Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Meaning of Devotion

On this day of the celebration of the birth of Christ, I want to pay homage to caregivers of the world and highlight a very good friend's devotion to his ailing mother who recently passed by asking, "What would Christ want him to do?"

Some forty-plus years ago, on the campus of Howard University, Adrienne introduced me to her geeky friend, Brian Booth aka “Dr. Booth”. Adrienne was “Big-A”(literally) and I was “Big-M”.

The three of us always enjoyed hanging-out together on campus on Fridays at noon to look at the fraternity Greek Shows. Big-A was in love with Buddy, a Groove Phi Groove. Dr. Booth and I google-eyed the fine girls who were attracted to the Ques. In those days, Howard girls were so fine that whatever the Ques didn’t want, any guy would have been proud to be seen with their rejects….if Dr. Booth and I were only so lucky.

One day, the doctor invited us to his home where we met the petite public school teacher, the lovely Lena Horne-like, Mrs. Warfield. She put down her crossword puzzle and greeted us with her razor tongue and a rapier wit! She asked Brian, “Where did you find this bum?” I was taken aback. Not knowing quite how to respond, she immediately broke-out into a hearty laughter. And so began the exchange-of-wit relationship with Mrs. Warfield. Brian went on to Georgetown Law School and volunteered at the local Pacifica radio station, WPFW 89.3 FM, hosting a show called “By the Law”. I wrote features for the monthly station guide. Brian would discuss basic legal issues and played a little jazz from his collection. Developing material for a monthly station guide felt like a full-time job. I could only imagine what Brian went through to prepare for his weekly show. One night, I remember him asking me to call-in and ask a legal question.

“….but, Dr. Booth, I ain’t got nothing to ask. I don’t know what to ask”
“Look man, just call and ask, how do you form a LLC?”
“What’s a LLC?”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll explain it to you and everybody else when you call….okay?”
“Hmmm….okay. But don’t make me sound stupid”
“What are you talking about? You’re already stupid!”

That evening, I tuned-in. Dr. Booth was talking about forming business structures, a primer for budding entrepreneurs. He encouraged his “vast” listening audience to call-in with their questions. I ain’t callin'. Dr. Booth sounded like he was sweating bullets while trying to keep the subject interesting with his co-host, while they waited for some callers.
Like any dutiful loving mother who wants to support her son, Mrs. Warfield called-in.

“So, you think you know something about the law?”
“Ah, yes ma’am. What is your question this evening?”
“Well, I want to know how to form a corporation where I can put my son in who is a student, along with his up-keep, student loans and write the whole damn thing off so that I can live the rest of my days in the islands?”
“ah ah ma’am (nervous chuckle)………”

Over the years, Dr. Booth and I enjoyed jogging together. We eventually ran 10K races and went on to do the memorable New York City Marathon. Wobbly-legged from the 26-mile endurance course, Rachel, Dr. Booth and I met Rachel’s law buddies at a restaurant in the Village and, later danced to hip-swiveling salsa music at a Latin club. It was about this time that Dr. Booth began taking his handle seriously. He talked about the lactic acid that had built-up in our legs that caused the wobbly-leg. He talked about the supplements that we needed to take and the stretching we needed to do.

From that point on, I can’t remember a conversation we had that health issues was not weaved into it. He became such a health fanatic that Big-A dubbed him “Dr. Wackko”. My wife, Alfreda, is a crazy health nut too. She enjoyed talking to Dr. Wackko, sorry…I mean Dr. Booth.
It was not until Mrs. Warfield took deathly ill that we took the knowledge that Brian had garnered over the years with some importance. The medical doctors at Washington Hospital Center had, essentially, given up on her. I remember visiting her one afternoon and seeing her lay motionless in bed. I tried to get her attention, looking for that spark in her that I knew so well.

“Mrs. Warfield, it’s the bum! Can you hear me?”

I called my father, Pastor Ray, to give her last rights or something. I then, called Brian to get his butt up here immediately! The doctors were, eventually, able to bring her back. A few days later, Dr. Booth said that he had to do something drastic for her…..Hyperbaric Chamber!

“.....a hyper what?”

In those days, there were only two states that had this contraption: California and Florida. Brian’s sister, Marsha, lived in California. He packed-up the bare essentials that were needed and flew with the ailing Mrs. Warfield to California. He started the non-insured and expensive Hyperbaric Chamber treatment for her immediately upon arriving in California. He called me a few weeks later and told me that she was responding to the treatment. After being on the west coast, now for months, Mrs. Warfield had come back to life. Her tongue and wit were sharp as ever!

Dr. Booth asked Dot, his classmate at Georgetown, and me to pack-up all his remaining possessions in D.C. and place them in storage and to sell his mother’s home. California is where she can receive the care she needed was the thinking.

Well folks, that was twenty years ago? Brian is one of his mother’s three children that took on this awesome task. It is because of what he did for his mother that showed me how to be the son that my Alzheimer’s-diagnosed mother needs right now. He, literally, snatched his mother from the jaws of death and gave her twenty more years of TLC, sacrificing his personal goals and ambitions.

Dr. Booth, I salute you and love you for showing all of us, in life, the meaning of the biblical passage that states “honor thy father and thy mother”. Our prayers are with you and our doors are open to you. And when you are ready, we will take that long over-due vacation you need.

God bless you!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Father's Day 2011 Tribute

As a construction contractor, I work with guys all day long. I can state that male relationships are developed and strengthened when men team together: be it work, sports or the military.

Recently, I visited one of our job sites to document our progress. In doing so, I observed how one of my partners, Jesse Witherspoon, interacted with his son, Dezmon. I had not seen Dezmon in at least twenty years.

My own father, Pastor Ray as he was known, taught me to always look a man in the eyes and give a firm handshake. This young man looked me in the eyes and greeted me with a firm handshake and a smile. When he spoke, I heard and understood everything that he had to say. I see the same traits in my nephews, Gannon, Del and Eddie. Today, I can not resist finding that very impressive among their generation. I can only attribute these traits, rightly or wrongly, to the men in these young men’s lives.

Pastor Ray, was bigger than life to me. To this day, I still marvel at how he and my mother owned a home, raised five kids and gifted me with a menagerie that he built with his own hands in his “spare time” to house my rabbits and ducks. As the neighborhood zookeeper, my collection also included dogs, turtles, gold fish, parakeets, and an iguana; all of these “creatures” supported on one working man’s income and my little newspaper route.

My parents sent me to St. Emma Military Academy, fifty miles west of Richmond, Virginia, when I was thirteen and my brother, Rick, to Archbishop Carroll High School, here in D.C. I get exhausted just thinking about the responsibility my father, the leader of our household, had to bear on a daily bases. And yet, he always had a smile and a positive word to say to everyone.

During the last thirty years of his life and being visually blind, Pastor Ray led Guiding Star, a small Baptist church in Brookland, Washington, DC. He married all of my family and friends and buried some of them. Toward the end of his life, riddled with pain from cancer, I asked my father how did he do all that he did for us? And during one of his last hospital stay, where did he draw the strength to minister to his hospital roommate, late at night in his last hour, knowing that his time was near too? My father simply looked to the heavens.

I can remember during my rebellious phase, declaring that I did not understand my father and that I did not want to act like him. You can imagine how startled I was when some years later my niece stated, “Uncle Mike, you act just like Granddad!” Well, today I can say that I accept my niece’s assessment as a compliment. When I talk to folks, sometimes I can hear my father’s voice speaking through me when working with a cantankerous situation; I try to look at the big picture by considering all the personalities involved and the impact that my decision may have on everyone. I always attempt to leave a negative situation on an upbeat note with a smile and a firm handshake: classic Pastor Ray!

Please, don’t misunderstand me. I am no where near the man father was, but I feel his spirit living within me. So, on Father’s Day 2011, I salute Jesse Witherspoon and the many fathers like him for instilling young men like Dezmon with the simple, but foretelling attribute to look another person in the eyes with a smile and to extend a firm handshake in greeting. I think that this gesture speaks volumes of the father/son relationship.

Happy Father’s Day, to all the men and women who had a positive impact on some young person's life!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Solace in a Woman's Voice

Easter Sunday morning, I was listening to WPFW 89.3FM and one of my favorite programmers, Myuki Williams, played Ms. Roberta Flack's "The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face" and it just froze me in my tracks as it had done when I was a kid.

In this wild and crazy time of armed struggle on different fronts, world economic challenges, political rancor and intolerance for others, I was momentarily taken back to a most innocent and optimistic time in my life. I felt myself, literally, releasing all concerns for schedules, to-do lists, obligations or where I needed to be. I just wanted to hear Ms. Flack's melodic voice again!

Not having a copy of the song in my collection, I immediately searched YouTube for this drop-dead work of vocal artistry and stumbled on a young woman, Leona Lewis, who this old fart had never heard before. Thinking, "who would dare tread on this sacred legendary work?"

I gave a listen.

From her first moan/note, I was amazed how this British-born artist caught my attention. Lewis imbued the lyrics of this timeless piece with mature emotions, phrasing and timing, leaving me to believe so much greater than her youthful years should permit.

As one who treasures the written word, I struggle with the question of conveyance: lyrics vs. music; conveyers: men vs. women. Is the most important artistry of conveying the message in one or the other.... and to which audience is the medium most affective? Using the same lyrics, can women convey a message better than men? How much impact does music have? Well, in the case of The First Time Ever I saw Your Face, it leaves no doubt in my mind that it is a talented woman's domain, lyrically and musically.

So, you be the judge. I welcome you to listen to this beautiful, heart-felt rendition of Ms. Flack's signature piece by the lovely and demure Leona Lewis.