we are broker than broke
You crown the year with bountiful harvest; even the hard pathways overflow with abundance.
All of my memories were not glazed in sunlight. I’ll tell you, there were some sweet, dark days too.
I liked the way we had to depend on the lampshade in the Living Room sprouting out a torchbearer of Fleur de Lys, jaded green light. I liked the way it marked up everything—anything and nothing. Even our nothing was dipped and glazed, dark and light.
And we, my brother, my sisters, all of us enjoyed the wave our hands double-coated in the sickening sticky sweet manmade jaded display of ourselves reaching out beneath the haze of the artificial light.
I was just a baby back then and knew well what it meant to be broke. I knew what it was to feel betrayed when I would go to flick a light switch and realize there’d be no light today. I knew what it was like to dine on my imagination because all we had was a few potatoes and bread until food stamp day came again. I only knew those things in the summer months living with my mother. The rest of the year, I knew other things.
Today, I am at a beautiful, burying low, much like those summer days with my mother. I never thought I would get so old. I never thought I’d live such a humble life. I always thought I’d live a long life in my young, tight skin. I imagined a lavish life—so lavish, I’d have to practice feigning humility as the world watched me in loving but never-too-envious admiration.
Sitting here so pleased with all of our days, pleased with the way that we are, I have no idea why I never dreamed of this rough hewn simplicity. I don’t have a single memory of my dreaming of what a simple life could be. I was always dreaming of the highs. I never thought it possible to grow up only to have to cope with so many low-down, rotten lows.
Sunday morning we had $1.19 in one bank account and negative—well, it might as well be negative a billion—in the other. We transferred the last $5.00 of our bank loan over to buy toilet paper. Sweet child, I am 48. Humbling doesn’t begin to describe the range of my emotions. Humbling is the nicest, kindest thing that I can say. I have thought about this so intensely that I can now fluently pray the language of those thoughts. I prayed my heart into muscle aches. And, I can honestly say, my dear girl, I still love today. It will be okay. I have no plan.
When I graduated from high school, my grandparents bought me a set of luggage. They solemnly presented this gift that seemed to me a request for me to leave. I was so hurt, not understanding what it meant for them being black for all those years and not having a choice to go wherever they wanted. This handpicked, heartfelt, solemn gift said, “We would have left this place had we been able. We came as far as we could with as much as we could carry. Go further, Marcie, and take everything.”
You are so distraught about your future, Nadia. I wonder if it’s because today we have so little and you don’t want to end up in this place. I wonder if it’s because I’ve encouraged you to dream big and perhaps that encouragement needed some fences. I wonder if you don’t want to chase anything that you can’t catch. I wonder if, like me, you just want some guarantees, and deep down you know from listening to all my stories and watching me bloom and crumble, bloom and crumble, there are no guarantees.
I have to wonder if, like my grandparents when they gave me those suitcases, what if these empty bank accounts are the gift that God meant for me to have? What if what I perceive as an insult is really the kindest, richest gesture? I don’t know, Snicks. All I can tell you is that we’ve done nothing wrong for any of this. We planned. We worked. We saved. We’re empty. Could this be a handpicked, well-intentioned gift that only seems like a release from His presence?
You’re such a thought-driven girl. Your eyes are wide with your every thought’s expression. I could spend the rest of my days just watching you think. Don’t be so distraught thinking about your future. Don’t be like me and waste all your young and tender time imagining only the highest of highs. The highs, I guarantee, will come. They will come so easily you won’t even see them until they’re long gone. So please, take some time to imagine the lows. Imagine what you will want when the days are dark and low. Who do you want to be in that dark? What kind of love do you want beside you when the lights all go out and the fridge is just another cavernous hungry belly waiting to be fed? Who do you want to be sitting with in a dark space filled with nothing? What will comfort you when all goes empty?
For me, this is what gets me through the low: 1) In 1st Kings the prophet Elijah meets a widow who has nothing—a negative bank account. So, she begins to prepare herself and her son to die. But Elijah has her bring him the practically-empty jars of nothing from her empty pantry and tells her to bake a little something for him and herself and her son. He tells her, “What you see as lack is not the same as empty.” She, her son, and Elijah live off her lack; 2) In 2nd Kings the prophet Elisha meets a widow who has nothing but one jar of oil in her entire house. She borrows empty jars from neighbors and from her one jar she fills theirs. She pours and pours and pours out her lack and fills her entire neighborhood with plenty, and 3) In Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Jesus asks them to feed the 5,000 who have followed him into the wilderness to hear Him teach. But, they ask, “Lord, how can we feed all of them?” He tells the disciples to bring what they have and they do—2 fish and 5 loaves feeds them all with twelve baskets of leftovers.
My grandparents gave me three empty suitcases and I filled them with two empty bank accounts, but is that really all that is there? I hold these empty vessels open for you to examine their contents—these words, your face, our laughter, my prayers, this peace, our friends, and so many tears.
Monday, our $1.19 was matched by $119, and by Tuesday $300 more. Oil, flour, fish and loaves—your memories of these lows won’t be glazed in sunlight, darling, I know. But, these dark sweet days will be so much sweeter than any high you’ll ever remember.
All my memories were not glazed in sunlight. I’m so glad that there were some sweet, dark days too. I packed them all with me. I folded them into my suitcases and I went as far as I could go carrying everything. For once, I listened to my grandparents. I went. Now, here we are.