Our hearts beat on

notes

Cleaning out closets and drawers is a necessary evil. Especially when you are preparing to move. I make notes on scraps of paper and stick them in drawers and forget about them. Some are mundane: an address or phone number; a note about work or a household chore.

These notes stopped me cold. Seeing them again nearly two years later made the tears flow. I had jotted them down in a  tiny notebook I carry in my purse, a habit from many years as a journalist.  They were made in May of 2015 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Lexington, Ky. while talking to a very honest and somber doctor who tended to my father when he came into the ER for shortness of breath.   Fluid. Infection. Cancer cells. An oncologist. Neurologist. MRI.  

“I can’t tell you it’s cancer, but all signs point to it,” he told us.  

At that moment, all our lives shifted to focus on our patriarch.  When the official diagnosis came a few days later it confirmed the early suspicions: stage 4 lung cancer. The kind that strikes non smokers. Non-small-cell lung cancer that had spread to the bone.

My father did not want to know the prognosis in terms of time. The doctors respected his wishes.  They ran tests, treated a mass on his spine with radiation and developed a treatment plan that included Tarceva, an oral medication taken by some patients if they are fortunate enough to be a genetic match. Thankfully, my father was a match. As a result, he was spared the suffering and side effects that often accompany chemo.

Watching my father died was like witnessing faith in action. For decades, he’d been a Sunday School teacher, a deacon in his church and an attentive husband and father.  He prayed daily and studied the Bible often. He openly shared his faith with anyone who would listen, including a chaplain who came to his hospital bedside to offer words of comfort  the day before he died.

As he dealt with cancer, he continued to be the leader of our family — constantly calling or texting to check on how we were doing. After he and my mother settled into their routine of doctor visits and monthly treatments and tests, they slowly resumed their normal activities: dinner at Red Lobster; church; visiting family and friends, and tending to their grandchildren.

Daddy was not interested in all the internet research my siblings and I were doing about innovative therapies and alternative medicine. He agreed to come to Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute in Atlanta for a second opinion but was opposed to any experimental treatments or trials. In his case, none were offered because he was responding well to the Tarceva.

Fred Duerson simply wanted to live the remaining days of his life as fully as possible. He took great joy in seeing his youngest granddaughter become a pharmacist, the first doctor in our immediate family.  He relished being able to attend my retirement party and one last family reunion in July of last year.

Then one August eveing a few weeks after his 80th birthday —  in the same hospital where we received that initial news — he died peacefully with his family by his side.

Not a day goes by that we don’t think about him, talk about him, miss him deeply. Grief is funny that way. Many days you feel fine. On other days  it’s all you can do to get through. Faith-based grief counseling  helped put my father’s life and death in perspective. Our loved ones are not our own.  I like to picture Daddy in heaven, reunited with his parents and siblings. Free of all pain.

The notes I found in the drawer the other day reminded me of the short, sweet text messages he sent to me during the year after his diagnosis.  Hello Angela, how are you doing today?   On some days, the message was a passage of scripture meant to encourage me. His favorite was Psalm 27.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?”

This Psalm of comfort is a great reminder of God’s love for us. We can rest on his promise that no matter what happens, his presence is a blessed assurance.

For more information on grieving and for a list of classes in your area, go to www.griefshare.org

 

A tale of the tape: Rep. John Lewis vs. President-elect Donald Trump

 

This really isn’t a fair fight. But hey, Donald Trump went there when he insulted Congressman John Lewis via Tweet Saturday saying the civil rights icon is all talk and no action. Trump added insult to injury by tweeting that Lewis’s congressional district is a crime-ridden disaster. This came after Rep. Lewis (D-Georgia) said in an interview that he did not consider Trump to be a legitimate president because of Russian interference in the presidential election.

Trump is in serious need of a history lesson (not to mention a primer on the First Amendment).

So let’s go:

John Lewis: One of the leaders of the Nashville Student Movement and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee  (S.N.C.C.) while attending seminary in Nashville. Was the youngest speaker at the March on Washington in 1963. Lewis’s original speech was so controversial, organizers of the march asked him to tone  it down.

Donald Trump: Received alarge sum of money from his father to get started in the real estate business.  Made a name for himself as a successful businessman despite the fact that many of his business practices have faced legal and ethical questions.

John Lewis: One of the original Freedom Riders who took part in the Congress of Racial Equality’s May 1961 effort to test desegregation laws on interstate buses in the Deep South. Lewis and other Freedom Riders were attacked and beaten by angry mobs in Alabama while authorities did little to help the victims. C.O.R.E. was forced to suspend the rides.  After 400 Freedom Riders of all races were arrested in Jackson, Miss. for breach of the peace, the Interstate Commerce Commission ordered an end to segregated conditions on Greyhound and Trailways buses later that year.

Donald Trump: Was sued for housing discrimination in New York City after teams of testers found that he and his father discriminated against would-be tenants who were African American and Latino.  The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Trump’s companies have faced several lawsuits over the years from contractors, business colleagues and people who believe they were misled by leaders at Trump University.

John Lewis: Was beaten and nearly died on the Edmund Pettus Bridge between Selma and Montgomery while marching for the voting rights for African Americans. The efforts of Lewis and other protesters led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Donald Trump: Was caught on a hot mic making lewd comments about women.

John Lewis: One of the longest-serving and most respected members of Congress. When asked when he might retire, Lewis said in 2011: “Retirement is not in my D.N.A.” adding that he has more work to do for justice and freedom before he leaves this earth.

Donald Trump: Fired Omarosa and Gary Busey on “Celebrity Apprentice.”

Serious Donald Trump? You don’t want it with Congressman John Lewis.

 

 

Please, don’t sleep on voting

fbi

If you can’t stomach the thought of voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, think about  James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. Or cast your vote with Viola Liuzzo in mind.

It would be easy to become jaded by the  insanity of this election cycle and decide to sit this one out. You  may be a young person who doesn’t see anything in these candidates’ messages which speaks directly to you.  Or you may view the major party candidates as so  disingenuous  you’re considering casting a protest vote for a third-party candidate.

I submit to you that neither is a viable option. Every election is an opportunity to make your voice heard. Voters in Cobb County did so recently when they sent Commission Chairman Tim Lee packing, in part because of his lack of transparency regarding the Atlanta Braves stadium deal.

And every election is a chance to exercise a hard-earned right. James Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman were attempting to register African-American voters in Mississippi when they were beaten and shot to death by the Ku Klux Klan.  Schwerner and Goodman were young men in their 20s who came from up North to help register black voters during Freedom Summer in 1964.  Chaney, a native Mississippian, had grown weary of conditions in his state, where he and other African-Americans  were relegated to second class citizenship.

A year later, near Selma, Alabama Viola Gregg Liuzzo was murdered by Klan members who saw her driving a black man from Montgomery to Selma. Liuzzo and her companion, Leroy Moton, were Southern Christian Leadership Conference volunteers helping to register black voters, who were routinely threatened and intimidated at the polls. Moton survived the attack by pretending to be dead. Luizzo, a wife and mother from Detroit, was shot in the face just shy of her 40th birthday.

Whenever I think about not voting, I remember something Rev. C.T. Vivian, a longtime civil rights activist now in his 90s, told me about why he and other protestors believed so deeply in what they were doing:  “We did it to fulfill our humanity.”

When you think about it, that’s not so different from today’s freedom fighters, who have taken to the streets to protest the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland and Eric Garner to name a few. Voting in local elections ensures that the people who believe the same as we do lobby to improve police training and hire more officers who are sensitive to the needs and concerns of the communities they serve.

We are facing the most important presidential election in our nation’s history. Not voting on Nov. 8th shouldn’t be an option.

viola

Viola Liuzzo

 

 

 

 

Goodbye creamy crack; here’s to combing my hair with my fingers

I packed away my curling and flat irons recently.

I packed away my curling and flat irons recently.

My colleagues know better than anyone where I can be found every Friday morning without fail. I don’t get my nails done and rarely get the brows waxed but this girl loves to get her “hair did” in the words of Missy Elliott.

Many of us back women have a thing about our hair. It’s an essential part of our individual swag. We invest hundreds of dollars each month making sure that our hair is on point. If need be, we will sit in a salon for hours for the right cut, braids, twists or up do..

And let’s not even talk about that creamy crack. Chris Rock coined the term in his documentary, “Good Hair” about black women, our obsession with hair and the booming weave industry. It was an ode to his daughters and his message was clear: our hair is beautiful as it is. Creamy crack refers to the chemicals we apply to our hair to straighten it. As a teenager, I couldn’t wait to get a perm.

For those of us of a certain age, the quest for straight hair began when we were kids with that dreaded hot comb our mothers heated up on the stove. My sister and I would wince when our hair sizzled or the straightening comb clipped our ear. We we got a bit older, we’d head to Wigginton’s Beauty Shop off Georgetown Road in Lexington where Mrs. Betty Ann Williams and Mrs. Dora Sanford did their thing. We loved going to the shop and hearing the ladies gossip. We joked that when we left Ms. Betty Ann’s chair our hair was fried, died and laid to the side!

To this day, I will wear a pair of shoes until they fall apart but I will not neglect my hair. My stylist is one of my best friends. I’ve been in her chair once a week for 20 plus years.  I trust Janet Savage so much that I barely glance at the mirror she hands me at the end of each appointment.

When I leave her shop, my hair is tight. I throw on some earrings and a little bit of lipstick and I’m ready to take on the world. I love Fridays for that reason. Jan was one of the first people I called with the news that I’d cut the perm out of my hair. You did what?  She’s been trying to get me to cut my hair for years but I never had the courage to take my short cut down to less than an inch. I’ll still need Jan to keep my hair trimmed. And I wouldn’t trade my Friday fellowship with her and other ladies for anything.

My father and husband were the first to react. “Why did you do that?” asked my Dad. “Your hair always looked so nice.”  Their reaction likely has more to do with my hair being super short.  They are traditionalists. I’ve also heard from a few friends who’ve asked what product I’m using. I’m thinking those comments mean my hair may be too kinky or dry-looking for their taste.

But, hey,  I love the freedom this short, perm-free cut gives me.  I just wake up, wet it, apply some curl cream and run my fingers through it.   Now if that’s not liberating, I don’t know what is!

My daughter Imani has taught me a thing or two about rocking the natural look with confidence and flair.

My daughter Imani has taught me a thing or two about rocking the natural look with confidence and flair.