Lupus?! A wha dat?!

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Tag: Friendship

Grief in the time of vaccines

Jeremiah 8 just won’t leave me alone. I use a Bible study method developed by Grant Horner where I read ten different chapters from ten different books of the Bible every morning. One of those books is Jeremiah and I keep getting pulled back into the eighth chapter. It’ll start off feeling unfamiliar, but about midway I realize that it is the same chapter I have been trapped in when I read verse 11:

“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” (NIV)

Feels like the whole world is down bad. As a teacher I have worried about my students losing the glimmer in their eyes. My sons, though I admire their strength, have spent so much of their early years immersed in conversations about death that they have begun to worry about my mortality. I got my first vaccine dose yesterday and while it does feel like the light is at the end of the tunnel, I cannot help but think about those who are not here to celebrate. How empty our lives are without them. 

I’ve gone to Brooklyn since I’ve lost my friends. John, my barber, comes to mind whenever I’m on the Jackie Rob passing through Cypress Hills. I went by the barbershop on Malcolm X, food from Natural Blend in tow, and my chest got tight in front of the shop. It was empty, too early for everyone who carries on, and I tried to feel the happier times. The laughter, the theological arguments, the eclectic playlist John curated, all vapors that morning. I thought of Garvey’s first haircut. I thought of Coltrane’s face on the banner greeting everyone who enters Stages. I thought of all the times I thought about coordinating haircuts with Kevin since we go to the same spot anyway. I thought about our very own rendition of Steel Magnolias. A brother in the shop did not feel well and all of these Black men sprung into action. Getting water, helping him to a seat, making sure he was good, ensuring that he was taken care of. The compassion that lives in that shop, that lived in John, is why my chest was so tight that day. 

Early on, in my battle with Lupus, I experienced severe alopecia. My hair fell out without rhyme or reason. After my first flare, it grew back with the same texture of hair I had in my baby pictures. I eventually grew the courage to cut it but was so afraid to rock the Caesars that I used to. I eventually gained the courage and it was a disaster. Former barber, very much not John, exclaimed, “Yuh a lose your hair yuh know! Yuh nuh see it!” I was mortified.

I kept my hair long until I decided to shave my head. I grew tired of barbers who would embarrass me, barbers who would have me out here looking crazy, and just decided I would cut my own hair from here on out. 

After my second flare up, to make matters worse, my clippers stopped working. I got so anxious. I took the day off from work because I didn’t want anyone to see me like this. I eventually took my sons to get their haircut at a spot I’d walked past before on Malcolm X, around the corner from where we lived on Jefferson. The energy in the shop was hospitable to me. I got my sons their haircuts and asked the brother that cut their hair if he wouldn’t mind lining me up. It was the first time I’d sat in a barber chair for two years. The first time after I swore I’d received my last professional haircut. 

Going to Stages became a regular routine. Even after we moved to Long Island, I knew I would bring my boys back to Brooklyn for their haircuts. After a few months of working at my boarding school, I would eventually invite John to come to campus and give haircuts to my students. John faithfully provided haircuts for my kids on campus, bringing a bit of Bed-Stuy to Stony Brook. 

During the height of the pandemic in Brooklyn, I checked in on John to make sure he was aight. I knew a lot of businesses were being hit hard by the crisis but thankfully John and Stages were doing okay. I would eventually take that trip to Brooklyn again in the summertime and was so happy to see the precautions exercised in the shop. Mask wearing, lysol spraying, the whole nine. My last haircut from John was a reminder of who John always was; full of life, plans to continue the growth of his business, a man who took care of his family and community. He talked about wanting to make sure he was always on time for his appointments and I assured him, “Bro, it’s all good. If you were on time but the haircuts stunk, we wouldn’t be here!” We laughed. I left Stages thinking I had a good plan to get haircuts on Friday instead of Saturday, completely unaware that that would be the last haircut I would ever get from John. 

I did not know John for a long time, just a couple of years. There are wonderful people who feel his loss in ways I cannot even fathom. But I do know that I love that brother. A good brother who I cannot believe is gone. I am angry and I do not want to accept it. 

I get why there is a feeling of a light at the end of the tunnel but I hope that as we get out of this tunnel, we do not forget the people who did not get out. We do not forget their families. Let’s honor them with the way we live our lives; taking nothing for granted and living our lives fully. What I know about grief is that it never fully moves out. It may retreat to an unnoticeable room in your heart but wherever love for a lost one is tethered, grief is often found. 

Grandma’s Hands

You would have been 95 today.

You would have loved your great grandsons. They have your humor and your courage.

It’s been seven and a half years since you got promoted. I still randomly weep for you.

The tears have become more joyful recently.

I thought about trying to explain to you why I’m vegan now.

I think about how much I wanted to tell you I got in to a doctoral program. Same degree as grandpa.

And whenever I get really upset, and think about how you should still be here (Follett women live long, I’ve been told), I think about how tired you were. How much you’ve earned your rest.

I dreamed you once. You were young and still beautiful. With long ponytails and joy. So much joy. It’s all that comforts me.

What about your friends?!?!?!?!

I’m afraid.

This fear keeps me distant, makes me resist commitment and anticipate disappointment.

It makes me less like myself, a normally outgoing person who is excited to connect with new people.

It’s the learned anxiety that comes when you have been burned. Burned by the fragile friendship of friends’ significant others.

I wasn’t always this way. And as most betrayals are, this first cut was administered by a close friend.

I have been blessed to have several clusters of friends, different circles to move in but in one particular cluster I was one of very few guys. The girls I hung out with were extremely chill people but I was one of the only fellas around them who wasn’t into musicals and all that. Did this bother me? Sure, from time to time. But I believe friendship is about the positives outweighing the negative. As aforementioned, they were good people and our friendship outlasted the differences.

Most of them were single but this changed one summer when Jane had news to share. Rachel was bringing her boyfriend from school to visit New York for the summer. He was going to come with us to Jane’s country house upstate. This was great news to me because it immediately meant, through sheer virtue of different variables in the equation, that this year’s visit to the country house would be better than the previous year. No disrespect but I had to bathe my ears in Prince and Funkadelic in an attempt to get a weekend full of country music out of my soul. At least this year if they insisted on saving a horse and riding a cowboy, I could go outside and play catch or something.

We hit it off from the start. This brother was down to earth, humorous and clearly loved my friend. What wasn’t there to like? Even though I’m one of those fake soccer fans who only gets hype during the World Cup, we bonded over sports. Cultural differences served as nuances that flavored our conversations as we touched on music, politics, religion and life in general.

That visit upstate was a highlight of the summer and future reunions were stringed together as each encounter allowed us to pick up the conversation right where we left off.

Then the word started to spread like wildfire.

I dismissed it initially; considering it hearsay or the bitter gossip of a frenemy. It couldn’t be true. They were far too happy, way too in love for this to be. Rachel and her boyfriend broke up. Times that to the fact that he was moving to the West Coast after graduation with nothing no longer tying him to the Northeast.

I was devastated. It felt like I was the one in the relationship. “He’s a good dude!” I reasoned. “Surely they’ll work it out.” To no avail.

I realized that he had become much more than an accessory, he was my friend.

And then I learned the delicate diplomacy these situations required. I’d had friends break up with their mates before, at varying levels of explosion but most of these relationships happened within school. I knew both parties before they got together and would see them afterward no matter how much they resented each other or kept their distance.

But this was final. No matter how cool I thought he was, our friendship was tethered to Rachel. And since he and Rachel were irreconcilable, our kinship was now a memory.

It feels awful to say that I chose Rachel but what the hell else was I supposed to do? Their breakup was serious enough, not one of those petty sophomoric situations, that they severed their plans for the future. If they weren’t speaking anymore, I couldn’t fathom hanging out still.

Call me petty but I remember being pretty pissed when my friends in college were still cool with my ex-girlfriend. Never looked at them jokers the same. What was I supposed to do? Call a meeting to remind them whose team they were on?

So as personal policy I’ve gone antithetical to how I normally treat strangers. When friends introduce their significant others, boo thangs, cuddle buddies and all that, I’m pleasant, cordial but far from attached. All praises be for friends like my frat brother who changes girlfriends like socks, I don’t even learn those sisters’ names!

As I write this I am getting ready to see one of my best friends get married and have grown to love and appreciate both her and her future husband. There are some who I still exchange texts with and others whom the mere mention of their name inspires C-Murder’s greatest hit to play in my head. What can I say? I’m way too friendly and optimistic to make this a strict policy. And my life is better for it.

The Honest to God Truth

Galatians 1:1-12

Paul an apostle– sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead– and all the members of God’s family who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

Observation

The truth is the truth and it should not be diluted or reduced in the name of convenience.

Application

What do we lose when we try to make the gospel fit our standards? 

Today’s Prayer

Dear Lord,

I want to be transformed. I want You to fill every day with moments where I am being drawn closer to You. I want my life to reflect my relationship with You in every aspect. Help me to be kind, to be loving, to embrace others as You embrace me. Empower me to be a comforter, strengthen me in Your ministry of presence. Use my life as an example that no one has to journey alone. Let me be a friend.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

Between Two Worlds…The Good Life

Image

My best friend died on the 23rd of December. I’d just got off the road with my wife, home for the holidays.


I was going to make a joke, someway of announcing my presence. Part goofing, part holiday cheer. I walked in and found her sleeping. My aunt told me that she had dialysis earlier in the day and was not feeling well.


No worries, I thought, I’ll just wake her in the morning.


I was doing my best to be upset with my wife. We had a mild argument earlier and I was holding on to my indignation. Trying to maintain silent treatment even when I knew she was burying the hatchet. Then I heard my mom call me to come downstairs. Her voice was alarmed but steady.

I came downstairs to find my aunt standing over my grandmother’s bed. She was blue. They had called the paramedics already but it was clearly too late. I didn’t feel like there was any point to praying. Not that resurrection of the dead is beyond the realm of possibility with an unencumbered God. But it felt selfish. Like such prayers were more for the giver than the subject. I even believe that she had finally gotten her desire. Rest.


I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to kiss her, say something meaningful but all I could do was watch her. Watch as the EMTs went through the motions, watching even after she was pronounced dead, unable to believe that any of this was real. Certain that I saw her chest rise. Uncertain of where we went from here.


I couldn’t do anything all week. Nothing mattered. I was vaguely thankful that her pain was over, routinely gracious to God that she went home peacefully.


I’ve had the luxury of training in pastoral care so naturally I reassured myself of the various ways I was grieving. The numb feeling and low affect were normal. the guilt over not waking her up would pass. This was yet another example of how not in control we truly are. Bursting with potential but miserably powerless.


By Friday I knew I was channeling my grief through anger. Nothing was satisfactory. That body in the coffin was not my friend anymore. The pictures that showed my grandmother in her full vitality, not laying in state or exhausted from dialysis, moved me to release the tears I longed for.

 Tears she taught me not to waste.


I kept trying to remember happier times. Us watching action movies, basketball, professional wrestling. Eating Chinese food or rice and peas. Listening to her stories and laughing at her jokes. It was all bottled up. I had always feared this season and anticipated that it would make me burst. I’ve found my grieving for her is a leaky faucet. A thousand cuts bleeding me dry.


Interestingly enough my time in two Trip Lee albums form my lens for grandma’s Twilight. I moved to Charlotte in July of 2010. The weekend of my move is the same time she went to the hospital. I was tethered to my phone in the following weeks as I heard updates. News that she would need dialysis drove me to tears. I wanted to give her my kidney. I knew she wouldn’t accept it and was told it wasn’t an option for her. At her health and condition the surgery alone would be fatal.


My  apartment was anointed in tears. The loneliness of a new city was suffocating enough without the dread of every  phone call bringing unfortunate news. I listened to Between Two Worlds alot that summer. And I remember the song “prognosis” being exceptionally capable of making me sad. The beat and chorus were matter of fact “it ain’t looking good for me. Nah it ain’t looking good for me. ” eventually, grandma was healthy enough to talk and I intentioned in every conversation thereafter to make it count. I could never be certain if I’d get another chance to speak to her so I had to make each conversation count. Needless to say this became very taxing.  I grew to loathe the telephone and considered it a poor shadow of how things used to be.
Over the next two years I did my best to make the most of our interactions. Phone calls and facetime did what they could. Visits home were filled with equal parts appreciation and apprehension. As my own health challenges were requiring me to be close to home, I looked forward to more times together. Perhaps even recapturing the magic of our interactions before health made life more complicated.


My mom tells me that grandma was excited I would be closer. I think she knew it would be this way. Home again, beginning a New chapter, allowing myself to go through the motions of grief as Trip declares, “even the sun goes down. Heroes die eventually…”

Brian Mooney

Educator, Scholar, Author

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