“Arizona took those broken birds / a wingspan away from the end of their world/ now they ride that thermal wind and we watch with open mouths”
You guys, my friend Emily wrote that line. It is gorgeous, and she wrote it. She, the girl I met at middle-school summer camp nearly two decades ago, with her guitar and her long hair (she still has both), the Indigo Girls obsession that she passed on to me; a friendship that grew into passed notes and sleepovers, concerts on Mud Island, obscenely long instant message conversations in the early days of AOL, and so much ubiquitous high school driving—the kind you do at night, with windows down, belting song lyrics that you feel certain were written just for you.
Now she’s the one writing those kinds of lyrics, and I could not be more proud. (The song is “Arizona” from the forthcoming album “Staking Flags in the Valley” from artist Emily White and you can listen to it here.)
You know how we all have a couple of really big, legitimate screw up moments in our lives? The ones that can’t be excused or explained or contextualized to make them sound less awful, because they are, in fact, pretty awful?
I have my fair share, and one of them involves Em. The summer before she went off to college, I fell for the girl she was dating and subsequently behaved pretty badly, and instead of taking responsibility for my dishonorable behavior, I acted like a jerk about it instead.
Not my finest hour.
Understandably, Emily cut ties with me and we remained out of touch for years while we both were in college, though mutual friends meant we both stayed on each other’s radars, at least peripherally. But here’s what really special about this story—she forgave me. Like, fully, wholly, and completely forgave me, beyond even my own capacity to forgive myself. Opened herself back up to me, sending letters in her familiar, small script, and gave me the gift of knowing her again.
If we’re lucky, our friends teach us simply by letting us witness their lives. They humble us with their goodness. They make beauty, and we are inspired to do the same.
The record that Emily has made is beautiful; I had the privilege of listening to a demo cut this summer while I was driving to Memphis, the place we both grew up, and it made me cry—in a good way.
Em has just launched a Pledge Music campaign to raise the remaining funds needed to print & promote “Staking Flags in the Valley.” (Because she’s a badass, she actually funded the majority of the album’s production herself—pretty damn amazing.) For as little as $5, you can receive a sampler of tracks from the album, with bigger contributions netting some pretty sweet swag—including t-shirts, prints of the album cover artwork, and signed copies of my book, The Pomegranate King! I’m so honored to be included in this project, and amazed by my friend’s generosity in promoting the work of others even as she works to put her own work out into the world.
Please consider supporting my amazing friend. Back at you soon with an end-of-summer pasta!
We took you to your first rally tonight, a peaceful protest. We put on red shirts (yours new, acquired at Target just an hour before), held a homemade sign that read “With liberty & justice for all,” and stood in a public park with Houstonians of all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors.
You didn’t know what was going on, of course—I had told you on the way there that we were going to see a lot of people, for something important—but you were content to watch from my shoulder as half-a-dozen individuals got up to speak and tell their stories. You peeked and flirted with nearby faces. You made friends with a little girl and chased her around a tree.
When we got back home, I held you in your room and we sang “This Little Light of Mine” before going to bed. You have always loved listening to music, but only in the last few weeks have you really begun to sing, renditions of tunes recognizable enough for us to join in. Tonight, you kept repeating the line “I’m going to let it shine,” over and over and over again, your enthusiasm bending the words to sound like I nama nennit SHINE!
You didn’t understand why I started crying, fat tears rolling down my cheeks while I kept singing along with you, my mind a mirror that sees not my own face, but that of Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, tears rolling down her own cheeks as she deals with a reality that I’m terrified may some day be my own. You didn’t know any of this. But when you saw my tears, you held your hand up to my face, palm cupping my cheek, and said Mama. Mama, heart.
Before you came into our life, when you were just an abstract notion, the sentence “We’re hoping to adopt,” I worried about becoming the mother of a black son. I worried because I wasn’t sure if I were the right person to do it. Could I do right by you? Would you someday wake up and think What the hell am I doing with these people? More than anything, I was determined to not be ignorant about the world in which we live, this world in which we would be raising a black son.
I am not an essentialist; I do not believe that your blackness defines you any more than my brownness defines me. But I knew that, in the sight of so many, your color would define you, would become the only thing that people saw. Black male equals threat, equals thug, equals less than, equals other. I knew that you would be forced to reckon with realities that no one should ever, ever have to explain to their child.
I didn’t know the half of it.
Still, when it came down to actually filling out the forms, the one where they ask adoptive parents to mark which babies they’re willing to adopt, with boxes for gender, race & ethnicity, possible drug exposure, I didn’t think twice. I was the one with the pen, and with your Gigi looking over my shoulder, I checked all of the boxes. Every last one. And then, against every odd & adoption industry statistic, your birth mother, Mama D, chose us to be your parents.
Tonight, I am heartened, if only for the briefest moment, as public outrage seems to have brought a shift to the situation in Ferguson. There are many people fighting the good fight—and so many people paying attention—that I can’t help but have hope. That our tweets and our journalists and our witnessing and our solidarity can actually affect change—this has always been the promise of America. It is a promise I still so desperately want to believe in.
My son, I can’t promise you that things will get better. There are so many layers of hate and injustice and willful ignorance and systemic inequality that I don’t even know how to realistically envision improvement at this point. Here’s what I can promise you, though; I will shout, shake with anger, write, pray, petition, protest, cajole, debate, inform, disseminate, rally, cry at my desk, and whatever else is within my power to do, for all the rest of my days.
And you, my son? Promise me you’ll keep singing. Nice and loud, so everyone can hear.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.