I have been learning about the art of possibilities lately. Something about radiating possibilities seems inspiring to me these days. I was gifted the book ‘the art of possibilities’ during my program with altMba. I never really opened the book until this weekend. I can’t seem to drop it down. It all started with making preparations for my Tuesday class. We are focusing on fears with grantwriting, including my Rule number 5, or ‘remembering that failure is an option.’ I wanted to update my lecture a bit, to include contemporary prompts that would motivate my students to move beyond fear to accept failure as an opportunity.

The book Radical Candor initially came to mind. I love it’s take on caring personally and challenging directly. I am truly radical with how I approach grantwriting. It shows in the way I grade assignments. Some students like my tough love stance. I say it comes from a place of caring deeply for what they seek to do, with a heavy dose of challenging directly. You are not writing to me is also what I say. I maybe your teacher in this course, but I am also a grant reviewer for NIH. Write to that hat I wear, not your professor. Like I said, some students love it, others, well, let’s just say they get used to it in the end per the reviews I get. I care personally. I am all for bringing out the best in students, not being loved. So radical candor makes sense to me. But that was last year. This year (and not to tone down on radical candor), I wanted to inject a bit on seeing failure as an option, an opportunity, a possibility even. Enter the book by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander below.

From the beginning, we are informed that this is a how-to-book of an unsual kind. I was intrigued. The objective: to help the reader lift off from the world of struggle and sail to the vast universe of possibilities. I was sold. Can a book really do this is all I kept asking myself? Can a book help me harness failure for example as a possibility waiting to be brought to life?

Couple of things I read were truly inspiring and will be tried in my grantwriting class this fall. Like giving the entire class an A from the beginning. It’s radical indeed and the premise is that freely granted A expresses a vision of partnership, teamwork, and relationship. All of this is required for success with any grant. Looking back, merely putting a grant together is an automatic A so this makes sense. In the absence of a vision, we are each driven by our own agenda. But when we grant A in all our relationships, grant writing process for example, we align ourselves with others, because the A sustains any life-enhancing partnership.

I am learning that every day. I recently failed with a major grant I wrote. The failure was gut wrenching and it really made me depressed. The failure also happened while my sister in-law was transitioning from this world to the next, so the depression was real. But so to are the steps I am slowing taking to make sense of what I do, make sense of grant writing for example. I may have failed with that grant, but since learning about rule number 5 and giving myself an A for evening putting that grant together in the first place, the possibilities are endless. I am truly sailing to the universe of possibilities and beyond. The failure was excess stone that needed to be chipped away. Doing so slowly, one failure at a time, is revealing the graceful form within what I do. Like a diamond in a rough, I get better with grant writing with each failure. The possibilities are endless when I remember rule number 5. Only a matter of time before all of this makes sense.

In the meantime, I have shared previously that I was taught early in undergrad that research is a viable career path. So most of my junior and senior years were spent earning credits not in lecture halls but in research labs as an undergraduate researcher. All my experience were automatic A. In fact the easiest way to earn A’s in college is to become a researcher for class credits. It propelled me to a universe of possibilities with research. I was able to move for example, from a bachelors degree to a doctoral degree with no masters degree in between, but fully earned A’s as an undergraduate researcher. So I recognize the value of freely giving students an A. Will I try it out? Yes. Will keep you all posted how students react to this at the end of the semester. For now, here is to hoping it lifts my students off into the universe of possibilities with grant writing.

They call it an eloquent flower. A flower full of eloquence. Poems have been written about it. One by Cummings who described it as love, and how it’s love moves with brightness to all places. We noticed it on a walk this week with by baby. I rarely go for walks these days, but something about the group of people I have been interacting with all week, made me seek air and the sun and light. I see a lot better when I walk. I also reflect better and say prayers of thanksgiving during long walks. I owed my maker one, hence the walk to just reflect on the journey so far, the insights so far and all the people I have met along the way so far. It shouldn’t be this easy, I kept saying. It shouldn’t be that we tell the stories of our why over and over again, almost to infinity and everyone we speak to gets it over and over again. So a walk was due. I need to check my blind spots, to stay humble, to listen and see the world once more for there are truly so many wonders to see, on long walks. Infinity stories being on my mind.

For this walk, our eyes were greeted by Crepe Myrtles. Their bright pink colors were hard to miss. They stood out amidst a row of green short and tall shrubs. I initially ignored them at first and kept walking. It has been a while since I walked and so I was focused. But the colors kept greeting my eyes, as if to say hello. Finally, I gave in and greeted the flower back. I smelt it as always and opened my app to learn a bit more. I have shared in prior posts how I have lived blindly through life not knowing one flower from the next. But since I started to walk in light, all sorts of flowers have become my friends. Crepe Myrtle is about to be my best friend.

Not only are it’s beautiful lush flowers appealing, but per my app, this flower is a symbol of eloquence, good luck too. I was in awe and grew closer to see why. In full bloom, it’s flower petals appear wrinkled but full of rich texture that produce brilliant crumbling spiral patterns. These spirals gather together like a crepe, hence the name Crepe Myrtle. But eloquence don’t stop with the flowers alone. Soon, the flowers will fall and it’s leaves will turn glorious gold, orange, red and purple in fall before falling off. Then, it’s bark completes this flower’s trifecta. The bark on many Crepe Myrtle peels in puzzle patterns to reveal smooth cinnamon or tan colors that glow during winter. All of this combined, helps to symbolize Crepe Myrtle’s eloquence. They also help to tell my never ending keeplist of stories of becoming a mom in light. An infinity story in the making.

Crepe Myrtles.

On the surface, everything seems fine. A family that I am blessed to call my own for all the love, support and gifts of belonging they provide to me. A job that I am grateful to carve as I want, grateful for when things stay and last or fall off as with passing of time or even failed grant attempts. But when you peel my surface, when you come with me and feel my journey, even peel all my outer layers, then you will understand what rounds my trifecta. I am just coming to terms with it. I am a storyteller in all sense of the word. It’s where I get my eloquence, my reason for being, my persistence, my tenacity, my love, even my drive with life. Every single thing I do has a story connected to it.

Being a mother for example, one of my greatest stories ever told, one some of you may read here on a daily basis. The stories around how me and my greatest joy, my Zobam met and continue to journey through this life keeps me on my knees with gratitude to my maker. He truly saved me. Then there are the stories for how I have navigated pursuing a career in research. To think you can go to school to become a researcher seems unheard of but that’s how I earned my degree at the end for the day. I was literally trained to become a researcher from undergrad even, not in grad school. I owe it to Dr. Cassandra Veney, my very first mentor in undergrad who inspired me to probe deeply too during my days as a McNair scholar. Then of course there their stories from grad schools. Trip to Senegal all paid for by my department, just to get to Senegal and I don’t have a hotel room and I barely spoke French or Wolof. Yet, this trip would forever change me life and inspire me to be a a global health researcher passionate about seeing the world and working with people whether I spoke their language or not.

Then there are the malaria dissertation stories. Even the process of writing my first NIH grant to do this work under the guidance of my doctoral advisor Dr Collins Airhihenbuwa has a story worthy of praises for how he pushed me to become enamored by grantwriting. How I got my first job in Paris at UNESCO following graduation has a story. UNESCO itself has a story I have yet to tell but it shaped my resolve for sustainability. How I worked or lived in Paris for 2+ years has a story. Do you know what it’s like to navigate owning an apartment in a place where you barely speak the language or raising a new baby, my Belle with my mother in-law whom I met for the first time at CDG airport in Paris? The stories are out of this world.

Of course there was a growing young family at that time navigating long distance. We have stories to tell. The ones with my first job upon my return to the US are cringe worthy whenever I think about them. They tried, boy they tried to destroy me but little did they know that greater is he. Then there are the stories of how I mastered grant writing from the king himself, Dr Gbenga Ogedegbe. I owe him a lot for showing me things I never even knew existed within me. Or how I met my partner extraordinaire Dr. Joe Tucker. He is truly on another level when it comes to collaboration. Find your partner with research and you literally find heaven. This blog has been privy to stories of navigating a child on the spectrum and raising black children in America. Even cancer’s sting is now a story I intend to tell fully with all my might.

The eloquence of crepe myrtle personifies my life fully. I choose to live it out now, more brilliantly like never before, more brightly too like an infinity story. These stories are my light. Through light, I will move eloquently, one story at a time, to all places. I am a storyteller and I am inspired by the endless eloquence of Crepe Myrtles.

My daughter wrote a poem about our world. A simple poem about so many wonderful things to see, whether day or night. Like birds who chirp or flowers that sway. Next to tall trees, or beneath blue skies. Day time has wonders for all to see, she notes. But night time too, with a big moon and stars that twinkle or owls that stare wisely, are just as brilliant as the day. Wolves howling to the moon or the color of the night, like day, even night she notes, has many wonders of its own. It’s simple and from her childlike mind. This simplicity, written on wide-ruled paper with blue ink, personifies the mood I’m in these days. No need for noise. No need to an audience too. Simple will do. Like day and night. Simple has wonders, if only we stop to see it. It’s my keep for today and always. Keep simple, my daughter’s gift to me and it’s many wonders to see.

The new school year is in full swing. A note to myself: Take it easy. Remember you are not really in competition with anyone but yourself. Hidden within the commandment love your neighbor as yourself, is the need to love yourself first. Without which I am sorry for your neighbor. So love yourself this new school year. Whatever you want to do, however you want to do it as well, do. It’s your ride and race. This thing called life. Here today, gone tomorrow. And the world would move on as if you never existed. So yes, take it easy or take am jeje, as pidgin English would suggest. Life na jeje after all.

For them, I will be taking life easy. (Shot by my 4 year old).

No need attending anything too you don’t feel like or liking anything you attend. To be of use, to yourself first, to those you love, like these little boys and a growing little girl that needs a present mother, a loving and gentle one too is all that matters. Life Na jeje after all. No need overdoing anything or letting anything overdo you. It’s just a thing afterall and you matter. All of you. If the thing is going to lower your vibrations or take you down a path worth avoiding, then don’t go. Only go towards things that lift your vibrations up, challenge you too to do more than you can ever hope or imagine. Move towards things that let you remain in light. With grace and beauty too, take the time to become the light you were and are destined to be come in your own way, your own pace. This life Na jeje after all. Finally no need being in spaces that don’t value your many phases. We all change. A blue sky turns grey in a twinkle of an eye. Plants too and trees. So how much less all of us humans. So need being in spaces that don’t understand what it means to change. You will change. You have changed through this past year alone and I expect more change to come your way as you embrace this phase of your life. Afterall, even this phase of your life Na je je with all you have to care for.

To be of use to them, will require you to be of use to yourself, take an easy, don’t attend what you don’t want to attend, don’t do anything you don’t want to and don’t be in spaces that don’t value all of your phases. This life Na je je and as the new school year begins in full swing, take am easy is my keep.

What’s your story? I have been struggling with this lately. A friend called me out too. Said I call myself a storyteller but struggle with each story I tell. There was some truth to it. I write and stop writing. I tell stories and stop telling them. Not because I don’t want to write or tell my story but because of distractions. There have been a lot this year. Broken pipes, cancer, death. It’s only August. What my story? It’s still unfolding, not sure if the world deserves it yet too. But I’ll keep trying to tell whatever story I can. It’s a beautiful struggle too.

We talked about you today. It’s been a week so we talked about you. Distance may have been the amount of space between us. But forever we are close, almost inseparable now through time. So we talked about you today. Each day helps. Something about morning dew, makes each day easy to bear. So we talked about your strength and tenacity to live. We talked about how you made each one of us stand tall, brightly too despite everything, your pain too. We talked about your gratitude and grace in the end. You were never afraid to say thank you, despite the end looming. We wanted you to fight. You wanted to rest, gracious for our fight. Your voice will forever stay etched in my mind. You were never afraid to run your length of race called life. Never unrelenting. Never detached. Never separated. Never even removed from the pain you were going through, for you wanted us to stay strong. Now we sit here wishing we could draw closer, tighter too, like the tight arms of a new baby around their mothers. Distance may have been what separated use. But forever and time, we will draw closer to you, our angel.

We started the new school year today. We started full of hope for what lies ahead. We expect the pandemic to continue raging on. We expect debates on mask wearing to keep waging on too. While, I am so glad homeschooling has finally come to an end, I remain apprehensive as the pandemic isn’t coming to an end. I also wonder whether this is the right thing to do for kids who expect us to keep then safe till the end. My kids were happy to be back to school. Most parents I watched were too, part happy, part longing for them to remain close by, but thankful they are also gone. My daughter talked about butterflies in her stomach for the new school year. There were butterflies and balloons on school grounds welcoming them back to school. The pandemic took a lot from them last year. Here is to hoping for brighter days ahead, gentler days too. One that will allow our children to remain children, despite this never ending pandemic.

For trees, storms are a matter of life and death. Peter Wohlleben, the New York Times author of the book ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ briefly stated why in his beautiful book. Winds blowing 60 miles an hour can uproot a tree, pummeling mature trunks to nothingness with forces equivalent to 220 tons. Trees that are unprepared fall. The pressure is enormous. Forest floors sink to nothing too within minutes. But some trees, like deciduous trees, withstand the pressure. They do so as a community, helping each individual tree swing back and forth depending on the direction of the moving winds. While some trees are straightening themselves after the first gust of wind, others may have sprung back quickly, absorbing and distributing the strong gust of wind throughout the tree. The result is that each tree gets help, depending on the way the wind blows and despite the storms. So too is death of a loved one.

Some of us are still struggling, barely a week later. I am one of them. I can’t seem to think straight these days without wishing that this is a terrible dream and waking up is just around the corner. It isn’t and the idea of never speaking again to Angie just keeps me in awe of life. Others are still asking questions, revisiting how we got here, how we didn’t know, how she never let on about the pain she was in. And she was in pain. Imagine, everything, all your vital organs giving away, and you have no single pain medication to cope with the onslaught your body must be going through. She was rather a tough woman and a fighter till the end, always saying she felt better, thus making it seem we had time. It wasn’t until she saw her mother, that I knew we were really at the end. I will never forget how she called her and called her and she never answered or how Angie cried when she finally saw her mother by her bedside. For sure, I am in the struggling camp. I am also in the camp prevention and camp advocacy now. I never really paid attention to cervical cancer until now. I am ready for the battle. Like trees, I am prepared for the storm ahead too with prevention in a country where many people still have no idea that HPV vaccines exist or that you should be checking your cervix once you turn 30 years old. We have lots of work to do. And as a community, we will bend whatever way the wind blows as a community and individually so no other woman or girl gets cervical cancer. Until then, keep swinging back and forth like trees on a windy day, to end cervical cancer.

Love was in the walls and headboards. It triumphed beneath the floors where feet’s stomped and jumped to the sounds of Amen and Hallelujah. It was also in the faces of everyone who came to hold on to it longer. From as far as the US and her hometown Nimo, to as near as her brother’s Festac town, everyone who knew and loved Angie made an attempt to hold and pray for a divine miracle. It was all we had. Cancer’s power had revealed itself where her body had cracked and fallen to the depths of no return with its wide reach, impacting everything in sight. So love was all we had left, was in every face that met her eyes, every questioning gaze full of whys and how, every gentle squeeze and audacious pleas.

Love was in her mother’s eyes, her tears too were full of it. She was afterall her first born child, her first experience of creation, her first love personified, her first companion amongst men, her first every thing worthy of gist. Under the turmoil of Cancer’s reign, under moments of shared bliss, even in the middle of pain and despair, love continued to lean in deeply, gleam brightly too, as it tightened it’s grip around her. Through a storm of tears, that flowed for moments of slipping away, love continued to roar, continued to fight, continued to ravage the storms, refusing to turn and flee. Wherever love went we followed. We were prepared to go the distance, to do all we could, even to delirium, so long as love reigned eternal. Cancer’s grip was strong, but love was stronger, tougher too and ready to push any boulder up or down any steep hill. We were all held in captive and could not move for love’s grip kept our soul still.

Looking back to last week, we thought we had a day for love to stare into each other’s eyes, for mother and daughter to drown wildly in love once more. We got a week. Little miracles of what the gift of time can do. The gift of being together too in love. Something my hubby and I are forever grateful we gifted this to his mother. When we got the call that her daughter was unresponsive last week. We sprung into action. I have never purchased a ticket the day you travel. Surely not one for an international flight in the middle of a pandemic with its glaring requirements for Covid testing. We got the ticket at about 7am and kept moving. Lucky mama was up. She was even dressed for the day. We told her she was heading to the hospital and asked her to wear something comfortable. She did. We were initially preparing for her to travel later that week. Just the night before we were speaking about what she would travel with. She had been preparing to visit home last year for one of her son’s wedding. But the pandemic derailed all her plans. So I had an idea what she wanted to pack. I watched as she brought them out and arranged them in piles. She was also waiting for me to bring her suitcases from our storage room. We were supposed to pack her items together. I did it alone.

Angie at her brothers wedding last year that mama missed due to the pandemic.

While my husband took her to the hospital to get her Covid requirements, I began to pack. One suitcase was not enough. Not even two. I didn’t care as I didn’t know whether we had a day or six months. I packed everything she brought out. Then I grabbed all 4 kids and rushed to the airport. We saw mama off at the airport. She never came back to the house. She never even said goodbye to the garden she had started to grow and love dearly. This was also the first time I saw her break down and cry. She asked why the rush. I started to cry which made her cry even more. I told her to stop crying that everything would be okay. She cried some more. I prayed to God for a day with mama and Angie.

The first day was unbearable. Mama cried and cried and asked whether we knew it was this bad. I cried too saying over and over that we tried everything. I kept apologizing that we couldn’t help enough. She said then let’s pray. We started to pray fervently. God gave us an additional week. It was plenty. We are still processing this experience. Still making sense of how we got here. Still asking questions. Still crying. Still even being angry with her but we know that it is out of our hands now. No mother should go through this. The only consolation we have is that they spent a week together. A day or even a week together with those you love is a lifetime. Treasure every moment together. That’s the keep I’m keeping. Being together. With love, we are granted this grace.

At the heart of our mystery as women is creativity. We literally give birth to new beings, new life. We finds ways to birth other things too, like writing for me lately or jewelry making, a reoccurring hobby of mine. To be able to make something, is to live life to the fullest, to live it also open, to new ways, new ideas, even new experiences. I have been learning to embrace each new cycle, every twist and turn, life throws my way, with words that are flowing faster than I even share on the blog. The ask for myself has always been at least one keep a day. I did so to keep myself in check. Writing more than one comes easy these days, though I still stick to the one keep a day principle.

Which brings me back to this idea of creativity. I am loving this process of using words to get through the most difficult experience I have experienced this year. I know and expect death. We all have to leave one day. The prayer I ask is that we leave surrounded by love, supported by love, secured in love. It’s the gift of a lifetime to see love manifested in this way. To feel it, even embrace it is truly magnificent. The purest forms of it, I am learning isn’t when you exchange vows in public. It isn’t when we have big celebrations or dance until our feet are weary. The purest form of love I am learning are during the birth of a child and during the experience of death. I have gone through birth 4 times to know that each process of bringing forth new life, is unapologetically profound and full of joy. Though we scream and shout and push, the gift of a baby in one’s arms evokes feelings that words cannot fully capture. I cry all the time. The tears keep flowing as I watch in awe of our gift of creation. It’s a gift I will forever treasure as long as I live. A gift that I remain grateful to have experienced 4 times.

The birth our baby #3. (Fun fact, this was the only baby that Dad brought into the world with his hands: we literally created and brought him to the world together).

Then there is the other extreme of life. The experience of death. I have also been here before with distinct experiences that ushered tears in my eyes. I remember my first experience with death. It was my grandma and I was 13 years old. The week prior to her death was eerily similar to my sister in law’s death. She too was surrounded by love, supported by loved and secured in love. We watched her as she slipped in and out of consciousness the Sunday before her death. We poured water on her face and she came back to herself. It happened so fast that she asked why were we crying and why was she all wet, oblivious to what she just put us through. For the rest of the week, it was as if she was in a celebratory mood. I remember receiving money from her that Tuesday evening following the Sunday incident, stating that I should purchase drinks for everyone in the house. Her request was strange as we had no cause for celebration. But I obliged and got the drinks for everyone. She kept insisting that we should be happy and celebrate life always. I nodded my teenage head and went on my way.

By Friday morning, around 7 am or so, she began to slip out of consciousness again. She was wearing a light blue flowery night dress with white buttons from the top to the bottom. The radio was playing ‘I surrender all.’ I remember this distinctively as I was in the room. She was waving her hands in the air as if she was praying. It was the last song she listened too. A befitting one, seeing as though she was slipping away from this world to the next. I pray to surrender, and freely give all to him when my time arrives. They rushed her to the hospital. I stayed behind expecting things to get better. I even shamefully picked up her Naira laying on her bed and got some butterscotch for myself as I waited. By the time, they returned from the hospital, the blue night dress was all they came home with. Mama has died was all I heard. I knew at that moment what death meant. There were no preparations, no warning, just tears that kept flowing. The presence of her absence was so unbearable.

I still see her bed, all the pictures of her children and grand children on the wall. I still see her staring at the window or from the balcony whenever anyone came to our house. It’s been close to 25 years since her death. This November 8th, would make it 25. Yet, I remember this day as if it was today. Death has the power to let memories of those you love and lost linger for years to come. It’s creative power is unmatched as it has the final word on how the story ends, how the music lasts or how the picture of our lives are illustrated. I am learning that once more now that I find myself surrounded by it again. To witness it’s last stroke is to witness the creativity inherent in all of us. We all come into this world with unmatched creativity that continues to baffle humanity. When our time is up, we will leave as well with this same creativity that no expert can vividly illustrate. Yet we cannot mourn or live as people with no hope, rather their is a gift even as we try to cope. No father or mother would gift the life they created stone when they ask for things. But rather, they would gift us all we ask. In times of despair, his plans are always good.

I am leaning on these words knowing that the ultimate creator would not give me more than I cannot handle even as I create or make sense of this experiences with words that flow these days with ease. This is the second of 2 essays I wrote just this morning alone. It’s the ultimate consolation. To still be able to create even in the middle of a loss so painful. I choose to keep this one because creativity is the ultimate gift. Keep it for yourself always.