I am thankful for life. We are told that everyday is not promised to us, and I am determined to make each day count whether it is taking one more step towards a goal, or helping someone else work towards theirs.
I am thankful for my family. Mother,Deanna; Father, Milton; Sisters -Mignon, Dayan and Djenaba; Children -Damani and Ashley. I am a solitary person by nature, and I dare say that my life might be simpler and less complicated if I were all alone, but it would also not be as rich, colorful or fulfilling without my immediate and extended family.
I am thankful for my church family at Ascension Lutheran Church in Los Angeles, and all of the pastors that have served there in my 12 years there: Starr, Tatum, Partee and most recently, Hansome. Everybody needs some form of spiritual grounding in their life, no matter what they choose to call it, and I came to Ascension because they were friendly, and gave me an opportunity to be part of a smaller community in a big city.
I am thankful for a job with co-workers that make what could be a daily drudgery fun, interesting, and a place where I am continually learning new things. To do what you love is a dream for most, and to love what you do would be the ultimate workplace fantasy. Most of us exist somewhere in the middle, and while we are thankful for any job right now, spending 8-10 hours a day with people you actually like helps a great deal.
I am thankful for the ability to use whatever gifts and talents I have. I hope that I am helping others in some way, as a life spent only in pursuit of self satisfaction is a life wasted. There are people that spend their entire lives in nothing but working on those things absolutely necessary to their existence. What a tragedy to never use whatever talent you've been granted, even if just to see where using this talent takes you.
And I am also thankful for you, Dear Reader. For I am one of you, and because of this, I try to write things that I would want to read. You make me work harder on good ideas, and inspire me to try new topics. But mostly, you inspire me to keep writing. For that, I am truly thankful.
For most of my young life, whenever we went somewhere as a family, my sisters and I were collectively referred to as "Deanna's girls". It never bothered me as a child, and got a little annoying as a teenager, but I didn't catch the full extent of it's meaning until I became an adult, with my own children. Being one of Deanna's girls wasn't a label: it was both a badge of honor and a set of expectations based on the fact that my mother took her parenting seriously, but with a light enough touch that while her mark on her daughters is indelible to this day, it wasn't so heavy that it prevented them from forming their own distinct personalities. No small feat considering the four personalities in question.
Deanna, however, was uniquely prepared to deal with multiple, distinct individuals. As the second eldest of my grandmother's 7 children, she got to practice mothering early on, caring for her brothers and sisters while her parents worked. If you look at the relationships that she has with her younger siblings today, you notice that for the most part they see her as a type of mother figure, as well as a close friend and confidant; the highest compliment they can pay her. All significant family events are filtered through my mother to be passed on to everyone else. It helps that my mother is usually the easiest person to find, as she is the one who stays in one place for the longest amount of time. Her stability is the rock that the entire family tends to lean on in times of crisis.
Deanna took her learned stability, quick wit (Back then it was just called a smart ass mouth. To an often hilarious effect.) and amenable personality to a marriage with a music loving man named Milton in 1970, and in the early 90's, into a long term relationship with an engineer named Don. Both of their families liked her right away, and still do to this day. Deanna's ability to get along with anyone that is willing to be got along with, and tolerate the most annoying people with grace, even as they are working her last nerve, cannot be faked, and I've rarely seen it duplicated. It's an amazing thing to watch if you've seen it in action. Although her four girls would test that ability as often as they could for the next 40 + years.
Deanna's girls are four: Mignon, an academic superstar with a razor sharp intellect, inherited quick wit, and not a little cooking talent; Me, Erica, the Artiste (non-stop whining about being misunderstood included free of charge!); Dayan, the calmest and most orderly of the four, a budding Psychologist with a Master's Degree in Social Work; and Djenaba, a fun loving, free spirit whose work ethic is second to none.
To be one of Deanna's girls was to understand that when Deanna said something she meant business. Debate was only tolerated when it was a matter of little actual consequence. We were expected to conduct ourselves with class and decorum in public, and remain ladylike to the extent possible. My mother assured Djenaba and I, the two tomboys out of the crew, that being ladylike was possible even in the jeans and slacks we tended to prefer. My mother knew we were going to enter into a world that took a very dim view of African American women, and she was determined that we would never conform to popular stereotypes. She taught us about cute, but at least somewhat conservative clothing (trendy pieces were added here and there so long as they weren't garish or too revealing), and having wardrobe staples that you could keep wearing. She taught us that when using makeup, less really is more, and that if you take good enough care of your skin, you will wear less makeup anyway. We were not allowed to use slang words in the house, and swearing was absolutely discouraged. To her, these were the signs that told the world that you were too ignorant to think of anything else to say, and she didn't want us to have to deal with that stigma. And no matter what size you were, or what you decided to wear, be it casual or fancy, there is no excuse not to walk out of your house looking "rough": her term for looking disheveled or unkempt. It takes very little time or effort to make yourself presentable, and basic maintenance meaning a shower, clean face, teeth and clothes, and a quick neat ponytail was always a necessity for going anywhere with her.
Deanna's girls were also taught from an early age to take care of their homes. My older sister and I were helping to clean the house from as early as I can remember. By the time we were in our teens we had full charge of the housekeeping routines, as well as trading off cooking dinner for the family. We learned about paying bills from watching and listening to our mother make her paycheck work to cover the lives of five people. When my father had good sales numbers (my father was always in some sort of sales, which lent itself to some pretty funny stories, but I digress), there was more, but my mother's job, which she held for 16 years, was the constant.
And to my mind, this was the most important thing. Constancy. Stability. Reliability. The ability to handle your business affairs no matter what was going on around you. Lost jobs, unemployment, divorce, earthquakes, teenage rebellion. To be the person you need to be for the people that depend on you. To keep some inner reserves of strength, in order to be prepared for whatever life throws at you. To remain intellectually curious, and not be afraid to ask questions, because if you don't ask, how will you ever find out. To keep a sense of humor, because sometimes life gets so absurd that all you can do is laugh at it.
Obviously, life was not all perfection and sweetness and light. There were arguments, long silences, head scratching moments and times we just needed to get out of each other's faces for awhile. It happens in every family. We got through it, we still go through it today and we all learn from it. Much as were supposed to. And I think Deanna's girls benefited from her influence tremendously. Much to her credit.
So on the occasion of my 42nd birthday, I figured now was as good a time as any to take stock of where I've been, what I've done, where I am going, and where I want to be. We all do this from time to time, and I think that if nothing else, everyone should have a good working knowledge of themselves by their early 40's. Some people are afraid to examine themselves too deeply for fear of finding out things that they really don't want to know. Having been through all (and I do mean ALL) of the self-help trips, I have self examination down to a science. And it's nowhere near as hard or scary as certain people make it out to be.
So what do I know about myself at 42? I know that:
1) Pride Goes Before a Fall: There is a reason my knees and ankles snap, crackle and pop. I've fallen over everything you can possibly imagine, publicly, and generally either fell on my knees or rolled my ankles. I still remember running downhill on a slick street to catch a bus. I was wearing cute little flats with absolutely no traction on the bottom of the shoe. It came as a surprise to no one but my nylon covered knee that it hit the pavement just as the bus was pulling off. That's just one incident. To this day, I wonder how I pulled a ligament in my knee getting a pot out of a cabinet to cook dinner. I have always been loathe to admit that I either am not good at or don't know how to do something (my attempt at martial arts comes to mind), and by the time I screw up either the task or myself, the truth comes out and it's always pretty obvious I had no clue what I was trying to do.
And that's just the physical side. If I have any Achilles Heel at all, it is Pride. It keeps my mouth closed when I should ask for help, and convinces me to take chances I know I shouldn't because I refuse to admit that I just might be out of my depth. Granted sometimes a little Pride is a good thing (it convinced me to try and make a go of a blog!), but like most good things, a little goes a long way.
2) There But For The Grace of Chocolate, I Go: I am an emotional eater. I don't go for the salty fried comfort; I head straight for the warm embrace of the sweet and/or starchy. Many a diet has fallen to stress fueled snacking on chocolate and warm buttered pastries. The only good thing that came out of stress eating, was that I actually had to become a better cook in order to make the specific dishes that I wanted. That hasn't always worked out, but now I can use my newly acquired cooking skills for good. I will still dive into the occasional cookie, brownie or cake (or ANYTHING made by my older sister!), and I don't bore my family on the holidays by talking incessantly about what I can and can't eat, but I do know my triggers, and I'm learning moderation. I am even learning to avoid The Counter, the one place in the office where food goes to be eaten by whoever passes by. Note I said: Learning. I'm still not there yet.
3) I'm Okay With Being "OK": Sometime around the age of 40, most people decide that perfectionism isn't worth the time you take to pursue it. That's around the time that I got there anyway. Once I realized that I would never have perfect children (who does?), a perfect appearance (critics are EVERYWHERE), or the perfect life (a myth centuries in the making), I decided that I was going to learn the concept of enough. Anytime you give a 100% effort to something, you've done enough. The results may not be what you expected, but that's OK. How many of us have completely changed our diets and started exercising only to realize months later that we've only dropped a few pounds? This is OK, because you have started good new habits, now all you have to do make some adjustments.
And so it is, with all things.
I suppose being over 40 has given me a bit of a philosophical bent on life. Attempting to keep up with the Joneses has given way to a smile and a wave as they pull away from the curb. They have their life; I have mine. Imperfect, but wonderful for me. I will never again look or think the way I did at 21. Nor do I want to. Like a fine wine, I think we all mellow with age, and in doing so, gain vast depths of understanding and wisdom to impart to those younger than us that have yet to experience what we have.
Especially taking the time to know and understand yourself. It might come in handy some day.
Ahhh, Autumn in Southern California.
I love you for your cool mornings and warm afternoons.
I love you for your shortened days, and early evenings, reminders of the winter yet to come.
I love you for your suggestions that it's time to put away the light blankets of summer, and break out the heavy comforters needed for the colder coming nights of winter.
I love you for giving me permission to breakout the crock pot for the heartier chilis, soups and stews that are hallmarks of Fall weather.
I love you for signaling to the legion of home bakers, that tis the season to start warming up your oven again. In Autumn, not a day goes by that I don't smell fresh baked cakes, pies, cookies or bread coming from the homes of my neighbors.
I love you for bringing in the holiday season that brings the family together more often than we see each other all year. From Halloween, a day ostensibly for kids, but adults enjoy it just as much, to the Thanksgiving meal shared with loved ones that also gives everyone a chance to talk to people they rarely see outside of social media, and leading into Winter and Christmas.
I love you for your changing the colors of the trees around me, giving me a small glimpse of nature's paintbrush. It may not be as prominent as New England, but is beautiful, all the same.
I love you in Southern California for your cooling of the desert heat, and the spectacular sunsets it creates over the Pacific Ocean. And for the shift in local news from emphasis on the surf report to the conditions for skiing in the local mountains. Even as a lifelong resident, I've always found that kind of amusing. We live in one of the only places on Earth where by late Fall, a person can surf in the morning, then ski later on that same afternoon.
But mostly, as a Fall baby myself, I love you for the glorious harvest season that birthed me. With it's times of change, reminders to rest, reflect and be thankful, and hints of the new year to come, Autumn has always been my favorite season.
*Just a side note: I didn't use my own pictures today. To see these and more, check out the website of LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslovsky here: http://zev.lacounty.gov/news/environment/an-autumn-story-in-living-color
A dedicated stream of consciousness that sometimes runs off course...