Imagination is crucial for life. I’m learning that every day. Imagination, that space between dreaming and thinking, between believing and daring, is a vital source of life. The prolific author, Achebe said if we starve it or pollute it, the quality of our life is depressed or soiled. The sterling writer, hooks noted that it is one of the most powerful modes of resistance that oppressed and exploited folks can use to provide a survival life like. She went on to note that when we are free to let our minds roam…imaginations will provide the creative energy that will lead us to new thought and more engaging ways of knowing. For all these reasons, I say keep your imaginations.
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.
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.
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.
Since the pandemic began, I cut back from a lot of things and people. Cut back from conversations that were unproductive, people too. I focused on things that elevated and forced me to keep anything. Last year, I took it to another level. Death has a way of helping you find your purpose and mine was solidified once cervical cancer came to my home. I share this to say I am not a cancer researcher. I can never pretend to be one. But I value what those that call themselves one do.
I am an implementation science researcher and nothing excites me more that trying to figure out how to make research last. I could speak for hours on this. In the next couple of months and weeks, I will embark on writing the grant of my youth. If you see my failure resume, you will see that it is full of failed grants focused on sustainability. I was ahead of the game then, back in 2015, doing what key leaders said to do with naming and framing my grants as sustainability-related from the beginning.
They all failed, with the exception of my R03 grant on sustainability and I sort of moved on to do what reviewers felt were not so ambitious. Why does all this matter today. Well, my journey seems to be coming full circle and I am back to where I started, with me proposing to sustain our ongoing work in Nigeria. I except this one will be tough. I also expect reviewers may not get it or may frame it still as ambitious. But I will dream. This one will truly be the one to really show the why and how sustainability matters. I am writing this here to mentally prepare for what is ahead, knowing that the journey ahead will be raw, also rough. But I look forward to the journey knowing the following too:
Who will believe that grey skies will not be grey forever.
Or daring daunting dreams of our future will not be dreams forever.
Who will believe that some berries may shine in the morning rain and some may not.
Some gifts are profound. So their grace is the Lord.
Other gifts are a release. Freedom, liberating.
The point is to know the difference.
These days and for this next grant I embark on, win or lose, I do. Sustainability will not be vexing soon, not when I lead the way.
What makes for knowledge? How is it acquired? And how should it be used? I have been grappling with this notion ever since I arrived at the place called home. I came to teach, but I found myself being the student more than the teacher. I found myself asking questions internally and also doing so externally. Is knowledge only knowledge when it comes from the West? What about the rest? Don’t they have knowledge of their own to contribute as well? Who gets to decide when knowledge should be for everyone? Is it those that published it faster or those yet to publish it at all? I ask these questions because the field within which I work in, the one called implementation science is so full of knowledge. So full of power too. But do knowledge and power go hand in hand. Is power even a stable entity?
Take for example a context where research isn’t prioritized? Is this context the same as one where research is prioritized? Are they even on the same playing field as equity would imply or should we level the playing field for everyone. The limits and complexities of knowledge is my keep for today. That and who owns the right to it. I spent the week in a place where many have never heard of implementation science. Yet once shared, resonates with their worldview. I did what was expected with my lessons, stuck to the script like a bee on a honeycomb. I shared all the information that all the powers in the field recommend. I used key resources from key institutions to frame all the information I shared. Yet, when I finished, I felt like we where just beginning. I felt like I needed to now learn how they would do it here. I felt hungry for knowledge for my own sake. Anything that I could digest in the way that my lecture did of how they would do it here.
Here is a place after all that created literature authors wanted to read, or music, musicians wanted to play. Fela Kuti is a household name on his own with his own genre of music the West didn’t have until he arrived. The same goes for Chinua Achebe or Wole Soyinka or Chris Okigbo and their style of literature. This place birthed it’s own giants unprepared to do what the West prescribed. Not when they knew what would work for their own context.
Of course they knew the script of the West. Knew what it entails to dance to the tune of those who first hunted. But what happens when the empire decides to strike back. What would they bring to the field? I don’t expect lions to watch the hunters forever. They know how the story ends. These days, I look forward to them choosing to fight back on their own terms. And after my lecture, I was prepared to see what they would do. And these lions delivered.
What I learned, in other words, is that knowledge is not a simple process of gathering and dispensing facts or just sharing and eliciting information. I also learnt that knowledge does not lie solely in the acquisition of more facts or information. Rather, knowledge like anything else, art, music, literature, is vast and thus cannot be confined to any one place or person or group or continent in any single method. Not when it belongs to everyone.
Of course we have never heard of this field called implementation science, some said. Yes I am curious to learn more, others said. But what of here? What about what we do here. I smiled. Now they are are prepared for the fight. All I ask is for the hunters to get out of their way. See them roar too. For knowledge after all, is for everyone. That’s the gift I got now that my week has come to an end. The gift of seeing lions prepared to fight their way even in a field they have never heard of until this week. Implementation science should look in the mirror often so as not to be taken by surprise from lions on the prowl. Either way, they are ready to tell the story their way. They expect a struggle. Life is full of struggles after all. At least they would have tried. I have tried and failed many times, still I tried. That to me is the gift worth sharing. The power of struggle. The power too of lions finally telling the story of the hunt, their way. Thank you my hosts for a wonderful week and to all the lions I meet, I look forward to reading your stories.
Zora Neale Hurston described research as a ‘formalized curiosity.’ One that involves poking and prying with a purpose. I have been blessed to call research my job. To engage in this formalized curiosity full time is the best gift I have ever given to myself. Many take it for granted, but I know what I am capable of. Whether it is about remote ischemic conditioning or crowdsourcing youth interventions, if it requires poking and prying with a purpose, I’m all in. Which is why of late, I have been wondering what else can I use my research skills with.
Clearly, it has taken me to the world of literature, black literary scholars to be precise, from the eyes according to Zora, to light according to Audre. There are some books on becoming dreamers, books on why my future depends on me remaining curious and of course books about tracks along dust roads or the fire in my head. I see this phase of my research as intentionally trying to uncover all that I can about the world in which I dwell in. Research now has taken me to places I never imagined, reading words, I never expected. In some instances, I have been carried away, whether is with a list focused on dreams that never end, or a list of why chasing butterflies matter. In other cases, I found myself writing things that seem harmonious in my head, to the point where I recite them to myself, as if on a stage for spoken words only. These dances in my head, unleashed through words in this blog is my attempt at surrendering to chance, surrendering to what I intend to do for me. To research things I want to for my own pleasure. To think I have been on this journey for over 2 years now seems surreal. The future also seems very uncertain. But for today, I’ll rather remain curious, remain compelled to do this formalized curiosity work Ms Hurston described as research.
Tomorrow, I get to teach it for the first time in the place that birthed, named and framed me. I am grateful for everyone that paved the way. Thank you for this opportunity to learn to from you. That small girl many still see as a small girl is surely growing up ooh. I know so many see my motherhood to as a crutch. But know that all that is within me is stronger than anything and what is for me, will always be for me. So if destiny planned that I get to teach this at home one day, then I will say thank you. So thank you from the bottom of my heart for this great invite back to home to give my all to the thing that keeps giving my joy, this formalized curiosity I hope many can call their own too one day.
I will not be afraid of no. I will not be afraid of how far it may go. Even if it leads to me screaming no. I will yell it whether or not, time is slow. To say yes is to die. I’m learning each day, why. So I will not be afraid of dead ends, be it loose ends or rear ends. Any ends I meet on this journey to no, I will reprimand, until it dies there. I will not be afraid to be involved, will be brave even if any no remains unresolved. The journey to yes these days may take awhile. I’ll keep walking and smiling meanwhile. Like a wild moon and sun. I’ll keep loving this profile. And all the ways saying no leaves me fertile. Seeing that the rhythm of any drum depends on the beating, whether hard or gentle, odd, or monumental. Saying no these days is life.
Gwendolyn Brooks had a poem entitled ‘do not be afraid to say no.’ I read it and the words above came to my spirit. Keep being unafraid to say no.
From the very beginning, you have watched me. You have seen too, how long I have cried in confusion. How long will I cry for help? Tell me, tell me why, fishes fare better than me, swarm of insects too.
You neither raise your hand nor turn us away, you neither ride horses from a distance nor swoop down like eagles attacking their prey. You say nothing too, when our heart is broken into pieces as numerous as grains of sand.
Still, I will wait to see what you will do. Still and knowing what is known, I will write down clearly, all the vision cupped in my heart, write them down so that when they burst through, when they burst out like waters from a mother, waters from me, I will know your grace and time.
For I know this vision still has its time. I know it presses on to fulfillment. I know too that it will not disappoint. I know that if it delays, I will wait for it. I will wait, knowing it will surely come, it will not be late, this vision I still have for a life beyond broken spirits.
It’s impossible not to have your spirit broken once or twice or more as a mother with children under 10. My spirit was broken today. In the middle of listening to the word of God. I knew the day would be chaotic. Didn’t know it would end in chaos. My baby started with crying. Just as we got to the entrance of church. He wanted a toy torch and we have a rule, no toys in church. So I left it in the car and he started to cry. Tears streamed down his eyes and nothing could console him. So I let him cry, held him close until he calmed himself down. We were in front of church through this and the service had begun. Kids were ushered to Sunday School and I proceeded to let the word of God flow in. First reading was from Habakkuk, one of my favorite verses in the whole of the Bible. The inspiration for todays musing. I asked how long, how much should I have to wait until this thing called motherhood makes sense. He said write your vision for it, wait for it and in due time, all you hope for it will come to pass.
I did and well my spirit was broken before I could seal the vision in my soul. My middle son came out of Sunday school crying. He ripped his paper and didn’t get another one. A kind lady in church saw he was in dire need of a brain break and brought over some stress balls. I rarely carry them around as we never really need them and well this time I made a mental note to always have some around. She only had 2 and I have three boys who have a hard time with this thing called sharing. I pleaded with son number 2, pleaded with him to share with baby, he did, until he ran out of patience. Then he started to cry, insisting that we go get ice cream after church of which I said no and never by the way.
It turned into the worst thing ever as he began to wail and scream to no avail. The music in church helped to drown his tears, but not enough for all of church to feel sorry for me. I was tired and helpless, dealing with son number one struggling with sensory issues and baby clinging to me and here comes son number 2 crying because he wouldn’t get any icecream after church. So I let him cry, let him have the last word until we got to the car. I let my spirit go and made it crystal clear that I refuse to ever use my own money to buy him ice-cream. Ooh that I know my roots. I know where I am coming from and from this day, if he will ever pull that stunt ever in church or anywhere else, then he will let the world know too the roots that formed me.
Needless to say my spirit was broken today and I feel like a mother running out gas, running of being nice and kind too. In the end, they will always come first, always be loved and adored, but I know my roots. We did not hail all the way from Onicha Ugbo to raise children who have no idea where they are going to. I concluded by reminding him of his name. Olisa. It means God and he did not bring us this far, just for us to stain his name. My vision for motherhood is still clear and I will still wait for the opportune time, but until then keep mothers in mind, especially on days when our spirits are broken.
Ezi-okwu. Truth. We were told we are light. Something like a book of light, with pages that emit rays, with words that stream, gleam and beam, like the sun. Truth. We were told we are like the sun. Our glow, like our flicker shines lucid, with a spark, a scintilla, that flashes, and sets us a blaze, like a flame or fire. Ezi-Okwu. We were told we are like fire. Forever serene, truly luciferous, and built like a lighting blot. We never lack luster. Truth. We always shimmer, glisten and gloss everything till our brightness emits brilliance. Ezi-okwu. We were told we emit brilliance. In full splendor, our sheen, like our sparkle, dazzle, in a luminous reflection, the kind that kindles, illuminates, brightens, air, days, so we stay glorious as we radiate this radiant splendid life we choose to clarify and make clear in every single way, about how we are like light. A book of light. Ezi-okwu. Truth.
Something about this light, Lucille, something about all the rays it emits, both short and long, something about its glimmer, it’s glow, it’s everlasting shine, has me wishing for days when truth is life. Ezi-okwu bu ndu. You are truth, Lucille. You are.
I started my day early. I set out with a goal too. I was supposed to finish the approach section of a new grant we are working on. Yes, it’s the only thing I do these days. Anyways, I was done with aims 1 and heading to aims 2 when I did the unthinkable, I didn’t hit save as I closed the document by accident. I literally felt like pulling my head once I figured out my mistake. Crying was not enough. I felt so helpless that I literally went to my bed and just wailed out loud to myself. I was overwhelmed and tired as this grant is so painful to write and I am in that uncomfortable space of deciding whether it is worth it or not. It feels like it isn’t these days and it scares me. I never want to stop writing grants. I hate that I can write and make costly mistakes like this. When I summoned courage to get back to my laptop, I looked up and say all the rays emitting from my little light fixture in my room. They were speaking to me in ways that made me feel, almost instantly, that everything would be worth it in the end. The mistakes are still painful, but when you are a book of light, even these mistakes have lessons the emit rays so brilliant. I am leaning on light.
My son tried to carry an orange box bigger than himself today. I tried to help. He shoved my hands away, choosing to carry it alone. Until he couldn’t. He stopped trying, opting instead to sit right next to the box, fully content. Looking at him, I realized that I have been observing him wrongly. He didn’t need my help because he was capable of doing the work all by himself. His way. Most children are. I smiled. He smiled back, content with his box on the floor next to him. His way. I am reminded of writers whose words become sharp, all because they wrote their way. I see them in my little boy and his orange box
I wonder on days like today, how we have made you feel through the years. Did we make you smile? Did we keep you hopeful? Or where we full of stress, full of denials for a freedom you truly derserve. I see that with each passing day, we made your eyes stay wide open. Sure there were stressful days, never ending tears and calls for attention from all of us for your superhero ways. Your name Chizoba, means to save after all. So we looked up to you to save us from ourselves, save us from days when the skies hurt, and nights when the stars blinds. We called on you to save us when we didn’t know how, like when all the noises in our head, called us out by name, during moments that were suppose to linger. We are human after all and with you we have seen all the sides the jewelry of emotions display. We have known pain, but felt joy. We have cried, but also laughed. We have fallen, but yet stand because life with you demands we do both. Not just when things are bad but when they are good.
I would love to use today to dwell on the good. Not because it’s the day we celebrate men like you who birthed eyes that glisten like silvery stars, but because you birthed them with your hands. I know joy when I see it and it is you. From the moment you walk into any room, all our fears and worries for the day disappear. You are more than our savior, more than an knight with shinning armour, slaying dragons we would rather hide. You have slashed many of our fears away, slashed our worries for tomorrow too. With you there is no need to think of what tomorrow may bring, no need to wonder what the future holds, no need because the present is far more eloquent. All the joy felt even on a single day with you are like birds flying with magnificent grace. You are grace, and the way you accept all of our ways, is the profound harmony our soul sings today. You presence is all that interests us, all that guides us, protects us, remains with us long after others you are called to save rush to your hands.
There have been plenty days when all we hoped for a full uninterrupted day, to sit, to question, to share. There were some we knew mattered most for the people in need. Heads in need of blood flow, despite our need for life flows with you. We watched you sacrifice so much, your time, your life, us, to heal others whose last name you barely know until they arrive at your hands. Both the presence and absence of you, both the coming and going you do so often, every single thing about the joys and pains of healing, is felt with you. We use today, the awe and reverence of a day everyone joins to celebrate the primary importance of fathers, to let you know that you are our sun when it cries, our stars when it blinds, our skies for all it tends, and our air for all it whispers. A day with you is better than a thousand sunsets. A day with you is life, joy, laughter and tears running down our face unashamedly. You pull so many emotions from us all at once that even days like today are not enough to speak of your extraordinary ways. You will always be the ignition that lights up our lives, always be the air we breath, always be anything we dream, because you first gave us you.
For that we lift you up to the one who first made you, declaring that not a single thing above or below, will stand against you so long as you breathe. Not a single person, black or white, old or young, will come against you when the rivers of Niger and the crocodiles of Kaduna, all the rivers and lands your feet have sailed and will sail through belong to you. Your hands will always save, always know bravery, always heal. You will always be our seed, our soil, our water for all time. You will always be our beginning, primarily saving, before we knew we needed a savior. This is what you are to all of us, and you are like no other. Happy Father’s Day, Zobam.