A Good Home

The Peonies are Bloomin’!

The peonies are blooming in different shades and varieties. A bit late here in the sticks, but it’s been a splendi-florous week. 

Blog Photo - Garden June 2020 - RustPink Peony

Blog Photo - Garden June 2020 - White Peony 2

Blog Photo - Garden June 2020 - Deep Pink Peony opening

Blog Photo - Garden June 2020 - Garden Deep Pink Peony

Blog Photo - Garden June 2020 - White Peony with Bee legs showing in centre

Yes, those are the legs of an insect in the centre — it didn’t move so maybe it’s asleep, as this was early morning.

Happy Juneteenth and I wish you a lovely weekend,

Cynthia.

A Good Home

When the Mask Slips

My husband is the strongest man I know.

In his work as a journalist, police commissioner, mental health adjudicator, community volunteer and diversity and inclusion consultant, he has seen and heard the most gut-wrenching cases you can imagine.

And yet, he seems to find a way to process it all, so he can come home to our family and community and be the emotionally, mentally and spiritually strong person we rely on.

As our family members have been rocked by the killing of Black people by police and now suspicious-sounding ‘suicides’ of Black men found hanging from trees in the US, he has stood strong, never giving in to the rage or despair that I occasionally express.

Having lived in both the US and Canada, and having studied Black history in both places, he brings to family discussions the context that the rest of us lack. Because of this  background and his work with mental health, policing and inclusive strategies, he knows things we don’t. When I want a level-headed perspective on such things, I turn to him.

In recent weeks, as a diversity and inclusion consultant, he has been bombarded by calls from company executives to help them address anti-Black racism in their organizations. He has heard the heartbreaking stories of Black employees who believed they were treated unfairly in some of these companies simply because of the colour of their skin. Throughout, he has listened calmly and remained strong.

Yesterday morning, I knew he was going to say something profound before he said a word. Something personal. As he drew close to me, he said, calmly: “I need you to check on me occasionally.”

I let him talk about how recent events have affected him. And in that moment, I glimpsed the pain he’s been carrying around for weeks.

Yes, even the strongest among us are affected by the killings, by the never-ending injustice, by the oppression of Black people.

Hours later, my American friend asked the rest of us in a chat group to pray for her. With 3 Black males in her family, she has been on high alert, alternating between being ultra-protective and praying. Her faith in God is strong.

But yesterday morning was rough. Her husband broke down in tears. He, too, was overcome by worry and fear. Fear for the lives of his sons, fear for his family.

To negotiate being Black in North America and Europe is to know how to manage our rage at the injustices facing our people. It’s a survival strategy: to survive, to make good lives for our families, we learn to hide our anger and despair. And so we smile. We reassure our children, sometimes daily. And we pretend that we are fine.

In Twigs in My Hair, I quoted the brilliant African-American poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar. Like me, Dunbar wrote about both the serene spaces of the natural world and the harsh realities of ‘the real world’.  His 1913 poem, The Mask We Wear has come to mind several times in recent weeks:

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

 

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

       We wear the mask.

 

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries

To thee from tortured souls arise.

We sing, but oh the clay is vile

Beneath our feet, and long the mile;

But let the world dream otherwise,

       We wear the mask!

 

We would prefer to share happy thoughts, not angry ones, to give in to hope, not despair.

And we do have moments of hope.  The demonstrators, many of them young people of all races, demanding that unjust systems be changed.   The leaders who have already taken meaningful action. The resilience of Black people, after centuries of injustice.

Occasionally, though, at the place where we are most ourselves — at home — the mask slips and we admit to the pain. Yet, even here, we cannot afford to dwell too long – we cannot afford to let it paralyze us. We must be strong.

This post is a love song to Black males – boys and men – and to everyone who sometimes feels pain, rage or hopelessness. In those moments, talk to someone you trust, please. Remove the mask, even for just a moment.

 

 

 

 

A Good Home

Benjamin & Dr. Martin Luther King – A Guest Post

Friends:

Author Diane Taylor (“The Gift of Memoir” & other books) shared this with me and I got her permission to share it with you. Thank you, Diane.

~~

Let me tell you about my son Benjamin and Dr. Martin Luther King, and how I came to write the poem below. And also why I am bringing the poem to light after it has been dormantly lying with a collection of other poems in a bottom drawer for the past thirty-seven years, accessible to my eyes only.

Blog Photo - Diane Taylor1

Most people come of age in their teens. I came of age during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. I was well aware of Dr. Martin Luther King’s  I Have a Dream speech when in 1964 I grabbed the chance to march with many others down Yonge Street in Toronto against segregation in Selma, Alabama. Bus loads of Canadians travelled to Selma to encourage Black voter registration – which had only recently become legal. It was my first year teaching.

In his speech, Dr. King said he could see “One day when little black children would walk hand in hand with little white children …” He was shot and killed in 1968.

In the early ‘80s, I had the opportunity to live and work – on  a conch farm – in a primarily Black community on a small island in the Caribbean. By then, I was the mother of a one-year-old. It was pure joy for me to see my little white child playing with little black children, living out Martin Luther King’s Dream.

Blog Photo - Martin Lutehr King

In the islands, there was the chance to right the wrongs of the past, to live life the way it should be lived, free from the prejudices of race and colour. 

I have a photo of little Ben playing in the sand with his little black friend Nevil. They are both three and a half. The ocean is placid just a few feet away. They are both on their knees, bodies energetically engaged in a fantastic creation, both with their weight on one arm while the other arm is madly pulling sand into a castle that defies archeological logic, but is clearly amazing to both of them. And they had to be fast, for the sun was almost down, on another prefect day, and their mothers would soon be taking them home.

Ben died not long after that photo. A Benless future was unimaginable and unacceptable. Poems were a way of connecting with his spirit and keeping him with me. I shared them with family at the time, but not since. They are too tender a part of me to be casually shared.

Then, George Floyd. After so many others. That’s why this is the right time and the right place for the boy named Benjamin to emerge from the bottom drawer into the light.

For Martin Luther King

She had a dream

That one day

Her little blond boy

Would walk hand in hand

With little black children.

~~

The dream came to pass

They walked hand in hand

Trekked island paths

Built castles in the sand

Ran Time into the ground.

~~

But, it turns out it’s Time

Noncommittal and cold

Does the running

And Time runs out

Into the costly cosmos.

~~

Dr. King? That little blond boy –

Please take his hand in yours.

 

­

 

________

 

 

A Good Home

8 Specific Actions We can Take

Hi Friends:

An acquaintance confessed this week to feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the racism problem in the US, and the issues we face here in Canada.  He felt paralyzed with rage and powerlessness.

I confessed that I have those moments of paralysis too. 

We decided that taking specific actions is one way to break the paralysis.  

I’ve also been taking inspiration from your own replies here, from the articles I’m reading, and from my two daughters.

With the above in mind, I compiled a list of actions, most of which cost nothing:

1. Reach out. 

Start with friends and neighbours. Share. Listen. Learn. Let the other person know you’re concerned.  

I cannot count the number of times I stereotyped certain White neighbours and acquaintances, thinking they would find the topic of racism too difficult to discuss.  But by asking the first question and listening to them, I was reminded every time that I don’t have a monopoly on caring about these issues.

And yes, I even shared my Mother’s Day post with some trepidation, and was relieved at the support from my blogging community. Thank you.

So talk to people, especially Black people, if you’re not Black. You might even ask: “How do you think I can help? I want to do something to make a difference.”

2. While you’re at it, don’t assume that liberals and socialists are the only ones furious at the murders of Black individuals. 

Human beings are complex. One of my friends is White, conservative, evangelical and pro-life. She points out that “you can’t be pro-life yet support the wanton killing of Black citizens”. 

3. Speak up when you see a wrong.

Silence is not an option, says Allen at New Hampshire Garden Solutions.  And small, everyday actions matter. “We don’t stand at a microphone on television. We speak across the lunch table at work, or in whatever other social situations we find ourselves in, but we do speak. Staying silent is simply not an option.”

Jane Fritz, in her very insightful blog post, says the things we don’t do can be unintentionally damaging: “The bottom line is that one person’s ‘harmless fun’ is someone else’s lifetime of hurt, exclusion, fear, and self-loathing.”

4. Write something.

Several bloggers decided in recent days to directly address the issue of the murders of Black citizens. Jane Fritz, Lisa at arlingwords and CandidKay are just three. What would happen if more bloggers decided to do the same?

Blogger Chris wanted to do something but hardly knew where to start. His wife kept saying “You could write something”, until he heard her and did  this blog post.

5. Share articles with useful ideas and practical suggestions.

It was Murtagh’s Meadow who sent me the link to Chris’ post. And Wendy McDonald, Writing to Freedom and others have done similar.

Another friend sent me a link to this very clear and powerful video by Emmanuel Acho on Twitter:

pic.twitter.com/74SVv8XOqp

6. Support already-established groups working to reduce barriers for Black people.

We don’t have to recreate the wheel. Laurie Graves did two things: she wrote a post, then she acted to support The Poor People’s Campaign (https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org/) founded by Reverend William Barber.

My younger daughter immediately donated to Black Lives Matter, my older daughter to an organization providing bail money and legal defense to those arrested. This is important. Years ago, I learned that young Black men here in Canada are more likely to plead guilty to a crime even if innocent because they know their families can’t afford bail or legal defense. It may be the same in the US and the UK, for example.

7. Support Black businesses in your area or online.

My younger daughter shops online for baby clothes and other items during the pandemic. On learning that Black communities and businesses are disproportionately affected by COVID, she started making a deliberate effort to find and shop at Black-owned businesses or brands in Canada and the US.

8. Vote your beliefs.

If equal rights are one of the things you truly want to see, look for the candidates who include it in their platforms and who are prepared to fight for it.

My best,

Cynthia.

Cynthia Reyes is the author of Myrtle the Purple Turtle, the children’s illustrated book that teaches inclusion, friendship and kindness.