|Meaghan , Steve, Jeanine and I playing hooky|
Stay Black, Pay Taxes and Die: Life's Obligations
When I was a kid, I would beg my mother to have and do things that just were not going to happen. Whenever I’d pull the old, “But I have to the teacher said it has to be on poster board,” or I have to have the correct new outfit for choir or any off those have- to’s that children are so fond of, my mother would respond by my putting one hand on her hip and declaring that all she had to do was stay black, pay taxes and die; that everything else in life is an option.
Late at night after hearing the whole, black-taxes-death thing my siblings and I would ponder the truth of my mother’s argument. “You can change your color,” my sister Portia would whisper. “I read all about it in Black Like Me. They have a pill you can take that changes your color. You don’t have to stay black.” My brother Brent would point out that he knew someone who never paid their taxes and I’d tell them about cryogenics and how people were freezing their bodies and one day they would be brought back to life.
Our philosophical ranting would be cut short when my mother would yell across the hall telling us her truth. “That pill is fake and even if it did work, you are still black.” We knew she had a point; people often mistook my grandmother and aunt for white women, though we all knew they were black and never going to be anything else. She’d mow down our second argument by saying that eventually Uncle Sam catches up to you and to the last she’d say, “I don’t care what them crazy rich folks are doing, everybody has to die. Now hush up and go to sleep.” She’d say.
We tried to whisper softer, but my mother still heard us and would give us our second least favorite declaration; “You know I can hear a rat pee on cotton.” I’d try to imagine this happening until I fell off to sleep.
As a child, I got so caught up on the black, taxes, and death thing that I had missed my mother’s main point; that with the exception of those three things, what we do is a choice; it’s up to us how we spend our days.
Well, last night, I had one of my many moments of feeling obligated. I am very strict about doing what I say I’m going to do. I am amazed by folks who say they will do something but don’t and then act like it’s no big deal. When I say I’m in, I am and if I can’t do something, which is extremely rare, I say so.
Yesterday, I had planned to go to the ballet. I love the ballet and this performance was a part of the Black Heritage Festival here in Savannah. The group, The Ballethnic Dance Company, mixes ethnic influences with classical technique. I was excited when my friend Adrienne offered me two tickets. I got dressed and had planned to meet my sister/manager Jeanine at the venue. Just as I was about to leave my house that sudden feeling of “I’m tired” came down and came down hard but I had already accepted the tickets from Adrienne and Jeanine was already on her way to the performance hall. I called Jeanine to say that I was running a tad late, because I had of course forgotten the tickets and had to go back home to retrieve them.
At this point, I was really tired and it dawned on me that I was hungry too, but I felt I had to go. Then suddenly, out of some other place, I heard my mother say, “All you have to do is stay black, pay taxes and die.” I had not thought of that line in years and I laughed out loud when it came to me.
I called Jeanine to tell her that I was tired but pushing through and she admitted that she felt the same. We decided that we’d sit through the first half and leave if either of us fell asleep. I told her that I had been running errands and then went to the salon and had somehow forgotten to eat. Jeanine reminded me that the Cuban restaurant was around the corner and that we could go there afterwards. I suddenly remembered that the restaurant also had live jazz and that we could just go there. We went around and around with our feeling of obligation and then remembered that life is choice. I called Adrienne and told her that we were too beat and too hungry and she said she felt the same, but she had to go because she was meeting her mother. “No point in asking her to play hooky,” I thought and I went on to the Cuban restaurant.
Jeanine and I were enjoying the music when two wonderful friends Meaghan and Steve came in. A year ago, I officiated their wedding and had planned on getting together with them for dinner but hadn’t taken the time to do so. When they came in I laughed at how beautiful life is when we open ourselves to the possibilities.
I do believe in doing what I say I’m going to do. But I can see and comprehend my mother’s lesson more clearly every day; what we do in life is a choice.
Do what you say you will do and be open to letting life give you what you need.
· Go off the beaten path
· BE true to who you are
· Fulfill your obligations
· Enjoy music, dance and the arts
· LIVE fully.
Everybody dies; the real question is will you truly live? All of life is a choice, choose wisely.
Be well, be you, be Joy
Bertice Berry, PhD.