Good Mourning

Good Mourning

Yesterday, the body of a 41 year-old woman was found lying motionless in her bed for several hours in a Brooklyn apartment.

Foul play was ruled out because she was breathing, conscious, and simply recovering from coming home at four in the morning after dancing (and sweating profusely) all night at a Prince and Michael Jackson tribute dance party. She was also just happy to be laying there in silence – ears still slightly ringing from the night before – and only realized shortly before arising from the soft sanctuary of that bed, that she still had the top sheet tucked into the mattress, and was sleeping between that and her duvet most of the day.

That moment, ladies and gentlemen, is the extent of my current mid-life crisis.

Not the one-night stand I had last month in Cuba, mind you. Just the struggle of getting out of bed after a night of dancing, which technically came on the heels of walking through an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum and a Target run…but still.

Anyway, I digress.

Time is forcing me to acknowledge certain truths about life. More specifically…that it ends. Last year was a pretty brutal one for mortality, and as I brace for the inevitable acknowledgement next month of the first anniversary of my father’s passing, I’m reflecting on how I’ve handled it, and if there’s anything I would’ve done differently.

But really, how does one handle these things? What’s the right way to deal with loss…or anything?

For me, I chose to do the following:

  • Holed myself up in a luxury hotel for a night in a city that’s home away from home; this time as a tourist and without my family’s knowledge.
  • Began going to therapy again.
  • Saw The Total Bent off-Broadway, and EclipsedThe Color Purple and Hamilton on Broadway. (And yes, I’ve been obsessed with the the latter’s soundtrack ever since.)
  • Traveled to Chicago, Bahamas, and Cuba for the first time, and Washington D.C. – twice in six months.
  • Watched Beyoncé, Alice Smith, Gregory Porter, Angelique Kidjo, Andra Day, Gary Clark Jr., Thundercat, Camp Lo, Leela James, Daley and many more artists perform live. (Shoutout to Michael Olatuja and Greg Osei – two artists of African descent with very different and beautifully unique music. Check them out!)
  • Saw the Cubs win at Wrigley Field, the Knicks lose at the Garden,  and the craziest Super Bowl ever on a television in a place stocked with enough booze to get us all through that second half.
  • Actually saw most of the movies nominated for this year’s Academy Awards, which made that finale all the more satisfying!
  • Discovered the artwork of Kerry James Marshall at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the futuristic brilliance of fashion at the Manus x Machina exhibit at the Met, the impressive collections at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the stunning and iconic sports photography at the Brooklyn Museum, the historic and life-changing experience that is every inch of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (which I still haven’t cleared after two visits and logging nearly eight hours in), the vibrant and achingly poignant works of art depicting the history and cultures and resilience of the Bahamian and Cuban people, and attended two visually stunning and contrasting fashion shows.
  • Joined two dating sites…and promptly regretted it. But gave it three months before completely disabling and scrubbing them from my phone and inbox. Bliss ensued.

Yes, reader, I went on an epic cultural binge while simultaneously embarking on a journey of self-discovery and opening up to the possibility of new love.

I know what you’re thinking, and you’re absolutely right…it has been expensive AF! In the place of where savings would ostensibly be, there are just awesome memories, and a shell of a bank account that doesn’t get to fully reflect on paper what my 800+ FICO score would have the world believe.

Should I have been monetizing these experiences in the form of paid content? Hell yeah I should’ve! But that’s neither here nor there now. What matters is that I enjoyed every minute of what I did – even if I didn’t necessarily relish in the reality of not having the pleasure of telling my dad about my new adventure, or having a significant other to share them with.

To the outside world, in particular, anyone unfamiliar with me or my thought process, the past year would appear to be escapism at its finest. A fair assessment, and one reached by many (well-intentioned, but often close-minded) people who expressed concern for my well-being; unaware that for the first time in a very long time, I was in my element, and happier than I’d been in some time.

Here’s why: Art in all forms brings out various emotions: Joy, triumph, wonder, anger, sadness, despair, confusion, humor, heartbreak and hope. They can all be elicited from a song, a painting, a film, a photograph and even a destination. And in the last eleven months, I’ve tapped into every emotion imaginable. I’ve even encountered some I didn’t imagine. That’s where the beauty of having a therapist on this journey comes in. It’s been especially helpful given the current state of affairs in this country politically.

We all have our ways of coping with loss, but I’m grateful for the route I chose – even if it’s left me somewhat fiscally anemic for the time being. Death – notably one following a long debilitating illness – teaches you the greatest lesson about life. It teaches you to relish every healthy moment you have left on this earth, and don’t take for granted the things and people who support you and help you get through each day still standing. During this time of exploration, I’ve also managed to catch up with friends and loved ones I haven’t seen in ages, and in my travels I have forged new bonds or strengthened old ones. To me, that’s priceless.

In all…I have no regrets. And now that I have an Amazon fire stick…I now have no desire to leave the house much in the coming months. (I’m kidding. Kinda. No, seriously, this sucker is a game changer!!)

Fin.

All The Things We Leave Behind

Tragedy never strikes when it’s convenient.

That was the hard truth I learned Sunday afternoon while en route to see – of all things – “Amy,” the documentary about Amy Winehouse.

As I stood in my own little world on the platform at Church Avenue, desperately looking at my phone to avoid any interpersonal connection that would distract me from my mission, readying myself to board the incoming Q train…I see a Facebook post that changed (or, dare I say, punctuated) the course of the day.

A woman I’d known through one of my best friends, an esteemed writer and jewel of a person I regret not spending more time with when she lived here, posted a status expressing her heartbreak at the passing of another mutual friend…one who had crossed my mind only moments before during my walk to the train station.

My initial reaction was disbelief. I’d known he was in the process of finishing his novel and he was wrapping up other projects and had a flair for dramatic expression. I thought it was a joke. I texted another friend who’d introduced us, and inquired about his whereabouts and headed into BAM to watch the movie.

I checked Facebook once more, and this time was informed he’d had a heart attack, to which I immediately asked “How could a heart so big just give out?” Then I exhaled, exhaled again, turned off my phone and watched the movie. Numb.

At the time, I didn’t know if watching the story of a troubled and tremendous talent like Winehouse would be better or worse in terms of helping me deal with the reality I would face when the lights came back up. We all know how the story ended there. It just seemed as if I were adding fuel to the fire. Piling on more stories of lives cut too short.

As it turned out, it was the best thing.

Like Amy, my friend Brook was an immensely gifted writer who made a name for himself through his prose and simply being his authentic self. While he didn’t belt out a song the way she did, or possess an obscene amount of demons that would ultimately lead to self-destruction, he did leave his mark on the world indelibly.

Unlike Amy, Brook was the product of a close-knit and nurturing family, one that lauded education and ancestral history, and taught him to embrace and appreciate all things different and new. He developed a sense of adventure, a love for life and good food, and believed in – and cultivated – a world with no boundaries and full of boundless potential.

It was no surprise that those of us drawn into his circle were all of the same mind and spirit. It is also no surprise that when we all learned of his passing, we found it incomprehensible that he was no longer here.

Creatives by nature can be notoriously moody, self-absorbed, reclusive and in the case of the really good ones…absolute assholes. He was neither of these things.

That’s not to say he didn’t have “quirks.” We all do.

But at his core, you would never find another person more generous with his time, and more ready to take on the world. Even when he stumbled.

He was also very passionate about changing the world, and did his part as a writer, a teacher, a mentor, a cultural vessel, a friend, and a man who simply had a knack for always being in the right place at the right time, and knowing exactly how to start – or guide – the conversation.

Although he didn’t have the level of fame Amy had, Brook Stephenson’s name is legend amongst those in the know; a staggering creative collective comprised of artists, writers, music makers, tastemakers and all-around genuine spirits who’ve created the glorious multicultural fabrics that make New York, Detroit, Atlanta and beyond, hotbeds of realized (and soon-to-be-realized) potential.

Reflecting on these lives and the legacies they’ve created in such a short time on this earth forced me to acknowledge not only that I have yet to realize my own potential, but to truly consider exactly what legacy I’m poised to leave behind if, and when, I finally do.

It’s common for death to inspire self-reflection and a more keen sense of our own mortality, but how often do we truly take an account of the footprints we leave on this planet? How have we lived? Have we really lived? How have we treated others? How have we served others? What have we contributed to this life and the lives of others? Have we done so because we were motivated by accolades, acceptance, padded profiles and increased value on the theoretical food chain, or did we do it simply because it was good to do? Have we used our gifts to the best of our ability to be the best with our ability?

Am I waxing poetic because I feel an incredible surge of guilt for not seeing my friend in the last year? Perhaps. Am I being haunted by his constant motivational chant of “If not you, then who?” Abso-fucking-lutely. Am I doing exactly what he told me to do right at this moment…something I haven’t done in the last five months…despite having lots of material to write about? Yep, it sure does look that way.

Fans. Friends. Family. Foes. Foundations. We all ultimately leave something behind when this life comes to an end.

What do you want your legacy to be?

Now that you’ve answered that…make it happen.

Right now.