Asleep

Proverbs 6: 9 & 10

I know you’ve memorized the bible so I won’t waste your time with quoting this passage. So I’ll jump right to the thoughts that I pondered after church on Sunday and again considered Tuesday night watching, of all things, NBA tv.

Picture me at home, fresh from work, having coached my son in his spreadsheet needs for a school assignment. I’m enjoying the pre-game talking heads prognosticate on the upcoming game and then

BOOM

it hits me. This is Black History Month. So what do I see crawling across the bottom of my screen but an “NBA cares, Black History Month” flash-notice thingy. I get excited thinking I’m about to see some little known black history fact specific to the survivor of the ABA-NBA war that ended (sort of) back in the 70’s. I’m thinking I’ll see someone that I never heard of who played or coached or was in the front office that is black or brown and has furthered the game.

But no; I see sporadically featured film shorts called Barrier Breakers. I liked the short, but that was about where the party ended.

Beyond that I see only the tired, repackaged and retreaded reference to (what is apparently) Dr. MLK Jr.’s only speech in his entire life. The I Have a Dream speech. The NBA then asks viewers to tweet how they Dream Big.

Whoopee.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I believe that his speech was a game changer. It inspired millions and frightened many racists and establishment standard bearers. But my issue is that Dr. King was more than a dreamer. Indeed he told us of a dream he had. But he NEVER expected any of us to remain asleep and dreaming. At some point we must wake up and do something.

How long will you slumber? The sermon goes.

Changing gears slightly.

There are so many isms that crush, instruct, direct and sometimes waylay us all. Individually and collectively.

Racism
Sexism
Absolutism
Ignorantism
Nihilism
Liberalism
Conservatism
Somnambulism

Pastor said to me this week that “…Somnambulism is perhaps the worst ism of them all. Why? Because it comes in so many different forms. Many of which are unrecognized. Standing at the podium. Talking to you, eyes wide shut. Singing a fine aria. But still asleep. Leading a nation. But asleep. Heading a union. But asleep. Raising a child. But asleep.”

Even the best ideals start being whittled away by somnambulism. Our earliest vocationally inspired dreams. Whittled away. What started as a profession now is just a job. Just a means to an end. That once great brass ring now becomes a virtual noose about the neck.

Somnific influences are things that induces sleep and can cause you to miss your blessing because you were asleep when it came. They could be drugs. That drug may be food, booze or even caffeine. Ralph Ellison says that there are few things in the world as dangerous as sleepwalkers. I hope I am not asleep when my blessing comes and I pray I am not a sleepwalker.

The challenge I have is to be awake. To not slumber and if not immune, certainly resistant to Somnific influences that promise to direct me away from the pinnacle of my dreams and wishes. I hope that as much as the leaders I vote for, the teachers I trust my son with and the community activists that I support. I hope that they and I, one and all, stay awake.

To quote my brother in that great Spike Lee film

WAKE UP!

Career

I heard an interesting first hand quote today that got me to thinking about careers versus jobs. The great one, Duke Ellington, once was asked about his mastery of the trumpet. He was asked about why he continued to practice even into his oldest years when others saw no need for him to practice. It was accepted that he was the undisputed top musician of the day. In reply he said in part, “.. The closer I get, the farther it looks..”

What was he saying? Does he yet still speak to us today?

I started my journey to mastery of the building code over a decade ago. I was quite naive but willing to learn all I could. What most don’t understand is I see the dreams and hopes of every would be homeowner. The expectations and investments of every business owner. The excitement and fervor behind every sports enthusiast. All on paper. These disparate peoples all have need of one thing: a safe place to deposit people while making a profit on them. Hey, it’s the American way.

Each day at my place of employment, I find new and interesting challenges. I respond to people and their many concerns regarding the bringing of their dreams to reality. They have worked hard, saved much and invested deeply and now they come to me to see if they can cross that important final hurdle. Getting the cities blessing so a construction permit can be issued.

I am a building official.

What’s that? That’s a guy who reads your blueprint plans as you might a short non-fiction biography. The telling of a tale of imagination that is rooted in truth and not stretched beyond belief.

To be sure, none come to me FOR me. I’m not that grand a person. But I am responsible for assuring that the designs you have will last because the safety margins built into the code are not exceeded. If they will be exceeded, it’s not without smarter people than I proving it. Those smart people are engineers and architects who have studied from more fundamental positions structural and special design.

At any rate I’m digressing badly and likely confusing you, dear reader, as to my point.

I realized something that I felt was rather interesting the other day. That my vocation is available in more than one town or city. In fact it’s available anywhere. In any city or town or village where construction occurs. So it’s not unique. But I know now that I feel that if I’m not doing this work I’m rather empty inside. I feel a chasm in me that is wide and yawning. In other words, I miss this particular work challenge. I never missed any other work I’ve done.

Add to that the fact that the work is not just well paying. It’s not…. No definitely not. But I am respected in it by my peers. Missed by those who have reason to like me the least. Fussed over by those who don’t even meet me. And I was shaken with the realization that even were I not paid for this work, and I COULD live without salary from it, I’d still do it.

I actually love this work.

A former coworker of mine once said it best for his particular vocation ‘… I love my job!’

And so in my mind this vocation I am increasing skilled in has transcended the realm of work a day and a job to make ends meet. It’s now a career. A professional career with goals, rewards and mental gymnastics that make my days worth while. My time never feels wasted. And I am willing to arise from a very comfortable slumber and brave New England traffic to accomplish it.

So when Dizzy said what he said I felt that he was so very correct. I practice and work at and train in this skilled career daily. But the more I learn and the closer I get to my professional goals, the further I get because I learn just now little I truly know. The forest is rather large and expanding while my tree is only getting taller the closer to it I stand.

Is see the the trees bark and know it’s every wrinkle. But the forest has many a tree and none are like the last. As I approach my tree, the others grow increasingly distant. Not a bad thing. But that shows me I still have so much to learn about the globalism of my chosen craft.

What could be better than that? I’m not sure there is much that is better than that?

I’m not sure how this story ends or this stream of consciousness should conclude because this subject, though mundane, isn’t finished. It’s my story and it continues. So I’ll just close by saying, stay tuned. My story isn’t done yet.

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Which way is north?

Many years ago, my great great grandfather and those he knew were part of a great underclass known in America as a slave. Because he bore that moniker along with untold thousands of others he was part of a groupthink that desired to return home. Home to things that are familiar. Home to a place where someone might be not only glad to see him but know his name. And how to speak it.

He wanted to go away from places where people were uninterested in his welfare beyond his ability to continue to profitable to the investors and consumers at the doors of his owner. He wanted to be recognized as a man.
But that wasn’t going to happen where he was. In fact he was little better than a prophet in his own land. My biblical scholars will know from whence that comes. So I think to myself. What could a man who is not recognized as a man, disrespected as a human and not appreciated where he is, do?

He could leave.

But go where? Where could he go and be all God intends? There are rumors, he might have posited, of a better opportunity far from there. And that fairway place was called collectively: north.

Now that is a long way to go to ask myself that same question today. If I am not in a place that is where I am appreciated and possibly not even recognized for my humanity, then where should I go? North? No, at least not physically. I already live farther north than I care to admit. So I turn my thinking allegorically. Metaphorically.

On a level that passes the physical and achieves the spiritual I should go north too.

North for my ancestor would’ve been the literal north. But for me and anyone who is looking to change their stars should think about going ‘north’.

For me north became very alluring when I was experiencing pure greed wrapped up in the cloak of hate. And that figure stood on the other side of a pizza store counter. That person impacted my life in such a powerful way that I am to this day both thankful and also embittered by them. Embittered because I should never have had to face such a caricature of something for nothing. Thankful because i was thrust into the world many already knew all too well. The world of self discovery. Self questioning. Who am I?

To that, I have found answers. But I also still have questions. I shan’t explore them here now. Suffice it to say that I am enjoying the journey and have mo regrets and have never looked back.

How clean is your rag?

On April 4, 1968 civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther king Jr. was shot dead at the hand of an assassins bullet.

Many agree he was shot as a result of his stance on the Vietnam war he decried in a speech at the Riverside church, literally one year to the day, earlier. Many also agree that he was gunned down because he was speaking out on the fundamental and natural conclusion that his many speeches could only lead to. Poverty and it’s deleterious effects on the black and brown among us in America that day and to this day.

A photographer was dispatched to photograph the aftermath of that bloody encounter that culminated with a dead man and a cold concrete balcony brought together by a well aimed bullet. The photographer did not see his images brought to print in the magazines of the day.

But I see them now online.

To my horror.

It is strange, he opined later, that the blood was still there when he arrived after a 200 mile race to the scene. That he was white and the negroes who were there to clean the stains away were still busily scrubbing away all evidence of Americas greatest failing to date. My words, not his.

I see in the photographs bowed black heads and hard working hands accustomed to untouchable work, the struggle to make sense of the senseless. Brooms. Scrub brushes. Towels. All their available tools employed to make ready room 306 for her next unsuspecting guest.

But I ask myself as I gaze gap-mouthed at the images on my computer screen one thing:

What color will my rag be?

You see I believe that a wise man once said we have very little if anything at all to do with our birth. But as to our deaths, we all can have absolute and direct cause. Whether by our direct action or passive inaction the sands of our life will run out at some point. But Dr. King was shockingly seeking comfort in his own imminent demise. So famously he uttered that he might not get there with us and we all gasped at his seeming intimacy with his own demise. I was in awe myself when I heard the words for the first time in my life. How could he possibly be so willing to embrace his own death? Surely he loved life. He fought so hard for it to be more abundantly given to his fellow Americans. Not unlike Jesus himself who some 2000 years ago said he wanted for life and life more abundantly to be our blessing.

What was I missing?

I’ll ponder that question later. But for now the question pressing on my heart is what color my rag will be?

You see, my sanctified imagination believes that the morning shift at the Lorraine started like any other for the housekeeping staff. They expected turn down service, towel requests, mints on the pillow and dirty looks from white guests who stayed the night. It was the 1960’s, remember. What the staff surely did not expect was a life altering scene that would haunt them for the remainder of their lives. The gut wrenching duty they were tasked with, was to eradicate and erase all evidence of a life lost from a somewhat cantilevered balcony just outside of a guests room.

Can you imagine their reaction when they saw the blood? Their minds eye theatre replaying the horrific scene they were in short order required to eliminate. How the practiced hands must have shook with sadness, anger or depression or all three and perhaps a thousand other emotions the dictionary has yet to define? But the task was made plain for them and they set out to do it.

In the dark of night.

Solitary in their pain.

But dutiful in their purpose.

And the tool of their trade was a rag. By nights end the rag was no longer white but red, gritty grey and flecked with the prevailing colors of the chemicals used to solvent the offending fluids pooled on the formed stone. So the question I ask is what color will my rag be?

When I pass? When you pass? When he passes. What’s color will our rags be? Will our life’s end be such that a rag will need be used at all? Perhaps not. But the color of the proverbial rag still remains. Perhaps it too will be red for the blood shed in the defense of another. Perhaps it will be blackened for the dark duties we carried out in our final hours. Stained in the color of purity for the child we birthed. Bathed in the color of responsibility because in our lives we were given much power. Awash in the color of justice because we pursued it so. Draped in the color of life because we defended it as none before has. Splendiferous in the many hues of faith as we carried on after others said to cease but God said press on to the mark.

You see I believe that the color of my rag is a testament to my life. A representation of the dreams realized, hopes captured and made real and the standard bearer of the values I died for. My rag should not be as unblemished as it was when it was woven.

A stained rag symbolizes the struggles, joys, successes and failures of our lives. I’m not sure the color of the rag that the world will behold upon my passing. But I hope that it reflects a life well lived. Filled with colors that tell a story that my life gently touched many others and while what I said to everyone may not be recalled, how they felt remains.

The feeling of love, warmth and care.

I wish that for you too.