Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Changing of a Generation (2006)

The night before my maternal grandmother died, I went to church and prayed. It was late, and no one was in the sanctuary. An eerie violet light drifted through the stained glass and I immediately felt a warm presence.

My arms were so exhausted they were limp. It has been a difficult year, working to ensure that my grandmother was "taken care of" as my grandfather would say, and stayed comfortably in her own home. Our family fixed meals. We told jokes. We dressed and bathed lovingly. We smiled and laughed. After all, my grandmother was a woman with an indomitable spirit. She was the one who would tell off a patronizing teacher, and reprimand a prejudice sales person with a wit so biting that it had to be saluted with a blush. Yet she looked tired.

I think she knew that no matter what we would never give up. There are some people who give up on their sick relatives easily. Quality of life means more for the caregiver than the cared for. I don't know if we can ever repay our parents for what they have done.

On my knees that night I prayed for God to give us strength to make it through the next week and to bless the woman who had given up everything for us. I went to bed weeping.

Later, in the still of sleep, I felt a warm presence. It filled me from the inside out, removed my tears, and quieted my soul.

A few hours later, crying quietly, my mother called me and told me the news. She had passed away in her sleep. When we went to the house we saw her, in her bed, curled like a small bird that had fallen too early from its nest. She was the last living of eight brothers and sisters, and survived my grandfather who died several years earlier.

I knew, right then, that the guard had changed. The family moved, and a new generation had taken up the mantle of our history. I suddenly became aware that I was really an adult.

I felt the same way when I heard that Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King passed away. Except where I had the intimate memory of my grandmother, I feel detached from the memory of the movement.

We are the Denver that Toni Morrison writes of in Beloved. The Joshua generation. Born after something great has happened, and expected to complete what we did not begin.

I am the member of a generation who never heard the "I Have a Dream Speech" live. I participated in The March on Washington through the "Eyes on the Prize" series. I don't remember Huey Newton before his fall. The Vietnam War is a text in a history book. The Montgomery Boycott, the Birmingham bombings, are the subjects of objects--films, plays and books

Yet we are the generation that saw the aftermath of the cold war.
We watched the Berlin Wall fall. We watched the twin towers fall and prisons erected. Phones now travel, computers fit in our pockets and information superhighways laid. We saw televised police beatings.
Few of us ever owned a record.
We witnessed a continent stricken by a disease for which there is no cure.
We were the witnesses to the failed war on poverty, the rise of the new war on drugs, and the absolute war on terror.
We are a generation of an expanding middle class, and declining public participation.
We are the hip-hop generation. The generation of making the old seem new, and the new seem old.
We are a generation that has fought a civil war, with all the irony in that term, in our own cities.
We are the generation that likely will never live the American Dream of 2.5 kids and a dog. A generation living in the shadow of the great cause that is our past, looming over us, reminding us of how far we have traveled.
We are the generation that made color blindness popular, and race politics polemic-- and yet we still have not answered the challenge for which we are called.

Absent the benefit of retrospect, our hope is bittersweet. Many of us have been told mistakenly that we have arrived; the thought is as sobering as a brick.

If this is the promised land, what hope is there for change?

If our student activists seem overzealous today, it is only because sometime I think we are trying to recreate a past that is their legacy.

But Coretta, the keeper of the legacy, of a dream that we as a generation know nothing about, but understand the desire, is our grandmother. With her passing I believe that once again the guard has changed.

A new generation is being called to come forward and lead.

I know much about my grandmother’s sacrifices. There are many secrets I will never know. One thing is sure. I know that she loved me. I know that she would want me to take what she offered and pass it on.

Maybe this is the hope of a nation.

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