I picked pieces of my broken self yesterday, ran through forest park windy paths, listened as scars fell off, watched too as a brown and black furry creature crawled off, the earth as I ran thinking, knowing that all things work together, even things I cannot see together, all blasting in ears and head weary like a feather, drowning in a terrible fear, but basking in all the throbbing pain and reminder of how his ways are so beyond me, even now when my head hangs so low, trying hard to run through forests, which once fed my soul, everything still the same, the windy paths, the bridge at the end of the first mile, all these things remind me of all the ways he continues to conspire to do things for my own good. I picked pieces of myself yesterday. The park’s windy paths were a witness to the day. The sky’s gentle ray falling on my head, reminding me still that I belong here, moving through paths that know too, we belong here.

The furry creature along my run through forest park.

After the first night, the beat in your heart, slowly finds its rhythm, slowly returns to its tempo, it was painful and sorrowful, nothing else to do, except to wait, not in limbo, not in doubt, but to pray and hope that the next day, would start like the one before, that the disappointments today, will fall off, from your head, and your heart, and you will move on, not before you notice, the start of something essential, the start of something still happening, even now, when you look up to the skies, look up to see the sun set again, look up to search the stars again for just one twinkle, for just one light, hoping still, that nothing will ever dim what he chooses to light again in you.

I woke up reading Psalm 19 and was struck by the opening sentence. The skies reveal every single thing we need to know about life. Nothing is ever hidden under the skies. Not our joys or our sorrows. Every single thing is plainly shown. I have also been here before, been in a rut where you begin to wonder how did this happen. I experienced a couple of firsts this week. One counter to my superstitions with the thing I love to do and another clearly my fault for relying on people. I am learning that somethings will have to be done his way, like the skies. I don’t expect everyone to understand why I do what I do. I am learning that more these days. But his ways are not my own. Some may dream and think they know how the end unfolds, but then comes the surprise and we are back remembering who started the journey in the first place. Everything is always for his glory. The skies reveal it. Question is whether we are looking up. If you do, then you will remember where help comes from. I am relying on your help for this one God.

Lucille Clifton once noted that ‘the surest failure is the unattempted walk.’ It was part of her poem entitled ‘Questions and answers.’ I am keeping this here because I have been walking through a path that feels so difficult that all I can keep doing is walking. So many times I wanted to quit. So many times I felt like why even bother. But I kept walking remembering this quote. What must it be like to keep walking when everything seems so against you? Pain, rough, but I keep walking knowing who leads me.

Illustration by Brian Pinkey

Here the leaves paint the skies brown, with hints of red still nestled next to all things green. Here all things are possible too, like changing seasons with temperatures unchanging for climate reasons. Either way, I am realizing you are me when I dream. These days I have been dreaming of all things possible, seeing that you can make trees bend, some all the way down, is the courage I use to stand up, bounce back up like trees. Knowing that it will all be worth it in the end, this strong purpose, you continue to teach, and I continue to learn. All I ask is that you keep stretching me beyond things that seem impossible.

So in love with these brisk Fall days.

I am maintaining perspective, knowing patience is no virtue, at least for me, everything tried this week, to stop the path he destined for me, forgetting too, that great is his mercy towards me, and that even what they may see, is bigger than what he imagines for me.

So I will not rage, though they came close to making me curse. Life doesn’t frighten me. I will not regret and I will only continue, knowing he is forever faithful towards me, always providing for me too, things I least expect, like how to be limitless, through barren places, in need of evergreen trees, between hills and valleys, without regret, without judgements, just remembrance of all the ways he holds me. My heart and soul says yes. Do with me what you will.

Poem by Maya Angelou.

We are in the homestretch of a grant that I will honestly say is the most difficult grant I have ever written. I say this all the time but this one was gut wrenching to the point of being sick. And why write grants that only serve to make you sick. When you have a plan in mind, when you know how limitless his plans are also for you, then will you understand the true meaning of Psalm 23. I saw dark valleys this week. Walked through them too. But he was there every step of the way, holding my hands to the point where I woke up this morning and ran 4 miles. That’s what happens when he orders your steps. You will walk through deep valley but rest too in green pastures. The key is to keep all things in perspective. He is your shepherd after all. You have every single thing you need in life. I am learning that with everything I keep, with my family and of course with every grant I write. Keep all things in perspective.

When I speak of power, I’m speaking not only of the stuff we keep to ourselves, the ones we keep from blowing up, the ones we keep from starving to death. I am speaking of the ones we ought to let go, cut like an umbilical cord, so it has a life on its own. Poetry is power. Poetry is also not a luxury. When we have a vision, it is poetry that fuels that vision, whether we write it, whether we dance it, whether we dream it. It fuels the future. It also fuels our work for the future. Keep poetry.

Audre Lorde

These words above are from Audre Lorde. I have been reading her Cancer Journals and they truly have relevance for how we disseminate evidence based information as poetry. It is keeping me motivated to with the work we are doing with LIGHT. Keep poetry.

We entered the month of November in silence. Death has a way of keeping people mute. Last night, there was a rumor that the son of a Nigerian musician was dead. We prayed it was a bad dream and all would be right with the morning sun. Only that it wasn’t a bad dream and a little boy who recently turned 3 years old in October was indeed dead. So we started this month in silence. Started this month knowing that silence can have multiple meanings, whether for survival or exercising our fundamental human right. But then I am reminded by the words of bell hooks that when we end our silence, when we speak in a liberated voice, our words connect us to one another. So let me share the following, protect your kids at all times. That’s is it.

The very best of me.

The woman who feels everything,

knows the name of her pain,

the source of her gains

and certainly how to carry rain.

To see her too,

like the desert waiting,

or like a flower blooming,

for tomorrow praying,

but today dreaming

knowing what she feels is daring,

but grateful still for this wild blessings.

May I never forget what the moon, the stars and sun know.

From my son’s heart to mine.

The past few days, weeks and months have been full of wild blessings. Full with the knowledge too that that surest failure as Lucille Clifton, once noted, is the unattempted walk. My June and July was full of impossible journeys, one where the news of 2/3 of my attempts at walking, has landed me in space full of blessing that can only be described as wild. I still don’t know the outcomes but I wanted to take the time to thank the one who leads me. When he said that even if I pass through waters he would be with me, I believed him. Not even all the troubles I encountered overwhelmed me. Fire didn’t burn me and trials did not hurt me. It’s for this reason I say thank you for bringing me safe this far. As for tomorrow, I don’t know what it holds but for today, I agree with the moon, the stars and the sun.

Thankful for what the grass and my babies know too!

The igbos have a saying that “Uwa bu afia,” the world is a marketplace and when your transactions are complete, you will return back to where you came from. I have been thinking of this saying ever since a young man pulled a gun at a local school in Saint Louis. That he felt lonely, unloved, and without friends meant that when his time was up, he preferred leaving chaos and sadness behind, taking two innocent lives too, while the rest of us are left wondering how long do we engage in this chaotic marketplace. While we are at it, Jean Kuczka and Alexandria Bell deserve to be alive too. But the are gone because we failed to do the necessary at this marketplace, call out the public health impact, life and death impact too, of guns on everyday people.

I find myself wondering too, how long it will take before we truly account for the public health impact of gun violence for a generation of children that continue to see this as part of the norm and not an anomaly. We shouldn’t live in a constant state of fear of our lives, not in our streets or churches, not in our movies or hospitals, and certainly not where we are supposed to nurture and protect the next generation of scholars.

As a teacher, one that interacts with college students every day, I see the toll life brings on them. I had my own share of burdens, having dropped out of my first year of college because we could not afford the tuition at the time. I was out of state and the only thing that made sense was to stay away from school for one year so that I could pay in state tuition. My grace has never been without struggle so I know struggle. But this style of struggle that this generation is experiencing is heavier than the ones we experienced. I wasn’t barraged with violence in the way this generation of students are facing. I had friends and didn’t need social media likes to validate our friendships. Ours were deep, insightful, full of fistfights if you knew the spirit of girls from Philadelphia, but genuinely full of love. I miss my Philly crew as they helped shaped the person I became. I haven’t even spoke for years to many of them, but if and when we see each other, it would be like we were right back to the streets of state college, Pa. Penn state was love and will always remain that despite my many real struggles there.

I share all this to say that we need to do better for this generation for children and students. We need to help them even if they are struggling and feeling empty with the world. Violence is never an answer. Killing innocent lives is never a solution and I don’t know yet what I will do but I will keep writing until something gives. Keep knowing that guns are intimately connected to the public’s health and when shootings at schools or anywhere occurs, saying enough is enough will not do. Not when lives keep ending for things we could account for while we still have time at this marketplace called life.

I’ll rather do as Baldwin says and rejoice in the force that is life now. This tasteless and blasphemous rubber we continue to chew and subject ourselves too, is costing lives and if we do not act now, do not then be surprised when this comes knocking close to home. This week it did for me. This week, I choose to keep taking of the mask that we fear. I choose love and life for all. Everything we want, even in a marketplace called life, is in our hands.

I have always loved Langston Hughes poem, ‘Dreams.’ They personify my mood these days. My story is one of dreams. I shared that during a presentation yesterday at NYU. I have this presentation where I go from dreams to ambition to dips and rising and back to dreams. It’s my take on the programmatic focus of my research.

How I sustain my work also known as dreaming, being ambitious, experiencing dips and rising through this field called global health.

I live to sustain evidence-based effective research in limited resource settings. It’s an audacious dream, many people describe as vexing or least understood outcome of research. I beg to differ. It isn’t vexing to me. Never has been. I have written multiple grants on it. They failed. The field was not ready then. They still may not be, I said during my presentation yesterday. But I can dream and when I do, I am reminded of the words of Langston Hughes:

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

While we are at it, today I did the unthinkable. I have always dreamed of being a children picture book author, so I pitched a story, inspired by dreams and gazing out to a night full of brilliant, radiant stars. It’s the annual picture book pitch fest on Twitter and I figured I have nothing to lose. I also finished the first completed draft of the most brutal grant I have every written today. Grants, stories, one thing for sure, I am holding on to my dreams.

I walked through the halls of our school of medicine today. Something about history moved me. There were things about the school’s history that I didn’t know. Like a Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1943 to Dr. Edward Doisy for his discovery of vitamin K. When I started this blog, legacy was the impetus. I imagined that one day I will leave this earth, but I wanted my kids to have something that characterized my life story. I also wanted to share it my way, not as told or remembered by others, with the caveat too that I was a born dreamer and a storyteller and that in the end, I did it my way. This caveat would keep me happy no matter where I end in the next life.

Seeing all the work of Dr. Doisy make me glad I’m on this journey for myself. It also made me realized that what I keep with each single day, no matter how small, is for that legacy and myself. The past couple of days have tried to keep these words hidden from the world, tried to keep me down, as if to say I have no right to rise. But in the words of Maya Angelou, I rise. I rise. I do so knowing that What I Keep, is the life story of a life lived in prayer and thanksgiving and joy and love for all the ways I am guided to do more than I could ever imagine with this thing called life.

The journey of a lifetime begins the day we are all born and continues long after we are gone. Some may have a history that tell their story eloquently with a library that displays all they achieved. Some may never have their story told, not even a notable achievement or joy or struggles. Ije Uwa as my dear friends father would say, is a gift, one that I intend to keep for history. So I ask you today, what are you keeping for yourself, from yesterday, for today, and for tomorrow. For me, everything. My history, my story, my way. It’s a gift that keeps giving. One I am grateful for.

What was kept about Dr. Doisy’s achievement. To think that vitamin k, that thing in the cream you use today was discovered at my university and by him is wow. Keep your history.