Representation as with stories for black children, have been controlled by others for far too long. For our children to thrive, we really must write about ourselves in other to reclaim our stories, our way of life. As long as others direct attention and conversations surrounding the experiences of all children, as long as their rules and style dominate wiring for children, then the lived experiences of our black children will not be represented in society. It’s up to us, the adults in their lives and/or our children to represent ourselves and take back our stories. Enter ‘I am enough’ by Grace Byers.

As a parent, reminding my children that they are enough is a daily mantra. The world may want to say what it feels like saying, but you my child, with all your dimples and beautiful nappy hair are enough. The world may want to question why you are so active, or even restless, say to them that like rain, you are here to pour and drip and fall until you are full. The world may question your intelligence, ostracize you even in school because of it, with some choosing not to even be your friend. Relax my dear and smile and know that their is privilege with learning and you have been blest with it’s finest ingredients. Your knowledge. So learn, keep it, everytime you are in school and beyond. Grace Byers book opens up spaces for parents like myself to talk to my children about why they are enough. She also helps make it easy for us to start conversations on ways they too can tell their own stories of being enough. She also gives voice back to our children’s experiences, something often absent in mainstream writing for children of color. I am enough is a great book for all children, and black children in particular. It helps the rootedness of who they are so that they never forget that they are enough. As we begin to wrap up black history month, and to keep it alive all year, keep reminding our children that they are enough.

I grew up in a family dominated by authoritative and assertive women. I remember my grandmother, a no-nonsense woman, who would bathe you, feed you, or love and hug you with one arm, and spank you with the other if you misbehaved. Women like my grandmother were never afraid to speak their mind. She was our culture-bearer, a great storyteller, and was always ready to teach us her grandchildren how to act and behave and conform to an ever-changing society, where our cultural norms were beginning to take backseat.

My grandmother.

Now as a woman, I live with my mother-in-law, the matriarch of my husband’s family, a mother herself to one daughter and seven sons and my own cultural bearer. The other day I came across an article written by Judi Aubel about grandmothers and how they are truly a neglected resource for saving newborn lives.

I tweeted about the article and added, not only newborn lives, but women’s lives, global health women researcher’s lives, in fact, my life. That I am able to have a career in global health, I shared with four children under 8 years of age, is because my mother-in law has been living with me since my first child was six months old. At that time I was living and working in Paris, France with my daughter. My husband was in the US working and preparing for his transition to residency programs as a physician. Ours was truly a long-distance family. I had a baby sister in Paris. A Nigerian woman to be exact. I was lucky to have found her and I believe that together we would provide the necessary needs my daughter needed at the time so that I could continue my work. That dream only lasted for five weeks with a disastrous experience that made me take sometime off from work to watch my daughter until other arrangements were made. Enter my mother-in-law.

My mother-in law

My job at that time was extremely understanding and worked with me to help relocate my mother-in-law from Nigeria to France. This would be her first experience not only leaving Nigeria but also flying on an airplane. It was also my first time meeting her. Yes. The first time I met my mother-in-law was at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris with my then 6month old daughter. We were both clueless what to do. Mama barely spoke English and my Igbo was horrible. I understood the language perfectly but had no idea how to communicate it perfectly. 8 years later, my Igbo is much better thanks to Mama. I have also given birth to three additional children, all boys with mama by my side. Because of mama, there is a sense of security, not just with work but also with my family, with life. With work, I am able to continue my career in global health, with travel to places as far as Kathmandu Nepal, or Dar es Salam, Tanzania. With mama, my children have access to another mother, a full one, that readily prepares their meals or gives them bath whether I am around or not. With mama, there is a sense of oneness, a kind of comfort that comes from the warm embrace of knowing you are at the centre of a tight web of relations who will always have your back, your children’s back, your family’s back in a deep way. Like my grandmother did for me, mama is now the cultural-bearer in my household, a link for myself and my children, like a chain, connecting past to future, creating a sense of continuity, a real sense of meaning and security. I share all this to say keep grandmas in mind. Love them and show gratitude always. They are indeed life givers.

We all called him Jacob. He was a gentle soul, a true gentleman. He also loved his birth country Ghana, hypertension research and golf. When the news of Tiger Woods accident was shown all over the news yesterday, Jacob came to mind. He fiercely loved Tiger Woods and would have given anything I am sure to be in his presence. Now that would never happen, because Jacob, a renowned hypertension researcher in Ghana and my dear colleague, mentor and principal investigator for my Ghana grant passed away from COVID-19 last year. He is survived by his wife and three children. I helped to coordinate a Lancet Obituary about his passing that you can read here (Dr. Jacob Plange-Rhule). What people never got to read and still haven’t read is my story of how I met Jacob, of how he mentored me when I returned to academia and how he made me fall in love with Ghana. Dr. Jacob was a true cultural bearer for all things Ghana for me and hypertension research. He is sorely missed.

The last time I was with Jacob before his passing.

When the pandemic of 1918 occurred, there were no gaze from people of color. No black stories were told. No Hispanic stories either. Yet that communities of color bear and continue to bear the burden of excess deaths from health disparities are well understood. Excess deaths have been occurring among black people in the prime of their life, over the course of a century. In a historical insight on the 1918 pandemic for the ongoing pandemic, Dr. Lakshmi Krishna shared how 1918 pandemic revealed critical structural inequities in health for people of colors that continues till this day. One thing that stood out for me in her report was how community centered and internal solutions from trusted sources were used to counter the veracity and benevolence of white responses to Black people’s plight during the pandemic. Still, this was a pandemic with shockingly spare accounts of the black experiences. Not from the point of view of illness or even disease, but from the lens of communal effort and activism, the profound engagement with health, all with a spirit of community resilience that helped to improve the health and lives of people of color. Now enter COVID-19 pandemic. That the pandemic continues to lead to disparate health outcomes in communities of color is now common knowledge. More than 500,000 Americans have died from the disease at the time of this writing and 18% of COVID deaths are from African Americans and 16% from Hispanic Americans according to a recent report from the COVID Tracking Project.

One benefit of the current era compared to the 1918 pandemic is our ability to collect more robust data. However, one critical thing lacking are the stories behind the data. Stories behind the life experiences of every death. Stories for example of Elizabeth R. Duff, the first black woman to drive a city bus in Nashville Tennessee. She was 72 years old at the time of her death. Not only did she endure sexism and racism being at the frontlines of changing gender and color barriers, but she was cool, calm, but stern while doing so. Along with her three children, she is survived by her husband, 16 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Elizabeth Duff

Then there is the story of Honorable Isidore Torres, the first trail-blazing Hispanic Judge in Wayne County, Michigan who died at the age of 73. Known as a fearless fighter of civil rights and equality, Honorable Torres ‘was known for the respect he showed attorneys by carefully reading their pleadings, and also for his sense of humor.’ He is survived his wife and three children.

Honorable Isidore Torres

Every COVID death has a story. Every single data point has an experience worth retelling for the past, present and future. Our lives seems to dominated by information on the data, with rising death counts being reviewed and discussed over and over again as if there were no humanity, no stories behind the data points. I have only shared three to illustrate my point, my dear mentor Jacob, the first Black woman driver in Nashville, Elizabeth and the first Hispanic Judge in Wayne county Michigan, Isidore. We have lost and continue to lose prominent culture-bearers such as these three. My goal is to ensure that these stories are told. For they are our guide, and without a recognition of the humanity behind the numbers, then as a generation, even if we survive the pandemic, we are blind.

One of my favorite aspects of the novel Anthills of the Savannah’s by Chinua Achebe is the focus on the power of the story and the storyteller. In it Achebe reminds us of ‘stories being our escorts, and our guides’ through life. Some people, the novel notes, have been given the gift of leadership, summoning their fellow citizens to rise to the sounding and timing of battles. Others have been given the gift of fighting, the gift of putting on war-time garbs and going to engage in the battle. But still others have been given the gift of waiting for the battle to end. Waiting to take over to tell the story of the battle. Achebe shared that the sounding of the battle is important, the fierce waging of the war too. But of all this, it’s the telling of the story that is most critical. The story as Achebe pointed out, ‘boldly takes the eagle feather.’ Stories are indeed connected to all aspects of our lives. Our being and becoming, our penetration and preservation, even our silence and survival or ability to enlighten and empower depend on the stories we tell. It is only the story that continues noted Achebe, beyond the war and the warrior. It’s is the ‘story that also saves us, so much so that without it, we are blind.’ Sustainability or the ‘continued use of program components and activities for the continued achievement of desirable program and population outcomes,’ are like stories.

Sustainability is connected to all the life cycles of research from initial conceptualization to implementation. Sustainability draws attention to the struggles, the values, even the quest for efficacy or effectiveness that binds a research team and how all these intersect to enable their intervention to ultimately remain. It is also where the collective memory of an intervention resides. Not the memories as with steps delineated in a protocol, but in the minds of all people influenced by the intervention. It informs the process through which an intervention defines itself from its beginning to the end. It raises awareness and builds consciousness of key values or adaptations that can take evidence-based interventions forward. It highlights the role of key people and resources necessary for any attempt to sustain an intervention, capturing key processes and outcomes that future researchers and implementers can rely on. Finally, sustainability helps implementer to re-imagine and reframe their own stories on what it means to last. It’s their for the telling and they have the capacity and ability to affect and inform the outcome, if only they know their power.

Of course sustainability cannot be separated from the social, ecological, historical or political forces in which evidence-based interventions are implemented. In a seminal review by Pan-African Studies Professor, Tavengwa Gwekwerere on the Anthills of the Savanah, like stories, sustainability ‘binds the past, the present and the future together, making inroads into the past to inspire the present, narrating the realities of the present to imagine the future, all while preparing the future for potential struggles and aspirations with attempts to last.’ Sustainability’s connections to the past, present and future, prepares researchers and implementers to make sense of ‘where they have been, where they are, and where they must go.’ It’s for this reason that having a plan becomes critical. By plan, I mean working with the right people to learn how to adapt and nurture aspects of an evidence-based research so that it lasts. It’s no surprise then that sustainability remains a threat to all statue quo form of research, so much so that those who seek to make this a career are actually called ambitious. But why even bother implementing any research if it never lasts? Keep sustainably in mind and have a plan while you are at it. That and keep remaining ambitious. Sustainability requires, no demands that you remain ambitious. So keep it as well.

There is a Black exodus happening in academia. It is female, oppressive, and recursive. The latest, Dena Simmons of Yale University. She left the university citing ‘racism and years of bullying.’ She didn’t feel ‘valued’ or ‘protected’ at Yale. I spent my Sunday afternoon reading brief but concise social media postings on Dena. They were mostly by Black women. Some still in academia. Some gone, and off to start their own enterprises, in spaces and places where they would feel safe and protected. There is a Black exodus happening in academia now. But it is a site of power. Black women are reclaiming, restoring, even rekindling their God given power to exit spaces and places that do not value or protect them.

But how do we bear witness to a moment that is often not recorded, not discussed, not visible, not even in mainstream media, but yet a lived experience of many black women in America? Writing, is the one place where we can retrieve, restore, recover and give voices back to the unknown and unshared invisible, experiences of all black women, those in or not in academia. It is the one place where our silence will not protect us. It is the space where no one tells us what to do. It is the place where we can create rooms for our own unique experiences. All the words I write, every phrase and every structure, is mine to do as I please. If I wanted to control the narrative, all you see and hear about me, even what my social spaces, or social interactions may look like, at home, at work, even at church, then I would have to be radically open and write from my soul. For it is in writing that we bear witness to our history, our stories, our ways of being, our lived reality, our gaze.

Bell Hooks shared in a glorious piece entitled ‘the oppositional gaze,’ the power inherent with looking that is in opposition. Our ‘gaze’ she said, has been and remains a site of resistance. But it can also be a site of power, a site that breaks silence, breaks constraints and makes us the subject rather than the object of dialogue. Yet one thing black women don’t do enough though, is value our process of looking, enough to publicly name it, she stated. Even when we have our own reality, our own history, our own lens, our imaginations, one that sees the world differently from anyone else, Hooks stated that we do not name it or even describe this experience of seeing things rather differently. Even when we create alternative lens, based on our own unique ways of contesting, resisting, revising, and interrogating the dominant ways of knowing and looking, we still do not define our realities. Yet, how we see ourselves, whether at the center or the margins of our stories, how we look at ourselves, Bell Hooks notes, is most is important.

So to is my writing, the place where I am most free to be myself, to see myself. This blog has become a space of agency for me and for every reader, both old and new. Know that every keep, every word written, is my way of looking at myself, my way of using my lived reality to know the present, and imagine the future. Every keep is my way of reclaiming, restoring and rekindling my power. So though there may be a Black exodus in academia right now, for those of us still around, do keep an oppositional gaze.

I have got three bright sons, one barely 7 months old, the other 4 years of age, and my first, 6 years old. Like most mothers raising black boys in America, I fear always, like I am raising targets. No amount of my education, my gender or even class, can protect my sons from the harsh realities of a racial society that first sees the color of their skin. My situation is made more complex and complicated with my first son who is on the autism spectrum. To know him, is to know love. Fierce, unbounded love, that glows as bright as the moon on good days. On those days, days with no meltdowns or obsessive, compulsive behaviors, our son is pure delight, sweet, tender, and moist, like the red on velvet cakes. But on days were tears are all he knows, all he understands, all that makes sense to his brilliant brain, our son can easily become a target, with his behaviors misconstrued as though he was a neurotypical child. It’s for this reason that homeschooling still makes sense, even when schools are slowly reopening and his own siblings even returning back to school.

My 7 month old!

Now imagine homeschooling a special needs child, all while working at the same time in academia. On some days I am the worst of mothers, and the guilt of abandoning work, and homeschooling, probably makes me the worst of colleagues and parent. Nothing gets done. Not math, language, reading or even music for him, or my numerous emails or Zooms for yet another meeting in the middle of homeschooling. On other days, especially days where we break all the rules, make our own rules even, days where we confront our fear, face our insecurities, our brains many electric stimulations is pure delight.

Take this week and weekend. Not only did we play with snow, we also painted, made jewelry, had a movie night, all with a brand new kitchen, now in ruins, thanks to a busted frozen water pipes. The first trade off, I abandoned work and allowed my soul to play. We needed it. The second is that they are my boys and I will do anything to protect them. The third is that even in the middle of chaos, even when his brain or my own is overwhelmed during a pandemic that isn’t abating, I will still work to see our brilliance. And we are brilliant, just as we are.

Our many footprints playing in the snow!

I will do my part to listen to the tears streaming down our beautiful black faces on days when we have our own meltdowns. I will do my part to hug our shoulders a little longer, even in the middle of yet another cold, snowy, sleepy night. I will pray. Yes indeed, I will cast all my cares on to God and thank him as we return to church, where all our other-mothers, Sister Cheryl in particular, can continue that loving, and teaching only she knows how too. Our grandmama is now vaccinated and so the fears of the virus, fears of its strong grip, are slowly disappearing, though with new variants, spreading rampart and wide, homeschooling remains. But above all, I will show them love. A fierce maternal love. If the goal is to nurture them, help them preserve, with their feet soaked fully in their culture, then maternal love is critical. Maternal love is a necessary foundation upon which my sons can continue to thrive and become resilient to to face and subvert the racist world they live in. Maternal love is also a serious matter especially where black boys are concerned, especially when the odds against them are high. The multitude and forms of the tolls this pandemic takes is persistent, but we will persist. With our heads unbowed, and our hearts unbroken, even with this pandemic, for my black sons, our mothering love, will persist. Keep persisting.

Can one become an instrument of Peace? The prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi insists it is possible. So does the late Dr. Howard Thurman, the former spiritual mentor of the late Dr. Martin Luther King. That we can pray to become an instrument of Peace, was something he described ‘as the most insistent conditions of the human spirit.’ So much so that where there is hatred, we spread love, where there is even injury, we show pardon.

I have been wrestling with this prayer for quite some time. Not because I do not believe that we can all be instruments of peace, but because some injuries are difficult to pardon, some hatred, difficult to show love. Again and again, I keep looking to Peace, being hopeful of its appeal, but then my human nature persists. I am human afterall. But I would like to become an instrument of Peace. That with my words and actions, I would please God and not betray the spirit of Peace. Dr Thurman notes that we all can become instruments of peace. Not the kind that indulges in gossip for example (something that I am too guilt of) but the kind that uses words to bring healing, light, even love. For where there is hatred, even our words, can sow love. Where our insecurities and weakness cause injury, our words can still bring healing, bring empathy, bring pardon, bring love. I would like to use my words more carefully now for Peace. Keep being an instrument of Peace. Blessed indeed are the peacemakers.

‘Do you know who you are without what you do?’ These words were spoken often during my doctoral studies at Penn State University by my doctoral advisor, Dr. Collins Airhihenbuwa. To him, our research identities, often influenced the research we conducted. If all you see is what you do, he would go on to say, then your research will only center on what you do and nothing else. For you, attention or your research only makes sense when the focus is on what you do. So if all you see for example, about African countries are disease-ridden images, resource limited settings, he would also say, then your research will only focus on disease and despair and not the humanity or resilience of the populations. It’s for this reason, my advisor would ask, over and over again, ‘can you define who you are without describing what you do?’ Can you tell your story, your ambition, your goals, even your vision or passion for life, without making a reference to your credentials.

I learnt early on in my doctoral studies that I was drawn to the stories we tell and are told about the research we do. Granted, I was committed to addressing one health issue or the other. But what moved me more, what made me alert, what was most sterling to me, where the stories behind the health issues I explored. Stories for example, of young mothers who asked repeatedly why I was leaving a local clinic where I collected my dissertation data of child malaria diagnosis, after spending three months with them in the summer of 2009. My data collection was over and I needed to go make sense of the data I had in hand, I would say. But the mothers would asked, well our children are still sick, what happens now. It’s not like malaria has gone away. These conversations with different mothers over the course of my time at the clinic, would instill my first learning experience in global health. Our research, even our interventions, no matter how well-intentioned, never last.

My dissertation days.

Like many researchers, I went to the clinic, with all my ethical requirements in place, to collect data on how mothers manage their children’s diagnosis for malaria prior to arriving at a clinic. When data collection was over, the question still remained. Not only for the mothers I interacted with, but for the many others that never came to my study, never provided their data, never even knew I existed. Unfortunately, many researchers go into clinics and communities to pose questions of people who inhabit the clinics or communities without a commitment to sustaining attention to the issue, attention to the questions they set out to explore in the first place once data collection is over.

It is for this reason that I am drawn to questions (with public health for example) that never end. That and ‘until the lions produce their own historians, the story of the hunt will only glorify the hunter’ ( a quote by Chinua Achebe). I am committed to laying bare the assumptions and meanings that underlie knowledge, the meanings behind the stories, even efforts to question the questions posed. Not because of what I do as a Professor in Global Health. But because silence, like those of the lions, silence in the face of health issues that are critical, will no longer protect us. Not when there is too much at stake. Our silence in turn ignores the true agency and voice of people. Our silence ignores their needs in any real or meaningful way. Our silence fosters only representations of disease and despair, and not their courage or even hope. Our silence limits the gaze and the gates through which we must enter to understanding health from their perspective. In short, our silence is the very reason why we still do not know who we are without what we do.

I am a storyteller, one I realize now, is very committed to becoming the lion for my generation of scholars. Telling stories, one health issue over time, is my attempt at opening hearts and minds to the experiences of others. It is what I do and stories are a serious matter for me. Storytelling can be a guide, building or expanding, transforming or informing, until we bring healing, understanding, even empathy to the plight of others. What now keeps me alert, what is forever sterling to me, are the stories behind the health issues, the stories committed to illustrating how to make health interventions last. Keep knowing who you are, one story at a time, until hearts and minds, are open and even committed to lasting.

I have been reading lately about stories. About the story of stories. About the importance of telling stories. Those you pass on and those you don’t. Those told about you, and those you tell. Those that provide opportunities to be and become the Other. Those that are our guide, those that direct us, for without them, we are blind. Storytelling is a ‘serious matter…far more important that anything else…as it conveys all our gains, all our failures, all we hold dear, and all we condemn,’ the Late Chinua Achebe once shared. Stories indeed are us.

Over the past couple of days, I have experienced a great deal of turmoil. I have watched as cold and snow from a frigid weather bust open my pipes. I have watched water gush down my ceiling. All while participating in an annual meeting at work and homeschooling my son. The full story of what we have been through these past few days have not been an easy one to tell. But I took a small stab at it, putting it on record, to illustrate the plight of motherhood and work, in instructive reality-based terms. The unchanging plight of women, those who work and those who tend, during this pandemic, remains my preoccupation. I contemplated writing an email to describe in detail my experience at home, but I where would I begin. What would I even say. To whom it may concern, there is water all over my house and I cannot attend your annual meeting going on right now. Ooh by the way, the meeting is also happening while my son is homeschooling too. Of course I didn’t send any email or even tell this story to anyone except on this blog. I suspect this is what many women experience on a daily basis. The conflicting roles of work and life. Often with no guide, we stumble through both, hoping for the best in the end.

My intent here, with this keeplist that has become a thing of joy for me, is to brilliantly capture these crucial moments. To speak with as much power as I can, about the many invisible lives of motherhood along the margins. The graphic depictions of my turmoil, the reconstruction of every event, even those as dire as broken pipes or water leaks, are my attempts at storytelling, with stories that I hope will guide us to better understand how women do this thing called motherhood and work. Every keep is a commitment to focusing on what matters. Each one is my attempt at expressing my reality with language that is as simple as it is as gentle for the conditions of women today. Each keep is my approach with sharing what lies beneath the surface. If stories are meant to be our guide, if they are supposed to speak directly to the underlying issues women face and continue to face on a daily basis, then I will continue to work to remind you to keep telling your stories. Keep finding your voice and speak from your reality, as eloquently as you can, about why your stories matter.

In the middle of a very chaotic day, with my house literally in shambles, a stranger knocked at my door. He plowed snow for other homeowners in our village and wanted to know if we needed help plowing our snow. He noted that he used to plow for the previous owner and he would love to continue offering his services to us. As if on cue, he also proceeded to tell me how lucky I was to own our home. His words, “you will never find this much space, with this much acreage anywhere in this area, you are truly lucky to own this home.” I looked at him dumbfounded. Here I was, in a frantic mess, water literally running down my ceiling, practically destroying all we worked hard to build, and a stranger, at the same moment, was reminding me of my blessings, of my luck. I said thank you, took his card and went back into our home. Everywhere was still a mess. Water was still sprinkling down. But the stranger’s words stuck in my heart, in my soul. We are the lucky ones.

Restoring our home following the massive water leak!

Even in the midst of the chaos we were currently experiencing, we are the lucky ones. Even with all the water gushing out from the top of our ceiling, water on my cabinets, we are still the lucky ones. The prior owner, wished us luck when we bought the house. He told us that this home had given him all the blessings he had in life and he wished the same for us. That was barely a month ago. Yet, I stood in a mess. A huge catastrophic mess. That we were lucky made no sense. Our home was literally soaking wet. Yet, even with all the mess, even with all the water everywhere, luck, was somehow on our side, with strangers reminding me of its significance, at this dire moment. We did what we could to clean up the mess. I kept luck in mind and told the universe take control.

It did. About an hour after the exchange, a restoration crew descended at my door steps. There were 3 trucks and 2 cars, and about a dozen staff, all attending to our home. They opened up every space they could get into to listen to our home, to the water spill. They assessed every damage, assessed what caused the damages, identified the busted pipes, and started to restore, recover what they could. There were staff everywhere, lifting carpets, removing wet items, draining water, pulling cabinets apart. At some point, I felt sad. Here is a home we truly loved, a home I wrote about being blessed to own, just a few days before. Then I remembered, the power of the word, including the notion of why I should consider myself fortunate whenever I go through trials. We could not prevent the pipes from busting, a member of the restoration crew told me. It was inevitable given the frigid weather conditions. We are in good hands now, and they would do their best to restore our home to the condition it was previously, including with new set of cabinetry or floors and of course new pipes. We were the lucky ones. Though the day started as a chaotic mess, even now, I firmly believe that, luck was on our side. We are re-building, adapting, securing all that matters even with this mess and we intend to remember just how lucky we are. Keep knowing that even in the midst of your catastrophes, you are lucky.

Rebuilding our home and we found the broken pipes up in the ceiling!

What would you do, if you had a water leak? In your home? On your ceiling or your brand-new kitchen, brand new cabinetry? Would you scream, yell, even curse, as you try to make sense of the endless outpouring of water, snow, ice, melting too quickly and bursting pipes? Or would you remain calm, remain level-headed, maintain a cool demeanor, even?

Today, I had a water leak in my home. Not the kind that is annoying, and goes away with a little brush or sweep or a couple of fans blowing the wetness away. But a catastrophic one. A brilliant warm waterfall, noted one of my kids. Brilliantly raining down in my kitchen, my basement, my living room, even my utility room. Everywhere was wet and the water damage was monumental, a big whole, catastrophic mess. I was also a mess.

So I screamed. I cried and screamed some more. Then called our great contractor. I knew he would have answers. He was on his way to another job, but said he would come over immediately. I asked where the water-pipes where so I could shut them off. He noted probably in the front of the house, but advised not to go outside as there was snow everywhere and frigid temperature. I let out a scream on the phone. I forgot he was on the other line. He said, he was on his way as fast as he could. He drove fast, in the middle of a snow-filled road for us. When, he arrived, he was calm. I was still a mess. He started to look through the damage, to assess the house, to look at the waterfall, all with a calmness that was breathtaking.

I tried to emulate him, but my insides were frantic. My head was pounding. There was water everywhere now, my new cabinetry, my brand-new island, my new wood floors. Our contractor was still calm. He kept on saying, don’t worry, we can get everything fixed. I was still a mess. He started to look around the house to figure out where the water damage was coming from, looking around for the source, frozen pipes, listening to the house, looking around for which pipes to shut down, and which cabinetry to pull apart to dry up, even drying up the floors, while assessing the house. Slowly, with every step he took, every inquiry he made, every assessment, my catastrophic mood, once inconsolable, started to emulate his demeanor, his cool, irrational calmness in the middle of my catastrophic mess. “We are alive after-all,” I said to him, and so long as there is life, we can get through this. I was surprised at myself after I mouthed these words to him. That and “thank you” for being there.

Much can be learned, without words, when you unpack other people’s empathy for situations that seem complex. Empathy provides an opportunity to be and to become the Other. To see and learn from their point of view. What began as a quest for understanding, an escape from the messy complexities of life, with every scream for a water leak I could not control, became a searing process of learning. It was also an opportunity and a reminder to discover or imagine anew, why other people’s point of view matters. They help you see life for what it entails, with clarity and understanding. Keep empathy. It matters when life gets messy, even with water leaks that can be fixed.

Yesterday, the front of our house, was full of birds. Robins are found almost year round in Missouri. At the back, there were deers. Mule deers with their antlers still on their head. To be surrounded by abundance, in my front and my back, by nature’s finest creatures is a thing of joy. Brilliant and soulful joy. A sublime mood. We were also snowed in and everywhere was literally covered in snow. Our grass, our trees, all the pathways leading to our home, were covered with the snow. Yet, the return of Robins to woodland areas signals the arrival of Spring after a dreary winter. And this winter has and continues to be dreary. Still in the midst of the day being dedicated to love, I paused to reflect on being blessed. That we live in a home that allows me and my family to bask in nature is no small feat and we do not take any of this for granted. We rise and continue to rise on our wings, even when weary with a lot of hard work and sweat. All this mixed with the glory of God, who continues to guide our path.

All the Robins my eyes could see.

Last night, my husband and I recalled our first Valentine’s Day together, 10 years ago. We had nothing. Just the two of us, with me even leaving the country for my first job in Europe. We met when all the odds were literally against us. When long-distance for a relationship was inevitable and the future was all we hoped for. That the future is full of abundance, full of blessings, full of thanksgiving is sterling to me. We never in our wildest dreams imagined this future. But we trusted in the power of the word, the knowledge that God and only him, knows and continues to know the plans he has for those whom he loves. We still rest on this word. That and knowing that with him on our side, anything, even abundance, blessings is possible. Keep your blessings in mind. Even the small ones matter, whether today or 10 years later.