Like a Tree Planted by the Water

To say my heart has been broken these past few days would be an understatement, and yet, I know that this feeling is nothing compared to the crushing blow of the families who have lost their loved ones, the fears of so many who wonder if they will be next, and the weight of living in this day after day after day.

When I came out to my good friend and mentor, Kim, she responded to me by recognizing her privilege – that while she had asked many of the same questions I was wrestling with regarding faith and sexuality- she recognized that I lived in them with “every thought, every prayer, every breath.” I don’t pretend to know anyone else’s pain. I don’t pretend that I know what it means to be black in America. This is not my story or my life.

And yet, I am moved. My soul feels heavy. I feel this urgency and need to act deep within me. The urge to use my voice in every way I can.

I am tired of arguing. I am tired of repeating over and over why “black lives matter” is not discounting other lives. I am tired of trying to convince others that racism is still rampant and thriving – when really I am just trying to at least get an acknowledgment from others that it is real.

Instead of repeating these lines of thought which so many others have eloquently done, I simply want to share some stories – my stories. Stories which are meaningful to me. And then, I will share my take aways, my hopes, and my own mandate. Then, I’ll invite you to join me.

Light a candle. This is sacred space. 

When I was growing up in the very rural and very white area of Falling Water, TN, I wasn’t around black people much at all. Like many churches, ours was absent of any color other than white. My school looked very similar. Occasionally, I saw people of other races when I was out and about with my family. Some of my extended family used “the n word.” My momma taught me that that word was wrong. From an early age, I started arguing with my family members who said things I thought were wrong. Even though I didn’t fully understand.

When I was 12, I went to a drama camp over the summer. I had a very hard time making friends. Until a black girl named Tiffany sat next to me while we ate our sack lunches, and she started talking with me and we became fast friends. I hung out with her and the other black kids the rest of that camp. We laughed, we had fun, and she introduced me to eating dill pickles with fun dip – a habit that lasted until high school.

When I went to Middle School, things changed. For the first time, I was in a school and riding a school bus with black kids. For the first few weeks of catching the bus to go home, I had to stand up, because the bus was very crowded, and for my chubbiness, my buck teeth and every other flaw, I wasn’t allowed to sit down next to anyone. Until this one black girl made eye contact with me, and scooted over ever so slightly. She was too busy listening to her walkman to talk with me. I don’t know her name, but I remember her face and her compassionate eyes. I rode next to her the rest of the year.

Middle School was hell on earth. I was punched in the face, pushed around, made fun of incessantly for everything from my name to my teeth to the way I walk. I was hated for my very being. Before classes – at breakfast, and then again at lunch, I found solace at one table. The “black” table. When I sat there, I was invited to be me. Not a single person at that table ever laughed at me, laid a hand on me, or made me feel less than. Instead, I felt valued and affirmed. Every single one of my bullies was white. Some of the black girls took up for me. Two even threatened my bullies that if they messed with me again, they would have to answer to them. I felt protected.

In high school, I still found some connections and though the bullying lessened, the damage was there. It was with my black friends that I felt I could be the most real – the most me. They never said a hurtful word to me.

When I was going to community college, my parents were separated and going through a divorce. I was struggling. I sat outside the choir room in the Fall semester and listened to the gospel choir practice. In the Spring semester, I joined. The friends I made in choir were mostly black – and they embraced me. They encouraged me, prayed with me, and they supported me in my own music – giving me a boost of confidence when I needed it most.

I moved with my mom to Murfreesboro. I went to Nashville to attend audio engineering school. While there, I had a terrible car wreck and totaled my car. Among the faces running toward the wreckage, a black woman who called 911.

I got a pickup truck to replace my car. It was longer than what I was used to, and one day, I had to parallel park much to my chagrin. As I tried for the 8th time, two black guys walked up smiling and motioned for me to roll down my window. I did. One stood at the back, the other at the front. They called out directions, and taught me to park my truck in a parallel spot that day. And I continued on with that valuable knowledge.

While in Middle Tennessee, I joined a church that I thought was fantastic. I was quickly embraced with open arms and included, by the black girls in the church. We hung out at each others’ homes, made meals, talked over coffee, and worshipped together. Unfortunately, the leadership (white leadership, I might add) in the church was incredibly spiritually abusive , and when I left, I left behind all of those valuable connections.

After that, I found more and more welcome by brown faces – at new jobs, new churches, new schools.

If there is one thing that I have been taught by my black friends, it’s that I matter. That I have inherent worth and value just because I’m me.

So, to Denisha, Tiffany, Kimberly, Quincy, Char, Chris, V, Jacki, Monique, Angela, Moe, Celeste, Yunice, Ms. Bynum, Lassundra, Sherri, CC, JC, Kay, Anthony, Amber, and so so many many more…

THANK YOU. From the bottom of my heart. 

Secondly, 

YOU MATTER.

And I will be damned if I ever let anyone get away with actions that degrade people who look like you.

I love you. Even if we lost touch over the years, your impact stays on me like a musical memory in my mind reminding me of compassion and care.

 

There’s an old spiritual – I Shall Not Be Moved,

Like a tree planted by the water, we shall not be moved

Though the cross and burden are heavy

when the darkness is thick

when hatred is loud and violent

when people turn their heads away…

 

Like a tree planted by the water, we shall not be moved.

I am with you. I stand with you. To my friends who can join us – will you?

 

I say all the time that love wins, because it does indeed. Love is the water of life to the tree. It is where we live and move and have our being. Can we not love more? Can love not be what removes our blinders and moves us to action for our neighbors, our friends, our brothers and sisters?

Can love not bind us together and drive out the darkness as Martin Luther King Jr has said?

In my life, black has been beautiful and welcoming, and I have received life and affirmation for being me. It’s my turn to only do the same.

Like a tree planted by the water.

With much love.

C.

Summitt

When I was in middle school, I saw approximately 2-3 hours of play time as a point guard for my church’s team. I drug my little round short self up and down the court every week for practice, and I was always lagging behind the others when we would run.

When I was around the age of 12, I played with an official NCAA Women’s ball for the first time. I couldn’t believe how great it felt in my hands compared to the ones we had at home, a full size, and a junior ball. A friend of the family who was a coach gave me the new ball. This family friend also had an adjustable hoop – the first time I ever saw one, and I thought it was the best God send ever to my less than 5 foot self.

But we never got one of those. Instead, I had the hoop outside our house, situated between the master bedroom and the gravel lot. Lot is actually a misnomer. It was more like just enough gravel space to park approximately 1.5 cars. When I faced the basket, a steep bank with clay and pines rose to my right, briars and woods and snaky overgrowth stood behind me, and to my left was a long, long, gravel driveway that descended at a grade notorious for causing falls and slip ups and my first fender bender when I accidentally went too far back, slipped up, and then came up the drive again like a bat out of hell into the back of my dad’s car. Sorry, dad.

As an adolescent, through middle and high school, I recall lots of hours “shooting hoops” and playing horse. I also recall running down that hill a lot to try to stop the ball from rolling all the way down the driveway, across the street, and into the field/fence that sat across from us.

Perhaps it was all that ball chasing that motivated me, but I actually got pretty good at shots. I would go down to the gym at church and play horse and could make 3 pointers, foul shots, and do pretty well over all with getting that ball into that net. I wasn’t a bad dribbler, either.

I sucked at running. Layups were a joke. And I learned very quickly on that middle school team, that I was not an aggressive or defensive player.

Still, I loved basketball.

More specifically, I loved Lady Vol basketball, and their coach, Pat Summitt was an icon to me.

I spent hours upon hours pretending I was on the team, trying to make a shot for Pat. Pretending I was on the court with Chamique Holdsclaw, “Ace” Clement, Tamika Catchings, and Michelle Snow. We were facing, UConn, of course.

I spent hours cheering them on through win after win on my TV screen. They were so unstoppable. Until that National Championship loss, and the streak was over. And I was beyond disappointed. I was bewildered. How was this possible?

I never got to see “my team” in person, but somehow I felt connected with them. The dream team all graduated. Some went on to play for the WNBA.

My life changed. My parents divorced. I moved a couple hours away from home. I got into the music industry, and my focus shifted. I still managed to catch a game here and there, but never at that same intensity.

Life gets even busier, somehow, after college graduation, and I hardly ever caught a game. But then I heard something sad and shocking on the news – Pat had Alzheimer’s.

How was that possible? Surely not.

My biggest regret has been that I never went to a game. Never sat there in that arena and cheered my dream team or my dream coach on.

I can’t explain why I have cried more over Pat Summit’s death than I have over any other celebrity. Yet, somehow, hot tears still fall from my eyes as I write this.

I think, as I have reflected the past two days – that Pat was a constant for me.

Pat pushed hard, played hard, and inspired hard.

Pat inspired my non-athletic self to get out and move and do the best I could.

More than that, I wonder – no, I know –

that dream team and Pat Summit allowed me a space to be me. When I thought about being a Lady Vol in my fantasy world, I was just me – all of me. The writer, the singer, the lover of basketball and women, and the dreamer, and the goofball. And it was ok.

I was ok.

When I watched those girls take charge of the court, empowered and taught by Pat Summitt, I felt like they were unstoppable, and I felt like I could be unstoppable, too.

I felt empowered to be a woman. I felt like women could really make a difference, and if there’s anything Pat taught us and did, it was to teach us that gender roles and stereotypes and limitations are hog wash.

I like to imagine that as Pat’s spirit was lifted, she could see the impact she has made on people she hasn’t even met along with those who knew her best and were touched by her.

I know that if that is true, that she saw a candle over my head, especially the 12-19 year old me, that felt a little more empowered, a little more free, and a little more inspired to be a woman, and to get that ball through that net.

Now, at almost 35, I’m sitting here moved, inspired, empowered – and I think it’s time I go over next door sometime soon and get that ball in that net again. It’s been too long.

Pat, you can’t read this, but hey –

thank you. Thank you for being an inspiration. Thank you for the motivation. Thank you for being you and being the only you that ever was.

You never coached me in basketball, but you sure as heck coached me in life though those lessons you talked about, wrote about, and displayed on and off the court.

We’ll miss you. I’m so thankful you shined your light.

Forever grateful. With love always,

C.Pat-Summitt-Icon

 

 

 

 

 

Five Year

On Monday morning, my wife and I got into the car, buckled our seat belts, and took our VW Jetta on one last drive. She’s had that car since she got it new, a 2008 model: “Smokey.” Tinted windows, cloth interior, charcoal grey on the outside, and seat warmers in the front seat. Those seat warmers are so great for sore backs, cold mornings, and practical jokes on your partner.

I asked D what her favorite memories were. They came easy – going to get the car. It was an upgrade from a 1980s VW Vanagon camper. She was amazed it had cup holders – cup holders! What an upgrade.

She also talked about driving out to North Carolina to go to art school where she learned glass blowing and pottery.

Five years ago to the day, she told me about going to that art school and doing glass blowing, as we were riding in Smokey, on our very first date. I silently mused “that’s kinda hot,” and I wondered more about this girl who was my first real date with another girl.

We talked about our favorite memories together in the car: driving to our first date together, driving home from our first date (the first time we held hands, while listening to “the everybodyfields”), driving home from the hospital with our daughter – a nervous wreck that we had a tiny human in the car!

We talked about no so good memories – like when I spent hours alone in the car, driving around North Georgia for in home counseling with kids and teens, and the drive to the hospital while I was in labor – an hour long drive of o.m.g.

We talked about hoping we will form new good memories in our new vehicle.

It was hard not to feel nostalgic. Here we were on our five year anniversary of our first date, driving our car one last time.

But also, Sunday held its own nostalgia. Sunday marked seven years since my grandmother Nellie passed away rather suddenly. I found myself crying that morning, remembering and mostly just missing her. Wishing she could have met my precious family.

I found myself crying again at the senseless mass murder of people like me, like my wife, like my friends.

I got word that my brother’s wife was in labor, and it looked like a new life would be born before the end of the day.

I played with my daughter during the day on Sunday, and as I watched her, I wondered what kind of world she, and the other new little one would have to deal with. I worried. I fretted. I looked at her again, and I found a sense of calm and peace in knowing that she is in this world. And that she will make it even better, and that I can make it even better.

I had picture texts of a precious new life on my phone before bed that night, and again on Monday morning, so here we were, and here I was – in a state of deep thought, remembrance, and wonder.

We had two stops to make on Monday before we could eat together for our anniversary.

The first one took about an hour, the second one took over two.

Before we went to eat, we took Smokey in and traded for a different vehicle, one that will be more reliable, and one that will make more sense for our family.

Before that, we looked at a screen in a doctor’s office. We saw my healthy ovaries, my uterus in great shape, and a beautiful gestational sac with perfectly formed walls,

But empty.

This was our third look. The second was the hardest. I didn’t cry this time. Not at the doctor’s office, anyway.

I listened and asked questions about the surgery I will need to remove it. D and I looked at each other, on our five year anniversary of being together, and all I needed to know I was going to be ok was to have her look at me with her caring eyes.

On our five year anniversary, we talked about my fears of anesthesia and fears about future attempts at pregnancy. We talked about our new minivan and how did two hippie/granola lesbians wind up with one. We laughed about some things, gave each other personal and reflective cards, and we were silent together in the way that’s an okay silence, the reassuring kind.

They call it a “blighted ovum.”

In the best of terms, it sucks.

As we let go of that dream and look on to the healing process and then trying again, I wonder at how the miscarriage of justice for the LGBT community is so similar.

Just when it looks like things are positive last year at this time, the backlash starts in the form of bills and rhetoric, and now a massacre.

There aren’t answers for why this pregnancy didn’t work. We even tested the embryo, and she was given a clean bill. One of the nurses said, “Sometimes you don’t know. There’s just so much wrong in this old sinful world.”

There is so much wrong. In this world.

But you know what? We have the power to make it right.

And love will make it right.

Five years ago from Monday, D looked over at me and said she’d like to go out again sometime. I said I’d like that, too. She also said that she wanted to look at some stars – the first time we found ourselves in a familiar place – not wanting our time together to end.

Now here we are, and there is no end in sight. And I like that.

With Love that wins,

C.