does not feel its warmth.

Her mate is dead but there is no time to grieve. His killer also managed to pierce her side with a bullet as she tried to offer help. He is lost to her but she is soon to join him.

She does not check her wounds. She feels the life slipping from her body, but there is something more pressing on her mind. Cradled in the bottom of her nest is a single cream color speckled egg. She must act fast to save the little life inside.

“What can I do? You will die out here alone. I will find another bird to raise you. Maybe they can give you a chance at having a life?”

With the best intentions, she takes the egg into her talons and soars down into the valley nearest her nest. The pain in her side is almost unbearable but she remains clear and focused on saving the life of her only child. Her eyes hungrily scour the land below looking for a bird, any bird and any hope.

She spots a farm and presses her weakening body to get there. There in the yard, she spots a brood of chickens scratching the ground for their meal. She lands a bit away from them as not to startle them. The pain is blinding as she lands but she composes herself and calls out to them. “Sisters! Sisters! Please! I need your help!”

The fat bundles of brown and white scarcely look in her direction. They pop their heads up, put them back down and scratch the ground as if an eagle in their midst is an everyday occurrence.

The Golden Eagle rolls the egg out in front of her and tries again. “Sisters! Please! My child will die without your help.”

A scrawny tough old bird makes her way from the back of the crowd. It is clear by the way the others part, she is the leader of this group. Her comb and wattle are a faded red and bear scars to imply she has seen a fight or two in her day. Her feathers are white, but thinning a bit.

She struts, painfully slow, unsure of the stranger and suspicious. She does not trust birds that fly. It could be some kind of trap.
She stops just short of where the eagle stands. Even from this distance, Mother Chicken knows Golden Eagle is wounded. She looks from the eagle to the egg and back again.

“You need my help?” she snarls. “Your kind doesn’t often visit unless it is to snatch one of our chicks from its clutch for a quick snack!”

“Begging your pardon, Mother,” says Golden Eagle lowering her head as an offering of humility. The lives of chickens and eagles cannot be debated now. There is no time. She continues, “I come today in peace. It is urgent that I speak with you.”

“So speak.”

“This is my egg,” she motions with her outstretched wing to the oval object between them both. She knows her tone sounds frantic, like she has gone mad but between the pain and the urgency the situation demands, she can do nothing about it now.

“My mate has been murdered and I will soon join him. My egg will be left alone to die. Can you find mercy in your heart to mind my egg and raise the child within as your own? You are our last hope.”

“Ha ha ha! A chicken raising an eagle? I have never heard something so ridiculous.” She turns to the chickens behind her and following her lead, they share a good laugh.

“Please! I know it has never been done. It does indeed seem laughable but if you don’t help us, the tiny little chick inside will emerge from its egg alone and slowly starve to death.

“I cannot bear the thought of little helpless cries of hunger going unanswered until they are no more. I must know that will not be the fate of this chick. Grant me this peace before I die. Please! I beg you, have mercy!”

“Tssst! My kindness has always been my downfall,” she speaks over her shoulder to the brood. “Okay. I will raise this chick as my own. I will raise it as we raise all of our chicks, to be dependable and dutiful.

“It will be a chicken, not an eagle amongst chickens. It will not hunt. It will not fly. It will never know of you. I am its mother now and it is a chicken.”

“So be it!” Golden Eagle exhales loudly as her fear of the worst has been put to rest. “Please be kind to the chick and help it to live so the death of my mate and the taking of my life will not have some good come of it.”

She bows deeply before Mother Chicken and her most precious speckled egg. Raising herself on the last of her strength, she soars into the air. She spirals one time over the top of the brood and trumpets her call in hopes of imprinting her spirit upon the little egg. “My life is done.” She flies off to die alone, content in knowing her child will have a chance.

Mother Chicken and the rest of the brood surround the egg.

“I don’t know why you would agree to raising that thing,” says one Chicken.

“I have a heart for creatures less fortunate them myself,” answers Mother Chicken. “Besides, at least we know this one will be raised the right way. No hunting, no flying, and none of that screeching those birds do!”

As Mother Chicken rolls the egg into the coupe, she hears, “At least there will be one less blood thirsty chick stealer in the world! Actually, I guess today there are three less!” She smiles as laughter erupts. She feels she is doing a good and noble thing. The most honorable task of turning an eagle into a chicken.

The baby Golden Eagle survives. She names herself “Goldie” because that is the name she hears whispered within her heart. No one has taken the time to give her a name. In fact, they don’t speak to her directly at all. They refer to her as “it” when they speak about her.

“It is defective by nature and cannot scratch for food as our chicks do. That is part of the inferiority of the breed. I must bring it worms until it can walk. I have half a mind to put it in the woods and let it fend for itself,” Mother Chicken often complains.

As Goldie grows, her days are filled with harsh and hissing tones. The glares she receives are cold. The worms leave her hungry and the seeds they uncover hurt her stomach. When she becomes ill, Mother Chicken calls her ungrateful for wasting good food.

She knows how different she looks than everyone else. She tucks her wings in tight and draws her body down into its smallest form. She does not speak. She tries not to make eye contact with anyone. She hides herself in the coop whenever possible.

There alone in the darkness of the coop, she wonders if this is all life will ever be. She has never known any other way but something within her whispers, “there has to be more. There has to be more.”

When she is out in the yard scratching near the brood, she tries to be a good chicken. They treat her like an outsider not letting her be within the brood. Each time she takes one step closer to them, they rush to move away. She thinks of it as a game. She makes quick movements to see them work themselves into a frenzied state.

This morning is no different. The brood isolates her. Her mother glares at her with disapproval. It is just like every other day she has ever known, until she notices a shadow sweeping over the ground.

She lifts her head towards the sun in hopes of finding what is causing this shadow. What could it be? What bird has such massive wings? What bird soars on the air this way?

Lifting her head is not enough to find answers, so she stretches her neck as well. Then she stands up to her full height. What is this beautiful bird up above her?

The brown and golden feathers? The large wings and curled talons? The strange call that could never been mistaken for a cluck?

All the things that make her “defective” and strange are the very things that make the bird above her beautiful. “Could it be? Am I just like that bird?” She glances to her mother who is busily making her way over.

“What are you looking at?” she hisses.

“Mother, what is that bird soaring high above our heads.”

“It is a savage murderous eagle. I suggest you do not concern yourself with things that are above you. Good chickens keep their heads down in hopes of finding food.”

“But it looks just like me. I think I belong up there with them, not down here with you.”

“You ungrateful little freak! If I had not been merciful enough to take you in when your mother abandoned your egg here, you would not even be alive!”

“What? My mother? Left me here? Where is she now?”

“Dead, as is her mate. Eagles are hunted because they are savage and evil. At least she had the good sense to leave you with us – ethical, noble and dependable chickens.”

Goldie stretches her wings out to their full length and lets out a cry that startles the entire brood into silence. “I no longer have need of what you call kindness,” she screams. With that, she soars into the sky never to be seen again.

The moral of the story is an eagle can never play the role of a chicken no matter how hard it tries to fit it. Being surrounded by those who only look down at the ground and cannot fly, will never suit someone born to soar.

What’s in a Name?

Mr. Saplio, my fourth grade teacher, bore an incredible resemblance to Ricky Ricardo from I Love Lucy. Perched atop a stool front and center of the room, I thought even the cardigan sweater he was wearing looked like something Ricky would wear it. In his very tan hands, he held a black spiral attendance book.

Dressed in my “first day of school” best outfit, I sat in the second row near the coat closet. I was crispy clean and alert. We all were. My heart was racing. Would this be the year? Would he be able to pronounce my name? Would I get to acknowledged properly and called present?

Seems silly, huh? That I would be excited to have my name called seems almost laughable on face value. It’s not a game show after all. It’s class. It’s fourth grade. But for me it was an acknowledgement that I was there, that I was present, and that it mattered.

He got to the Rs. I can’t quite remember the names he called before mine, perhaps Carmelo Rivera or Stephanie Robinson. His nose crinkled and he pulled the book close to his face as if he could not read his own writing. I knew this look. I had seen it five years in a row. CRAP! I wanted to scream. He could not figure out how to say my name.

I opened my mouth and then closed it. I rolled my eyes in what must have been a few seconds but for me seemed to be forever. Finally, he did the shoulder shrug that gave him the permission to publicly murder my name. I can still see the sunshine streaming in through the wall of windows and beaming onto his face as he parted his lips and said, “Daaahhhhhh… Deeeeeeee… Naaaaaaaah…” There were giggles in the room.

“DENITRA! Dah – Knee – Tra,” I sounded out to him trying to mellow the attitude I could feel in my voice. He pondered what he was just told, nodded as if he could see it now, and moved on to the next child’s name. No apology at all. He just moved right along. They always did. And so it was yet another humiliating beginning to the school year.

When my mom arrived home that night, she immediately started making dinner. I was in my room upstairs planning to confront her. This year I would have answers about this name she had given to me. I would know why she marked me this way.

“Tricia?” I heard from down below. I was Denitra in school but to my family I was (and in some cases still am) Tricia. In fact, many family members did not know my real first name until well into adulthood. I’m laughing to myself because even Tricia is pronounced different then it is spelled. It is my middle name shortened and is pronounced, “Tree Sah.”

Being summoned by my mother, I stomp eight year old me down the stairs to see her. As I stood at the kitchen threshold she looked up from the stove and said, “Hi. How was your day?” Looking back now, I remember she greeted me with a smile. She was happy to see me. At the time, it was if she were laughing at me like the kids in class.

“He could not EVEN pronounce my name!” The expression on her face changed instantly. She had heard the anger in my voice, the accusatory tone. She lifted an eyebrow and slightly dipped her head to the side. She heard it, but she did not understand the meaning of the tone.

“I want you to change my name.” It must have sounded so foreign to her. We were not the kind of family where children make verbal demands of their parents. Any other request would have warranted a reintroduction to the big brown leather belt my dad use to wear.

Instead she turned back to the pots and pans steaming and popping on the stovetop with a small smile on her face. She ended the movement in a clear shake of the head to say no. Changing my name was not even up for consideration.

“It’s an ugly name!”

“It’s a beautiful name.”

“It’s not normal!”

A shoulder shrug followed by, “It is special.”

“It’s weird and ugly and strange and you think I am weird and ugly and strange or you would have named me something regular.”

“I love your name. Denitra Letrice. It is beautiful. I knew the moment I saw you, it is your name. It is special because you are special.”

“You gave my sister a normal name,” I accused. With that, I spun on my heels and began my frustrated stomp back up to my room.

From behind me I heard her call out, “You ARE special just like your name. It is beautiful and one day you will love it. When you grow up and grow into it, you will understand why you could never have a ‘normal’ name.”

Mommy, if you can hear me, I get it now. Thank you.