So, there I was. Years ago. A kid going to church with his family.
Hearing people pray throughout the service was natural. It was part of the worship.
I was always praying for it to be over so that I could go home and get me something to eat.
One Sunday, I overheard an elder woman’s convo with God.
She was sitting in the pew behind me, saying she was thankful for her health and such.
But she used a term that I never forgot because I didn’t fully understand it:
“I’m thankful that I’m in my right mind.”
Back then, I kinda / sorta thought I knew what she meant.
With everything that’s happened since, in all these years; happened yesterday, today, and even Thursday night as I watched it unfold on CNN, I’m only beginning to grasp that lady’s meaning of “In my right mind.”
There’s so much to take one out of it.
So much to snatch one out of that “right mind”.
I don’t go to church anymore.
Then again, that may not be true.
I attend church on a regular basis.
For me, that church is the theater.
Theater is the one place that triggers an internal sensation as soon as I pass beneath the threshold.
I can walk in and not feel the sting of human judgement, or rejection, for simply being me.
Looking the way I look.
Sounding the way I sound.
Acting the way I act.
All that I’d been led to believe were my ‘flick-ted’ quirks, were actually the currency that paid my way into the creative fold.
I was among brothers and sisters who took joy in the fact that we all survived another 24-hour trial of life, and were – once again – alive, in one another’s presence.
The theater allowed me and so many others (That peculiar brand of holy people!) – to let it OUT.
Live the performance.
Pen your truth.
Direct a path for others to follow so that you may lead them back into their “right minds”.
That church (the theater), is all that I know.
Those of us that love it realize that we are, in essence, involved in the almost scientific study of breaking people, places, and experiences down to their barest essential.
Even today, the creators (artists) who live among us are watching, knowing full well that there is something deeper than the televised actions that have taken place.
In the center of these actions are hard packed nuclei; reasons and causes.
We are merely witnessing the effect. The uncontrolled explosion of itty bitty bombs, slights, injustices, raw deals, lies, and promises not kept that have built up over time.
This death, aloneness, and bewilderment that appear to surround us, did not come from thin air – and we know this. We, as a nation, don’t like it, but we know it.
What if we actually admitted that America is not the perfect superhero of all nations?
Admitted that we, as citizens of this country, are not perfect.
Admitted, that God may not actually be “on our side”, no matter how many times our sons formed a cross on the football field and dropped to one knee.
If we admitted only a few things, would we, possibly, find ourselves face to face with that salivating-from-the-fangs monstrous demon: Ourselves?
It would appear that we cannot live without the illusion that we are better than most. Therefore, we often abuse those who trust that illusion the least, and speak freely of that distrust to our faces.
I’ve been here before.
Our family witnessed the state of Florida execute my uncle for a murder that to this day no one can say – with a definite certainty (reasonable doubt?) – that he committed.
There is a woman walking this earth as I write these words (and not a Black American one) who managed to elude our (then) local law enforcement. Who knows? Maybe she had help.
A few of her personal items were found not far from the murdered man’s body and, somehow, she transformed into vapor. Completely, entirely, scot-free, GONE.
We screamed, we shouted – we won’t discuss the tears – and the state, the taxpayers, and the electric chair took my uncle’s life anyway.
As a child, I loved when the Dr. Seuss “Special Presentations” played on television.
They basically told children, through story, that if we walked a bad path, everything around us would become bad as well; would follow our lead, so to speak.
From our bodies, to our community, to our institutions, to our children, right down to the streams and into the soil. All of it would sour because we stepped into the bad side.
As I got older, the cartoons didn’t change. I did.
Like reading an old love letter from someone who, back then, I would have given my all for. Only now, when reading the letter, pieces of my love have disappeared.
Pieces of my love for the way this country works, have disappeared.
Those childlike visions of hope poured out from me like water to the ground with my uncle’s passing.
Like everyone else, I was told to grow up, and “get over it”.
The getting over, is a mutha.
Try telling a veteran, still suffering PTSD from his days in Vietnam, “Aw, man, that was 50 years ago – get over it.”
And yet, Black Americans hear similar words from their fellow Americans who treat Black history – in this nation – as something to be gotten over, instead of recognizing it for the all-American cornerstone that it is. One that has earned its right in history to be better understood, embraced, and atoned for.
Black American history is approached as an almost minor thing. Even with the use of the very word “minority”. Imagine, as an adult man or woman, consistently being referred to as a “minority”; a minor, small, trivial thing.
Last night there was a vigil held in one of our local parks for the members of Texas law enforcement who were killed during the shootout this past Thursday.
The vigil was a well-intentioned a gesture that moved towards respect and healing.
The idea that some, in our community, thought enough of what was happening around the country to gather as one to be silent; to be still in their remembrance, is heartwarming.
However, it brings to mind a vigil held not long ago by our local chapter of the NAACP, in response to the letters “KKK” being spray-painted on the signs of two (and later three) historically Black churches here.
The atmosphere that noted vigil precipitated in the county was one of distrust and dark intentions.
Am I allowed to ask Why?
Our Sheriff was told on social media not to give into “them”.
Am I allowed to ask Why?
This one worded question, unsettles. To simply ask it, is equivalent to insult.
I feel a lightheaded distance witnessing all that is happening now.
Again: This sticky accumulation of sadness and confusion is not new to me.
But I honestly feel that now, more than ever, I understand my purpose and how it is that I am called to be of use.
In Martin Luther King, Jr’s speech, “The Tree Dimensions of a Complete Life”, he spoke:
“Now the other thing about the length of life: after accepting ourselves and our tools, we must discover what we are called to do. And once we discover it we should set out to do it with all of the strength and all of the power that we have in our systems.
And after we’ve discovered what God called us to do, after we’ve discovered our life’s work, we should set out to do that work so well that the living, the dead, or the unborn couldn’t do it any better.
Now this does not mean that everybody will do the so-called big, recognized things of life. Very few people will rise to the heights of genius in the arts and the sciences; very few collectively will rise to certain professions. Most of us will have to be content to work in the fields and in the factories and on the streets. But we must see the dignity of all labor.”
When I post about Palaver Tree Theater and what we hope to accomplish, I know what it is that I am working toward. Our mission statement says clearly that we use artistic means to “…explore the moral and social fabric our society.”
Like Woodie King, Jr., Douglas Turner Ward, Barbara Ann Teer, and Joseph Papp, we are not bound by the physical structure of our “church” building. We don’t serve only “our” congregation.
Our work must be in the street, among the people; providing an offering to those that don’t have the luxury of handing over a tithe at the door.
I know that artists are out there working; crafting plays, music, novels, film, and visual art to make us stop and say:
LOOK at this beauty. You can bring beauty about, too.
WATCH this otherworldly reflection of your world being played out in front of you on the stage and on the screen.
SEEK the moral of this cautionary tale you’ve just witnessed.
CONSIDER it when you are about to act – or react – to something – to someone – that has offended you, your life, your purpose in this one and only life you’ve been given.
But…its art. And I know that may seem trivial.
But it altered the course of my life.
From the moment I asked to be in a play at Wakulla High School and had to walk, act, and become an existence that was other than my own, it gave me something to work towards.
It taught me how to study people, to ask questions.
To understand why we are the way we are.
Without it, I would not know how to reach deep within myself and make sense of the collective madness that exists in the world at this moment.
I want to clear a space for artists.
We need them to capture these moments that we are experiencing.
We need them, as the Mad Scientists of Mankind, to present their findings in the public squares so that their efforts can be studied and enhanced upon.
So that the lessons learned can be put to use among the people.
Everybody loves a good story, a great song, or the majestic nature of a visual artwork. They trigger something within us that affects the ways in which we view the world.
Laws, judicial systems, and those that sit in seats of authority, can be cold. And when you petition for a change within those laws; within those systems – when you question authority, you do so in front of a people with hearts, possibly long ago, chilled over.
How do we, those involved within the arts, assist in the creation of better people?
How long will we put our hopes in to the hands of people on “the hill” who, when staring down to view us, seek ways to divide us as a whole, into groups, so that they may conquer – devour – our minds, in smaller portions?
I appreciate Black Lives Matter, and so many other groups, organizations, and individuals who attempt to tweak the machine so that each of us has a chance of passing through it smoothly, and not be ground to gristle along the way, because:
“…after accepting ourselves and our tools, we must discover what we are called to do…”
Jupiter, Mars, and the newly discovered planet can wait.
I’m using what tools I have to break down a wall so that my community can finally climb over into a new era: Discovering ourselves.
I just hope I’m in my “right mind” when doing so.