Today it was the most adorable older man pushing a walker along with his yellow labrador while I was running in Central Park. It wasn’t the dog (my dad wasn’t the biggest fans of the four-legged), but the use of the walker, and the way the man had his head cocked down slightly as he walked slowly.
On other days, it’s music that shuffles onto my Spotify from my favorite song list, or a dish my mom will make, as my dad always worshipped her cooking. I think about my dad every single day, and especially today, two years since he died.
I think of him so fondly when I’m riding my bike in the park for exercise, or while on a Citibike to get around the city and I maybe tell a motorist who gets to close to “Watch it!” as my dad fancied himself a very defensive driver and cyclist.
He instilled in my brothers and I a sense of humor (see the funny in everything), a love of parks and recreation, and music, of course. One thing my mother always says about his last few years on this earth is that despite experiencing some very tough times with complications due to Parkinson’s disease, he never complained. He never asked, “Why me?”
Can I say to certainty that he never wondered about that? Of course not. In fact, sometimes when I’d visit my parents at home, I’d walk into his room and find him pensively looking out the window, or trying to scribble his signature in a notebook (Parkinson’s effects your ability to write/hold a pen).
But he never let on to us, instead choosing to talk to us, and ask when his next doctor’s appointment was as staying home was NOT fun for him, as it is not really fun for me, either! Social butterflies are us. 🙂
Because he was homebound, and later in and out of hospitals and nursing homes, in his later years, and lost his ability to speak, hearing about family was one of his biggest joys and I’m sure he’s looking down on them lovingly to this day. He smiled SO WIDELY whenever my nephew, RJ, or my niece, Bella, were around. Even in ICU in his last month, seeing Bella made him smile.
Anyone who thinks immigrants from Muslim countries are here to wage war on Christianity, or that Islam is a “terrorist religion,” would have left yesterday’s “Young African Immigrant Voices” panel at Fordham, organized by the Bronx African American History Project, with their belief system shaken to the core.
On the outside, the panel looked like White Conservative America’s worst nightmare. Five of the seven young women on the panel wore hijabs and both of the men–and one of the women–had “Muhammed” in their names.
But once they started speaking, every stereotype started to shatter. One young woman, a recent immigrant from Ghana who attended Kappa International High School across the street from Fordham, wore an Army ROTC sweatshirt along with her hijab, and spoke how much she loved the military and of her plans to pursue a career in the United States Armed Forces.
One of the men on the panel, an artist and teacher whose work promoting peace and gender equality has taken him all over the world, spoke of how his father, an Imam in Ghana, sent him to a Catholic boarding school, allowing him to sing all the same songs as his Christian friends and endowing him with a lifelong commitment to bringing people of different nationalities and faiths together.
A young women recently arrived from from Nigeria, now a student leader at Lehman College in the Bronx, spoke of how her Muslim faith did not separate her from her Christian siblings and spoke proudly of her family as a model of mutual understanding between people of different faiths.
And finally, three of the elders in the group–two Muslim, one Christian, who had worked for groups ranging from the Mayor’s Office to the City Commission on Human Rights to the offices of Bronx City Council members and Congressman Serrano, spoke of how you could not work effectively in the African Immigrant communities of the Bronx by dividing people along religious lines. They said Christians and Muslims faced the same issues and lived and worked in harmony.
On a panel that was diverse in age and experience as well as religion, there was not a single moment where anyone spoke critically of people of other faiths. And when people spoke of their own religious background, they invoked that tradition as something which promoted peace and the building of strong families and communities.
At a time when fear of immigrants, and Muslims, is being promoted in the highest places, the Bronx African American History Project provided an extremely valuable counterweight to misinformation and hysteria.
Special thanks must be given to the organizer of this panel, Jane Edward, Ph.D., a brilliant scholar brought up Christian in South Sudan, who has worked closely with the African Islamic Community of the Bronx since her arrival at Fordham ten years ago, and who has won their respect through her writing, speaking and advocacy.
The young people she brought together exemplified, for all who wanted to see it, the promise of an American future where people of all faiths, and nations and values live together in harmony and mutual understanding.
First, NBA player Kevin Love, a forward with the Cleveland Caveliers. He wrote a very personal piece for The Players Tribune about experiencing a panic attack earlier this season, and more importantly, on how it’s tough for men to talk about mental health issues because of the ways masculinity is imposed on boys while growing up:
“Growing up, you figure out really quickly how a boy is supposed to act. You learn what it takes to ‘be a man.’ It’s like a playbook: Be strong. Don’t talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own. So for 29 years of my life, I followed that playbook. And look, I’m probably not telling you anything new here. These values about men and toughness are so ordinary that they’re everywhere … and invisible at the same time, surrounding us like air or water. They’re a lot like depression or anxiety in that way.
“So for 29 years, I thought about mental health as someone else’s problem. Sure, I knew on some level that some people benefited from asking for help or opening up. I just never thought it was for me. To me, it was form of weakness that could derail my success in sports or make me seem weird or different.”
This part, in which Love talks about getting a therapist and digging deep into his past, uncovering a trauma he never properly processed, reminded me of my friend Tomas, who witnessed the heart attack of his grandfather as a young teen. I remember Tomas tearing up telling me about it. I got the sense he never properly grieved or understood why he had to witness that event that led to the death of his absolute favorite relative.
“Telling a stranger about my grandma made me see how much pain it was still causing me. Digging into it, I realized that what hurt most was not being able to say a proper goodbye. I’d never had a chance to really grieve, and I felt terrible that I hadn’t been in better touch with her in her last years. But I had buried those emotions since her passing and said to myself, I have to focus on basketball. I’ll deal with it later. Be a man.
“The reason I’m telling you about my grandma isn’t really even about her. I still miss her a ton and I’m probably still grieving in a way, but I wanted to share that story because of how eye-opening it was to talk about it.”
Love ends with an important point:
“Mental health isn’t just an athlete thing. What you do for a living doesn’t have to define who you are. This is an everyone thing. No matter what our circumstances, we’re all carrying around things that hurt — and they can hurt us if we keep them buried inside. Not talking about our inner lives robs us of really getting to know ourselves and robs us of the chance to reach out to others in need. So if you’re reading this and you’re having a hard time, no matter how big or small it seems to you, I want to remind you that you’re not weird or different for sharing what you’re going through.”
So, I’ve been given a lot of feedback about my tribute (?) piece/obit for Tomas, as well as questions on how I’m doing. How am I doing? Not entirely sure. I get the concern, but I also want to scream: “This isn’t about me!” This shouldn’t have happened. Can we go back in time, please?
It’s still so unbelievable. I’m unable to sleep well wondering if there’s any way I could’ve known he was headed down this route.
Yet, for me, the writing made me feel like I’d done something for him, in letting folks know about what a great person he was. But I hate that this is what it is: I hate that he is no longer. It’s unfair. And I recently talked to one of his best friends in the world and that person also feels robbed. It’s just so tragic.
So I googled “Best writings on suicide” and found a great piece in The New Yorker by writer Philip Connors, author of a book about his younger brother, who took his life more than 20 years ago.
He says he’s often asked if writing the book was cathartic for him. As a published author, he said he gets annoyed at the question because “… it annexes the territory of literature under the flag of therapy. As anyone who has written a book knows, there are a thousand other, easier ways to make oneself feel better: alcohol, masturbation, adopting a dog. For ‘survivors of suicide,’ as we’re known—a phrase that I’ve always found most peculiar, as if we’d tried it ourselves but the noose slipped, the cartridge jammed—closure is little more than a neat idea.
“This is not to deny that there are private reasons, in addition to public ones, to write such a book. The private reasons involve an impulse to describe a portion of one’s experience in language that has a ring of truth, to see one’s actions given meaning and form. They involve an impulse to transfigure the horrific, the chaotic, and the merely dismal aspects of one’s experience into a compelling story with a pleasing symmetry and shapely beauty—in other words, a work of art.”
“… let’s face it: that’s why people shrink from the topic of suicide. It bespeaks a misery beyond words. We don’t have the capacity to imagine our way into it. We don’t want to hear how the suicide of a loved one elicits suicidal thoughts in those left behind, either from despair or from a desire to achieve a perverse intimacy with the dead. But most of all we’re baffled by an act that scrambles our categories of justice. It offends our sensibilities in a way that almost nothing does anymore. A crime has been committed, but the victim and the perpetrator are one and the same. That is the essential conundrum of suicide, and a good part of what makes it so hard to discuss.”
I’ve been so lucky in life to have been spared death of loved ones when I was young. This is why losing my father in 2016 felt almost surreal. He had been ill for so long, that when his battle with Parkinson’s came to an end, it was almost a relief for me to him. He deserves to rest, though I miss him dearly.
But I was not prepared earlier this week to learn a friend Tomas, an ex-boyfriend, was to take his life suddenly.
And so began my week of floating around in shock, then grief, followed by quick spurts of anger, back to thinking it wasn’t real, and long bouts of painful wondering if there was anything myself or anyone could have done. I don’t know. I’ll probably never know.
Two days later, I find I’m doing things slowly, mundane every day things—like taking a shower, when I’ll suddenly freeze to think, “I am bathing myself because my body is alive. He isn’t going to be able to do this anymore. He is no longer alive.” And then tears. It’s almost like I’m trying to convince myself.
That young people have to deal with this in high school and college is shocking to me. It’s hard to function without your thoughts turning into grief, disbelief, and again the overwhelming thoughts of wondering and guilt.
I was fortunate to have found out about this terrible news while I was on my way to the apartment of some very dear friends for some cod soup. They knew him and loved him, too. I cannot thank them enough for being with me that night.
In the days since, I’ve talked to my closest friends and family about this and they’re all concerned about me. That’s understandable, and I’ve been checking in with them and vice versa as my feelings continue in that cycle: shock, disbelief, grief, anger, guilt, wonder, utter sadness, and more sadness.
Why? Why did he do this? Again, I will never know the answer to this. But could I have?
After more than a year of not speaking or keeping in touch, as is the norm between some, if not most, former romantic partners, he reached out to me out of the blue. He said he was thinking of me and wanted to catch up. And so we did, on a quick half-hour car ride from Jersey City and Edgewater.
I knew he was in a relationship, and he explained it had recently ended. His living and work circumstances had changed, and he was “down in the dumps” about it, but continued to smile, saying he had his health, hadn’t been missing any meals and he’d rebound. I agreed. I always saw him as an incredibly intelligent and resourceful person who could do anything. I even texted him something to that effect after he dropped me off.
The next morning I texted him to have a great day. He wrote, “Good day to you.” And then I never heard from him again. I sent a couple more texts about things like an issue with my car throughout the week, and figured they went unanswered because he was busy. Or back with his ex-girlfriend. He didn’t get into details much but he gave me the impression the relationship was somewhat tumultuous. So, again, him not responding wasn’t odd as we hadn’t keep in touch on a frequent basis.
Then exactly one week after to the day that I saw him last, I learned of his fate.
I’ve been looking through old photos of when we were together and it’s, at times, overwhelming, but it also reminds me of the many good times we had. And so I wanted to document some of the great things about my friend, Tomas.
Tomas Lopez Jr. 12-14-68 – 02-26-18
A tall and calm presence, Tomas loved cars, and was adept at fixing and customizing them. We constantly talked about them when we were on the road. He loved motorcycles, too, especially his Harley Davidson V-Rod motorcycle, which he cleaned lovingly on a frequent basis using things like Q-tips and toothbrushes.
Tomas was also a fan of boats, speedboats in particular, as he had recently spent some time in Florida with a friend who owned one, and took it to Miami Boat week. Tomas knew how to drive and maintain boats. He also had a small engine pilots license.
I met Tomas in 2015 in Puerto Rico, where I was spending a couple of nights before boarding a ship for a cruise with one of my girlfriends. We all spent a fun day at the Luquillo Beach, and he then insisted on taking me to see El Junque, the rainforest in Puerto Rico. I’ll never forget that fun drive to such a beautiful place I’d never been to before.
Tomas loved hip-hop music, electronic dance music and salsa, but not dancing to it. As of late, he told me he had been listening to Puerto Rican trap hip-hop artist, Bad Bunny, who I don’t listen to much, but whose song “Amorfada” makes me cry when I read the lyrics because I imagine they resonated with him.
I will always treasure the fact that I got to take him to see some independent Latin music artists, such as Making Movies performance at SOBs, that literally made him tear up. When I asked him why he was emotional, he said it was so cool to see young talented band doing what they loved, as learning an instrument to play music was something he didn’t have the opportunity to do as a kid.
Something Tomas did do as a child and up until his young adult years was practice karate. Although exercise was not something he did when we knew each other, he told me he spent years going to tournaments on weekends, competing on behalf of the karate school he trained at.
Tomas loved going to marinas and seeing not only boats, but the river or sea. He also knew a great deal about recreational vehicles, as I found out on a trip with him to the Pacific Northwest. We stopped at a RV dealer and I saw his face light up every time we checked one of those luxury vacationing vehicles out.
Tomas loved to watch CNN, HBO’s Bill Maher, and Viceland’s Action Bronson and Weediquette. He followed the 2016 presidential election season with great interest and we discussed it nearly every day.
Tomas was not a fan of trying strange or exotic foods. He was a fan of steaks, chicken, and potatoes, and old-fashioned Puerto Rican dishes. He liked Cuban and Middle Eastern food, too. And at Dunkin Donuts, he always ordered a decaf tea with a chocolate glazed donut, BUT NO SPRINKLES. (It was funny when they’d mess that part up. He’d be so frustrated!)
He loved to travel, and had spent some time working for Delta airlines before I met him. Going to Puerto Rico to visit his grandmother might have been one of his favorite things to do.
Tomas was a polite and friendly person who could strike up a conversation with anyone he encountered. Taking him to work or music related events was always easy for me because I knew he’d get along with anyone I introduced him to. He always won them over with his charm.
Tomas was not a fan of sports. But he did have a great time following the 2016 Copa America with my brother and I and even joined us at a game the Colombian National team played at MetLife stadium.
And that’s because he enjoyed doing things he had never experienced, whether it was going to a museum, or an independent music festival.
I’ll never forget the way Tomas looked at problems. He was a fan of Eckhart Tolle, and recommended I read “A New Earth” when I was going through a particularly rough time with my father’s death and some other things and it seemed that every day annoyances or problems—no matter how small—annoyed me.
I’m not going to lie, I didn’t take to Tolle’s words then, and it was only after broke up and I experienced depression and sought help for it that I started reading authors similar to Tolle and understood what it was about. But a book is a book, and its themes can be fleeting if one is depressed. I wish I could tell him that today.
One new hobby that Tomas picked up in 2016 was photography. He bought a Canon Rebel and took to it immediately, eventually buying a drone to shoot photos and videos when he was on his friend’s boat. He meant to show me some of the footage but we never got around to it.
I’ll always remember his strong laugh, super smile, sense of humor and the ease in which he talked to strangers, as if they were old friends. It hurts so much that someone who caused others to smile so easily must have been experiencing enough hopelessness or sadness that it caused him to take his own life.
May you rest in peace, Tomas. You will be very missed.
We’ve all seen the videos and heard the stories. Someone walks up to a person who looks ‘foreign’ and demands that they act/speak/look ‘American’ only to be told that the ‘foreigner’ grew up here and is really just as American as anyone else.
Joe Kye is a Korean-born fellow, who moved to the US at age 6. He experiences some aspect of being told ‘you’re different’ just about every day- even in his hometown of Seattle. But ultimately, the city came to his rescue, presenting the young Joe the opportunity to play violin in the school system. It proved to be his escape, and the songs on Joe’s upcoming album Migrants reflect the immigrant experience, and what it’s like to live stuck between two worlds.
“I’m looking to create a sound and a vision for what might be,” says Kye, a violinist, composer, and vocalist who blew open his diverse musical world when he discovered the magic of the loop pedal in college. That vision has fractures and fragments, wounds and gaps, but it resonates with a bittersweet optimism, a measured hope for change and coming together on Migrants, his debut full-length album and third release.
Kye’s crisp playing, layered in swirls of pizzicato arpeggios and percussive elements, forms the foundation for clever and reflexive lyrics and a tender, urgent voice. He bounces his own distinctive sound around in collaboration with everyone from friend and LA-based MC Jason Chu and Vegas-based MC Rasar (“Fall In”), to NYC composer/percussionist William Catanzaro (“Migrants”), to a full string section (“Joseph Rests His Head”), a lush contrast to Kye’s taut loops.
Music has been a lifelong refuge for Kye. “Music is essential and therapeutic for me, and has been since childhood,” Kye recalls. “I remember in Korea, borrowing my dad’s walkman and putting on the headphones, how powerful and adult that felt. That personal and transportative experience has stayed with me.”
Tropical doyen Cal Jader (the main man at Movimientos) returns to the S&C site for another year with his selection of 10 Latin American tunes that have been keeping his DJ sets, radio shows and headphones alive over the past 12 months. From reggaeton to cumbia to samba, Latin jazz and Cuban electronica there surely is a little something for everyone here.
Read the rest of this piece (with music videos) here.
Had to share this blog post via Yoga with Jaimee as it resonated deeply with me for a few reasons:
A few weeks ago I snapped this photo outside of my sister’s house, and shared it on social media.
I captioned it with this quote: “the trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let dead things go.”
The phrase “let it go” used to really irritate me because I didn’t know what it meant or exactly how to do it. And there are times when I still struggle with it a lot.
As an analytical person, I need visual aids and practical steps to help me understand and accomplish things. It’s the virgo in me. I prefer finding ways to compare those lofty ideas with things I can really wrap my head around. In my mind, I connect the act of letting go to that time I was finally able to release both hands from my handlebars while riding my bike. And yes, “letting go” is what happens when I frantically drop a hot pan on the stove after realizing one of the oven mitts has a hole in it. That’s some serious let go if you’ve never experienced it.
But the kind of letting go that involves a conscious choice versus a physical action, can be extremely challenging and scary. It can also be painful as hell if it’s not something you’re ready to do: especially if your heart and mind are singing two different songs. Letting go in this sense is releasing all doubt, worry, and fear about a situation, person or outcome. It’s releasing anything that disrupts your happiness and no longer serves you on your journey.
Letting go is a choice to decide that you will no longer ruminate on things that are out of your control, and focus on what you can control, instead.
Letting go creates space for fresh beginnings: stripping you of what happened yesterday, and enabling the doors of brand new opportunities to open today.
Letting go is about accepting what is happening right now and not worrying about what will come up tomorrow.
It involves much more than just saying you have let go. It’s an internal process that must happen for you to truly feel better and get on with life in a healthy way.
Throughout this year, I’ve been having lots of conversations with people and reading an assortment of spiritual books on exactly how to let go. I’ve come up with these five steps that helps me better understand how to do this thing and could possibly help you too:
As a gentle reminder, it’s important that we honor where we are on our individual journeys of letting go. This is a process that may be more challenging for some than others. Know that wherever you are right now, is okay.
1) Mind control–The human mind is the most complex tool we own and can either be our biggest ally or worst enemy. Having the power to let things go starts there. Making an intentional choice to no longer let past issues and people who hurt us control the mind is what can break the cycle of unhealthy rumination on these thoughts, ideas and feelings.
For me, what ends up happening when I let my mind go down the dark road of rehearsing painful experiences is I began to create a story about myself that typically follows the lines of “I’m not good enough”, “I’m unlovable” and “no one cares about me”. The more I think about it, the more my mind creates space to allow feelings of hurt, anger and frustration to fester and completely ruin my mood.
Although I’m still working on this, it’s important to constantly be in observance of your thoughts without attaching yourself to what it is you’re thinking. The reality is your thoughts don’t define your value. You are not the summation of your past experiences. Just because something doesn’t work out, doesn’t mean you are now labeled as a failure or you’re incapable of receiving what you desire in life.
The more we can simply watch our thoughts come and go without attaching our identity to them, the easier letting go becomes.
Thoughts are nothing more than thoughts. What we decide to do with them is what can either make or break us.
2) Getting it all out–Having the ability to express your emotions in a healthy way is another step to processing things before deciding to let them go. As a writer, this is also a must for me because it serves as a form of catharsis and creative release. I like to spend time journaling out my thoughts and emotions. While obsessing over the details of what happened in the past is never the healthy route to take (we all do it), it’s important to analyze why you’re feeling a certain way, and how you can show up differently the next time.
There are so many breakthroughs to uncover through self reflection. Other ways to express yourself include talking to a trusted friend, family member or therapist. I have discovered that seeking out counseling is one of the best ways to receive objective advice and support throughout my journey of healing and learning to let go.
Sometimes, friends and family sit so close to a particular situation that they’re unable to provide unbiased support the way in which you need it. And, sometimes they don’t always offer the best advice. Sometimes it’s not always that easy to let something go. Especially if there are old narratives that are lodged somewhere in your subconscious mind from previous experiences.
When we continue holding on to grief, anxiety, pain, and resentment from the past without fully working through each situation, all of these experiences, patterns, and narratives accumulate inside the heart, making it even more difficult to let things go. When this is the case, it’s so important to seek out therapy to help you work through and heal from the inside out.
3) Acceptance–We all want to know why something ended the way it did or how someone could end up hurting us so badly without having any concern about how it negatively impacted us. We believe that we deserve the right to these answers. We want some level of understanding. The painful truth is, we don’t always get that “closure” we think we ought to have.
Not everyone will explain why they did something or even apologize when they are at fault. And I know firsthand that this reality stings a lot. Like someone pouring salt in an open wound. Not getting solid answers and having to move on with life without closure is no fun, but it’s something many of us have to do at one point or another.
Fully accepting the situation as it is without constantly wishing it would be different is really the only way to getting on the road to being okay. And this isn’t only about accepting situations. We have to start accepting people for who they are as well and believing them when they show us their true character. Because they aren’t lying.
4) Forgiveness–To truly let go and move on, sometimes you have to forgive people who aren’t even sorry. Sometimes you have to accept an apology you’ll never receive. That takes so much strength and courage and humility. While it may seem unfair and backwards, sometimes, that’s how the chips will fall. There’s nothing worse than holding onto resentment about someone or something for years, while they happily move on with life.
And the reality is, doing this only hurts you.
The most important thing is that we also have to learn to forgive ourselves. This can be done by writing a letter to yourself, replacing self-loathing with compassion, and deciding to make better choices next time.
5) Stay present–The present is all we have. We can’t go back and fix the past, and what happens in the future isn’t here yet. We must make an effort everyday to remember that and allow ourselves to open up and enjoy what is unfolding right in front of us: all parts of the journey both easy and hard, good and bad.
A friend of mine once said to me “you are right where you are supposed to be”, in the midst of a very rough season. My initial reaction back to that was filled with frustration and confusion. I didn’t want to accept the fact that he was probably right. Because life is full of so many teachers and lessons. Sometimes you will be the teacher, and other times you will be forced to learn a hard lesson. This year has found me in the role of the student on so many occasions: pushing and encouraging me to let go of old narratives and painful pasts.
This year has inspired me to work harder at letting go of self-loathing, insecurities, hurtful people, unrealistic expectations and timelines, comparing myself to others, and obsessively worrying about things far beyond my control.
I owe it to myself to be more kind to me.
Everyday, I am consistently reminded to embrace the present and all it has to offer: a new opportunity to begin again. No matter how much I may stumble on this journey of letting go, the present is always here to remind me that I don’t have to stay stuck on yesterday, or worry about what will happen tomorrow.
I trust that this opportunity is open for you to receive it too.
Everyday we have a choice to keep holding on just a little bit longer, or conclude that today is the day we will finally let go.
*If you were inspired by this post, please share it with a friend who could also benefit from it.*
P.S. What is something you are working to let go of this season?