Yesterday we began an adventure into 8 days of Christmas fun.

In fact, we are living our lives through a book written and illustrated by my daughter.

All I can say is that because of her, my world is Belle.

Like Lotanna Belle, there are no limits.

She is one who opens our hearts to truly remember the love of our fathers, every time, beautifully.

Belle, writes, and illustrates, and shows us love that reminds me of my father’s sweet embrace.

She lives out her live in words more elegant than sweet. An elegant love. Her love burrows deeply into my heart. Deeply like a stone, crushing it, until it’s all love. That’s what reading my daughter’s words does to me these days.

A world fully Belle is genuinely Belle.

There is a Belle in all things, all around my world and this Christmas is Belle all because of her. I am loved. She makes me remember the elegant love my father showered on us this time of the year too. He is so missed.

Born in the year of a pandemic, I remember when he started to crawl. He crawled as if he was ready to walk. He walked when he turned 9 months. He has been walking ever since. Late last month, we started to remove all the protective features around our stairs. By this month, we removed all of them. We had quite a few and the thought of a fall was forever on our minds. I knew we would get here one day. Just didn’t want the day to come so soon. Watching him grow has been everything. Now my baby walks up and down the stairs all on his own. He has mastered the stairs too all on his own. And that’s a feat worth celebrating. This is also what it means to be a toddler. Every aspect of his being, full and free. Wisdom he never knew now blossoms through his life with delight. Watching as he follows directly in its path even with walking up and down the stairs is a prayer answered fully. There is no end to your treasures and like an olive tree you are loaded with fruits that will continue to tower to the clouds with every step you take, even up and down these stairs. Keep moments like this.

Everything changes, the moment you hear the word. Life flashes through in a second. None of us can cheat life. None can escape the battle of death. I have tried to understand 2021. Fast runners never win their race. A fish still gets caught in a net. No matter how hard I tried, I still can’t understand. Why cancer? Why us? Our fists are clenched.

Imagination is a transformative force. It enhances, sustains, and frees mind hungry to unleash their dreams. I have been hungry for awhile. Imagination has been filling my soul. It has helped and continues to help me rethink all I thought I knew about a people, their ways, their heritage, even their landscape fully and freely. I have been reimagining history, if only for my mind for now. With every one post I write here, the is one or two never shared. It’s almost like I write in secrecy and this time imagination is my muse, re-imagination my watchtower. I have been rethinking all we know about a place, my place of birth, my heritage, the place my people call home. To fully make sense of this re-imagination phase that I find myself in these days, my son and I went to the Saint Louis City Foundry yesterday. He had a doctors appointment not to far off and on our way back home I wanted to see first hand how the site which was once an abandoned area has now been reimagined as a food hall. I was impressed. Maybe it was the diverse array of food vendors at the hall, a Senegalese one being my favorite, but the entire space reimagined as a food hall made me understand just why we all need to be in the business of transforming ourselves often. No we don’t have to transform ourselves like the foundry, but every little act of imagination goes a long way to retell stories often absent from history. Stories about people unknown. I am in the business of imagination these days and I look forward to how far this journey takes me. City Foundry by the way is 100% astounding. You should go there if ever in Saint Louis.

I am raising a boy whose on the spectrum. He is becoming more than I ever dreamed of. More than I ever hoped for. More than I ever thought he would become. He is also doing it his way. Sometimes his ways are out of sight. We are all astound. Here is a boy that barely said a word at 3. A boy for whom meltdowns were all he knew. Until things changed. I still pinch myself as I have not really taken the time to truly uncover all we did in the beginning. And we did a lot.

If you told me back then that we would get to this place one day, I would not believe you. He was kicked out of his first school at age 2 after attending for 2 days. The odds were completely against us. My own child was kicked out of school before he could say his name. I still remember crying by myself that day wondering where to begin. I remember calling a helpline for special needs kids in Georgia that day too. The person on the other line had to have been an Angel. After briefly chatting with her calming me down, she asked what we both did for a living. I said I was a researcher and dad was a resident in neurology. Her response, I wouldn’t worry to much about your son then. I asked why. She said because we would both use our gifts for him and that’s more than most kids on the spectrum would have. Looking back, she was right. When we learnt through research that a drug for cancer had speech properties, my son was on it. When he had a series of nonstop laughing episode, and my husband remembered something about the brain and laughter, my son’s brain was observed via EEG which uncovered mini seizures while he slept. Our gifts were indeed useful for him.

Today at age seven, I keep pinching myself every time I have a heart to heart with him or watch as he reads a book. These days Dog man’s series are all he knows. All he is obsessed about. That he reads makes my heart swell. His ways are still forming, still making sense of this world, still stimming, still repeating things that make no sense, still involves play that makes no sense too, but all of it, all his ways are perfect by design. These days, I would not trade any of this for any sense of normalcy. Not with him. He is perfect by design and even when he tries, all his ways are good. It’s the smallest things with him, the hugs, the meltdowns too, all of them combine, remind me just how blessed we are as a family. To be in the midst of a child on the spectrum is a blessing. One that I am extremely thankful I got to witness with my own eyes. Today he is in a Christmas play in school. The boy who barely spoke at 2, was kicked out of school at 2 as well, is in a play at school at 7. His ways remain out of sight with great days and days with good tries. The sky is not a limit and I remain hopeful for what the future will bring his way.

Let no one silence or suppress your truth. Whether unpleasant or uncomfortable. May no one stifle or suffocate your significance or shared responsibilities. Scam or strangle your sensibilities or collective senses with lies. As you strive for uncomfortable representations beyond unpleasant shadows. Rather may you continue to connect and commune. Reveal and reveal. Every unpleasant or uncomfortable truth. As you voice all there is to voice for a people long denied their voice. People still absent in images like this below. The unpleasant truth is that we are not all the same, not all man, and not all equal never mind their comforting lies. Pandemics are not individually focused, never mind the comforting lies many still perpetuate. Vaccines too are not for individuals neither are masks or your decisions that you think affects you alone. It doesn’t. Omicron is here because we forgot that we are a people first. Pandemics are not concerned with individuals. Never have and never will. There are no personal responsibilities in pandemics. Only shared ones. No individual responsibilities too. Only collective ones. Individualistic countries won’t get it. Collective ones will. And pandemics will still not be concerned about individuals. Only what the collective do. These are unpleasant truths worth spreading.

Like many, I have been reading and rereading all the bell hooks books I have in my possession. I have been struck with how urgent her work is for those desperate for word work that awakens us all to our possibilities. bell hooks was a prolific writer. As I looked through her writings, I gathered she knew writing was supposed to do something. You don’t pen these many diverse thoughts if you don’t expect the words to do something. That’s the urgency I felt just looking at book after book. She knew writing was supposed to do something. Not things that keep you powerless or inarticulate or unable to assert your agency. To her and from what I have read these past days, writing is supposed to be something meaningful. Writing is supposed to be courageous that all I can say to you this morning is that you should keep writing. Your words matter.

Keep it because writing is supposed to reveal. Illuminate. Challenge. Or simple stir up. Writing is not supposed to traumatize. Exploit. Oppress. Or simply cause suffering. Rather writing is supposed to testify. Best witness. Feel. Or simply engage. Writing is not supposed to shame. Violate. Humiliate. Or simply frighten. Rather writing is supposed to nurture. Heal. Uplift. Or simply affirm. Writing is not supposed to dehumanize, distort, deny, or simply destroy. Writing is supposed love. Celebrate. Remember. Or simply awaken. Writing is not supposed to silence. Dominate. Punish. Or simply exile. Rather writing is supposed to resist. Critique. Demand. Or simply voice. Writing is not supposed to threaten. Marginalize. Alienate. Or simply colonize. Rather writing is supposed to value. Imagine. Desire. Or simply create. Writing is not supposed to abandon. Diminish. Ridicule. Or simply ignore. Writing is supposed to liberate. Burn. Renew. Or simply free. Writing is not supposed to erase. Deprive. Annihilate. Or simply be racisit. Writing is supposed to be radical. Sustain. Open. Or simply transform. However you choose to write, I hope you use it to reveal, illuminate, challenge, stir up, testify, bear witness, feel, engage, nurture, heal, uplift, affirm, love, celebrate, remember, awaken, resist, critique, demand, voice, value, imagine, desire, create, liberate, burn, renew, free, be radical, sustain, open and transform.

Sixty-nine seems like a very odd age to rest. My dad left at sixty-nine. I have never felt completely at ease with it. We are all supposed to have 70 years. 80 years if we are strong. So leaving at 69 just doesn’t sit right with me. bell hooks left at 69. I am sure if I created a list, I would come across many other notable figures that left at 69. We will all one day return to what we are. Dust. We will all last like a dream too. Life is short. The only thing left is to be wise and speak our hearts to God. No one will understand. But he will. Especially when you open your heart and talk to him unafraid. My heart is open and I am wondering why 69. Her gifts were immeasurable.

Nestled within book after book by bell hooks were hidden treasures. To her seeing ourselves should be pleasure. For there is power, freedom too when you see yourself. With her, I saw myself. There were no boundaries. Light was revealed in unthinkable ways. Light that remain uninhibited with each passing day. I am able to write out all in my head because she allowed me to see myself for what I am: A woman. A black woman with value.

She once wrote that many people have difficulty with appreciating black women as we are. With her, I was appreciated just as I am. With her, I can cry like Sojourner Truth once did, ain’t I a woman? With her, I am as outstanding as Anna Julia Cooper and my voice will cry out in these Midwest rivers. bell hooks introduced me to her. With her, my horizons were extended, my empathy broadened, all because I finally stopped to smell the Dahilas in my life. They were many. With her, I touched nature in ways that stirred my spirits. She cleared a path for me to see myself, know myself, love myself. She helped me keep what mattered to me. Her death at 69 years is a blow and continues to weigh heavy on my heart this morning. I am consoled by the fact that because of her, I will forever learn all about love, know what it means to belong, teach communities how to love, how to transgress too, use art like writing to heal, teach myself how to yearn for things like fresh fields of green grass while I boldly declare to anyone listening, ain’t I a woman. I am. I am all woman and black and loved and blessed in light always.

I took my time to write this. Good people are remembered as a blessing. So I wanted to take my time to remember your blessings. For you have indeed blessed us all bell. Your blessings give life like a fountain of water. So I knew I had to take my time to write this. I knew I had to do right by you who loved words. And your words are like pure silver destined to shine brightly now that you are gone so taking my time to write this was crucial to me. You are crucial to me. I got the kids ready for bed early. By 7pm they were headed for sleep. I wanted to feel your warmth once again and none of my children as much as I love them will get in the way. At least not today. Once in bed, I headed for that quiet place I reserve for thinking. Not the kind that flows with whatever situation I find myself in, but the kind destined to move me to higher glory. For you, I am prepared to rise higher. So I took my time to write this. Got some food to nourish my soul. They call it African salad. I call it love. It always hit the right spot. I made myself a bowl, with some catfish. An unusual combination but perfect for writing these thoughts I have for such a sterling and unsual woman. There were no wine. I wanted to feel everything I wrote for myself first. And only lemon yogurt would do. The Noosa brand. The perfect combination for cleansing that I would need to write these thoughts down for you. For you were my everything. You were more than the brightest moon on a clear dark night. Even the night has nothing on your brilliance. If God came down from heaven today, he would truly announce that you are his daughter, the one he is truly pleased with. We mere mortals were not fit to tie your shoe lace. With words you stirred trouble. You showed us the transformative power of words. And how by themselves are manifestation of divine spirit. With words you forced us to write so we too could see ourselves. I see. I see myself. I have been doing so with everything I write here because of you. So I wanted to take my time to see you again.

Some of bell hooks books that helped me make sense of me.

I began writing vespers this week. The death toll from the pandemic was overwhelming. Majority have died this year too in a time of vaccine. So the only thing left to do at the time was pray. Hence the birth of develing into what I will be calling vesper. The first one was okay. It reflected how I felt about the deaths from the pandemic. Today’s own is for a woman who has touched my soul in way that I really can’t fully convey. I dreamt that we would meet one day. I dreamt often of what we would discuss together too. Waking up to the news of her death has left a big hole in my mind that the only thing left to do is pray for an eternal rest. bell hooks lived a life many of us can only dream to live. She lived it radically in her own terms and along the margins that made sense to her spirit. She was my spiritual mother in my quest to keep what matters to me on this blog. So many of my prior posts were inspired by her writing. I can never really do justice to her influence hence why I choose to pray. Keep Vesper or an evening prayer for the sterling spirit of bell hooks. May she sleep well and may her family know that she did her part to the fullest in this thing called life. I’m sure they are aware of this but I just want them know that because of her, I learnt to see. And that is a legacy worth keeping. May this evening prayer I write, give them peace as well.

If you ever forget how to see, I pray you look. I pray you look for spaces that touch you in unimagined ways. I pray these spaces whether you create them or not, are in harmony with the beauty and peace your spirit desires. There is safety in numbers. Find your safety. Find numbers too in harmony with your spirit so you remain open to seeing love. Not the kind that is hard to define but the one focused on choosing love. I pray your spirit chooses love in whatever space you find yourself in. I pray this love will help you learn to see. To become a being who simply sees. And when you do, I pray you see art in the intimate spaces of your life. See it as life giving. See it as love giving. Light-giving too. I pray art becomes life and love and light for you because you learnt to see. For what you see, in these spaces, everything you see is crucial for the struggle. Not to escape our plight but rather for its spiritual ecstasy. The type that lets us see light in all things. Know light too for yourself and in see it in all living beings. I pray you come alive to the resurrecting power of light. The intensity of light. The fullness of well-light light, the wholeness of life is transformative. I pray you see for yourself this transformative power of light. Though tears are falling down these evening, I pray you still let your light shine through the tears. Other needs to see you shine so they flourish. Everyone needs to be touched by you. So touch them.

Then, I pray you find the power to be self-determining. I also pray you let nothing cloud your understanding. Cloud your commitment to act, to love, to light a world longing for your spirit. Let nothing stop you from stirring up your spirit for trouble too. Good trouble. The kind that doesn’t harden hearts. For every single close proximity to you is for our survival. So I pray you survive trouble. In winter, it’s not uncommon to see up to 12 Wrens roosting together for warmth. They learn to embrace their suffering together. I pray you find your dozen Wren. May they help you endure whatever sufferings you encounter. May they also help you awaken to your blessings. For you are blessed. You were blessed. I pray these blessings live on forever as we keep all that we learnt from you. I pray you also let it flow like rivers on days when you need warmth. Days like today. The world needs warmth now. But heaven needed it more. Rest in Power bell hooks, till we meet again.