Saturday, February 12, 2011

Shades of Gray

When Diahn and I set out to explore Memphis, we went here. This the hotel where Dr. King was assassinated. It's been turned into the National Civil Rights Museum.

There was a protester across the street from the hotel. I learned a new word, gentrification. Like most issues, I think I'm in the middle. It saddens me to see older parts of town abandoned and neglected but I can also see the the opposite view. The view that doesn't want to see poorer residents forced out of an area they call home because they can't afford to live there.

The protester sat their silently, making her presence known with banners and pamphlets. It made me feel guilty, because I'm white. As if I had no right to be there. Then again, maybe the guilt comes from my lack of understanding. I don't understand the struggle of the black race from a personal perspective and I cannot. But I try. Why must the focus always be on our differences? Why must we be so divided? Why can't we look at both sides of the coin and accept that there isn't always a right or wrong answer? Why can't we focus on our similarities instead, in all areas, politics, religion, race, and class? I wanted to say to her, "I've struggled to overcome, too. We are alike in more ways than we are not alike." But I didn't. Instead, I nodded in her direction and took pictures. Like a shallow tourist. Part of the problem instead of the solution.

This area of downtown Memphis is beautiful to me and I am glad that it hasn't been neglected or become an empty shell.

I'm a minority in my neighborhood. And while I can say that I haven't gone out of my way to make friends, neither have my neighbors. Mostly, my family and I get glares as if we don't belong here. That must be the same way they feel when they live in a predominantly white neighborhood.

And as our country becomes even more diversified, it seems we only become more divided instead of united. The fissures show up everywhere, the media, the workplace, the government, our families. Our society even promotes the division through talk shows and talking heads and advertising that tell us we can be better, set apart, smarter, skinnier, richer than all the rest.

Recently the President said this, Do not view everything through the lens of rivalry. It has stayed with me. I realize how many times in a given day, I do exactly that.

And I wonder...will I ever overcome? Can we overcome?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Home of the Blues

So the Memphis trip has come and gone. Diahn and I had an amazing time. We explored, had a big ass beer, listened to some soulful music, walked and talked, met some colorful people, ate barbecue, eggs and bacon, and then we went our separate ways, back to our families. And that was good. Really good. Going home after a nice break is always good. Because home is our anchor.

But leaving home is good, too. It's good to be reminded that there is a world outside of our walls, our children, our routines and that we're still very much a part of it. That we need to be a part of it in order to grow and stay vibrant. Otherwise, we become stagnant and sometimes, dull.

I have too much to say about my new love, Memphis. This post, however, is about the music...the Blues.

Last Friday, after braving the freakish snowstorm that blanketed the south, we met up at the Memphis airport and headed to the hotel, freshened up, and hurried down to the legendary Beale Street.

In the cold.

In the rain.

With no um-ber-ella...ella...ella...ella...ay, ay, ay, ay.

I've never been to Memphis. Beale Street has been nothing more than a song by Bruce Hornsby. But now, Beale Street has a piece of my heart and soul. It truly is all about the music. And oh my, the music. As luck would have it, our trip was the same weekend as the International Blues Challenge.

Each bar that we went into was like walking into church. There was no loud buzz of conversation, only the music. All eyes were directed at the stage, feet were tapping, eyes were sometimes closed, bodies swaying. It really took us by sweet surprise.

These two gentlemen, known as Mountain Men, won our hearts. They sang a rendition of "We Shall Overcome" that brought tears to my eyes and goosebumps to my spine. You can hear it over at Diahn's blog.

What's so amazing to me is that the one on the harmonica, Barefoot Iano, is from Australia and the one playing guitar and singing, Mr. Mat, is from France. The Blues truly are international.

I was moved and inspired. My soul was stirred by this form of music, born primarily in the Deep South to chase away the "blue devils".

Here a couple of others we heard that night.

This gentlemen above, I wish I had his name but didn't catch it, was quite inspiring to one particular lady. She danced alone throughout his entire set. I wish I had joined her, but I hadn't had enough libations to muster up my dancing courage. Maybe next year.

But these guys...

They won our hearts.

They are my latest obsession. I came home and bought their CD, Spring Time Coming.

I don't claim to be old
And I have no desire
To get there too soon
But this story must be told

The blues before my time
they tear me down and then
They fill my heart and make me whole
The blues before my time

Most just say it's just a sadness
but they don't really know
that the blues is just a mirror
Of the way we live and how we love

The blues before my time...

If it's crying that I'm needing
I can do it with the blues
Then when I through I'll cry with joy
And put on my dancing shoes

The blues before my time...

I've never been downtrodden
For fault of being black
But those who've gone and left this legacy
It's them I'd like to thank

~Blues before my time~

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


I watch him as he slices red bell peppers, mushrooms that smell like the earth, and bright, green zucchini. He serves me a cup of coffee, lectures me about the way I drink it, with real sugar and cream. He smiles though, as he lectures.

His wife hasn't made it home from work yet, and he cooks dinner as he does most days. He's easily distracted so I can see it's a little difficult for him to talk with me while he's slicing and preparing, but he never stops listening. I can tell. I know these things. He glances up from his work, wiping his forehead occasionally, and says "Yes?" He's interested in what I have to say.

I can remember a day when he wasn't interested in anyone other than himself. The days when he would look at me, flash that smile, and take money from my purse after I had gone to bed. He had a habit. He was different. He wasn't my son.

And I waited.

And waited.

And prayed.

And screamed.

And I cried for him, often.

And now he is 24, and whole. He prays on his own now.

He prays with his children.

When he smiles, I see his father. And when he laughs, the sun shines. And when he's in his kitchen, slicing summer vegetables for his family, I am bursting.

I am thankful.

I am amazed.

I am whole.

This is my imperfect prose.