Yesterday I completed my forty-fourth revolution of the sun. On this important day of my life, I took time to reflect and to give thanks for things that have helped me get to where I am today and/or that I value in my day to day life. I wrote them down, and now I’m sharing them here with you.
This is a long post, because hell, I've been around a while! 44 years ain't nothing to sneeze at.
Here they are:
1. The gift of life. Given freely to me by my parents. Without it I couldn't do a single thing. Thank you both, and I love you both.
2. Good health -- the combination of good genes, the fortune of growing up in Canada, access to clean/nutritious food and water, a relatively peaceful geopolitical situation where I live and national universal health care.
3. Wealth and prosperity. Even when I've been at my lowest points in terms of income and financial solvency, I have still been richer than the vast majority of humans on Earth. We have to maintain our perspective, lest we become ungrateful and take our first-world status for granted.
4. My intellect and education. My mom stressed that I needed to nurture and develop my mind and insisted that attending postsecondary education was mandatory. Thank you again, mom.
5. Freedom to hold and express my political views. We live in a free country, and I have opinions that I feel strongly about - especially as a literary artist. In other places, poets are persecuted, abused and sometimes killed for what they say and do. In Canada, my words are protected by constitutional laws and my right to express them covered by the Charter. What a blessing, especially when others are dying to do it.
6. Chocolate. It's tasty. ‘Nuff said.
7. The gift of music and word. I am very lucky I've been able to create and share my thoughts poetically, musically, in published trade books and journals, and in my op-ed articles and radio broadcasts over the last three decades. My words and music have touched literally hundreds of thousands of lives. My gratitude for this moves me close to tears.
8. Eyesight. The window to my soul and the lens on my surroundings. Blessed to have had the ability to see the beauty of creation every day of my life to date.
9. Sunshine. It illuminates, spurs growth, darkens the skin and warms the soul.
10. Pens. Ink was my first artistic support. It remains my preferred method of creation. We hold our future in our hands, if we're willing to write it down. Our power lies primarily in the word.
11. Time. It's an elusive concept but the reality is we live each day in seconds, minutes and hours. The sands of time fall slowly, but waste quickly if you watch them collect.
12. The loves of my life. Every woman I've ever held hands with, kissed, smiled at, dated, made love with, engaged, married or otherwise shared amorous moments. You drew me down, raised me up, challenged me, liked me, despised me, forgave me, ignored me, condescended to me, adored me, hurt me, felt hurt by me, supported me, embraced me, loved me ... so many reactions in so many ways in so many places in so many situations. Without all of it, I could not have become a man and grown to be better than I was the day before to become the man I am today. You were all blessings, whether for a moment, a season or if you're still part of my life years later. All of it -- good, bad and ugly -- was worth it. Without you I could not be me -- the imperfect work in progress that I will remain until my last breath.
13. Humour. If you can't laugh at yourself, then who won't?
14. Wine. The nectar of the gods created to be savoured. It has loosened lips over the years. I have learned much at your feet and look forward to more lessons in the future.
15. My dearest friends. You've been with me for years in most cases, and for some reason you're still around (whether on a regular basis, from time to time or relatively rarely -- your value to me is not any different). I don't have many of you, but you all mean the world to me.
16. Caribbean food. If yuh nuh kno' 'bout dat, mi feel sorry fi yuh!
17. Good audio speakers. If you're going to pump up the jam, make sure the bass rumbles and the volume raises the roof.
18. Books. They were my first trusted companions on my life's journey, and I love them still. Thank you for wisdom, entertainment, instruction, inspiration and imagination. My world is infinitely better because you exist.
19. Pharmaceutical drugs. Whether it was antibiotics, pain meds, topical ointments/creams, drops, capsules or pills for surgery recovery to depression and lots of stuff in between, you've saved my life countless times. In a previous era, I wouldn't have made it to 44 without your timely interventions. This dope fiend thanks you.
20. The power of inspiration. You leave a legacy wherever you go. What will that legacy be?
21. Warm clothing. It's super important this time of year, and I don't enjoy being cold.
22. Cool clothing. When it's hot, you have to be able to let the steam rise from your skin unimpeded. Especially if you're in the tropics!
23. The tropics. I loved being in Australia, Jamaica and Trinidad over the last few years when the temperature was high, and my stress level was low. Perhaps one day I'll be able to live more of my life like that! How cool would that be?
24. Scarborough. The city that raised me and was my first experience of the world. Endlessly indebted to the good people, the resilient mentality, the great food and the natural beauty of the eastern part of the City of Toronto. If you're not from there, you don't understand. #Scarbz4Ever
25. Coffee. The nectar of the gods created to keep my black ass awake. I'm addicted to you, and most of the time I don't care. Where would I be without you?
26. Oats and cornmeal porridge. These are breakfast dishes from my childhood, which fill me with warmth both when thinking about them and when consuming them. There are so many childhood stories associated with these things. The power of nostalgia to carry you through difficult times cannot be overstated. Thank you, family, for the warm memories.
27. Canada. My home and native land. Everything in my life is possible because I was born here, and my family immigrated here for a better life. Forever indebted and eternally grateful.
28. Racism. It taught me that I'm black and how important and nonsensical that is, all at the same time. It gave me identity and instant kinship with others, a cause to rally for, a social issue upon which to advocate, and an adversary to dedicate my life to vanquishing. We're not finished dancing yet, and I'll never tear my eyes away. There's so much more work to do.
29. The aging process. I've learned to appreciate what I have and not to lament too much for what I don't have. It's also taught me that what other people think of me is none of my business. I will keep struggling to keep up and to internalize your lessons and wisdom. Father Time is my friend.
30. The Canadian spoken word scene. You forced me to methodically analyze and rediscover who I am, to sharpen my perceptions and to reinvent my mindset. For this, I'm eternally grateful. The rest of my life could not be as amazing as I envision it to be without the pain of being pushed down into the gutter by your deeds and indignities, then being able to dig deep to find the strength to get back up. I'm developing your negatives into positive pictures for my legacy. The best revenge is living well.
31. The present moment. Without it, there is nothing. The past has already happened and the future is yet to be – it’s an overused cliché but also factual reality. Failing to be grateful for the now is a failure to be grateful for everything. Nothing has ever happened that didn’t take place RIGHT NOW.
32. Remaining courageous in the face of fear. “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
33. Queen’s University and the City of Kingston. Since 1993, these places have been part of my life. I return frequently, I care deeply about the university’s development, and I wish fervently for the city’s ability to learn how to accept the diversity and gifts of the students who move there to live and study. It’s complex and complicated, loving a place with so many warts and foibles on prominent display. But it is where I came of age and first made history. For these reasons I cannot abandon it to ignorance, intolerance and/or discord. It’s come a long way. Let’s keep going.
34. Gravity. The most insistent force in my world, it makes sure I stick to my life’s path instead of spending all my time floating in the clouds.
35. Reggae. Jamaicans are a very fortunate people who created a language that can carry universal messages across the globe and bring people together. The greatest practitioners of the craft are some of the most influential and revered musicians in modern history. This music tells the stories of my people and brings joy and love, as well as the strident voice of struggle and resistance. It guides my words and my pen and helps to define my art. I feel blessed to channel my ancestors and carry on their mission through poetry and music I create.
36. Beer. The nectar of the gods that quenches the thirst of the savage beast (or at least, the average Canadian male). Acquiring a taste for you was a rite of passage. Virtually eliminating you from my diet was the right thing to do, health-wise. I lament that liquid bread must flee from my lips.
37. My car. It has nearly bankrupted me at times, and I recognize my privilege in owning it. I could not live the life I have today without it, particularly the way it makes it possible for me to see my children on a regular basis. I’m fortunate that my Honda Civic will drive forever, sips gas and has so far needed minimal maintenance. Globalization has blessed me.
38. My community of contacts. Particularly in the last five years, the network of people I’ve been able to connect with have vastly expanded my world, my scope of experience, and the way in which I see myself. I’m forever grateful to them for accepting me and helping me to grow after a very dark chapter of my life. The sunshine ahead of me is bright, and I’m excited to keep moving further and further into it as I take new steps along my personal journey.
39. The beautiful struggle. One of the four guiding mantras of my life is “you are at your greatest moment of danger when you are at your greatest moment of comfort.” Nothing in life that is worth having has been attained or obtained without effort and the expenditure of energy. When we forget how to be in motion, we are at risk of stagnation, which is the first step towards disintegration. Stay active, stay ready, and your challenges will never gain the upper hand.
40. Death. The ever-present imminence of its arrival, and the utter futility of trying to break its grip on you, means that every moment of life should be treated like the gold Providence meant it to be. Like Alexander Hamilton, why not live life like we’re running out of time? But we also should savour the sweetness of each breath so we can live each day as if it were our first, in the immortal words of the late Ottawa comedic poet Steve Sauvé. I do not fear death. There’s too much to love about life to live in a state of constant fear.
41. My business. The circumstances of my life in 2018 required me to seriously re-evaluate where I was going in my life, and what I wanted to do next with the experiences I’d gained to this point. I figured out that I wanted to build the next chapter around effective communications and the idea that everyone can own their voice and share it with others from a place of empathy, passion and purpose in full alignment. This is the Voice Share credo, and it’s also the focus of my own life moving forward. I’ve never been more excited about my future.
42. Higher power. Belief in something bigger than myself allows me to appreciate my own metaphysical smallness and showed me how faith fuels desire to do better for someone other than yourself. Call it God, the Creator, the Universe and any of the multiplicity of other words we humans have for it – I feel its power, believe in its mysteries, and appreciate that it has guided and touched me at every step along the way.
43. My immediate and extended family. You taught me how to live, how to respect and maintain our culture and traditions, what love is supposed to look like, and how to remain supportive and connected despite the slings and arrows of life’s difficult challenges. I owe you everything I am. I love you all eternally and with endless gratitude, respect and honour.
44. My children. You are my most lasting legacy and my biggest challenge. I love you fiercely, will do everything I can to secure your future, and dedicate the rest of my life to be the man you need me to be.