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.

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.

I sat and listened as trees sighed this afternoon. It’s the end of October and we are still in a spring-time flow. The grass is no longer green but yellow, with a hint of brown. And trees have leaves falling all around, no longer green but crimson red and brown. They call this the fall season. Everything seems to be falling. Trees, leaves, grass, the earth. Everything but me. Call it grace, call it faith. My souls keeps being plucked from its secret place this fall.

We spent the day outside raking leaves with a make-believe stick. I can’t believe it’s almost the end of October and the weather is acting like the start of Spring. Either way, we are together, resting and thanking God for his grace and mercy. Happy Sunday.

‘I promise you l, I’ll be right back like karma.’

I love these lines. They are from an artist my son listens to on repeat. His name his Phyno and my second son is his biggest fan. Phyno sings and raps in Igbo and has been a tremendous source of comfort for my son when sensory issues get in the way. For example, we got through our vacation in Jamaica, because we put all of Phyno’s music on a mini iPod for music only we purchased on Amazon. I am truly that parent that does not subscribe to IPads or tablets, not on vacation and certainly not at home. My kids have them. In fact they have 2 because I hid the first sets and had no idea where we kept them. So I ended up purchasing new ones thinking they would help my children with play and learning. Let’s just say, even those are hidden now and I have no idea where and intend to not even look for them. I do know we will keep music around and I’m tempted to try kindle only tablets for books only. But till then, music is all we have at home.

Image from The art hotel. The eyes are like karma to me. I keep staring at them. We are never what we seem, even at first glance, like my son and I. So ignore us at your peril.

To get through the summer vacation, we exposed my second son to all the music he loved, watched as he engaged with some and not the others, and evaluated a changed in his behaviors over time. Of course, it was a mini research for me. I am a trained researcher and conducting researcher has helped me cope with a high functioning son on the spectrum and these days music has a way of making things big and bright for us. Today, on our way to Piano lessons, while listening to Phyno, I was moved by the words: ‘I promise you, I’ll be right back like karma.’ Everything about it is lyrically beautiful, but it’s their intent that I choose to keep today.

The past couple of days have me doing things that many thought I didn’t care of or ignored. I have always said that people ignore me at their own peril. Every single thing I do is for a reason, down to the words I write. Of course they are never clear when I spew them out and these days expressive writing is all I do, another evidence based research with healing properties. Whether writing or music, if you ignore me and all I stand for, I promise you, that you will come back to me like karma. It’s my gift and my curse.

I know my soul and when I set out to do anything, what you won’t get is repetition or cut and paste because old things bore me. It’s the reason why I actually don’t like presentations as I work too hard on them. I also think 60 minute meetings are boring and unproductive. 30 minutes of focused attention does wonders. Fifteen minutes are insane but phenomenal when you have a clear agenda. I share all this to loudly say, ignore me at your peril. What is in me is greater that me and if you do, I promise you that you will be right back to me like karma.

I spent this evening learning about wonder. It was from a philosopher at my institution. We were both attending an evening event and once we were free to mingle, she immediately approached me and we practically ended up spending the evening talking to each other. Initially I was hesitant to say anything to her. In fact what do you say to a philosopher. I had 2 philosophy friends in college. We were all doctoral students at the time, and I was struck by everything they did. One of them, Ronke Oke, has remained a dear friend and I will forever be grateful to her for the invitation to attend one of her classes where they talked about Franz Fanon and his books. I left that class buying the books and holding them for life. So anyone with a philosophy background scares me, hence why I was initially hesitant. But now, I am open to where they lead me.

Then I asked finally, what do you do. She said these words that stuck with me. ‘I study wonder.’ My ears and soul were open. Wonder, is that the same thing as curiosity, I asked? She said no. Wonder actually precedes and sets the foundation for curiosity. It’s like an engine for curiosity. She also mentioned how early philosophers spent time wondering before delving deeply into curiosity. We also display this better in childhood, with stories that seem so far fetching yet open and believable to a child’s mind. It is then no surprise that some child feel like they can fly and well actually proceed to fly never mind that they crash down to the ground.

I was struck and spent the rest of the evening listening to her. I saw myself in everything she said down to why I write grants. She concluded, you almost always begin in the realm of wonder, before curiosity leads you to ultimately write your grant. I was spell bound by this time. Wonder is truly the foundation of my work as a grant writer. I say it always that I have to visualize what I am writing first. I have to paint the full picture in my mind, before then writing it out. I am in the middle of a significance section of a new grant and I have spent close to an entire day on this section, just to have only 2 short paragraphs written. I have imagined what these sections should look like. I see them in my mind. But words are not coming together and so I keep imagining whatever will get that section written out in the way I have visualized it. So I close with the following prayer to this gift of insight called Wonder shared with grace from a philosopher at my institution (She has written it all as a book by the way and it is currently under review and I promise to be the first to purchase it once it becomes ready. I thank her too for offering to give me a copy).

My sons depictions of a butterfly inspires me always.

I pray that wonder cracks open your mind. I pray that it forces your eyes to bulge open and once open, may you be drawn into the underside of everything that comes your way. The torture, the pain, the joy, the wonder of it all, may all of them usher you through this maze called life.

I have met the source of my curiosity. It has always been there everytime I grumbled, stumbled, mumbled, and humbled myself through silences unearthing impossible desires within. Some of them were ordinary, but insisted that they become extraordinary in my hands. I cherish the scars left behind better now. All the ways things once indescribable have become describable these days. Everything I write seems possible now that I know my soul. I am content too with failing, knowing that the journey ahead towards what belongs to me has been cleared. I go through now with ease because you call me.

I know this moment is a witness to a struggle, a metamorphosis of sorts, a period of wading through life, until one becomes the butterfly that sees life beyond ourselves and all the ways we come out of shells to become more of ourselves.

I pray that wonder continues to carry you, me through this unavoidable journey. Without withholding, without scolding, but still molding all its range and depths. Still unfolding even as we change and accept, all the things we never thought possible, like death, like anger, like madness through this journey called cancer or things that arrest me now like wonder.

May you keep wonder, in the ways that butterflies sojourn through life.

By the way there was another philosopher there who has a book on human suffering. She said to send her an email and she will send it to me. I am on it. I see why I should continue to surround myself with them.

Some thoughts remain like shadows, creeping till sane things become insane, even as you retain, all that keeps you sane. These days some thoughts have been persistent, attacking like cancer, as if life has no hope, wanting instead to leave one helpless, as if on a downward slope to all things inferior. These days too, I choose thoughts that leave me breathless, those that keep me restless, as if life can be extraordinary, as if dreams can be revolutionary, like the momentary madness of falling leaves, or the luminary visions of orange trees, and all things superior, all things possible. I am in a place surrounded by falling leaves. Surrounded too by thoughts that keep me falling deep. Something about Fall and leaves, and visions and dreams, keeps thoughts that never leave, like ending cancer now.

The changing colors of leaves every Fall season is a sight worthy of inspiration. They agree with me.

I got some news that helped to crystallize why I do what I do. They say never write grants that keep you so passionate to do extraordinary work. But passion is all I have and these days I am in a space where I only want to do work that keeps me advocating for people. I also know the road ahead is daunting. Cancer is a very tough task to take on. But I’m all in for all things and the moonshot goals to end it as we know it. I am also ready to do the impossible, do things sustainable and equitable so that we prevent unnecessary illness and death. Every Fall season, I am amazed by the changing colors of leaves. They do the impossible in a necessary way and keep me motivated to do so to. I am in a phase where Fall and the changing colors of leaves agree with me. They keep me inspired.