Tribal Lessons #2
The Art of Living in Blak and White
I remember when I was 6 years old, I was out enjoying the hot summer days with my friends. It was an unusual day because it was low tide at mid-day. We headed to the end of the street and around the back of my family’s restaurant on the beach and succeeded in sneaking past my Grandma’s eagle eyes to get our bellies full of the sweetest sea grapes on the island.
Sea grapes are a mangrove fruit so usually at low tide the tree roots are half in the water and half on land. Since the tide was low and none of my friends could swim a lick, they could get all the sea grapes they wanted. Even tho their three-week old hairdo was a number one reason, today they just didn’t want to get close to the water, so they asked me. For my risk-taking quest, they would pay me half my harvest. I was ready wearing my one-piece bathing suit, so I made a sack out of the belly of my t-shirt and finally when it was too heavy to hold with one hand, I made my way to the pine trees. The low tide had also exposed lunch and dinner. Crawfish, crabs, minnows, muscles and sea urchins were scattered all over the spiky and dangerous coral-rocks. While the crew sat under the lone coconut tree feasting on the sea grapes I decided to turn back as they watched me from a short distance.
With just my low top Converse sneakers, my rubber soles were too thin for me to be hopscotching the sea urchins and “sea glass.” I knew it was risky, but I was thinking about how good the crawfish would taste in Aunty’s special garlic butter sauce. To go home honorable, I needed seven crawfish and I only had five. I spied a herd of crays hiding on the other side of a hole-like basin. Instead of going around, my “I can do this”-self tricked my “what are you thinking”-self into long jumping across the five-foot hole to capture the last two crawfish. My ankle gave way to the reefs sharp edge, and I crumbled into the shallow shin-deep basin with a splash and an agonizing scream from my twisted ankle.
Either it was the embarrassment that stood me up or pride that slapped me into my “I’m good, I’m good” defiant persona. I brushed the water and sand off my legs and arms. When I went to brush the “ouch” off my shoulder, my sticky and bloody drenched fingers came back.
The gasp from my sea grape pit-gallery and the expressions on my friends’ face told me why my arm felt like it was on fire. The blood and sand were painting the small pond that I fell in pink. A hand on my opposite arm pulled me up and out of the bloody pit I was making. Like Black Panther (pick either the 1966 Huey P Newton or Ryan Coogler 2018 version of the #52 Fantastic Comic book) Grandma swooped me up with one hand and placed me 10-toes down (really five because of my twisted ankle) on the shores edge. She nudged me toward the water. My grandma told me as she always did,
“Down yoursef’ in da watah chil’ (Gulf of Mexico) and "go get my healing".
THE BACKSTORY: I was also running everywhere, I would fall or scrape something and because I thought Grandma could see everything no matter where I was, I would be obedient to her invisible command and dash into the closest body of water.
This time, it was not a "little boo-boo", it was a Big’un and gushing blood everywhere. And to make my ego smaller in front of all my friends, Grandma wanted me to go down to the water to do her "silly ritual". I bent over even squatting down trying to put my arm in the water without getting my clothes wet. She yelled from the shore,
"Submerge ya bodee chil'!"
My friends laughed until Grandma’s West Indian gaze a few hundred feet away zipped them silent like they had swallowed an avocado seed. I had to decide. With my back to the shore, Grandma and my friends downwind, I looked out into the Gulf of Mexico, pass our island waiting for a sign that I could have a good reason to defy Grandma’s command. If I obeyed my Grandma, I would be soaked from neck to toes since the gash was on my shoulder. And pain would engulf every cell of my being. If I concerned myself with my friends laughing at me, I could go back and play with my friends, bloody but with my friends.
Without bending Grandma removed her shoes and began walking towards me. My friends saw her serious expression and scattered, leaving me with my blood gushing out, and my grandma on her way. Half-way she spoke softly this time.
"Chil, if ya want to stop yo life from escaping from ya body, heed me words. Make ya way into that healin’ watah, I say."
I walked out into the water to my knees. I loved the feel of the smooth sand between my toes but as yesterday's bruised knees and other body parts came in contact with the salt water, it stung like nobody's business. I turned around to my grandma's eyes at the edge of the water. Silent and serious. I began to cry because there was stinging evidence everywhere on my body that I was an adventurous child at 6 years old. Grandma said softly,
"Keep yo body movin’ chil'".
Fear for my Grandma’s next move made me turn and walk out into what seemed like the saltiest water in the world and just as I was about to let out a scream because the salt water had hit my most present wound, my Grandma's "I'm right here" hand was on my shoulder taking me from panic level ten down to two without a word. She too had bent down and fully submerged her 5'11' slender body up to her neck, fully dressed absent of shoes.
My tears flooded enough to change the tide from low to high. Sitting firmly on the floor of our private lagoon in her business-commanding suit Grandma pulled me onto her lap and held me close to her. We looked out past our small island watching the dolphins play, the snapper run, and speed boats go by throwing up a friendly wave. Grandma told me stories about her home in Antigua and how she missed Charlie, my step-grandfather who had just died. About 30-minutes later she took her right hand and found my left hand to lead us back to shore where she took buckets of our Island rain water and gently rinsed off the salt, seaweed and sand everywhere including my now 80% healed wound.
::: THE LESSON::: The other day I was creating memories with my grandson. I wasn’t “spending” time as some would say, because he’s not an item on a shelf or can be bought. I wasn’t “baby sitting” because I don’t have time to “sit” with an 18-month-old, he keeps me up and running, just like I did my Grandma when I was his age.
(oops back to the lesson)
So, he wants to play the “are your glasses really made of glass” game and snatched my glasses and off he went running around the kitchen island to evade my snatch. He rounds the corner, looking back to see if I was ready to play his game. He was winning until his body kept running straight but his head went left. Yep, the noggin was nipped, and he crumbled to the floor. Three short inhales followed by the toddler death-calling cry accompanied by crocodile tears. Grandmothers (at least me) instinctively possess that “johnnie on the spot” speed when our grandbabies holla. Before I knew it, I scooped him up, went to fridge to get the cucumber aloe kosher salt water mister and drenched him with my Grandma’s ritual substitute (because we now live about 250 miles from the nearest salt water source) sat him on my lap and gave him an earful of stories. He was laughing and smiling in no time. And without a scar.
LESSON: Children will repeat what they have learned and whatever makes them feel safe and loved, more often than what hurts. When salt is applied to an already painful wound, it hurts like no body’s business. So, while we wait on the healing to process, we have a parental opportunity to occupy with indelible memories whether there’s pain during the wait, we are deep in unknown waters, scared about the outcome or as long as it takes, we are obligated to pass it on.
About the author
I see life and people at many angles to embrace my creativity and ignite diversity. I write to motivate all of us to step into our greatness so we can boldly build a strong and resilient community that will change our footprint.