Death Comes Stealing…

A recurring enemy of mine is randomness. I encounter it everyday in the varying situations that make up my daily movements. It’s at work and the colorful characters that walk in during odd hours, in the attention-grabbing headlines in my newsfeed, the uncalled-for sentence that my girl might say on the phone that changes the whole tone of conversation, or just the sporadic B.S. of riding the train in NYC.

This is eye-brow raising, deep sigh – inducing randomness. Not to be equated to the flooding feeling of shock that may come from some sort of impactful randomness like coming home to a vacant bedroom and a Dear John letter. Nor the randomness of being told that you’re getting laid-off. These are the kinds of things that sweep the proverbial rugs from underneath our feet. They change everything we knew about our personal lives up until that point.

Yet and still, nothing compares to the randomness that death can bring sometimes. Much like the title of the Valerie Wesley fiction novel, it does indeed come stealing. And if the instances mentioned above sweep the rugs from under us and change everything we knew about our lives, death does something more like turn out the lights, and changes everything we knew about life itself.

I lost my brother-in-law 7 days ago. My sister Veen’s chosen life partner and the father of both my oldest and youngest nephews. The news came after a heightened night of seeing my boy rock a high energy show, and coming home late to the cops trying to break down my door for a still unspecified reason because I didn’t answer ( because I ain’t no snitch).

Random right?

But all of this faded in importance of conversation as I picked up the phone 5 hours later that morning to call my dad for another reason and heard the news from him as he stated it very matter-of-factly. Why it seemed like a joke at first, I don’t know. I guess I don’t really deal with death in a connected way. Everyone in my family knows I don’t do cards and I’m usually a no-show for funerals. I was just waiting for the real statement to follow from my father. But there was none…

Iam a family man from a surface standpoint. And I admit that I was not quite brotherly close to my brother-in-law, but this is the closest passing that I have experienced since my Grandmother. He used to live in the space where I live now. I’m not used to sharing small spaces, so I hated it. Some of his things are still scattered here and there as reminders; in a closet, on a shelf. Randomly. I borrowed some of his clothes from that time period…A favorite red shirt and a favorite pair of jeans that I still wear now. He had a vested interest in my music career and tho he talked a better game than he dealt, I rocked with him everytime he suggested a move. The last thing he said to me in fact was a request for me to give him another shot at managing my music career. A surprising motion by him, being that we haven’t spoken about it in years and have essentially kept conversation cordial and surface concerning entertainment business. Yet I remembered quickly saying yeah to the idea. I felt like this time, we might be able to make something happen, and I had just found myself randomly thinking about it the day before hearing the news. Not since my frequent trips to the barbershop where he worked (that is now adorned with candles and flowers under his a jersey with his name), have I thought so considerably about making moves with him. I used to drive all the way to New Jersey every week just to get my free haircut from him. Mostly because even though the trip was $8, the haircut was free because we’re family.

And that word does hold weight, even to a surface guy like myself. I immediately thought of my oldest nephew, who was the closest to me before his teen years. I estranged myself in a way, as school and music stuff became my dominant focuses. I even remember him doing a school report on me being his hero. I suppose everything happens for a reason tho, because just as distance had formed between us, his father stepped up in a super way, getting him involved in sports and coaching, putting him on to music and life in a way that only a dad could. Upon hearing the news I thought, ‘well damn, good thing he’s almost a man now and can handle this a little better’. Even though these teen years for a male can be some of the most emotionally angst-ridden and confusing times. But then I remembered whoa, there’s a baby here that will never have that bond with his father. Never. It makes me feel that perhaps I should rise up and try to be as close to him as I was with my oldest nephew when he was that young, just for the sake of man-to-man influence from a familial angle. Then again, he does have an older brother that can protect and guide him. It doesn’t change the fact that both will miss out on an incredible amount of guidance that my sister Veen cannot give them. She’s an awesome mom, but not a father.

And as Father’s day approaches, I just have to think about ironies and what it is to be living this life on this planet. Suicidal folks get that option. Sick people get predictions and notions of will. Freak accidents take away. Beef comes around. And then, sometimes it’s just an instance where you were laughing with someone yesterday and then you get the news that they’re gone. No signs, no warnings.

It’s especially deep when it’s someone young, who wasn’t suffering, who wasn’t living on the edge or taking chances. Waiting on an anticipated and inevitable death is not the same feeling as the feeling of having someone snatched from you. It makes me regret everytime that I’ve had a thought of wanting to die. It makes you realize the absolute lack of appreciation that is inherent in wanting to end a life that somebody is literally dying to live. I thought, damn, when I was depressed, I was basically asking for death, but then the universe takes someone away who probably never even considered that a possibility. How selfish. Or perhaps I should envy the fact that he no longer has the stresses of life to burden him. I prefer to think that this is a sign to start showing even more appreciation. Furthermore, to express that appreciation that you have for everyone in your life more fully and consistently. To maybe catch yourself before you speak ill of someone and make sure that if you are going to spend your time feeling scornful of them, that you truly do not care whether or not they wake up the next day. Or you’ll regret that energy and sentiment for sure. It’s that serious. To make your own very short life worth more today than it was yesterday. Sounds cliche right? But it’s the truest thing ever said.

That, and the fact that sometimes, Death is indeed, the epitome of random.

This time, I’ll be at the funeral. Next to my nephews.

R.I.P. Fritz

Black People; PLEASE Learn how to SWIM!!!

As a Matriculating student at the Fine institute of Howard University, I found myself at first perplexed then later angered by its archaic policy of mandatory swimming classes for those enrolled in the School of Arts & Sciences, which is the most populated.

Coming in as a student in the department of Communications, I was unaffected but annoyed as  I watched my fellow students drag themselves to their classes and pack swimming gear.  Of course, this would become my reality as I prepared to switch to a Psychology major – which is housed under the school of Arts & Sciences. I just thought about the burden of having to shower in between periods, wading in nasty pool water and having to pack my delicates with my textbooks. Lockers and the smell of Chlorine did not entice me. Neither did the idea of being around partial male nudity when I could be in a regular class staring at the backside of a female classmate.

It was especially Womp-worthy for me because I already knew how to swim.

But it’s times like this, as in the case of this Louisiana Family that lost 6 of its teens to a drowning accident, where I realize the significance of such a seemingly outdated rule.

I’m sure you’ve heard this story by now,

if not, please take the time to click on the link underneath

An African-American family was out having a gathering by Shreveport’s Red River and a group of teenage family members were in the shallow parts when they lost their bearings and fell into deep waters. The shock alone would terrify anyone and catch them off guard, but what makes this story so tragic is that none of the teens knew how to swim. The circumstance was only exacerbated by the fact that out of this large group as a whole, not one of the family members could swim, making rescue an almost impossible act.

Upon hearing this, I was just at a loss. What an extreme situation. How is this possible?? Nobody?? Not one?

Now, taking into account the area where the family is from, and the socioeconomic factors abounding – not to mention that the victims here were teens, it becomes painfully obvious that these were not College educated folk who had the luxury of being required to take swimming lessons. How ironic that this little collegiate thorn in my side could’ve saved 6 lives? Now I’m wondering why it’s not mandatory in high schools…

No matter how surprised Iam when I meet peers of mine who tell me they cannot swim, Iam always taken aback by how many there actually are, but never does or has my mind ventured to think how it can be a survival skill. Basically that’s it whole purpose.  Sure, some of you may love the cool of the waves, the freedom of water, or the oneness with the Earth, but essentially, being acclimated to land as opposed to water, man acquired this skill in order not to perish at the wrath of tides.

I cannot tell you the last time I have swum or entered a body of water not contained in a tub. I Absolutely Hate Public beaches and the only good pool to me is a hot tub. Still and all, once you know, it’s like riding a bike…as they say, you never forget. I have full knowledge that if ever I have to swim, I can just get to it. Especially if my life depended on it. So long as I do a good deal of stretches prior to. You should never have to be afraid of the water, but always respect it.

As I learned more about this story I couldn’t help but think…’Damn, is THIS why Howard made such a big deal of it?’  No one around campus seemed to know why it was mandatory. I told myself that I would research the origin of it that would explain it’s continuation, but someone finally told me that (as I guessed), this was a decision instated in the University’s early days to combat stereotypes of failed Black ability and athleticism in that area. I was turned off at how trivial and cosmetic the thought process behind that was and never delved any deeper. But Now I see just how important it is. And I hope it doesn’t change anytime soon.

Looking at how much I’ve taken this knowledge for granted, the perspective is slightly different now. I ‘m just thinking how I’ve had girlfriends who were on swimteams and were Lifeguards…And then how many people I know who can’t even see underwater because they haven’t gone as far as to duck their heads and open their eyes. It’s now my personal mission to teach every person I know who can’t swim how to if the opportunity presents itself. Blacks being my first priority for obvious reasons.

My heart goes out to this family, for this is truly the result of ignorance (meaning lack of knowledge/not knowing) in its purest form. We can do so much better…