Our lives should have monumental moments — moments that are miraculous, marvelous, and magnificient; moments that serve as markers for the otherwise mundane passing of days. For without such monumental markers, what distinguishes days? Holidays, by happenstance, are markers: hegemonically imposed pauses and rest steps. Days off, for some, to have a moment of something — perhaps nothing.
Virginia Tech mandates a week off for everyone. I think it’s a good thing. I just wish we made the other days (26th, 27th, 28th) paid official holidays, too, especially for those who don’t have enough vacation days. But, that’s another conversation for another day about workplace inequalities and ranks. For, now, it’s a break for everyone. I like it — the break. But I also really love my work. I work with an amazing team of colleagues — beautiful people, funny and interesting, dedicated and passionate. We laugh — a lot; we eat together, often; we even dance sometimes. And, we work exceedingly hard – pushing towards a radical goal of a more just and inclusive world — a social justice imperative. We need rest and rejuvenation, so that we can continue to make an impact. Our team is monumental and is doing monumental work. I’m so grateful for each of them.
This year, in this week between Christmas and the New Year, I encouraged our offices not to send any work related emails and to take the time to be with family and friends. To take the time to be with family and friends. I know not everyone has family and friends. And some of the family are not friendly and some of the friends are not friendly, but some of the friends are family and some of the family are friendly. Nothing is ever neat, or neatly wrapped up in stereotypical assumptions about the lives we lead or lead others to believe we lead. Many people are alone and even those who are not alone, are lonely. The circle of camaraderie for most people is less than 10, even though we often have hundreds of Facebook and Snapchat friends, Instagram and Twitter followers, LinkedIn and Match connections, and Tinder and Hinge matches.
Pauses, like holidays, help prepare places that are ripe for reflection, if we want to reflect. Reflections and being reflective, like a mirror, are opportunities for self-study. Symbolically and substantively, this is a season to see what stood out during the year. What was remarkable? Memorable? Impactful? Did anything create a shift? Shifts, like earthquakes, can destabilize and disrupt. Yet, without disruptions and interruptions, how do we recognize what is normal and stable? Disruptions can be monumental moments.
Most lives are days that run together like bland tasteless food — repeating mundane and meaningless and mindless moments of waking and working. Either we make our own monumental moments or we partake in those of others. Without monumental moments, we live without the spice and seasoning that makes the palate of life a more delightful buffet of colorful desserts.
Life is full of monumental moments – usually moments of loss, heartache, sometimes of finding love, sometimes of new birth, sometimes of new opportunities. Often monumental moments are handed to us somewhat abruptly, without warning, and rarely welcomed.
This year, three monumental moments made an impact on me. Each moment, miraculously, a culminating event of years of mundane, seemingly meaningless, and mindless moments.
The first moment was at the beginning of the year. A Black Woman’s Journey came out in January, 2018.
My mom’s life journey from picking cotton to being a college professor, a Black Woman’s Journey’s publication was the culminating event of five years of daily writing, transcribing mama’s hand written notes, typing them word by word in small, incremental blocks of time – minutes — stolen, here and there in between working full-time, caring for a husband, who became permanently disabled the week of my mother’s funeral, raising two children, and navigating heartbreak — gut-wrenching and the most intense pain and grief I’ve ever known. To lose a mama, to lose a parent, to lose a loved one is a monumental moment, for it is not just a moment in time, it is recurring, repeating, remembering, reliving, regrieving moments.
Mama’s life was a really remarkable life. I’m grateful for opportunities to share her journey – hopefully globally — in the hopes that it might inspire others to know that as women, women of color, as people of color, as people, period, we can do great things, even in the midst of the madness of opposition and oppression. We can pierce the veins of bias and hate with fierce advocacy and determined intentionality. Mama’s life teaches lessons: speak up, be yourself, without apology, care deeply and passionately about others. It’s a lesson I hope I’ve taught my children, whose lives created the second monumental moment.
In May, 2018, both of my children, graduated from college.
When only 22% of African-Americans have a bachelor’s degree, and on average only 38% percent of Black children finish college in 6 years, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/04/26/college-completion-rates-vary-race-and-ethnicity-report-finds
I am remarkably grateful that my children crossed the finish line. And, they studied what they love and they are doing what they love. Many students who start college never finish. Many who do finish don’t study what they love. A pity, really, for life is too fraught with fragility of existence to not pursue your passion.
So, we celebrated. The celebration of graduation was with family and friends. Graduations, contrary to the hype, are actually terribly boring events, except for one monumental moment: the moment one name is called. Graduates go to graduation, waiting for their name to be called – for that monumental moment. And in the moment, it not only matters that your name is called, but also that there are actually other people in the world that are also waiting and listening for your name to be called. We want our name to be called, but we also want it heard by others and we want to be cheered on. This is not only at graduations, but it also what we want in life, many of us.
We want our name to be called – we want to be acknowledged, known, and recognized. We want others to know us, to be in community with us, to be friends with us, to be in love with us. And we want to cheered and celebrated. Monumental moments are made marvelous when done in fellowship with family and friends.
In August, 2018, another monumental moment was made marvelous because it was done in fellowship with family and friends. As part of a family reunion on my father’s side of the family from Sierra Leone in West Africa, we gather every two years – almost 40 of us. This year, it was in New Orleans. New Orleans is a special place for me. My husband and I got married 25 years ago, in an empty church – with no guests. I walked up the aisle alone – perhaps symbolically a message about the aloneness of many journeys of togetherness. Many months later, a short vacation to New Orleans became our “honeymoon.” Returning twenty-five years later, New Orleans was the perfect place for celebrating.
I got to put on a pretty dress – love my dress – dance, eat good food, talk and laugh with family and friends, the elders, and the children. Intergenerational gatherings are wonderful, really. The lesson for me was about family and fun. Make time for fun and family. Invest in fun and family. The monumental moment was a culmination of many moments of mundane, mindless, seemingly meaningless, moments of marriage.
Without a marker, a definitive monumental marker, a signature celebration, how is life special? How is life colorful? How is life not just a blurry hazy gray fog?
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year – manufactured moments and markers – are nonetheless moments and markers to be in community with family and friends. Social media – like Facebook — facilitates a connectedness. Connections and knowing is important, even if more ethereal. Even more important, are gatherings in person. Touching another; laughing together and having others join in; giving hugs and kisses; holding children; being with elders; looking another in the eye; holding a hand; patting a back. Being in the presence of humanity.
Being in the presence of humanity. That is what it means to be human. While these markers remind us of monumental moments, the real challenge is to make every moment a monumental moment. Yes, indeed, that is the real challenge. How can we make the mundane – the day to day drudgery of life and living – feel monumental? We must integrate into the mundane more moments of madness, of excitement, of connection, of joy, of laughter, of fun, and of family.
Surely, we should seek to make more monumental moments. Moments for soul food: moments to find oxtails on each coast, and to eat pork chops and peach cobbler for breakfast.
Moments to watch clouds glide across the sky reflecting in the ocean, remembering how quickly life passes by like the clouds in the sky
Moments for watching dolphins swim on the east coast at sunset, and on the west coast at sunset
Moments to watch birds fly and moments to listen to waves on the ocean
May your New Year be filled with magnificient, majestical, mystical, and marvelous monumental moments.