Wednesday, December 17, 2014
How A Bee Taught My Son How To Survive
It has taken me a long time to write this. I could never figure out “the angle.” For one moment, I must let go Adrian Peterson and the legacy of corporeal punishment. Let go the school to prison pipeline. Let go of Ferguson. Leave Tamir Rice to rest. Just tell this story. How this moment happened.
A perfect Autumn Day. We woke to rain in a drought stricken area. Plans for a picnic on the beach followed by pumpkin hunts and minotaurs in hay bale mazes. According to pictures on Facebook, all of these things happened. None of these things were important that day.
The real story is what happened for fifteen minutes that afternoon on the beach. The most powerful, frightening and beautifully intense minutes my son and I have shared. It was the day I stopped fearing, as much, for my son's life. No matter what he faces as a Black male, he already has within him everything he needs to survive.
It goes like this.
After a short, half mile hike, we stood on the cliffs above the beach. Win read me a Tsunami Danger Zone sign.
“Umm, I don’t think we should go down there.” he said, looking up at the cloudy sky.
“No, I’d know if there was a possibility of a tsunami.”
“No. I don’t think it is safe.”
“If I had any idea it would be unsafe, would we be here?”
“No,” he said kicking the pebbles.
Reluctantly, hesitantly, we walked down the 45 odd stairs to the beach. At the bottom of the stairs, he felt the pebbly sand and decided this might not be a very good beach.
“The sand here. It’s not good.”
“Oh. Hmmm.” I said. “I like it. It reminds me how ancient and powerful the ocean is. How many millions of sea creatures it has held, nourished and transformed into these small pieces all making a beach together.”
“Oh.” He said looking down at the sand. And we stood a moment.
So, I asked him, “Are you still thinking about tsunami’s?”
“Yes. I am very worried. I’m not sure I can stay here,” he said.
“Oh. Hmmm. I feel pretty confidant there won’t be a tsunami today. I didn’t see any warnings in the news.” I said. “Should we go? Or do have it in you right now to trust me with your safety?”
He stood for a moment. Thinking.
I waited. This is the hardest part of parenting. Giving your child information. And then allowing your child to make decisions. This moment is always followed by the most excruciating part of parenting ~ allowing your child to experience the consequences of decision making. And sometimes supporting them through those consequences without being judgmental or self-congratulatory.
I nodded. I was so relieved and delighted. Not because he trusted me. But, because I really didn’t want to walk back up those 45 steps, carrying the picnic cooler, and my purse, and the blanket. I really didn’t want to find another place to have have lunch. And furthermore, I had researched this and made a plan for the day and we were proceeding according to plan. We were on schedule. And every other truly trivial reason.
But, there it is. That hard part of parenting. If I want my son to be strong enough to leave a situation in which he doesn’t feel safe, I have to be prepared to honor those moments when he needs to practice what it feels like to say, “I don’t feel safe. I’m going.” No excuses needed. So, I would have abandoned my picture perfect plan for a Autumn picnic on the beach if he couldn’t be right there, in that place, in that moment. And thankfully, we didn’t have to practice that core life lesson.
Not long after I laid out our lovely luncheon, a bee buzzed around scouting out our offerings. I instructed Win, “Remain still. Be calm. Find your center. Stay in your absolutely peace place. Send out go away energy to the bee.” Together, we did that for a few minutes.
The bee landed on my face. I closed my eye. It crawled over my eye. I could feel him watching in absolute horror. Then, the bee flew off. We laughed and joked about how well we communicate with the bees. We continued eating talking about being in harmony with nature and oneness with the world. And of course, Halloween and candy.
And then the bee came back. It came back with a friend. It buzzed around Win’s head. Again, I reminded him, to go to his solid, immoveable center. Breathe slowly. He closed his eyes. I instructed him to stand up.
He stood. Walked slowly away from the food. He took ten steps away from me. The bee kept at him.
“Keep walking” I said.
He kept walking. The bee stayed with him. He turns around very slowly and walks back.
The bee would not leave him.
“Come back,” I tell him. His eyes slowly glanced over at me. I can not describe his eyes - simultaneously far away, alert, focused, terrified, calm. “You’re doing great! Stay in your place. Be in your quiet place.”
He slowly walks back to me. “Kneel down,” I say quietly.
He kneels. The bee is on his face. He closes his eyes. I see his pulse racing in his neck.
“Breathe with me.” I begin to breathe slow, deep breaths. His breath matches mine. “Stay with the breath,” I say as I blow gently at the bee.
The bee stroll across his cheek. It saunters slowly across his lips. It pauses on his philtrum, antennae waving as if deciding whether to climb into his nose.
“You’re doing great. Stay in your center place,” I encourage.
I light a cigarette. (No comments please.) I breathe smoke on the bee. The bee moves off. Climbs up his cheek. Crawls over his right eye. The bee lingers above his tear duct. The bee crawls under his eyebrow. The bee pauses between his eyes.
I blow more smoke on it. The bee ambles down to his left eyelid. I can see he’s starting to break under the strain. It has been a full 10 minutes. His eyelid starts twitching.
“Okay. The bee doesn’t want to go. The bee can’t hear us. That’s okay. We can help it.”
His jaw clenches and unclenches. “Okay listen now. “ His lips quiver. “I’m going to tell you to stand up. When you stand up. Walk slowly down to the ocean. You can hear her. Follow her voice. When the waves touch your feet. Slowly reach down. Scoop up some water and splash your face.”
His eyelid twitch. His lips tremble.
“Okay. Stand up.”
He stands. Slowly, he walks toward the ocean. The tension in his gait, shows every ounce of willpower not to run. I fold the napkins. Pack up the cooler. Fold the blanket. Put my shoes on. Jam his shoes in my purse.
As he reaches the edge of the surf. He bends down just as the water recedes. He walks closer. Another wave comes in. He misses it. I can see him fighting the panic. Just then, the surf swells and a big wave comes slamming in, wetting the bottom of his shorts. He reaches down and throws the water in his face. Turns and runs back to me.
The bee is gone. I hug him. He breathes out a deep, shuddering breath. “I am so very proud of you,” I say. “Let’s go.”
He races up the stairs. Halfway up, he turns back. Sees me carrying everything. I see the debate in his eyes. And the resolve before he asks, “Do you want me to help?”
“Oh, no! I’ve got this! I’ll meet you at the top.” And my heart truly pounded for a moment. In spite of calmly managing to handle this awful threat, he was able to hold onto who he is as a human being. He was able to remain the person I affirm daily that he is. And I was so grateful.
At the top, there were hugs and high fives. We had a lot of life lessons that day. How when we live in a place of fear, the universe has a way of giving us something to really be scared of. How important it is to not give into unreasonable fear. But, most importantly, how to handle reasonable fear with grace.
On the ride home from Half Moon Bay, he said, “Prayer really works, Mama. When I was at the ocean, I said, help me. Please help me ocean. And then that really big wave came. Right when I couldn’t do it anymore. The ocean, she came to help me.”
And I said, “Yes. Yes you are loved.”
We’ve discussed it frequently since then. We keep coming back to it. When he is unsure. When he needs courage. The other day, I don’t know how it came up. We slip into it so naturally. We were playing that game we play called “Where you going boy.” He said, “Yeah, but before I say “My lawyer answers questions. Am I free to go? I have to be in the place that the bee showed me.”
That's right son, "Always go to the place the bee showed you."