black history month

As Black History Month comes to a close, I remain in awe of so many African American men and women who stood tall throughout the centuries, when it took an act of courage to just stand or speak or hold a steady gaze in the face of cruelty and exploitation.
That steady gaze has seen such harsh treatment and injustice over the years, that it’s a wonder the African American race has survived and thrived with the prodigious tenacity and joy to ever-widening vistas, that is now blossoming in the United States.
I’m so grateful for all the amazing men and women and children who had a part in bringing justice and freedom to this beautiful race. When I think of people like Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Booker T. Washington, Maya Angelou, Frederick Douglas, Thurgood Marshall, Harriet Tubman, Langston Hughes and others, I feel such veneration and respect.
I recently finished reading the seven autobiographies of Maya Angelou, who lived an extraordinary life.  Of the many remarkable, courageous experiences she conveys, I was really touched by her stories of Malcolm X, whose name usually rings synonymous with violence and rabble-rousing.  Maya knew him as a friend and co-operative in working to facilitate change through the Civil Rights Movement in the ’60′s.
Just before his life was suddenly ended, they were planning a nation-wide campaign to bring awareness to the masses.  He had changed his ways from “freedom, no matter the cost, even if it necessitates violence” to a peaceful stance which glowed with humble persistence and a call for unity among all races.  Maya and Malcolm mapped out community centers, churches and other public places around the country, to bring the message of equality for all people through collaboration, with a non-violent approach.  Those speeches never got their chance to shine.
True greatness can’t really be quantified, but for someone with a propensity for aggression, who is faced with hatred and prejudice on a daily basis, to make a one-eighty, turning from a fiery vehemence to a call for change through peace and cooperation, has to rank up there with the noble ones.
There are countless others who have demonstrated valiant courage and heroism worthy of emulation, by not just the African American world, but by all of us who desire to see all injustices cease, all around the world.
Hats off to all of you who make a difference in this evolving world, small or big, every bit of it goes into the rising ratio of goodness on this beautiful planet!
These two poems (partially quoted here) reflect the hope, determination and power that can be claimed by all of us, especially those who, like the African American diaspora, have faced injustices but continue, undaunted:

A Brave and Startling Truth

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

–Maya Angelou
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
–William Ernest Henley
thanks to the following for graphics:

music! music! music!

Last week I got to go to two wonderful concerts. What a treat! Being a big Beatles fan, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the Beatles Wanabes giving a free show in downtown Nashville. Adorned in teenage glee minus the heavy eye make-up, me and a friend went down to join the middle-aged crowd clamoring to see the Fab Four (imitators) who changed the world, but more importantly, gave us an identity as a new generation with new ideas.

Parking downtown for $5.00 within two blocks of the Omni Hotel (where the show was) was the first miracle. When we got in, we were greeted with a solemn apology and the statement, “The hall is at capacity and the line is too long. You will have to view the show from one of these other lounges as it will be telecast live.”

“Is it ok if we wait in line?” I asked, completely undaunted (I hadn’t seen the line yet).

“Of course,” came the courteous, impersonal response.

We found the line and were again advised to go to the other lounges. I smiled and said, “We understand,” without budging.

They were right. It was a long line but I knew we would get in. “Tell them you know one of the band members,” my friend elbowed me. It was true but I didn’t think the firemarshal laws would bend for a mere inside connection – especially in Nashville.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “we’ll get in.”

“Yes,” she said, “we will.”

With our minds made up and our spirits slightly giddy at the thought of seeing the “Beatles,” we passed the time quickly, and miraculously, the line moved forward . . . slowly. And guess what? We got in, only missing the first few songs.

The place was packed with smiling faces, cheers and great music! I couldn’t keep my feet still. There was a smallish dance floor in front of the band which soon ballooned with bouncing bodies, me adding to the bounce. I was doing the swim, the pony hop, the twist and just a lot of general jumping around with girlish abandon.

The band rocked it – literally!! They had the harmonies, the chords, the groove, and even that unique timbre of voice that is unmistakably John, Paul and George. I never got to see the real Beatles live. When I was a little kid in Bangalore, India, they came and did a concert there. My older brother and his friends who were about 9 or 10 years old managed to climb over some walls and sneak in to see them. I had never heard of them – I didn’t even know what a band was. But I remember how excitedly my brother talked about his escapade, and the thrill of hearing a live rock and roll band – whatever that was.

I learned something that night, listening and moving to that timeless music. I felt a freedom that was new to me. Live music and dancing have always been huge loves in my life, but I got something that night that went beyond just feeling the joyous liberty of losing oneself to rhythm and melody. There was an all-pervasive feeling of satisfaction in the moment.

It sounds simple, I know, but it was a realization beyond feeling “filled” or even “gratified.” It was a feeling of wholeness and completeness. There was no, “I hope they play this,” or “That pole is right in my sight line,” or “It’s too crowded in here,” or anything else that could have deemed imperfection on such blissful moments.

As I write, I realize I can’t capture in words the total acceptance of the goodness of life I was feeling – a surrender to the beauty of every moment as I swayed and jumped and hopped and swirled and raised my voice in teen-age screams, like the girls on the Ed Sullivan Show, back in 1964. But I felt like the luckiest person on the planet.

The stuff about the Beatles that set them apart from their contemporaries, I think, were their mesmerizing harmonies, interesting chord progressions, innovative lyrics and most of all, being real. They were just four funny, happy, intelligent, talented guys on a magic carpet ride who said what they thought. They were genuine. People went crazy over them because America was craving something authentic after the fabricated 50’s. So they came in droves to find their own freedom. Passion that had to be white-washed and watered down in a post WW II amnesia, because stability exacted that price, finally found its way to be expressed and WOW! did it explode all over the 60’s!! I think that’s why the Beatles are so legendary.

And as if a nostalgic night of great music wasn’t enough to float me right through the pink sky, I got to go to another concert later in the week. My favorite guitar player, who is his own band, was in town. There are no words to express the mysteriously magical music Tommy Emmanuel makes with six strings stretched over a gently curved wooden box.

His music leaps and soars and waltzes and electrifies and consoles and lifts and fills every corner of your heart and soul — esoteric and ecstatic, freeing and defining, it gathers all your lost hopes, all your glittering glories and all your wandering dreams and brings them back to you in sparkling, golden, rainbow baskets woven with a love and alacrity so intricate that nothing is lost, except what is ready to be transformed.

How can music do all this, you may ask. I don’t know. It somehow sieves out the worries and banalities that can seem so fiercely dominant at times, or at best can be aggressively averted, sitting in a brooding corner of your mind. The genius of this remarkable musician, ringing out with complete dedication to each note, leaves a purity of vibrating joy, harmony and laughter. It’s like feasting at a table set with your favorite foods, shared with multitudes, who love and respect you and each other. What could be more soul-feeding?

The light shines brightly from those who serve joy to a hungry world. Only gratitude resides in my heart for such profound beauty.

Thanks to the following for images: