“Blessed is the man to whom his work is a pleasure, by whom his friends are encouraged, with whom all are comfortable, in whom a clear conscience abides, and through whom his children see God.” – William Arthur Ward
My mother wanted to write a tribute to my father many years ago. A friend had sent a plaque to them with the above quote on it. Mommy thought the quote was fitting and added it to her thoughts of her own father, of the father of her children, W. Ervin Rouson and many others like him in the community. The friend who sent the plaque said the quote reminded her of our father, W. Ervin Rouson.
My mother did add some personal tributes in her booklet of articles to the man she often described as having gentle strength. As I think about how to end 2018 and commemorate what would have been my father’s 90th birthday, I think of how my mother ended her tribute: “You are loved.” I think that’s how I want to end 2018. No matter what happened this year, I want all of my family members and friends to know that you are loved.
Her description of my father was succinct:
Unfaltering faith in God and in people,
Serious dedication to tasks,
Willing involvement in their happiness.
Mommy believed that this loving role he modeled allowed people around him to learn how to communicate with other people and to sense potential not always discernible to others. People around him learned that it wasn’t necessary to wield a hammer; if one must be used, it should strike with a velvet touch. It should be used with utmost care to avoid inflicting irreparable dents.
In her tribute, she simply wanted him to know that his way was such that we learned from his example, from his very being. And for that, he was loved.
With all that 2018 was and was not, to all who I was blessed to be touched by and to have an impact on in any small way, you are loved. In the new year of 2019, my hope is to be more like both of my parents in the words of William Arthur Ward: “by whom friends are encouraged … with whom all are comfortable … in whom a clear conscience abides.”
“Just about now, give it a second thought.” That was the title of one of my mother’s Opinion Columns that she wrote for two local newspapers. Today marks six years since her passing. Fortunately, she put several of her opinion columns in a little booklet, “The Hummingbird Within Us” and printed several copies of the booklet. I periodically look through her columns and am always warmed by her insights and wisdom. For my blog this time, I am reprinting one of her columns and I hope you are inspired. It seems just as chockful of wisdom today as when she wrote it more than 40 years ago.
There are times when we are closed in our thinking and times when silence or at least listening can serve us well … my mother was wise about that. I must admit that I didn’t always agree with her and there were times when she annoyed me. Even into my fifties, she was still telling me what to do and I couldn’t believe she thought she needed to. But now, after six years without her, the value of her sage wisdom would be welcome in a minute without a nanosecond of complaint.
Fortunately, I have her newspaper columns and greeting cards she gave me and even some emails that I can look back on. Mostly though, I have her blood running through my veins. I can hear her telling me things and that helps me. I close with an extract of some words from another of her columns titled “The Hummingbird Within Us” to remind me of what’s within each of us:
“Trust your instincts. God created them; so they’re not just a pile of junk. Table confusions, doubts, pressures. Pursue some concrete, positive action. Keep on keeping on. Maximize what you CAN do. DO it and resist the urge to become a sophisticated expert, lest you discover it can’t be done. Whatever your talents, they are important. Respect yourself.”
Sometimes I see notes and postings where people seem to acknowledge that God has blessed them but they think it’s much more than they deserve, that they’re not worthy. Here’s what I’ve come to believe: we all deserve God’s blessings, we just have to convince ourselves of that. During this Thanksgiving, it is a time of thanks-giving for each of us for all that we are being blessed with and for realizing that we do deserve what we receive. If we have received it, then it wasn’t a mistake.
I am skeptical of our religions teaching us that we are undeserving of God’s blessings unless we pass some test. On the one hand, they tell us about unconditional love from God but then these same religious institutions preach that we don’t deserve God’s love. My thoughts for Thanksgiving are short and simple. By virtue of God giving us life, let us give thanks by believing God loves us enough for us to deserve this love.
Don’t shy from being thankful for the blessings coming to you. Gratitude is thanks-giving.
Being raised as Catholic, there was a prayer during Sunday Mass service that included the words “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Even as a child, the wording bothered me. As I got older and had my own children, I eventually told them that they were worthy of love. I stopped saying that prayer during the service. I didn’t think that was the message God intended. Sometimes, I think we get trapped in thoughts/messages to ourselves that aren’t in our best service.
So during this Thanksgiving period, I am grateful for all my blessings and for knowing that I am worthy of receiving more blessings. You are too. Re-wire your thoughts to be in thanks-giving for yourself and others and accept what comes. We can change what we want to change but we can also believe that we deserve the good that appears in our lives. The not-so-good are blessings too, they teach us other things. Life is full of joys and opportunities for thanks-giving all through the year.
Have you ever played your music up a few volumes? Jordan Davis, a black youth was killed in Florida because a man objected to Jordan’s music and thought it was too loud. Lucy McBath still introduces herself as a Mom first. Her son was Jordan Davis. In the first trial, his killer used the stand-your-ground defense and wasn’t found guilty. In a second trial in 2014, he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to prison. Lucy McBath was motivated to run for office because of what happened to her son. My take-away from the 2018 elections: “Is the music loud enough now?”
Lucy McBath won election on November 6th to Congress as a member of the House of Representatives, representing the District in Georgia that Jon Osoff ran for in the special election last year (this same district used to be represented by Newt Gingrich many years ago … that’s how long it was in Republican hands).
Losing her son in such a senseless way has fueled her lifelong commitment to community activism and the importance of political engagement. Early on, McBath’s sense of public service came from an extensive family background involving civil rights. Her father was the Illinois Branch president of the NAACP for over twenty years and served on its national board as well. As a child, she traveled with her family attending marches and rallies supporting the civil rights movement and the coalitions of organizations fighting alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Her mother was a registered nurse, often helping students completing coursework with tutoring and other support to further their healthcare careers.
To me, Lucy’s win is a loud message of what we can do to make things right with our country now… how we are seizing the stage of Resistance to show the better side of America. There may have been disappointment after November 2016 but that fueled so many people to move into action.
The Women’s March in Washington, DC on January 21st, 2017, the day after the inauguration was so inspiring. I attended a Women’s March in Raleigh that day and I came home and watched marches all over the country and all over the world — literally all over the world. It was totally awesome.
It was patriotic and it was engaging and it was making a statement loud and clear. And yes, it was sustainable. We proved it on November 6, 2018 when more than 100 women were elected to Congress. Groups like Indivisible and Women’s Resistance kept meeting for two years, kept identifying candidates and training candidates and registering voters and getting voters to the polls.
The diversity of people who were elected on November 6th, 2018 is unmatched from any previous election. LGBTQ candidates won, Native tribal candidates won, black women won, young candidates won, Latinos voted, young people voted in larger numbers than the 2016 election, more people voted in these midterms than the 2014 midterms. The numbers are staggering in so many categories.
To me, this is loud music to the status quo and to what happened in 2016 that the times, they are a-changing.
When a blue wave like the 2018 elections happens, it is a loud and clear message that ought to be listened to. And, I think it isn’t just a political lesson to learn. There are life lessons in the election results too. First, listen to women.
Second, diversity is good. Having elected officials who reflect what the country looks like give us a better chance of laws and policies that are better for all of us. Liberty and justice for all … and the pursuit of happiness have more semblance of reality when our officials are diverse.
Our country is at least as much female as male and more ethnically diverse than not and finally our Congress will look more like the country than ever before. We’re not completely where we need to be but we’re further than we were two years ago. And, the music is getting louder.
Lucy McBath is just about the best symbol to me of what was accomplished with the midterm elections. There are hundreds of stories of triumphs and results that are truly inspiring. The Resistance that began right after the November 2016 election was just the beginning and it was sustainable. Many people took what happened and resolved that they would do something about it. People did not let despair keep them down. It became energy for a battle for our humanity, for doing what is right, for standing up for justice, for overcoming racism and misogynism and not ever letting those things define us.
No matter who or how many racist groups try to take us backwards, there are core groups playing the music of righteousness & justice loud enough to say no, that’s not going to happen. And, the music is going to get louder and louder. We will keep going forward and building on what we just did on November 6th, 2018. Is the music loud enough now? Not as loud as it going to get.
Sometimes we get to thinking that life is supposed to be fair. I said this to my husband about 25 years ago when complaining about a work situation. He responded that “fair comes only once a year.” This comes to mind when I think about many things going on right now: politics, voting, dynamics in organizations, etc., and of course the annual state fair that was in town last week. As much as I would like for it to be the case, life in and of itself is not fair. We can elect people to pass laws that will enable fairness but it is the people who enforce those laws and the people who hold them accountable that ultimately ensure what fair is.
When we were raising our daughters and son, I remember having discussions with them about fairness and treating them equally. There were times when one of them would proclaim that they thought another was getting more than them and therefore not being treated “equally” or “fairly.” My response became that as parents they shouldn’t look for us to necessarily treat them equally. What they should expect from us is to see what their respective needs were and act accordingly for each person. That might not result in each receiving the same thing or the “equal” thing but it should result in fairness because it would be based on what each needed or based on the appropriate circumstances.
That can become a bit dicey when it comes to laws and politics and voting and things like that so I won’t necessarily try to make the exact same argument. So, I say this to illustrate that there are times when laws like the Civil Rights Acts and Voting Rights Acts were necessary even though they may not have been perceived as “equal.” They sought to achieve fairness. And, there are times when equal needs to be achieved because we want everyone to be able to cast a vote in an election without undue pressure or suppression tactics. It is appropriate too in order to have fairness when registration criteria and polling places are reasonably available for anyone who is of voting age. When people have created circumstances to obstruct that, it’s not fair but laws should be enforced to prevent and protect. In those cases, the fair shouldn’t be confined to just once a year.
I heard a news show commentator say recently that it isn’t democracy that protects us but rather it is us who protect democracy.
We can do our best to treat people fairly even though sometimes our personal biases (our own filters) may somewhat interfere with absolute fairness. So, it helps to realize this can happen. Life may not always be fair but we can look at situations with our eyes wide open enough to try to treat people and situations fairly. To me that means treating them the way that is best for them in the situation. The golden rule has been conveyed as “do unto others as you want them to do unto you,” treat others the way you wanted to be treated. I’ve often thought that rule could be modified. Instead, I think we should consider treating people the way they’re warranted to be treated, the way they deserve as a being of the universe we’re all a part of. What we want for ourselves may not be what is best for others, equal is not always fair.
Life isn’t always going to be fair. On the bad days, remember that there won’t always be bad days. Hope is a morsel that gets us through on those days. On the good days, savor those days. Jot yourself a note to remind yourself of a good day that you can read when you need to. The fair may not be every day but hope can be called up any time that we choose to let ourselves believe in it.
Fairness is a quality that can be understood as something we offer even when equality doesn’t seem possible. That’s what my husband and I wanted to do with our daughters and son. That’s what I want to do with people I encounter. The fair might only come just once a year, but we can be fair when we are kind. We can be fair when laws are put in place that provide for treatment of all in a way that gives access no matter the person’s status or wealth. We can be kind and treat people the way they deserve every day of the year.
Towards the end of September, I had the privilege of turning 59. I usually spend a little time on my birthday reflecting on the past year, appreciating the journey and feeling gratitude for having made it through the year … but also thinking about what I can learn from the past year. I think about what I could do better. I think about what I know for sure.
Sometimes the reflections make me joyful and sometimes they give me pause for what didn’t go well. During these moments, I miss my parents and wish I could have another chance to be in their presence. What I know for sure is that I am a product of the love they gave me and I am a product of what I witnessed in how they lived their lives. I’m lucky. Not everyone gets to adulthood with parents still around. What I know for sure is I have been blessed in infinite ways.
Also the same week of my birthday, our Raleigh Links chapter hosted a screening of the MAYNARD documentary and then held a community dialogue panel. The MAYNARD movie was really insightful and was right on time with current events but also with where my head was that week. Seeing the movie the night before my birthday was a jumpstart for me reflecting on my own years of living. The insights on the life of Maynard Jackson, Jr., the years of his terms as Mayor of Atlanta, the impact he had on minority economic development with the huge successful construction of the ATL airport, the tragedies he faced when the Atlanta serial murders of children was going on, the triumph of his groundwork that resulted in Atlanta being selected to host the Olympics … it was right on time.
During black history month, there are many figures that take center stage but often Maynard Jackson, Jr. is not widely thought of. Yet, his life’s accomplishments had a lot to do with the airport that many of us go through every year, ATL. His life’s accomplishment had a lot to do with the economic development models utilized all around the country that ushered in business opportunities for blacks, Latinos and women. What I know for sure is many businesses wouldn’t have had success without what he did and they may not even realize who is responsible.
As I think about my last year in the fifties, I wonder how it will feel. I think how blessed I am. I think about how much I want to still give and live. I think about my father dying at 50 but the blessing of my mother living to 83. I think about my daughters and son and what more I should teach / impart to them. And, I think about what I need to let go of and not worry about any more. What am I holding onto too long? What should I do more or and what should I do less of?
I love to be of service to others … I truly do. It’s not just a cliché for me. I like giving. Sometimes people think I am doing it just “for show” but it is what makes me tick. What I know for sure is that my love for life is about doing something for someone else and experiencing the joy of them receiving it. I got that honest, my parents were the same way. They were enthralled with serving. I see it too in my siblings.
So, as I step into this next year of living, as I march into this last year of my fifties, what I know for sure is that watching the life of Maynard Jackson, Jr. and thinking about the life of my parents and thinking about what I’ve done so far … I still feel like giving back. I still enjoy my moments of retirement but I also enjoy my moments of digging in, speaking up and doing what I can to help others in whatever ways I can. It’s who I am. I am my parents daughter. That’s what I know for sure.