An Obama Kind of Love – The Couple’s Impact on Relationships

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As the last days of the Obama administration drew to a close, the media and the general public engaged in the customary examination of the legacy left by the former president and first lady.

As I read or watched specials on this generation’s most celebrated couple, I began to formulate my own assessment of the Obamas’ legacy that won’t make the history books.

Barack and Michelle, the couple, epitomize love. Love of self, love of family, love of others, love of country, love of God.  But to me and many others they symbolize ideal romantic love, Black love in particular.

From the moment we were introduced to them as Potus and Flotus, we admired their grace, charm and charisma.  Soon we fell in love with the living representation of what we all aspire to have: a loving, caring relationship based on trust, mutual admiration and respect.  You can tell the interaction between Barack and Michelle is genuine and they deeply care about and admire each other.  I could easily picture the President coming home after a hard day and dropping his head in his wife’s lap, eliciting a gentle caress.  I could also see Michelle with lifted eyebrows and hands on hips voicing discontent with a “Now.  Barack!”  And my God, the pictures with the girls curled up in No. 1 Dad’s lap or him planting an affectionate kiss on Michelle’s cheek or the girls’ forehead!

The Obamas as symbol of love showed us that contrary to popular belief, Black love is neither non-existent nor unattainable. It does exist! We’ve seen it live and in living color – pun intended.  A successful relationship requires both luck or an act of God (finding the right person) and a solid personal foundation of what marriage is.  Those of us, believers, know that a good marriage begins with a focus on God and biblical principles. The Obamas demonstrated an effective recipe that contains these values:

Shared attraction + reciprocal admiration + mutual respect +trust + commitment = Successful marriage

Barack’s eyes broadcasted his appreciation for his wife and he unabashedly lauded her qualities every chance he got. Likewise Michelle boasted about her husband. She gushed about him like a teenager on the Ellen Degeneres show.  Theirs is an expressive, playful, trusting and yes, sexy relationship. I’m sure there are hiccups that are amiably worked out, but their admiration and respect toward each other were always obvious, even in the small gestures.

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The nation witnessed yet again evidence of the unequivocal bond between the Obamas during one of their final public appearances on inauguration day.  When a soldier escorted Michelle to join the outgoing and the incoming president on stage, Barack lifted his wife’s hands to his lips and planted a quick kiss there. I fully understood that fleeting yet powerful gesture.  It said, “Thank you for being my best friend and being there for me from the first day down to the very last.”

In my humble opinion, the Obamas did for black love what the Huxtables did for the black family in a prior generation.  They demonstrated that regardless of culture or race, two people who are on the same page emotionally, intellectually, socially, morally and personally can maintain and enjoy that happy union called marriage.

That kind of love while not common is not however the exclusive domain of the Obamas. You’ve probably seen examples of it in your circle. I happen to know couples who exhibit that kind of passionate, loving and enriching relationship we’ve witnessed in the Obamas.  My pastors, Jerry & Jacqueline Martin of Houston, fellow Haitian artist Michèle Voltaire Marcelin and her social activist husband Jocelyn McCalla in New York and personal friends jazz duo Karen and Rick Pasek  of New Jersey are a few that come to my mind.

As we say goodbye to our beloved icons, and with Valentines’ Day around the corner, I wish you all “an Obama kind of love.”

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Personal Note:  A week after Valentine’s Day this year, my husband and I celebrate fifteen years of marriage.  We began with the requisite ingredients for a good marriage, but over the years we had to use all the tools of success mentioned earlier to keep the story of us going.

Not all 5475 days were blissful, but with prayer and a committed mindset, our relationship stood the test of time and other challenges and continued to flourish. We’ve certainly aged in fifteen years; however, the essence of what attracted us to each other still provides reasons to like each other.  Every once in a while I get little reminders of why our marriage is good.  Recently I experienced a stressful incident at work.  I immediately picked up my phone and called him. When he greeted me with his customary “Hi, baby,” I said, “You know what, you are my best friend. You’re the first person I call whenever something important happens to me.”

In my memoir, “Cads, Princes & Best Friends,” that recounts a tumultuous decade in my life leading to meeting my husband, I expressed gratitude for being blessed with a best friend who is my prince. I will now add that through the years I’ve had a best friend who treats me like a princess.

Danielle Coulanges and Hamilton Lamarre are immensely blessed to have “that Obama kind of love.”  Our prayer is that you have/find the same thing too.

We wish you all ” an Obama kind of love!” and a Happy Valentine’s Day!

#Obamakindoflove

d-h

Photo credits

Featured image at the top: http://img.wennermedia.com/620-width/1349281495_obamas-march-20-2009.jpg

 

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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!”

The Value of Lost Things

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Do You Ever Think of the Emotional Value of Things?

I’ve often heard that you don’t know the value of something until you lose it. I think a more accurate statement might be that we take the value of things, even people, for granted while they are around and available.

One afternoon, in between class periods I used the nearest girl’s restroom at the suburban junior high school where I teach. I freshened up then left my cosmetic pouch on the sink before I used the stall, as I always do. I heard one or two girls come in and leave. When I came out, the bag was gone.

Gone was my soft, perforated black leather over red satin pouch. What an inconvenience to replace these necessities – my compact, lipstick, lip gloss, purse-size hand sanitizer, small comb, brush, mini nail file, hair pins, safety pins, and my small Swiss army pocket knife with seven tool heads.

Then I felt the pang of a deeper loss! That little bag was associated with very emotional memories of my experience of 9/11.

I worked then at a brokerage firm whose offices are on the waterfront in Weehawken, New Jersey, directly across from midtown New York City. That fateful morning, I watched the second plane crash into Tower 2 of the World Trade Center. During an emergency meeting called to coordinate evacuation of our building, we watched in horror as the towers collapsed in a huge plume of smoke and dust that spread over downtown Manhattan.

I had offered to drop a colleague at the New Jersey Transit train station on my way home. When we got there it felt like Armageddon. People who had managed to catch trains out of New York City were circling around in panic. All trains had stopped running! When my colleague heard the news she ran back to my car and asked me to take her home to Newark, a town only six miles away. In a scene reminiscent of a zombie movie, several young women started banging on my window. “Please, please, take us home!” They were disheveled and haggard. The fear in their eyes reflected what was in my and everyone else’s heart. Is this the end? I couldn’t leave them there. These perfect strangers piled up in my car.

As I drove toward Newark, I noticed a lot of police activity on all the roadways and bridges and credited it to the fact that the country was possibly under attack. When I dropped the girls off, we exchanged business cards. They worked for Estee Lauder Cosmetics.

Imagine my panic when I tried to get home and found a closed bridge! I circled around for what felt like an eternity. All the bridges and roadways had been shut down. I was frantic, scared and felt like a citizen left outside the gates and the enemy was coming. I finally reached my husband on the phone and he reminded me that I had a friend who lived near Newark. I spent the night there, mostly glued to the continuous recap of the events on television and found out the terrorists had driven from Newark and the police investigation was centered there. In addition, some of the World Trade Center victims were being transported to nearby New Jersey hospitals.

A couple of weeks later, I opened my mail to find a thank you note and a kit of Estee Lauder products from the young women I gave a ride to on 9/11. In it was that perfect size, elegant leather cosmetic bag. I didn’t use it for a long time, wanting to keep it as a memento. I decided to start using it when my regular $4.99 pouch gave way.

I never thought about how I got the bag until it was gone – coincidentally two weeks after the 9/11 anniversary.

The same happens with other things, even people. They are part of the fabric of our everyday life, so we take them for granted. They serve their purpose or function and we never think of their emotional value until they are no longer around. Like that job you can’t stand but that provides for you or the gadget you paid so much for and mishandle. We are aware of how important this spouse, parent, child or friend is in our life, but we’ll leave them vulnerable, expose them to risk, just as I did when I left this bag in the open.

What if we valued what and who we love by protecting them a little better?

How about if we remind ourselves how much they mean to us not only in a tangible way, but also by adding that emotional quotient that is so much more?

Then maybe there would be less lost things to fuss about, less precious moments  that are wasted away and less lost relationships  to mourn.

***Previously published on Yahoo.com.

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