Open Heart Surgery

Last week I had open heart surgery at the Facing Race Conference in Baltimore   I was in serious danger of having a White supremacy -related cardiac arrest. The daily stress of race related slights, ignorant remarks, and racial stereotypes in the news, on TV, and in my daughter’s classroom were taking their toll.  The unhealthy diet of  judging my beauty against the norm, of basing “good, “right”, and “true” on “White”, of wishing for a new nose, different hair, eyes, lips clogged arteries. The pressure to be a strong bridge across the racial divide was pushing the damaged muscle to its breaking point. The everyday news of injustice, inequity, and the needless suffering of people of color,  people of gender,  people of difference,  people, was sapping my will to resist the oncoming collapse.

And then I stepped in to Facing Race.  Rinku Sen, editor of Colorlines magazine and executive director of Applied Research Center (ARC), hosts of the conference, stepped on stage.  I was breathing heavy. I was walking slowly with the weight, pain radiating.

Rinku Sen was the first responder.

“Transformative is what I am after. I don’t want to reverse the racial hierarchy. I want to take it apart. I want to change the course of human evolution.”

A jolt went through me.

“We are so well equipped to do this. We are such good strategists. We know how to run campaigns. We do this work with so much heart, and so much humor. We have so much resilience. We can survive anything. We can do this. We can take the country and the world closer to a new humanity.”

The weight began to ease inside me.

“If we do our part, then our kids will do their part. And their kids will do the next part and the next kids after that will do more. I am counting on you to do this with me…Our ancestors demand it. The dead demand it. The living demand it. And we can answer them, if we stand together. We can set the path for true human liberation. We must start today. I know that together, we will get there. “

I was revived, still damaged, still in pain, but ready to live, ready to fight, ready to be healed.  There is so much more to tell.  The power of the speakers, dancers, comedians, artists, children, elders, changed me. All the faces together facing the madness that is White supremacist, patriarchal, heterosexist, ableist, classist hierarchical lifted me up.  That weekend, my chest was opened up. Years of toxins were released. New connections were built.  I was transformed. I was ready to walk the liberation path again.




At home in Delaware it passed with little fanfare. Perhaps we would light some dhiyas and put them out on the front steps. But my mom would soon blow them out, murmuring about the fall leaves catching fire.  I remember holding illegal sparklers in my hand, arm stretched out as far from my body as I could. I was nervous that police would come and see my holiday transgression. In the pitch dark of a suburban, North American, East Coast, November evening I thought about the monkey-god Hanuman leaping across the sea to Lanka.

The first time I visited India in the fall, I was 18, just graduated from high school, taking a year to discover my roots before going to college.  My two best friends from school came with me.  That night, we perched high up on a rooftop in Gujarat, languishing in the evening cool after a day of sweat and mosquitos. The night pulsed with drums beating from the street.  Shots of light zoomed from roof to roof, the playful warfare of longtime neighbors.  New bangles sang on our wrists,  gifted to us by a real life queen of old India.   On the streets, families piled onto scooters in their fancy dresses, off to trade sweets with friends.  No one spoke of the great deeds of the warrior prince. No one spoke of his return from exile.  No one spoke, but the scent  of victory, of triumph,  of duty fulfilled was thick in the air that festival night.

This year I forgot about it.  Life has been too full with living. We recently moved back in with my parents,  that same old house in the suburbs, those same dark November skies.  My kids, still small,  are in tune with the other holidays we celebrate; Thanksgiving, Christmas, Passover.  Their world helps them to remember these days, to anticipate, to expect.  This night I forgot, and so they did not know. But at the last minute, my mom said,  “Let’s put out the dhiyas. Let’s do sparklers with the kids.  Let me sweep away the leaves.”

Together we stood on the front steps, the chill in the air keeping us close to the house.  The kids were dressed for bed, flannel nightgown and footie pajamas.  My mom held the sparkler tip to the dhiya’s flame. The old sparkler, unlit for years, burned slow before bursting. The kids gasped. I opened my mouth and sang, “Ram nam raas peeje, manava!”  A song my grandmother taught me that year, 18 years ago poured out from my heart.  My daughter told her teacher in school, “We said Happy Diwali last night!”   Perhaps I smell the scent of victory in the autumn night, perhaps the monkey-god still leaps across the sea.  Last night, we were three generations bringing light to the darkness, three generations erasing ignorance with knowledge, three generations singing songs, Diwali, last night, Diwali.

We voted

We voted for the Dreamers, and the Same-sex lovers, and the 99%. We voted for the unions, and the aging baby boomers, and the guy on the street who sleeps on vents. We voted for shattered glass, and equal pay. We voted for ourselves.

We voted because they thought we wouldn’t, and because we knew we had to. We voted because our bodies were being debated and our voices were being ignored. We voted so teachers can teach and students can learn. We voted to take care of each other.  We voted to be able to take care of ourselves.

We voted for soldiers to begin the healing. We voted for roads, and bridges, and pipes.

We voted because the lines were long and our patience was running short. We voted in waves of gold, and brown, and  pink until day turned to night.  We voted after polls were closed.

We voted because we know there are more superstorms to come. 

We voted in fear. We voted in hope. 

We voted. We voted. We voted.