I’ve missed sharing my thoughts, ideas and experiences. With well over a year’s worth of thoughts and stories that could have filled far more than four publications, I thought I would highlight the most impressionable ones, those that have caused me to reflect, broaden my vision and challenge my assumptions. These vignettes are in no order of time or importance.
Septa’s (Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority) Market Frankfort subway line begins its westbound route at Frankfort and Bridge Street in Northeast Philadelphia. Septa spent 15 years and $493M to renovate the station. It’s a big hub. Over 180,000 commuters use the L, as it is known, during the week. The inside of the station bustles with commuters buying keycards, waiting for buses to arrive, looking for schedules, selling passes or loosies, grabbing a cup of coffee or a snack from one of several stores in the station. Traveling up the escalator to the train’s platform commuters can see large displays of information about treatment for opioid addicts. Several cars on the L line might display a sign to inform riders about the “disease” of addiction. There are billboards at various stations that encourage commuters to learn how to respond to an opioid overdose crisis. There is a clear message that addicts need treatment, not scorn. This all makes perfectly good sense to me, and if I had a loved one who was an addict, I too would want them to receive the treatment. Would have been nice if this type of response from the City of Philadelphia and Septa were available for the crack epidemic. The bulk of the cracks-heads, which is what they are called, were locked up. I don’t recall a sign educating the public about the disease of crack addiction. It’s clear that the crack-heads and the op-heads are two different groups of people.
I don’t remember exactly how I discovered Howard Thurman. I may have been reading something about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., because Howard Thurman was his mentor. Most who know King have no idea of who Howard Thurman was or that his teachings on non-violence fueled King’s commitment to a non-violent, civil rights movement. Thurman’s teachings even encouraged him to give up his own gun which he had kept after the 1956 bombing of his house. King’s spiritual mentor authored several books. His Jesus and the Disinherited has been a reference for theologians and activists alike. I was attracted to Thurman from reading his The Inward Journey and Meditations of the Heart. He was a big spirit man. No one, that I have read, even Thomas Merton, can claim to possess that penetrating inward gaze that for me characterized the spiritual presence that Thurman exuded. The Alternative Seminary in Philadelphia sponsored an exploration of Thurman’s contemplative spirituality which included a viewing of Backs Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story, by Martin Doblmeier (director and narrator). The film offered so much more insight into Thurman’s vision of melding the civil rights movement into his contemplative practice. He came from extremely humble beginnings to become one of America’s greatest mystics and one of the founders of the first interracial and interdenominational church in the U.S.
“There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.” Howard Thurman
I am reading Racism As Zoological Witchcraft: A Guide to Getting Out, by Aph Ko. It’s a challenging read. It is a combination of gender analysis, critical race theory, and veganism. I’ve had the book on my reader for about 6 months, and I can only handle a few pages once or twice each week. One of many quotes that unsettled me the most comes from the chapter “From Taxidermy-ing to Metabolizing “Nonhuman” Bodies and Souls”:
“The consumption of animals is so routine and normalized that even scholars and thinkers who politicize the colonial consumption of marginalized bodies do not realize how they are still participating in the legacy of coloniality by ignoring the institutionalized suffering of animals. As thinkers and activists, we can keep pointing out how cruel the consumption of Black and Brown bodies is; however, this phenomenon will never stop manifesting itself until we deal with the root of the behavior, which requires us to realize that animal experiences are the invisible framework keeping colonial consumption intact.”
I pray Ko doesn’t sue me over that long-ass quote. I write about the shift in consciousness and I am an advocate for the planet, human and non-human communities, but never did I equate eating meat, dairy and eggs with colonialism and the old narrative.
Toni Morrison joined the ancestors. I had the honor of meeting Morrison several years ago at a dinner party held in her honor. It was her birthday. Talk about a presence. She was a true Diva, a brilliant creator of stories, a genius at juxtaposing words and creating images that are the stuff of dreams, like Milkman sitting in Ruth’s lap nursing in The Song of Solomon. Those names, though, First Corinthians, Magdalene, and above all, Pilate! Who in God’s name would name their child Pilate?
But what Morrison did for me, and I cannot help but to imagine that she did the same for thousands of others, was to free me from the bonds of “settling” for what is.
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
I took those words, ran with them and applied them to my life experience. I create the kind of art I want to look at; I grow a garden whose herbs and flowers speak to me, despite their being in a thousand other gardens; the clothes that I put on my body are the clothes I want to see when I catch a glimpse of my body when I pass and gaze into parked car window; the house I live in is in alignment with what I want to see and what I want to feel when I turn that key and walk through the front door. There’s a planet that I want to live on, one dominantly characterized by peace and well-being for all its inhabitants, so I created my advocacy, and I created a title for myself: New Earth advocate
Day 1 of Quarantine. Yesterday, March 16, 2020, Mayor of Philadelphia called for a quarantine through March 29. Public and private schools called for the quarantine ahead of the mayor’s edict. Across the state and nation university students were sent home, some told not to come back. They would complete classes online and many graduation ceremonies have been cancelled. Public transportation is on a weekend schedule, malls and shopping centers are shut down and only essential businesses are open. Most stores have been stripped clean of water, milk, eggs and toilet paper. People are stocked up so that they can wipe their asses for a respiratory virus, and that shopping carts were loaded with dairy products demonstrates our knowledge about strengthening the immune system against the coronavirus.
Life in the country. Since I was in my 20’s I have wanted to live in the country. Being in proximity to a bookstore was a major concern back then. But with my Kindle and an Amazon prime membership, a bookstore is less of a concern now. In those days I didn’t factor driving in or out of the equation; but I gave up my car and driving over 2 years ago, and I have gotten along well with Uber, public transportation and, so long as the weather permits, walking. A small house in the country would suit me well, with enough yard, of course, for my garden and a room that I can devote to my studio. But I would have to start driving again.
When I was a child, my mother would send me to Chattanooga, Tennessee were there was a large tribe of family. My Grandpa’s brother, Uncle John was a preacher, if I remember correctly. His kisses were always slimy with saliva, and he smelled of moth balls. The house where this part of the clan lived was a cabin, with no inside toilet. I remember the outhouse. It sat behind the house, in a wooden stall, with a white, surprisingly clean toilet. The inside of the house had no living room, but instead a bed that was covered with a quilt that one of my cousins had created, and at the foot of the bed there was a cedar chest that held a fruitcake, especially during the holidays, soaked in some sweet liquor and wrapped in a blanket. The house sat upon a hill and in the mornings, after getting dressed and having breakfast that always included thick slices of fried salt pork, I would go out the front door and stand on the porch and marvel at the beauty of the Tennessee hills. I haven’t been back to Chattanooga since I was a child, but I remember the smells and the spirits of that place, of that house.
Those are the spirits that are beckoning me to leave the city and come “back” to the country.
~ Akilah, March 2020