Life is a paradise if only we give it a chance. For the past month I had been commuting to work, in Skid Row(funny how I view a five mile bus ride a commute), from Leimert Park and then driven to my mother’s house at night. This year has started out with a bang and it’s still spurting fireworks. Every day a piece of the beautiful cluster explodes and reveals more to behold. It took a long time to get to this point.
As my year began with new beginnings, so did the country experience the same. It said goodbye to many things that kept our collective growth and spirits handcuffed-an arrested development if you will.
President Obama said that we as a country must get up dust off ourselves and begin anew the process of rebuilding and building. Those words were poignant. They navigated their way into the archives of my Skid Row Soul. “Walter, you have to rebuild yourself. Get up, dust yourself off and start over.” Words that were simple in concept, yet the thought of executing the task were overwhelming.Two and half years ago I stood in the driveway of the family house, next to my mother’s car. She had given me the keys to get the car started. Within minutes, my hands were behind my back and handcuffed. “You were stealing your mother’s car but that is not what we are arresting you for” said the officer. I looked at him in disbelief.
Our nation has been evolving and transforming for years and finally, in November of last year, it was ready to take the next step-to make its transformation official. It elected Barack Obama. The official transition period started on the day of the election and it ended on January 20, when the ‘new’ became official. It was a long road and the country traveled it alone from the days of the slave ships to the inauguration ball. It was a long road and it had many challenges. Our problems were many and they were serious.
I know a little bit about dusting myself off and rebuilding and building. My development was arrested decades ago when I chose a life of self destructive partying-the high life, they call it. It almost ended my life in more ways that I care to let myself imagine at the moment. I experienced too much of it while rebuilding—the wonderment if life was over, that is.
It was a hard road which I started on February 7, 2007, when my ship landed in Skid Row. Of course, I had been on the slave ship Lady Cocaine for a couple of decades, sailing the seas of life in circles, experiencing much of nothing, loosing most of everything and did not see the sands of my soul leaking out of me. As much as I was sailing, I was so anchored. I landed on an island-“Island Los Angeles County Jail”. And there, I was stranded and isolated. People were stranded on the island as well, and many, were dead before they arrived. Many continue to die, in various ways, while I was there. The island made it possible to seal the death of a part of me by separating me from the tides of destruction. Sure, I had made it ashore but the will was a new stalk that had been born and was frail. The island allowed it to gain strength and grow in isolation. It was in that island where the rebuilding began.
In the fall of last year, I decided to purchase a car. It traveled many miles on that rebuilding road just to get to the point where I could think about a car. Fortunately, the preparation merged with opportunity and I was successful in making a deal. Each paycheck I made a payment toward the total price of the car and on Christmas day I made the last payment.
I was in transition. The evolution started years ago when the forces inside of me fought for something new that preserved life instead of, of the negative forces that was killing it. Many seeds of growth had been planted starting from the day of that arrest. Those seeds were watered with endless tears that I shed, day in and day out. Suddenly, in the pool of many years’ tears, I saw a glimpse of a rainbow. Tears of sadness and heartache became tears of joy. That joy grew every day as well as my view of and the size of the rainbow. The seeds of that sudden rainbow were planted when I landed on the County Jail Island but I did not know it.
Today, I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles. I had registered the car and insured it. However I had to get it smog checked. I had my appointment and I could see that things are different at the agency. I had visited it at each step of my rebuilding/building process—the first time was when I needed Identification after landing on Skid Row from the Island County Jail. I could not use my home address at the time. Could not use it when I went to get my driver license earlier this year. Ahh, but I could use it when I went this morning to turn in my smog proof form. It is the address on my new registration. While there I changed my driver license from my Skid Row address to my family house address. Interesting, is it not, how things can change.
I finished my business and had my tags in hand, walked out of the door and went to my car. Before I could enter it, an elderly man stopped and spoke to me in the best English that he could. I do not know his mother tongue. Yet we were able to figure out what he needed and I was able to communicate to him to follow me in my car to where he had to go. I was able to tell him a few words that carried him far like the words that carried me a long way, “Walter, dust off yourself and rebuild.”
Waiving him on, I went home –a place where I could not go for two years. I went home in the same car, where, the last time I stood next to it, before I purchased it I was ‘in the back of it’—behind it. Yes, I purchased my mother’s car, the same car that an LAPD officer told me that I was trying to steal.
I rebuilt myself and I am building myself.
I know a little bit about dusting myself off. I had many problems and they were serious. If I can do it, our nation can do it. We already have in some ways but that is just the beginning. The election was the license to do so. We must put one foot in front of the other. It will be tough. We will shed tears. But the tears will water our future and nourish the seeds of a new beginning. It will take times for the seeds that we plant to germinate. But they will. I am proof of that.
I missed the Bird of Paradise plant while I was back east in college. They do not grow in the snow of Philadelphia. I used to see them upon my arrival back to Los Angeles when my father or mother would pick me up at the Airport. I loved them.
I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is find a “paradise” plant. Sometimes you can build a paradise in a place where you think there is none. Yet I found Paradise in Skid Row. Found it in myself and waited the test of time for it to grow and spread.
Our nation is strong. We have overcome the insidious drug of hatred and divisiveness. Now we can water our “Birds of Paradise” plants together and nurture it to be greater than it has ever been to fly like the eagle our bird is.
We can do it. We will do it. I must go. Time to go to work In Skid Row. Time to get in the car and sail. Talk to you later.