Just going through my luggage, clearing out some things to make way for enlightenment
Saturday, August 20, 2005Reading
While waiting for a train last night, I ran into Lloyd, the choir director from my church. Rather than avoid him as I usually do when I see people out of context, I spoke to him which was definitely out of character for me. I assumed we would exchange pleasantries on the platform, board the approaching train and sit in separate seats. However, the church gossip got just a little too good and I found myself seated next to him on the train. By initiating an exchange I sentenced myself to at least an hour of conversation before he would reach his stop and exit.
I had planned to read the book I purchased at Borders for the beach. Since the weather wasn't agreeing to allow me to read with ocean sounds in the background, I figured I would substitute the sounds of nature with the manufactured voice that called every stop on the local train.
I knew Lloyd to be a reader so I thought it possible that we might sit in silence, engrossed in separate books. He even reached into his bag and pulled out a novel, but still we lapsed into a conversation about music and his trials as a music director at various churches... mine included. Since I share a passion for sacred music, we had a pleasant exchange. Still I was very much aware as we neared his stop that I would soon be able to read a portion of my book.
As soon as we exchanged goodbyes I cracked my book, Gumbo, an anthology of African American writing and became immediately immersed in a short story by Edwidge Danticat about haitian immigrants. I was vaguely aware of the young white man who sat in the seat directly opposite me. He too carried a novel and began reading as soon as his ass hit the cushioned seat. It was really cool to share space with someone else who was reading, each of us involved in our own literature.
At some point he had a cell phone conversation in which I heard him solidify plans to meet up with someone in the city. As he finished his call, I put down my book to retrieve something from my bag. He spoke to me and asked what I was reading and I showed him the book. I'm not particularly used to strangers striking up conversation and I was admittedly slightly suspicious of his casual friendliness. I am also very protective of African American works, especially with white readers. It's a black thing. How could they possibly understand? But as he read the jacket and looked over the authors whose work was featured, he seemed genuinely interested. He even took out a slip of paper and wrote down the book's information for future reference, which impressed me. He also shared a bit about the novel he was currently reading, Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. Then he completely shocked me by handing me a drop card, highlighting a book that he'd co-authored, The Modern Gentleman, A Guide to Essential Manner, Saavy and Vice. Right away it hit me... he's a writer. His interest is genuine.
We exchanged some light conversation in which I learned he lived in Richmond. It was rather pleasant to engage in light banter with a stranger on the train and when I got up to leave at my stop I was slightly disappointed that our exchange couldn't continue. It made me vaguely aware that I am just a bit too guarded, especially with white people. I began, as I imagine white people do at times, to take inventory of my white friends and was sad to note that I don't have very many. Even those with whom I have a relationship, I don't give credit for value they bring to my life. I'm too afrocentric! I think. I'll work on it though, aided by people like Jason Tesauro, author, who thought nothing of striking up a conversation with a strange black man on a train.
In some abstract way my exchange with Jason will continue especially if he does go out and get Gumbo. It's a marvelous anthology with stories that are so human anyone can enjoy them. Even if he doesn't, I will be picking up Kafka on the Shore which I will begin right after I pour through The Modern Gentleman, which I just ordered from Amazon. I'll let you know how it is.
Reflections - Delivered at the Homegoing of Willie Snell, my grandfather, who would have turned 80 years old today.
On behalf of my family I would first like to offer thanks to everyone for the outpouring of support and love. God has truly blessed us.
Our grief is a deep well, yet we are not consumed. We have so much to be grateful for that it would be abominable not to yield to the will of God and accept what He allows. After all, he made each of us, knows all about us, and calls us at the appointed hour. Our lives belong to him and control is in his hands.
God is good.
He allowed this servant nearly four score years to labor in this vineyard. We are grateful that Daddy was consistent in his habits. We may not have always agreed with his choices, but we were seldom surprised. He was usually at work, church, a lodge function or en route to one or the other. It was usually the “en route” part where we would be left wondering, but again, God is good. He always made it back home.
This great church was as much his home as his residence. I used to tell him that he got nearly as much rest here as he got at home. As long as he was on that door he was on guard, but as soon as he sat down, his chin would hit his chest. I know I’ve got some witnesses. For all the services he attended, it was inevitable that he would sleep through a couple of good sermons. Alas he is about to sleep through another. But God is good.
We have wonderful memories of cookouts, road trips, holidays… Daddy loved Christmas. They were huge when I was growing up. Even when he would pack us up in the car and haul us to Georgia, Christmas day didn’t suffer. His road trips are infamous. We have been everything from broke down to locked up messing around with Daddy on the highway, but never lost. He was the short cut king. So much so that when I find myself at the familiar crossroad I still ask the question, “Should I take I20 and go through all those little towns or just stay on 95 and get there faster?” Because he taught us all to drive too fast, I stay on 95.
I believe he was most happy with family around. He loved when the house and yard were packed to capacity. Whether or not they brought anything he was always glad to see them come. And when I say family, don’t get caught up in the traditional definition of blood relation. Our idea of family has never been bound by the traditional. In fact, if you are sitting in this sanctuary, you are probably considered family regardless of who your peoples are. That is how we came up. Daddy loved people and he opened his heart and home to those in need.
He could be most generous, but never forgot the difference between a gift and a loan. I learned to carefully word requests for cash because if you used the word “loan” he surely expected it back regardless of the amount. It was not about the money, but a matter of principle. If you owed someone you were obligated to pay it back whether it was five cents or five dollars. It’s not that he held money in high regard, If the truth be told he placed more value on work for that was the means by which you acquired money. As long as you work you will always have.
He was not a man without fault, but if we had no faults we would have no need of grace and mercy. God is our secret judge yet we continue to attempt to judge others. Nikki Giovanni says that if we must judge a man, we should do so by his dreams, not just his deeds. Do so by his intent, not just his short comings and finally my brethren, to quote the gospel of Paul… whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.