I Choose to Be Thankful

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Two weeks before the Thanksgiving holiday I was feeling particularly upset.  Overworked. Fatigued.  Frustrated.  My body felt like a wreck and I was emotionally and mentally drained. Everything got on my nerves and I was heading toward a private pity party.

Wait! Danielle. Stop complaining. You have so much to be thankful for.

For the next ten days every time I felt like complaining, I reminded myself to be thankful instead.

Wednesday – a full day on a blocked schedule with no breaks in between. I am completely worn out when I leave work.  Then I think about Thursday when I only see two classes and have an extended conference time. Woo Hoo!  Breathe. I get to catch up on my back log. I choose to be thankful!

Right upper arm – hurts like a new wound at the site of the scar where a growth was removed eight years ago when I reach to grab something on a shelve. Happens often. Doctor said there is no new growth. A Google search informed me that this is common. The nerve endings in the area of the scar are disconnected or something.  This will be a lifelong occurrence.  Okay then, let’s see.  I can still hold my beloveds in a bear hug. I can still lift my hand to praise The Lord. I choose to be thankful!

Need more sleep – hit the snooze all three times that morning. How I wish I could stay in bed, asleep!  One of my students, a bright and engaging young woman, appears to drag every morning that week. What’s wrong? I ask. “I’ve been going through some anxiety issues and am unable to sleep at night,” she replied.  My recommendation: chamomile or verbena tea, milk and honey, music…  Whoa! Here I am complaining and I’m getting at least six solid hours a night.  I choose to be thankful!

Right ankle – broken in a car accident when I was ten years old, buckles under as I walk.  I stumble.  This happens occasionally.  No heels this week Ms. Thing.  Podiatrist’s X-ray done a couple of months ago diagnosed arthritis and soft tissue damage in the area.  But, Ah!  I’ll be able to wear heels on Sunday, right? I am able to stand and walk? Dance at Zumba class?  I choose to be thankful!

30 minutes for lunch – I hate to eat in a rush. Bad for my genetic digestive issues. An older man, a teacher aide, comes into the teacher lounge. In a conversation about food he mentions being tired of eating soft foods, the only thing he’s able to process.  He initiated dental replacement back when he had a full time job and before turning 65. He got as far as partial implants. Medicare won’t pay the $10,000 cost of the remaining dentures and he can’t afford it on his own. I was chewing on a piece of chicken. I choose to be thankful!

Getting older is sometimes disconcerted. Why did I have to check the mirror when I was wearing my glasses and noticed all the grey eyebrow hairs? Wait! Once I “do” my brows, in pencil or gel, all you see are well arched brows.  Make up, what a blessing! I choose to be thankful!

Follow up doctor visit – apprehensive before I go. I am under medical observation because of a genetic illness in my blood that has the potential to become serious. My latest tests look great. Doctor gives me a clean bill of health, a six-month reprieve until my next visit.  I choose to be thankful!

Missing my husband – I burst into tears at the thought of how long we’ve been apart (I working in Texas and he in New Jersey). Lord! This is hard, but you have a plan. I know. Also, absence does make the heart grow fonder. I have a loving and fulfilling (albeit long-distance) relationship with a wonderful man. I look forward to every visit with great anticipation.  Our time together is so much richer particularly because we miss each other.

On this Thanksgiving morning, when I felt his presence asleep next to me, later when we busied ourselves in the kitchen preparing our version of the holiday meal that included Haitian style turkey legs and of course rice and beans, when we shared the festive meal in an intimate setting with my sister and two of her children and I prayed over the blessings of family, love, health, a beautiful home, a good job, great relationships, and so much more, I had very good reasons to be thankful!

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Losing a Matriarch

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Immediately upon learning of a loved one’s passing, your mind flashes back to your last conversation or encounter. Was it loving? Was it kind? Then along with the sadness arrives a moment of retrospection when you examine who that person was to you, what your relationship with them was like, and what lessons, if any, are to be learned from his or her life.

I recently lost an elderly cousin I loved like an aunt.  Ma Tante Céline was 84 years old. I was fortunate to see her one last time exactly a year ago when I visited her in Haiti. That afternoon reignited the timeless easy feeling of special moments spent with a close friend. We talked, caught up on each other and family and shared a delicious meal of Creole chicken and rice and beans. A loving encounter filled with laughter.

Over the course of the ensuing days my memory began to piece back together a portrait of the woman named Céline. Ma Tante Céline was what in our family we call a real “nègesse Coulanges,” a strong, smart, no nonsense woman who always worked hard. She was savvy, enterprising and reigned as the CEO of her domain. She had grit before the word became fashionable. Even as a child it was apparent to me that she was a mover and shaker. Céline was the family member who seemed to have it going on. People gravitated to her and deferred to her counsel. Her house constantly buzzed with people.

Members of several generations and close friends gathered to be with her one last time and reminisce at her home going ceremony. People talked about the woman whose home was always a welcome stop for recently arrived Haitians and a gathering place for family and friends. Middle-aged men and women, with now young adult children of their own, remembered with great fondness time spent in her basement, a safe refuge and hang out for them as teenagers. Céline made everyone feel welcome and loved. You were comfortable around her. She had her quirks, God yes, especially in old age, but she was above all a people person. Anybody – men, women, young and old – could find in her a trusted confidante, a sponsor to help with finances, a wise adviser or simply an amiable company.

Everyone present had a story.  Mine was that she’d been the sponsor who lent me money for my mother’s funeral until a small life insurance kicked in.  Of course Céline’s tale was always that she borrowed the money from someone else to give to you.  This clever strategy ensured that you paid her back. After all, who, if one were wise, would want to put their benefactor on the spot?

She was also the elder I trusted for vetting my now husband, Hamilton when our dating became serious.  As I recount in my memoir, Cads, Princes and Best Friends, the two of them, originally from neighboring towns in Haiti, chatted like old acquaintances that evening. I still chuckle at the memory of her signature inquiry when we had a moment to ourselves. “So, Dane, when is the wedding?” – One who strongly believed in marriage, Céline  was always anxious to marry off the young women around her. I believe she might have even done a bit of matchmaking along the way. –  “Céline,” I replied then, “we’re just dating. He hasn’t even proposed yet!”

I look back on her life now and see lessons she imparted to me by just being who she was.

Lesson #1: Work hard to achieve what you want. She created a comfortable lifestyle for her and her children, thanks to a secure union job in the services industry. But she also engaged in side businesses and amassed investments. By the time she retired, she was able to enjoy the good life in her gorgeous home in the hill section of Thomasin in Haiti where she spent most of her time.

 Lesson #2: It’s okay to aspire to greater. She pushed her children and all young people around her to achieve. A Haitian immigrant with no college degree, she made sure her three children received their education, including two master’s degrees, one from Columbia.

Lesson #3: Keep your house nice and open it to people. That single family house in Brooklyn, New York underwent frequent renovations as she continually upgraded to newer and better. In the midst of that, visitors and the occasional house mates were a constant presence.

Lesson #4:  Live your life to its fullest. She married twice and in between had one torrid love affair we all remember for its continuous drama. She traveled, enjoyed a busy social life and was known for doing things in a lavish but classy way. A grand dame for sure!

Lesson #5: Love God and love people.  Céline’s heart was open and you felt genuine love in the way she interacted with people. Her purse strings loosened generously to support family and friends in need. In her later years, she made it her business to help the needy in Haiti;  a one-woman non-profit organization. In fact, as her casket was lowered into the ground, the only outburst of the day came when a woman wailed and cried out, “Our sponsor is gone! Who is gonna help the people in Haiti now?”

My sister Nerlande summarized her life best when she said, “Céline lived a great life. She worked hard, established herself and raised her children well. She had two marriages and a passionate love affair.  She traveled and partied. Then she spent her later years helping others, doing God’s work.”

Céline’s viewing and funeral were closed casket events that spared mourners the sorrowful last memory of seeing her in eternal sleep.  Instead, there were streaming videos and pictures with family members and friends.  While greatly aggrieved by her passing, people unconsciously displayed faint smiles that contradicted the tears in their eyes as each relived memories of moments spent with her.

I remember an article in the Oprah magazine in which the writer suggested that one write their own eulogy as an exercise to how you want to be remembered when you are gone. Céline’s home going services was a celebration of a life well lived, one that touched many and honored God. It is fitting then that she is buried alongside “God’s chosen people,” in a Jewish cemetery in Weston, Florida. When our car entered the Menorah Gardens, my fellow passengers and I couldn’t help a chuckle as we drove past rows upon rows of Abraham, Cohen, Goldsmith, Levine, Meyer, Rosenberg, Silverstein, etc… Classic Céline! Ms. Thing is probably the only Haitian resting among the Jewish elite of Weston. Even dead, the lady’s got chutzpah!

I have two older sisters who are thankfully still on this earth, but with each passing of an old-timer, the generational layers peel off to reveal the next elders. I realize I have now joined their ranks and must be mindful that my life conveys lessons to the next generation, at times overtly and others even when I’m not aware of it. During a conversation with my niece Karen while I was there, I mentioned how pleased I was that her son Nicolas and she were so close and I’d observed how he respected her opinion on life decisions. She reminded me that a remark I made to her years ago about her interaction with her then teenage son had altered the nature of their relationship. The commentary was intentional at the time and made out of love; I could not have predicted the magnitude of its impact twelve years later .

None of us knows how long we have on this planet, but all of us should think about what imprints of ourselves we want to remain when we leave.  If I am blessed to live to Céline’s ripe old age, I want the kind of legacy she left behind and to be remembered with the fondness I witnessed at her home going.

One thing I do know for sure is that, just like her, I look forward to standing at the pearly gates and hearing the Father’s voice say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant!”

New Neighborhood

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Today I become a citizen of the vast writing world of Word Press as I move my blog from another server.

I am excited about connecting with a new community and look forward to reading what my neighbors have to say.  I also hope that as I share with you, my presence on this platform will contribute a ray of light into the world by touching somebody’s heart and spirit.

Be blessed.

Danielle