To Err Or Not To Err With Caution

As COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to spike at an all time high all over the world, the gulf and uneasiness between the vaccinated and non-vaccinated continues to widen at a breakneck speed. And with the Delta variant diagnoses climbing and other strains teeming on the horizon, sicknesses, deaths and mass hospitalizations are sobering as well as saddening. Sadly, cases among our school aged children continue to increase–with some resulting in death. School systems all over the state have the unfortunate task of deciding how to safely continue their curriculum. Our healthcare heroes are physically and mentally exhausted and hospitals are filled to the brink.

Despite all this, both sides of the argument appear to be dug-in and standing on their beliefs. Everyone’s right and no one’s wrong. The non-vaccinated feel their freedoms are being impinged upon and that the vaccine and mask wearing is a conspiracy created by the government to control its citizens. I’m all for the sacred rights and freedoms afforded to every citizen by our constitution, but it’s heartbreaking to see people you know succumb to COVID-19 because they chose not to get vaccinated. Even when they begin feeling ill, they stubbornly believe they’ll get over it and heal. Personally, I’m going to do any and everything in my power to ensure my safety and well-being.

Those of us vaccinated are optimistically concerned for everyone. Granted, there are cases where those fully vaccinated contract COVID-19, but those cases are few and far between. Even then, chances for survival are markedly greater. It is my fondest prayer that the entire world take this threat seriously and tackle this together. Let’s stay masked up, keep our hands clean, stay socially distanced…and pray. Please err on the side of caution, safety, and science.

Selective Hearing vs. Effective Listening

Just a thought; who among us, including myself, have been guilty of selective hearing instead of listening effectively? What I mean by that is taking the time to clearly hear the person speaking to you. There’s a reason we’re born with two eyes, two ears, and one mouth. It’s because we’re supposed to observe and listen twice as much as we speak. Plus, it’s common courtesy and a sign of respect to do so. When you commit to becoming a more effective listener, you become a better learner and a more effective communicator. Going forward, let’s all listen clearly and effectively instead of hearing only what we choose to hear. Listen to what is truly being said to you.

Be On The Lookout

During the height of Spring and Summer, vacation season is at its peak and there are more and more vehicles on the road. It’s even more imperative for cars, trucks, and buses to drive safely and look out for cyclists and motorcyclists. Every biker needs room to operate and have a safe ride.

There are measures to keep the highways and byways safe for everyone. Cellphone use should always be hands free and should never distract your eyes from the road. We bikers have to remain focused at all times. We have to know what’s in front of us, what’s behind us, how much cushion we have if we need to stop suddenly and an escape route just in case the vehicle behind us doesn’t. Remain sober, alert, and even enlist the aid of your passengers to look out for bikers as well. Stress the importance of safe driving practices to the younger and inexperienced drivers. Be extra cautious at all intersections by slowing down and remaining aware. Be cautious when opening the doors of your parked vehicle because it could potentially be a hazard to an oncoming biker.

Areas undergoing road construction can pose unforeseen danger to bikers as well. Try to keep the volume to your stereo or phone at a reasonable volume. You may not always be able to see a biker, but chances are you can hear them. Lastly, give more room than usual during inclement weather. Riding in bad weather is already challenging enough. Cyclists and Motorcyclists want to safely share the road and be seen. We’re unprotected–statistics for serious accidents are ever present and unfortunately on the rise, but when we safely share the road, everyone wins and everyone arrives at their destination safely.

Unconscionable – (FREE Chapter 2 Excerpt)

Moonlight pierced through the windows of the Grier family home; casting shadows on the photographs that lined the living room walls. Generations of special milestones and precious moments captured the attention of every single guest, sparking a miniature history lesson that would entertain visitors for hours.

Gracie’s grandfather served in the First World War, and her father followed in his father’s footsteps, proudly serving in the second one. From her parents’ union, eight children entered the world, who later started families on their own. Once a single mother of five herself, Gracie and her sisters captured every championship, dance, graduation, and spelling bee before her husband Billy swooped in and swept Gracie off her feet. Now twenty years later, their sepia-colored wedding photo mimicked one taken years ago, symbolizing their timeless love story.

None of those memories comforted Gracie, however. It seemed as if the walls were bare. No photos. No flowers. No decorations. Only the window facing the front yard could reveal the image she longed to see; her son, Johnny Lee, treading through the grass with his illuminating smile.

With every light that shined through the window, and every leaf that rustled in the wind, Gracie’s heart fluttered but only for a moment. Slumping into the leather armchair near her post at the window, her eyes screamed for rest, yet her mind resisted. Ruminating over the worst-case scenario, her child being in harm’s way, Gracie asked God to silence her mind to help her faith stand strong in the midnight hour. Somewhere amid those thoughts, she lost track of the time. The ticks from the swinging pendulum clock right above Johnny Lee’s baby picture echoed throughout the night but Gracie remained undisturbed. The slow movement of her chest served as the only indicator of life still inhabiting her worn body.

The blinding sunlight pried Gracie’s eyes open, waking her from an uncomfortable sleep. All night she dreamed of being in an unfamiliar place, searching high and low and far and wide for something she had lost. Though she could sense the importance of this lost treasure, she never knew exactly what it was. Dull pains crept in, slowly reminding her of where she rested the night before. Her eyes surveying the room, she realized she had not awakened from a nightmare; she was living in one instead. The house was too still, too quiet. Johnny Lee never came home. Even if he had crept in while she slept soundly, she would have felt a warm peck from him on her cheek.

“Could he be hurt? Could he be in trouble? Could he be dead?” Pushing those troublesome thoughts to the back of her mind, Gracie dashed for the phone desperately searching for even a glimmer of hope.

With practically the entire community searching frantically day and night for her beloved son Johnny Lee, Gracie still couldn’t shake her haunting feelings of dread. Deep down in her heart of hearts, she wanted more than anything to see her second eldest son dance through the front door belting out a Frankie Beverly song from the top of his lungs and flashing his thousand-watt smile. She dreamed of him pulling her petite frame into a big bear hug and planting a sweet kiss on her forehead–the same way he always did. Her soul, however, was telling her something completely different this time. Now, three whole days and nights have passed, and no one had seen or heard from him since. It was not like him to just up and disappear out of the blue without telling anyone where he was going. This was not in his character. The truth was, none of her kids were raised to behave that way.

As soon as her children were old enough to remember, they understood the importance of family, manners, and respect. Every night they shared the happenings of their day while filling their bodies with a nourishing southern meal prepared by Gracie’s hands. They sealed even the simple requests with “please” and “thank you” and honored their elders with “ma’am” and “sir”. More importantly, they respected one another. Gracie created a safe space in their home where no issue could go undiscussed and reminded them that they would always have each other even when the outside world rejected them.

Although Johnny Lee was relatively small in stature, he always prided himself as the big brother and protector of his sisters, brothers, and even cousins. He strutted with his chest slightly puffed out as he escorted his sisters to school every morning before going to work; and back home afterwards. He never met a stranger and easily became the center of attention–especially among the womenfolk. Gracie could rarely remember an instance when he wasn’t laughing, joking, or loving on people. Now, with his sudden disappearance and with no one in town having seen him anywhere and supposedly no knowledge of his whereabouts, worry rushed in like a crashing wave. Just the thought of her son meeting some terrible misfortune pulled her into a deep sea of despair.

Since the morning after Johnny Lee’s disappearance, visitors flooded in both day and night. Some neighbors and family members organized their own search teams, while others camped out at the Grier residence busying themselves in the kitchen or covering the family in prayers. Though grateful to see their eager faces, Gracie knew they could never replace Johnny Lee. Each day she forced a smile while silently screaming on the inside.

With another long and worrisome night approaching, her husband Billy finally convinced her to check the local and surrounding hospitals, as well as the county jail. His statuesque frame carried a bushy head of salt and peppered hair, a matching beard, and kind eyes. Known for his soothing disposition, Billy had the loyal yin to Gracie’s yang, and was the entire family’s rock for more than twenty years. Gracie, his beautiful wife and the mother of Johnny Lee and five of his siblings, was only a fraction of her husband’s size. Her angelic voice hardly ever rose above a loud whisper. Whatever the Griers lacked in affluence, their close-nit family compensated for it with an abundance of love. But, if someone ever bothered or harmed one of them or any of their friends, they’d have to reckon with all of them.

Equal amounts of anger and fear about Johnny Lee being missing shrouded and heightened the fear in the African American community. For the most part, racial relations had been good around the county within the last ten years or so, but Johnny Lee’s disappearance didn’t sit right with anyone. Because of the unfounded whispers and rumors of Johnny Lee’s secret courtship with Sheriff Stoner’s daughter Francine, some strongly believed it was possible he may have fallen victim to some seriously violent hate crime. Although racial relations around town had improved somewhat, interracial dating was a huge no-no. It was still considered taboo and extremely dangerous. In 1983, black recording artists like Michael Jackson and Prince were finally allowed to share their videos on the same platform as their white musical counterparts. Yet, folks all across the country, black and white, knew all too well the danger and potential violence interracial coupling then could bring.

Her heart feeling like it could leap out of her chest, Gracie dragged her finger across the dial pad, trembling as she pressed each number. Each ring pushed her to pray harder, so much so that she didn’t realize the rings had been replaced with an older woman’s voice. After a lengthy hold, the receptionist transferred Gracie to another department at the county hospital where she was placed on hold yet again. Upon bidding the hospital staff farewell, she repeated the same steps for hospitals in their neighboring counties before contacting the county jail. The call wait this time was much longer, and the staff less tolerable. Gracie slid the phone away from her ear at least twice but convinced herself to wait for her dear Johnny Lee’s sake. She released all of the air trapped in her lungs upon learning no one fitting Johnny Lee’s description occupied any of the hospital rooms or jail cells. However, terrible and morbid thoughts still filled her gut and weighed heavily on her spirit.

“What if he’s somewhere hurting and unable to call anyone for help? What if he’s being held against his will? You pray and hope to God you’re wrong, but you can feel it in your heart when something’s not right and that your child may have met with some serious danger.”

Gracie gently nestled the phone back into the receiver, her mind in a daze. Even Billy’s shadow towering over her failed to shake her trance. Only when she motioned to lift herself from the kitchen table did his presence startle her. Billy stood there silently. As the pounding in her chest quieted, she slowly nodded her head, answering the question in Billy’s eyes. Gracie buried her face into his husky chest and melted with each stroke of his firm hand, sobbing as he caressed her soft curls.

Lying in bed with Billy that night, tossing and turning with seemingly no possible chance of sleeping, Gracie turned to her adoring husband. She wrestled with the words attempting to take form. Each passing hour birthed more distressing thoughts, pouring down on her like a thunderstorm. She knew the rain would never let up until she saw her son’s face again, whether he was dead or alive.

Her dainty hands rested on Billy’s broad shoulders. “I guess I’m going to have Jeannie call the morgue tomorrow morning. I just pray to God that he won’t be there, but my soul is telling me a different story.” She gasped, her voice breaking. “This whole thing isn’t making any sense to me; something just isn’t right. I know my child–he would never just up and leave without telling us. You know how much he looked forward to going to work every morning with you for Mr. Simmons. Please Lord, please don’t let me be right–don’t let this nightmare be real!”

Wiping away his wife’s tears, Billy enclosed her tiny trembling hands into his huge palms. She drew closer to him, following the direction of his pull. His lips pressed gently on her forehead. “Baby, we just have to put our complete faith and trust in God. But before we even call the morgue, let’s file a missing person report with the sheriff’s department first.”

“Okay, let’s do that”, her soft voice quivered. “I just want my sweet son to come home. I desperately need to see that bright smile and feel another one of his warm hugs again.” She lifted her head, her voice deepening. “I’ve told him a thousand times to stop hanging around and being seen around town with those white folks, especially with that girl Francine. He’s just always been naive to a fault, thinking those white folks he sometimes hangs around are his friends.”

“Gracie….”

“I just never saw anything good come from him being around them. If we know about him dating that white girl, I’m sure other white folks know it as well. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a real sweet girl and all, but to me, the danger that comes from being with her isn’t worth risking your life for.”

Billy patted Gracie’s shoulders, rocking her like a newborn child. 

“Just close your eyes and try to get some rest now, baby. The morning light will be here before you know it. Hopefully, we’ll sort out everything and get some answers then. I refuse to believe anything bad has happened to our boy.” He lifted her chin. “You remember when we thought your cousin Sarah had disappeared that time and then called a month later saying she moved to Savannah? There’s a chance it could be something like that.”

“You think so?” Her glassy eyes searched his for answers.

“Yeah. I think I’m going to sit up for a spell and make a few more calls to see if anyone has seen or heard from him. Good night, sweetheart.”

She sighed. “I’d love to find out it’s only something like that. Good night, babe.” 

Billy positioned himself at the door and watched Gracie as she nestled into her favorite spot on the bed–the right side. He pulled the door closed, quietly wiping away tears of his own.

In my Mind

What goes up….must inevitably come crashing down! Imagine soaring high above the clouds armed with boundless energy and feeling invincible. Imagine sleep being an afterthought, your mind racing and taking risks, behaving erratically and believing you can do anything. Then, imagine falling hard and crashing into an abyss of darkness–a deep, dark hole with no hope of escaping. Sure, there’s a rope ladder in the hole to help you climb out, but what if you lack the energy to even grab the rope, much less climb up the rungs to escape? Even when you muster enough energy to climb a couple of rungs, you slip again and fall harder and deeper into darkness. Imagine every subsequent flight spiraling you deeper and deeper into that dark pit of loneliness and isolation where you feel and believe all hope is gone. A level of darkness where your energy has ebbed to the point of you desperately wishing you no longer existed.

This clearly defines the last three plus decades or so of my life. My deep and dark crashes have far outnumbered my euphoric and lofty flights of fancy. My moods continue to swing fitfully and rapidly on an emotional pendulum. It’s difficult to adequately characterize and describe the shifting moods and emotions. Blissfully happy one moment and profoundly sad the next. Even throughout the years of continued, intense psychotherapy and prescribed medication, it’s sometimes a struggle to even get out of bed. Not to mention the constant paranoia of thinking everyone knows your condition, and the incredible amount of energy it takes to conceal it by wearing an “all is well, I’m happy” mask. It’s a nightly struggle to fall and stay asleep. At times, it’s difficult to focus and hold onto a single thought before a blur of other ones race through, flooding my mind. Thoughts sometimes become more difficult to sort and process.

My story is about waking up every morning, fighting for my life, and reconfirming my worth and purpose while remaining authentic and true to myself. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Living with Mental Illness is a continuous struggle for millions of people daily. It’s taken this long for me to rise above the negative stigma that comes along with it. I find that honestly checking in and staying present with myself works well for me. If you feel you’re in need of help, please don’t hesitate to get some. Be kind to everyone, because you never know someone’s struggle. Every story might help another’s journey.

Spring Anew

Having survived and thawed out from the bone chilling temperatures of Winter, we eagerly welcome the newness of Spring. Just feeling the warmer weather, grass turning green, and seeing the beauty of the blooming trees and flowers should be more than enough to lift our moods. This season comes in bringing new beginnings, a rebirth of optimism and hope, as well as the boundless opportunities just waiting to present themselves to us. Hopefully, we’ll have enough courage and the wherewithal to pursue them.

Even during this pandemic, there are ways to seek personal growth by stepping outside of our comfort zones and trying new things. With more free time on our hands and mostly homebound for work and school there are many other creative ways to safely get out and try some of the things you’ve always wanted to do. Act out of the ordinary, prepare a meal from that recipe you’ve been wanting to try, try your hand at gardening, or maybe taking that online class you’ve been looking at. The possibilities are endless.

Spring is also the time to strengthen the bonds with your family and friends. It costs nothing to reach out with a quick phone call, text or email. Communication plays an important part in keeping everyone connected and everyone spirits up. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. Pursue all of your goals with faith, purpose, and of course, safety. Do something new and try it with a positive attitude and a renewed outlook for living your life. To quote someone I know and respect a great deal, “Choose to live and just don’t merely exist.”

Is It Just Me?

It seems like no matter wherever I’ve been during the past three months or so, I see more people not wearing masks opposed to wearing one. Even in establishments with a policy requiring masks to be worn, there are huge amounts of people choosing not to comply. The brazen non compliance I witness daily baffles me to no end.

Is it just me or are there a whole lot of people walking around playing Russian roulette with their lives? It’s as if they believe COVID-19 doesn’t exist. This comes even after more than half a million lives have been lost to this virus and many more becoming infected daily. Being someone who tested positive and diagnosed with a mild case of Corona, I know firsthand how serious it is and how bad it makes you feel–the fever, nausea, lack of appetite, energy, and not being able to taste and smell anything for fourteen days. Fortunately, my case wasn’t extreme enough to warrant hospitalization. Knowing what I’ve experienced, it saddens me to see so many people taking this threat so lightly.

COVID-19 is real. Please take it seriously by using PPE, social distancing, and complying to the directives posted by public establishments. Continually wash your hands and sanitize your home. Let’s spread the word because I know it isn’t just me who feels this way. Please stay safe!

Love You Some You

Although February 14th is a day set aside for lovers, there should be no greater love than the love we have for ourselves. We do so when true honor, trust, and respect accompanies that love. When we love ourselves completely, we’re totally content with who we are and proud of the skin we’re in. There’s no judging, denying, or lying. We’re honest, accountable, and responsible for ourselves and our actions. When we come up short or stumble along life’s way, understand that it’s okay because we’ll always be a work in progress. There are no permanent losses in life–only wins and lessons. It’s the lessons that leave us even tougher and stronger than we were before.

Loving ourselves means being proud of who stares back at you in the mirror. Proudly owning and embracing all of our scars and imperfections. If there’s an emotion that needs purging, or if there’s anything about us we’d like to change, we should love ourselves enough and never hesitate to seek improvement. Although February 14th may be set aside to honor our Valentine, every moment of every day is time to love on who should matter the most in your life-–yourself! Because if you can’t fully love yourself some you, it will be impossible to truly love others.

As If

My greatest take away from the past year is that life truly is lived moment by moment. The year 2020 forced me to take a thorough look inside and genuinely try to get to know all of me. I discovered it’s okay to experience and work through my feelings and emotions. To hold on to what serves me and release what no longer does. I’ve discovered we have the power to transform lessons into blessings. I’m keenly aware that life isn’t lived on a straight line from birth to death–it comes with all kinds of obstacles, loops, peaks, valleys, turns, and sharp angles. I’ve also discovered that faith, focus, gratitude, expectations, positive thoughts, and intention are the tools I use to negotiate my way through.

It’s important that we always guard our thoughts. Immerse yourselves in positive energy and practice giving it away to others. Like causes will always produce like effects. We must always call on the amazing power within us by thinking and living positively. We create what we think about when we choose to act as if it’s reality while removing all negativity and doubt. Live to the positive imagery you create in your mind. We do so while being acutely aware of the power surging within all of us.

Our faith, gratitude, and expectations lay the foundation for our lives to be built upon. See who you want to be and dispel all negativity. We grow when we acknowledge and understand there’s always room to do so. No matter what you’re going through, sow positive seeds of growth. When we live every moment of our lives as if, we control our narrative and destiny.

A Year Like No Other

As this topsy-turvy year races to its close, I think we all can look back and reflect on a time most of us have never seen or experienced. It’s been a time of swirling emotions–a year that’s unloaded a lion’s share of losses, illnesses, healings, and recovery. It’s an existence most of us didn’t foresee, and life just hasn’t been the same.

Our losses of income, shelter, and access to healthcare are on the rise, and living and interacting with each other through masks and at safe distances have become the necessary norm. Jobs are hard to come by, and food banks and shelters are overflowing past levels never seen before. Nowadays, most instances of non-emergency medical care are conducted via phone and online through tele appointments. It’s as if the world’s become drastically slower.

But despite the gloom of all the challenges we face, there are always positives to take away from all of the lessons this year has forced us to learn. It’s brought our families closer, and made us more stronger and resilient. We’ve surely learned that we don’t need a lot to function and be happy. Although our faith has been tested to its limits, we’ve done our best to withstand and bury all of our lingering worries, doubts, and fears. We will overcome and get through this. It’s been a year like no other, but we’re a people like no other belonging to a God like no other!