One of the first things I do when returning home from a trip away is to stop by my local coffee shop and get my favorite iced tea. Do I go for the tea… well no, not really. No matter where I live, I have been doing this for years because it is not really about the beverage, it is about the people. The folks that work at my local coffee shop whether it was when I lived in Pasadena California, Rockville Maryland or now in Hollywood California make the day just a bit brighter.
This story isn’t about the iconic and ubiquitous coffee shop, coffee or tea. It is about “Connection”. Away for a week in Trieste, Italy, I return to my local coffee shop to be greeted by London – there we are Black Girl Magic! She knows my name, I know hers.
When I first moved to Hollywood, I was looking for someone to do my hair – ok black folks know about our tresses and finding that perfect someone who can work with our pride and joy, our pain and our kitchens (translation – the back of our head where hair gets super messy, frizzy and tangled) … who do I ask? London at my neighborhood coffee hangout. She welcomes people, makes the coffee, and the tea, provides service with a smile and makes sure I get my hair done did (as I say) by someone she trusts.
I was so happy to see her when I got back from Italy because she embodies the motto, creed of the shop– Moments of Connection. Every time you interact with a person – it is an incredible moment to make a positive welcoming connection. We need more of that in the world.
In Trieste Italy, I did not find my favorite coffee shop (though there were lots of other iconic American fast food and brand name stores), but what I did discover reminded me of when I visit my neighborhood coffee spot and run into someone like London. I found powerful moments of connection. A community mental health program that lives, breathes, walks, and talks moments of connection and welcoming. Mental health services are grounded in strong values, in a philosophy that starts with freedom first, and is relentless about relationships and trust. Each moment with a person is a moment to make a positive connection. No matter how complex the needs of the person – each person is met first as a human being, not as an illness or a problem to be fixed. The focus on freedom first, helping people to remain in the community of their choice, connected to others with meaning and purpose in their lives. There is no restraint, no coercion, no police – just people. People to people – connected in the most humane of ways.
I wish this is a story I can tell in one quick blog, it isn’t. I went to visit an incredible community mental health program in Trieste. It is world renowned and is a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Research and Training in Mental Health. Would you like to know more? If so, join me on a visceral journey of sights, sounds and words to experience the city, the history, the people that help contextualize the work done in Trieste Italy. There will be many moments of connections as we journey forth. I have my supersize iced green tea….so grab your favorite beverage, snacks and buckle up (oh right this is about no restraints – no need to buckle up) – just get cozy as we take this amazing voyage.
We won’t find any unicorns pooping fairy dust, puffy cotton candy streets or rainbows greeting people into the city – which is what I started to believe as I heard others tell their tale of visiting this “great magical” place. So, what is it?
Next stop – Trieste, Italy where ‘Da vicino, nessuno e’ normale’ – up close nobody is normal.
Playing with words and sounds is like
candy rolling around in my mouth;
coating my throat,
down to my heart and touching my soul —
To play with words and sounds
inside and out is like happiness
Playing with words and sounds taste like candy;
watermelon candy jam!
You’ll know what I mean because when you join in
Sharing words and sounds adds a beat of souls in sync
What’s it like to jointly play
with words and sounds that become
watermelon candy jam?
Yummy-yam Sweetness !
(Thanks to a friend for joining in on a stimmy-stammy-jam-slam resulting in the creation of “Watermelon Candy Jam” – who knew!!! )
Every night, I would wish that the next morning I would wake up dead.
Of course this is technically impossible. It was however a reflection of the deep emotional pain, anguish and hopelessness that I felt for so many years. Waking up dead did not mean waking up with the sudden ability to turn off my emotions, be numb to hurt or still be in this world physically. It literally meant that I wanted to die.
That desire turned many times into actions – attempts to end my life. That desire resulted in multiple psychiatric hospitalizations. Most of all that desire resulted in me not being able to be myself , to be free, to be happy and to be whoever it was that I wanted to be.
No one knew.
This isn’t something you casually share with your friends. It isn’t something that is easily shared with your family – no matter how close the family is. The fear of shame, being judged, rejection and social isolation is one thing. Being called or considered “crazy” or “psycho” is a whole other thing! As a person of color, an ‘army brat’, a ‘creative’ – let’s just say I was already enough of an outsider, the butt of many sneers,stares and jokes that I seriously did not want one more thing folks could put in their attack- Keris-arsenal. So I remained silent.
No one knew. I suffered alone, in silence. Every night wishing; praying that I would wake up dead.
But I didn’t. I didn’t wake up dead. I can now look back and say – that’s a good thing!
On Word Suicide Prevention Day I want to thank my mother. When she found out that I had attempted to end my life and was in the hospital, she got on the first flight she could. She came directly from the airport to the psychiatric hospital. When the buzz of the hospital gate sounded announcing a visitor, I for the first time, left my room. I ran, ran to see my mom, to feel her hug and to know –really know that my mother, my family loved me no matter what. We hugged and I held on tight wanting that hug to adsorb the pain and replace it with love. I cried and my mom held me tight right back as she stoked my hair whispering, cooing “it will be ok”. That day she started a new ritual with me.
She told me about the day I was born. She told me how she wished and prayed that she would have a little girl. That my brother would have a little sister to play with and that she could name me Keris after her very best friend. Those were her prayers for nine months. She told me how when I came out – her prayers were answered and that there I was this beautiful little girl, head full of jet black hair in a perfect bob hairstyle and large shiny black eyes. There I was –given to her and this world for a purpose. Her hopes, dreams and prayers for this little girl had been realized because there I was. There I was with something that I was here in this world to do. Iwas here for a reason. She would be with me, stay with me and support me no matter what to find my purpose here on earth.
Thanks mom! Thank you for telling me my birth story every time I thought I could not make it another day on this earth. Thanks mom for believing in me and for wishing, dreaming and praying my existence here on earth. It hasn’t been easy, especially after your passing. When it gets hard, when I wish as can happen on occasion, that I could wake up dead – I hear your voice telling me about the day I was born. And I stay.
For those still in the darkness – please stay. Just like me and many others – you are here for a purpose. Whatever that purpose is –we need you in this world and there are people who will walk with you in you journey from darkness to light.
On World Suicide Prevention Day, my hope and my prayer is that we first talk about suicide and suicide prevention everyday. That we create spaces and language that help those who are struggling in silence – find their voice, find that person with whom they can express their pain so they too can live a life of their dreams.
When you are lost in the darkness, feeling hopeless and it is impossible to go on -We will hold the hope for you.
There is always someone who will listen.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Crisis Text Line: text START to 741741
Available 24 hours