Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

To Zayda from her Shangazi - freedom to love

Child & Family
Letter to Zayda born April 30, 2010

If I have decided to love somebody, I oblige myself to be patient with him/her. (Tanzania)

Dear Zayda,

I want you to know that I will love you the same tomorrow as I do today. That is so much easier to say than to do, because today you are tiny and vulnerable, lying down where your mom and dad put you, and asking only to be fed and kept clean and dry. You never have to ask for hugs, you never need to wonder whether everybody around loves you and cares for you.

I want you to know that I will love you when you are when you give back chat, when you are sure you know much more about life than I do, when you have decided the thing you most want to do is the thing I least want you to do. I want to show you that no one has to earn love. No one has to be cute enough or bright enough, or obedient enough, or dutiful enough, or rich enough to be loved. Love is. Love is.

In lots of families, the bright and famous ones are talked about and boasted about. But people like my cousin Roy (not his real name) is the invisible person in our family. He is the one you won’t find at family gatherings, or in family photos. Hardly anyone will call him on his birthday, check to see how he is doing, drop his name in conversation (“My cousin Barry says…) or make sure to contact him at Christmas. On his rare appearances, like at the funeral of a parent or a sibling, relatives disappear after a quick greeting and a glance around to see who saw them talk to Roy.

I don’t use his real name because I don’t want to cause him any further hurt or pain. But I want you to grow up loving even those whom people decide are not worthy of love. That, Zayda, is the only way you can truly love yourself with all your imperfections. We all come with imperfections, even though they may take a while to show up. And admitting and overcoming those imperfections makes us as perfect as we are ever going to be.

Roy may think he is alone, but he is not. He is just one of thousands of gay men whose families reject them. About seventy years ago he was a cute baby too. He could vomit and shit all he wanted, keep his parents awake all night as a baby or smash chinaware as a toddler, and he was still precious. Family members might have sympathized with him if, as an adult, he was a drunk, a thief, a woman-beater or even a murderer. But not gay.

Roy didn’t choose to be gay. No one says, “Shall I fall in love with men or women?” If they did, then no one would be gay in Jamaica unless the person was crazy or suicidal. Roy didn’t choose to have his family treat him as if he didn’t exist. I don’t think he left Jamaica because he wanted to, and I don’t think he stays away because he wants to either.

He migrated to Florida in the late sixties or early seventies. The parents of a loving cousin (we discovered each other recently on Facebook)see him sometimes. My cousin wants to meet Roy. She wants to reassure him that he has committed no crime by being who he is, and by loving whichever consenting adult he is minded to love. But Roy may by now have built a wall of anger and resentment to protect him against those who hate him for the way he was created. And who would blame him. My cousin’s parents give different reasons why they have not yet arranged for her to meet Roy. But my cousin and I love Roy, no matter if he thinks he has had all the rejection he can deal with in this lifetime, and won’t risk any more.

So I promise to love you always just as I do today. I want you to feel sufficiently loved that you never run away from love. I want to love you enough that I remind myself to love those whose failings I don't want to see because they remind me of my own. So loving you helps me love myself better, just as I am, just as I was created. We will love each other, Zayda, no matter what we look like, act like, or think like. And no matter whom we decide to love or sleep with.

With unconditional love,

Your shangazi

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at