My grandson, Lucas, celebrated his twelfth birthday yesterday. I wish we could have spent some time together today, but I guess that will have to wait until the weekend. The temperature hasn’t been above freezing for the last two days and icy rain falls just enough to keep the roads dicey, especially at night. I’m not afraid of getting out. I learned to drive in Colorado and in blizzard conditions over the years. Commonsense seems to get me where I need to go. The truth is I’m terrified by the other drivers. North Texas has its share of boneheads even on dry and sunny days. Throw in a little ice and mayhem ensues…
Lucas looks exactly like his father. Jeremy couldn’t have denied paternity if he wanted to. I have a picture of Lucas in a tree in their front yard when he was five or six years old. You could photoshop Jeremy’s head on Lucas’ body and I’m not sure anyone would know the difference. His genes were awfully strong.
My oldest granddaughter, Baillie, takes after her father as well. Jeremy was living in Colorado when he found out about Baillie. He said her mom needed him to take a DNA test but when he showed me her baby picture, I told him he might as well save some money. There is no doubt who her father was.
I spent yesterday looking at pictures of Lucas (and you too, Izabella and Baillie) from the last twelve years. My grandkids have grown so much. Baillie is a young adult now. Iza became a teenager this year. Lucas will be next year. I keep asking myself where my grandbabies went.
All of this reminds me to slow down, treasure the moments with kids, grandkids, and family. That sounds a bit “Hallmarky” and cliché, but it becomes paramount as life takes another journey around the sun – and those trips are getting shorter!
I’m not qualified to give advice. I have no letters behind my name or graduate degrees that render me an “expert”, but I can share my experience. Take a little extra time with your loved ones, especially those babies – whether they’re six months or sixty years old. Sit back and listen and watch. Hug them a little longer. Keep them close. Do it today! Be as leisurely as possible on those trips around the sun…
Margaret and I went to our grandson’s birthday party last year (he turned the big 1 year old!). After the excitement of cake and opening gifts he went down for a nap and left his father, big sister, my brother-in-law, and his wife to watch television with Margaret and me. I’m not much of a TV kind of guy so
I wasn’t particularly paying attention to much attention to the television – that is, until a commercial came on for Black History Month. That’s when I heard my brother-in-law ask out loud, “Why don’t they have a White History Month?”
My stepson chimed in, “Yep, my daughter and I have had several discussions about that. They don’t honor us with a month. What’s up with that?”
“Why do they have a special month for Black people?” my granddaughter asked. About the same time, I heard my sister-in-law mutter something about tearing down all our Confederate monuments. I was steaming mad and extremely hurt.
I love and appreciate my in-laws (most of them anyway, but I digress…). Where our children are concerned, both Margaret and I decided when we married that we didn’t have “step” kids, just “our” kids. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised by my brother-laws response nor by his wife’s opinion. But… when it comes to the kids that’s a different story. I can accept political differences – they’re extremely conservative and I’m not – but to remain silent in the face of blatant racism is, as Dr. King aptly said, is complicity and acceptance. I cannot be quiet.
I stepped outside, taking a moment to breathe, and be as loving as possible with my response. They were, after all, family. I wanted them to hear why it is important to have a month dedicated to Black History and to see people of color through a lens unclouded by white supremacy and stereotypes. By the time I had calmed down enough to speak with some degree of respect, my in-laws were leaving. My stepson came out on the porch to see them off and remained there with Margaret and me. I spoke up.
“You know the reason we have Black History Month and not a White History Month is because every day is white history day. White people wrote the history. They were able to include or omit anything they wanted to. They only tell of the history they want to tell, and everything is subject to a White view of the world.”
“But…” he started.
I cut him off. “Let me finish. Take Juneteenth for instance. I never learned about it in school. It wasn’t until I was an adult and heard somebody say ‘there was going to be trouble in Como (an old African-American neighborhood here in Fort Worth) since it’s Juneteenth. They trash it every year.’ All I could say is what’s Juneteenth?” I’d never heard of it.”
“Pick your word – the master, the victor, the oppressor – writes the history. It’s no wonder everything else gets left out. That’s really sad. The more I learn of Black history, the more I feel robbed in my youth of a vibrant story, particularly right here in Texas.”
“Over the years, and particularly the last three and a half years with Ms. Opal, I’ve learned how much Black men and women contributed to the community and the world I live in. We need to take more than just a month to recognize those things”. I won’t bore you with the details of the rest of our conversation and honestly, I don’t know if it made any difference with him, but I hope it did – especially because it influences my granddaughter’s attitudes and behavior in matters of race.
One of my favorite quotes is from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
The important thing is for those of us who want to see a more just, equitable world is to speak up. Some folks are never openminded and a conversation may never be possible, but you never know unless you speak up. Maybe, just maybe a seed will be planted; a way to see old thinking as it is – white supremacy. If that brings about an open mind and more discussion (not argument) on issues of racial justice, then I’m thrilled to have been the “Sower of seed…”. As Ms. Opal always reminds me, “If a person can be taught to love, then they can be taught to hate”.
Look for and celebrate the contributions of African-Americans in your own community and share those with others. For instance, here in Fort Worth there are many organizations, libraries, and monuments that are frequently overlooked or unknown by the White populace. Try taking a walk around Evans Plaza, where each block of pavement has a story of Black history in Texas and in Fort Worth. There’s the Lenora Rolla Heritage Center Museum in the historic Boone House (1020 East Humboldt Street – open by appointment) run by the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society. The Transform 1012 organization is working to transform what is thought to be the last standing building actually built by and for the KKK – later known as the Ellis Pecan building on North Main – into a multicultural meeting place and performance venue. There is also the Fort Worth Lynching Tour – a bicycle tour beginning in the Stockyards dedicated to telling the story of Fred Rouse, lynched by a Fort Worth mob in 1921.
There are many other organizations, sites, and museums – either existing or planned that tell the story of Black History in Fort Worth. There will soon be a new Juneteenth Museum located on the site of the old one at Evans and Rosedale. Fort Worth is also in the location and planning stages of building its own African-American History museum.
Each year, Unity Unlimited, Inc. hosts Fort Worth’s Juneteenth Celebration with a month of events and we’d love to see you there. We celebrated the signing last year with a huge festival and fireworks to mark the celebration of everyone’s freedom. As Ms. Opal says, “No one is free until everyone is free”.
Unity Unlimited, Inc, is celebrating Black History Month by hosting the Dallas Racial Healing & Transformation’s kick off in Fort Worth on February 23rd, from 6:00PM to 8:00PM at Tarrant County College South Campus, “A New Community Vision for Fort Worth”. There will be a conversation with Ms. Opal Lee and a wonderful program for all Fort Worthians to build a better community.
These are just a few of the reasons I celebrate Black History Month. If you’re in Fort Worth, please come celebrate with us’ but please celebrate wherever you are. It is something to celebrate!
One of the best things about working at the farm is the time I have for prayer. It’s been a difficult season for me. Christmas wasn’t the same after my father passed in 2002. Dad was our family’s Christmas spirit. Then Mom passed in 2017. My sister and her husband live in Georgia so there wasn’t much family left. I had Jeremy and the grandkids but negotiating holidays with different families often meant a quiet Christmas with my son Adrian. When Jeremy died last year, I decided the best thing about Christmas was December 26th…
My family never celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday. I was told that if Jesus’ birthday wasn’t mentioned by date, then we had nothing to celebrate. It was that old “we have the line on the truth” thing that the Church of Christ was known for. We didn’t celebrate Easter either even though the dates are obvious – even if it is on the Jewish calendar – but that’s another story. I feel a little cheated to be honest. Presents are nice but it wasn’t the same…
Anyway, I’ve grown and changed over the years. I may not have much Christmas spirit – the whole tree, family, and presents thing – but I feel a deep gratitude and joy over the birth of a Savior. I’m especially fond of Advent. It was thoughts of anticipation of Immanuel – “God with us” – that stayed in the fore front of my mind today as I worked and prayed.
My thoughts turned to the “heroes of the faith” – at least my faith. I thought of Ms. Opal (she said I don’t have to call her Dr. Lee…) and all the years of service as not only a civil rights activist, but as a Deaconess in her church. I thought of her mantra – “If someone can be taught to hate they can be taught to love”.
I thought about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker – “It would be foolish to pretend that it is always easy to remember [that Christ is present in the ordinary stranger] … If Mary had appeared in Bethlehem clothed, as St. John says, with the sun, a crown of twelve stars on her head, and the moon under her feet [Revelation 12:1], then people would have fought to make room for her. But that was not God’s way for her, nor is it Christ’s way for Himself, now when He is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the earth.”
– Dorothy Day, “Room for Christ,” Selected Writings: By Little and by Little, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Orbis Books: 1992), 96.
I thought of Father Daniel Berrigan. I had the privilege of being arrested with Father Berrigan at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Facility at a Plowshares demonstration. I don’t know why I thought of that: especially since I came to be very ashamed of all the times I went to jail for reasons I’d rather not recall – addiction sucks…
He was on my mind when I got home and went through email and found this in my inbox:
“So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ — the life of the world.”- Daniel Berrigan, “Advent”
I may lack Christmas spirit this year, but I’m not confused by the gift given to God’s kids on that night a little over two thousand years ago. I’m waiting in quiet anticipation for the birthday of Jesus Christ – “the life of the world.
May you all be filled with the joy and peace of Jesus. May the new year bring justice and peace for us all.
I finally rained here in Fort Worth. I’m not sure how much. It’s still dark outside but the weather folks are calling for light rain and possibly sleet throughout the morning (it is forecasted to be eighty degrees by Thursday…), so I thought I’d take advantage of the stillness and wet weather to catch up on “Thoughts From the Porch”.
I haven’t shared many thoughts from the porch lately. I haven’t been on the porch to do much thinking. I quit smoking two weeks ago (two whole weeks so far!) and the porch is a trigger for me. I guess I shouldn’t be overly concerned. Everything is a trigger these days – being alone at the farm, volunteers who still smoke, my kid who is recently out of college for Christmas break, the grief that seems overwhelming this time of year…
Jeremy was my Christmas present in 1982. His death and the absence of the grandkids since Thanksgiving leaves me bereft of Christmas spirit. Climbing in the attic to get Christmas decorations is the last thing I want to do, but my wife loves Christmas and I’ll do it for her later today. Doing for others makes the pain a little easier to bear.
The morning weather report was followed by a news story about opioid overdose deaths this past year. It’s become the leading cause of death for people eighteen to forty-five – more than suicides, COVID deaths, and car crashes – almost 79,000 in the past year. The statistics seem overwhelming and abstract. My son was one of the statistics. He’s one of the 79,000 other faces behind each of those numbers.
I’ve shared much about my son over the last year-and-a-half, but this is the first time I’ve talked of his cause of death. I simply haven’t been able to talk about it. His friends and family have known all along and I’m sure those in the art world of which he was a part have their suspicions if they didn’t know it for a fact. His art was often a reflection of his struggle with addiction – both his and mine. I still wonder how things would be different if he hadn’t grown up with an addict parent. I still wish I could trade places with him.
It wasn’t always that way. Jeremy became a recovering addict shortly after I did in 2005. He stayed clean for six years and became a respected member of the local recovery community. He had two more children and his oldest lived with him during a difficult time for her mother and grandmother. He worked fulltime and found time to paint and create. Still, there was always the underlying fear that his art would suffer without the drugs to fuel his creativity. Seeing the art he created proved that to be an unrealistic fear.
Life showed up -work, kids, parenting, bills – all the things everyone lives with. Time spent with others in recovery became short. He gradually and unintentionally moved farther and farther away from the recovery community and the support that held his addiction in check.
I won’t go into all the details. This isn’t about war stories or moralizing a disease. Addiction can cover up the heart of the addict and Jeremy’s heart was never defined by addiction. We had many “f*** you fights” over the last couple of years before his death – addiction wreaks havoc among families – but they were always followed by moments of kindness and love. That was my son.
I often wonder if he knew what lie ahead. In the last few months of his life, he struggled to make amends and heal relationships with so many family members and friends. In our last phone call, he asked if we could make a recovery meeting the following week.
I’m sitting here this morning and my heart hurts. Grief is a bitch. It comes unannounced whenever it wants and usually at the most inconvenient time possible. I never asked to join this club of parents, sons, daughters, husbands and wives, and the hundreds of friends and family left with the emptiness in their souls – a deep, aching, grief that never goes away. That’s something statistics don’t measure. They may tell of the deceased, but they never measure the sorrow and brokenness that’s left behind.
I wish I had more hopeful words to share this morning. There are so many things I’m truly grateful for. We’re about to celebrate the greatest blessing of all – Immanuel “God with us”. Still, loss is overwhelming, and we’ll celebrate the second Christmas without Jeremy. Please remember that 79,000 other families with face Christmas without the one they love. Keep us in your prayers and be kind to one another…
Saturday was my birthday. I turned sixty-three. I have no qualms about sharing my age. I never thought I’d live this long. My stubbornness, denial, and rebelliousness followed a downward path long past their expiration date. God had other plans and well, here I am – blessed to be one of His kids and grateful for the love, mercy, and grace He filled my life with.
I’m not big on birthdays. They’re just another day in my book. The farm still must be tended, chores still need to be done, and life doesn’t go on hold because its’ my birthday. However, this one was different. It was truly extra special.
I awoke to a message from my birth mother wishing me a happy birthday. I never thought that day would come. I called her later in the morning. She couldn’t believe the day had come either. Tears welled up in my eyes when she told me she had prayed for sixty-three years to be able to wish happy birthday to her firstborn.
Much has transpired since our initial phone call. We speak regularly. She’s waiting for the opportunity to gather my half-brothers and sisters around to tell them about me. Such things are better done in person. Once they know about me, I’ll be taking a trip to meet her soon. I’ll also be able to share more of the details of this miraculous time in our lives…
I learn more and more about my family history every time we talk. I’m constantly amazed by the synchronicities of my birth and adopted families. A bond has developed in a very short time.
She told me that August 17th was the birthday of her favorite nephew. Through family circumstance he became more than merely a nephew. He’s also sixty-three this year. She told me she often thought that God knew the pain of giving me up for adoption and placed Michael in her life to help deal with the loss. She told me that God sees us through loss in a loving and caring way. Her child was gone and yet she was given a special relationship with a nephew born days apart from me.
I thought about that a lot this week. My parents are both gone. Dad passed in 2002; Mom in 2017. My youngest son, Jeremy, died last year. God didn’t “take them” from me. The cycle of life goes on. Yet, God placed my birth mother in my life at just the right time. I’ve been given a special, special gift.
I’ve missed Jeremy terribly over these last few weeks. It was his constant urging that led me to find my mother. I wish he were here to celebrate this joyous moment together. I don’t know what it’s like in the world he finds himself in, but I do believe he knows. I did it Jeremy. Thanks for pestering me about it…