His Christmas Story

Today is dull, listless, as Tuesdays normally are. Above, there’s a light breeze rustling branches too high up to yield any fruit. Below, there’s a mild flurry of activity. People walking in twos and threes, crunching a merger of ice and salt crystals beneath their feet, unhurriedly. You don’t hurry at a funeral.

Jethro is sitting on the corner of a stone path in a troubled solitude, away from the curious glances and polite whispers of his guests.

***

They say when you are with someone you love, you have no bearing on time. Minutes, hours, seconds – they mean nothing to you. When I was with her, it wasn’t as they say. I felt time. I felt every second burrow its heels into my soul and take a little more from me. I felt the years I was with her, 24 in all, pat me on the back giving in even greater measure their gifts of wisdom and patience. When I was with her, my senses were attuned to the whistle of the breeze, to the touch of the moonlight, to the smell of the summer drizzle. My world collapsed into a vacuum whenever she spoke my name, leaving only my heartbeat and her voice – together an intoxicating rhythm – drugging me. When she laughed, it was as though the universe had never known evil and there was only joy. When I loved her, my life was a panic of contradictions that made perfect sense. I was hers, in the most complete sense of the word. I was hers, and she was mine. I loved Ava.

cursive-alphabet-template-f

She loved to write. Ava was that type of girl who was fascinated with typefaces and handwriting. She loved to begin her “f” in the cursive style, with a tight curve moving anti-clockwise from its origin, reaching the crest and then making a sure sudden descent. But instead of continuing the curve, again in the anti-clockwise direction, drawing it to its origin as one would normally do, Ava thought it rebellious to leave it south, straight, unfinished. She was that type of girl. She would write to me, tucking notes of flirty anticipation into the breast-pocket of my shirt before I left for work. She would write to all she knew, notes of encouragement, memos of dissatisfaction, and letters of gratitude. She wrote a letter to me on the night I first made love to her, 23 years ago on Christmas day, telling me how much she loved me and our unborn child. I loved her. I married her.

Then I lost her. She left our home one Friday morning a month ago, determined to snag some overpriced bounty at Black Friday-type discounts for the coming Christmas holiday. I imagine she was complimenting the shop owner as she would typically do, when the commotion began. I lost Ava, first to a thief’s bullet then to a maniac’s grenade. They said it happened all at once, that she felt no pain. What they failed to say was that my life, too, was now suddenly lost all at once, without warning or alarm but with pain. They found Ava with her back torn away from her body, her wedding ring pushed to the first knuckle of her charred ring finger. Her legs were wide apart and slightly charred, but her face was curiously bare – without blemish or crease – as if to say, here was an honest woman, loved and free and true.

I lost her.

We lost her.

I don’t realize I’m crying until I feel the scrunched paper in my fists, wet. I straighten out the letter, regard it for the eighth time that day and for the umpteenth time in 23 years, and watch the words written by my wife bleed into the grain of the paper.

I love you.

“Hey Jethro.” My friend and bestman, Tomiwa, calls from the house, “Coming in soon? Ana’s looking for you.”

Now, there’s Ana. Beautiful, kind Ana. She’s every bit her mother’ daughter – the perfect Christmas gift. How I will continue care for her, how I will show her that the world is both a kind and cruel place, I don’t know. She’s old enough to see the world, old enough to love another the way her mother loved me, but still, she’s now without a mother. I think she’s indoors, entertaining our guests despite her own grief, accepting condolences while holding out a plate of cookies. Ana, putting on a brave face, is definitely her mother’s child. Dare I say, Ana’s a reincarnation and my saving grace.

Thank you Ava. Merry Christmas.

Love, death, and birth. Life, while it lasts, goes on. I’ll remember that.

“Sure, I’m coming in.” I call back to Tomiwa. I groan as I rise, months of pain already settling into my bones. I’ll be strong for my daughter, I’ll live for her. “I’m coming, Ana,” I say to no one in particular. “I’m coming.”

***

Today is dull but somewhat hopeful, as Tuesdays usually are. Above, Ava smiles down at the last two living parts of her. Below, Jethro and Ana, hearts nearly suffocating with grief, breathe a little easier despite it all. They’ll love each other through the pain. They’ll be okay, this Christmas day.

Author’s Note: This year, many of us have been more aware of death, violence, and madness than any time before. We know the people who die are more than statistics. The others they leave behind, the people who love them, die a little too. This Christmas, please reach out a little, and do what you can to lessen that pain. It might be a visit, a donation, a facebook/twitter msg, or a prayer, but let’s not forget them. Let’s not.

#PeaceAndIC

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The Top 5 Medium Articles I Read in 2014

I feel like it’s been a good year. Over the course of the year, I read all kinds of things. Some of them insightful and note-worthy, some were relevant and necessary, others were pure and utter trash (that I might have enjoyed reading). The following is a top selection of articles I read on Medium, which I feel were informative and fun.

5. The Real 10 Algorithms that Dominate Our World

I found this to be a casual read that was well worth the minutes invested. Marcos Otero writes an article on what, he feels, are the top 10 algorithms that control most of our virtual lives. If you have any additions or disagreements, please share them in the comment section.

4. The Meat Seeker’s Mission

I’m a meat lover. I absolutely have to have some sort of meat protein at least twice a week. Regardless, I’m not ignorant of the many complications associated with millions of people demanding a product, and the strains on quality that demand might induce. With beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, etc, there are numerous reports on how a majority of these products are of really poor quality. So if you love meat and care about how you get your meat, this article’s for you.

Sarah Agudo, early this year, wrote a very informative piece on her investigation into where her neighborhood gets its meat.  You can find the article here. She documents the culture of secrecy and manipulation behind urban meat supply in a part of America, and the steps one can take to find honestly raised and transparently sold meat (eg. find a ranch).

3. Cash Rules Everything Around Me

Quinn Norton, ladies and gentlemen. Everyone who knows me, knows her, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Quinn dropped this bombshell sometime in March, and I’ve read it thrice since then, stirring up my paranoia and confirming my biases about America the good, America the bad, and America the ugly. She skims over the socioeconomic burdens in America in that not-so-flippant way that only Quinn does right.

2. Does the Scientific Method Need Revision?

Anybody making a career out of the applied sciences should be concerned about the state of affairs in pure science circles right now. I remember a dear professor who, when deriving some proof, would skim over something that seemingly defied logic and would go, “I know this plot makes no bloody sense, but hey, it’s empirical.”

As someone who has trouble just accepting things as they are, I only just recently came to understand that assumptions can be made, as long as they can be tested. What we have now in scientific circles, is a trend to not just deviate from the observable – the empirical, but to, in some cases, disregard it altogether, for theories that rely on more axioms than many deem necessary. Many scientists worry that this is moving science dangerously close to an exercise in pure speculation which is unable to bear the rigors of tests on which the scientific method is based; others argue that the “low hanging fruit” has been picked, and some modification must be made to the scientific method to grasp the more elusive concepts of our physical (and ‘non-physical’ world). Sabine Hossenfelder delivers a compact assessment of our current situation with just the right amount of snark, but ends on a note I disagree with. I intend to do more reading on the subject, and if you have any suggestions, please share.

1. Everything Is Broken

I saved the best for last. And what’s better? It’s longform! (Yay! In some parallel universe, I live and breathe for Quinn Norton). I’m not even sure what to write as a synopsis for this article besides: if you use a computer, you should read it. Following the NSA leaks, and the in light of the ebay, target, and Visa leaks that followed, I think it is absolutely imperative that everyone read this article.

Bonus: Something I read recently and also found interesting.

Sex … the Silent Casualty of War

This article, written by Sam Kille, covers an often overlooked consequence of war, which is veterans and their spouses who have to deal not just with physical wounds and scars, but also with deeply intimate and emotional ones too, like a destroyed sex life. I previously knew very little about this and honestly, barely cared. After reading the article, I feel like I still don’t know much at all about the services made available to our veterans. By extension, this article brought to mind the state of the Nigerian army, specifically the services made available to them, and how those services can be improved.

So, that’s it. If you read any articles on Medium (or elsewhere) this year, that left an impression, please share them. I’d love to read them before the year’s done.

#PeaceAndIC

The Nine Muses

Brooke Fraser

I love this woman. Songs like Crows + Locusts, and Coachella are simply amazing! There’s also something unassuming about her – a subtle confidence regardless of having features that many women would balk at: her hooked nose, her unusual height, etc. I really do love the music she puts out. Always.

Esperanza Spalding

I had the opportunity to see her in concert and though I didn’t think it was possible, she’s even more remarkable in person. She may or may not have been the reason for my interest in the bass and my recent, um, activities. Enjoy:

Eve

Besides the fact that once upon a time, this was my nickname (for reasons I hope aren’t obvious), I’ve always been a fan.

Sara Bareilles

Sweet As Whole is one of my favorites by her.

Kari Jobe

I’m sure you guessed she would be on this list. Imagine the kind of music made by a sweet and delightful person who wears her flaws on her sleeve: Amazing. She’s simply delightful! And her music too. I dare you to not fall in love with her after watching this video

Rita

The first time I heard of her was when I was taking an intensive course in Israel. My good friend Yael, herself an aspiring musician, recommended some Israeli singers and now, Rita is by far my favorite. Her songs also help me to keep practicing some Hebrew.

Sia

She had to be on this list.

Amerie

Since before… Well, since before I can honestly remember, Amerie has been my go to girl for ‘those kinda days’.

Audrey Assad

With everything from the timbre of her voice to the unpretentious lyrics, she’s quickly climbing my playlist ladder.

And that’s my list – my nine muses of music (like in ancient Greek mythology). They’re arranged in no particular order because I listen to them in no particular order.

I hope you enjoy these artistes as much as I do. And if that’s not your taste, well, that is unfortunate.

And as a bonus: Sara Bareilles’ one of a kind cover of Beyonce’s Single Ladies (So much better than the original in my opinion).

#PeaceAndIceCream

Video of The Day: Billie Jean

It’s been a while since I did one of these (video-of-the-day), but it’s been ‘that kinda day’, and I desperately needed ‘that kinda song’ to get me where I needed to be. It worked, and I hope this song does to your heart and mind, the good it’s done mine.

This is a cover of Michael Jackson’s classic ‘Billie Jean’, by one of my favorite groups – The Civil Wars. I remember listening to Joy Williams when I was much younger – 13 years or so – and it’s been particularly thrilling for me to see her evolve musically and otherwise. The Civil Wars’ version of this song won’t disappoint. I promise you.

 

#PeaceAndIceCream

The Failure of A Man

It started with an email. A subscription to the awesome comics website Zen Pencils, proved again to be totally worth it as I was made aware of Gav’s latest addition . This latest addition was on a poem written by a woman, who I would soon discover to be quite an exquisite and tormented creature. Her name was Sylvia Plath. Her poem held such a fatal grip on me, that before I was aware of my actions, I had already pulled up her Wikipedia page, her biography written by her best friend, and the synopsis for her book, “The Bell Jar”. Thence began my research.

Page after page, I read. There was Otto Plath, then Richard Sassoon, then Dylan Thomas – men who had undeniably contributed to her experiences and influenced her choices. These men (save possibly the last), were among others who knew her worth not just as a woman, but also as a person, and treated her as such. It seems to me, that the offending exception was the brilliantly poetic fool she eventually married.  The culprit’s name was Ted Hughes.

Ted Hughes was a man who was an equally gifted poet with allegedly good looks. He however made the promise to tie himself to her until death ripped them apart, only in doing so, I believe he discounted the potency of the Bohemian style of living he was undeniably drawn to.  Needless to say, he fucked around – literally – and Sylvia, saddled with the complications of her psychology,  found Ted’s actions and the consequences thereof too much for her mind and body to bear – again, literally. She had a miscarriage and later took her own life. All of this happened in a space of seven years. The sorry dolt (Ted Hughes) could not and did not keep his promise, but shortly after her suicide, he had the decency to admit the following:

I was the one could have helped her, and the only one that couldn’t see that she really needed it this time. No doubt where the blame lies.

Now, whatever your opinion on sexuality or your qualms on whether or not man is a monogamous creature, that’s hardly my concern nor is it the point of this post. What struck me was just how blissfully unaware Ted Hughes was. This was a man, who by nature of his chosen profession, was supposed to be endowed with super-human perception. However, when it came to knowing the life of the person supposedly closest to him, the person with whom he had shared a vow of intimacy – his wife – he failed. He failed spectacularly. And for me, this simply does not add up. I personally refuse to believe that salacious pleasure sweetened by sparks of lust can blind a man so. Yet in Ted Hughes’ case, it apparently did.

The rest of his life was, in my opinion, tragic but rather uneventful. Nick, the son from his union to Sylvia Plath, committed suicide. Assia, the woman he left Sylvia Plath for, committed suicide. Though it is never a simple matter – the tragedy of this family has workings the public will never be privy to – I believe many of the events were avoidable.

I have no comment on the character of either of them. Plath and Hughes may have been Heaven’s saints or Hell’s sinners – I really don’t care nor do I think that’s anybody’s business anyway. However, after reading on her life and the lives of those connected to her, I learned that I, like many others, take too many things for granted. Sylvia apparently looked okay but many times, she wasn’t.  She had a friend, Dr. John Horder, who was sensitive to her needs and feelings – he didn’t take her mental health for granted. I realize that if only she had more people like him around her, maybe she wouldn’t have taken her life.

Mental illness is a reality that is no longer alternate. It is now prevalent in the reality in which I reside. Reading Sylvia’s story has taught me that I am responsible for the mental fates of those closest to me. I have a responsibility to be perceptive, to be sensitive to the mental needs of my friends and family. To fail to reach out to them always is a failure. Moreover, I’ll be damned before I repeat the failure of the man, Ted Hughes.

#PeaceAndIceCream