Upendo Rising: On Gratitude— #NewYearsDay

***Upendo means love in Swahili

The above picture was taken on December 26, 2020 when I was doing some winterbirding on Mattamuskeet Lake, Hyde County, North Carolina. Birding is something that I have recently come into as I navigated my grief journey. Birding makes me happy because my son loved birds very much. His favorites were Blue Jays and Cardinals. Whether common or rare, I believe in my heart that birds are all flying through the air carrying with them messages of hope for those still dwelling in the physical world trying to make sense of it.

I set out from my hometown of Laurinburg N.C. at about 8:15am. It was a very cold morning(cold at least for N.C.) with a lo temp of 22 degrees F. I remember my father complaining at how cold it was before asking my mother to take the dog for a walk. You see my father would have done it himself, but one of my older brothers, Lawrence, was home for Christmas and because Lawrence is autistic nonverbal my father was busy taking care of his morning breakfast.

Treetop at my parent’s house in Laurinburg, N.C.

I said goodbye to my parents and a sleeping daughter and set out on the 4 hour drive to eastern N.C. I looked to the sky to see an eagle flying up above. The whole ride I saw eagles soaring in the sky. I took this to be a good sign that I would see lots of birds at Mattamuskeet.

While walking along the New Holland Trail there I thought of all this beauty before me. In those moments of serenity I felt so close to my son, whose spirit I know is always with me. I stopped for a moment and meditated while seated on a bench. I prayed, I said my affirmation of Ricky’s spirit, and sat peacefully in the stillness.

Over the past few months I have been showed so much grace. As I moved through raw grief my friends, my colleagues, and my family supported me. There were gifts of food sent to me, gifts of money, kind messages via direct message on twitter. For those who could not send money or donate to my son’s memorial scholarship fund that I created, that care and concern warmed my heart just as much. There were even people who knew of my professional abilities who advocated for me to get work opportunities as well as paid speaking arrangements for when I got stronger in my grief journey. All these things made a tremendous impact on my well being and kept me working when I could and not totally stuck in a cycle of ruminating my loss.

But back to birding. You may notice in the featured image that my shadow is holding a long photo lens. That is what I am holding– a 150-600mm lens for birding.

You might wonder how I came to have it as they are not cheap at all and I am just a PhD student with a dependent college student daughter.

I was tweeting one day after coming back from meditating outside:

And as I gazed at the scene above me, Blue jays, Robins, Nuthatches, flying branch to branch in birdlike conversation, I also began the closing of my prayer. “the prayer is freed.” I stood in the stillness, in gratitude for the beautiful scene on the cloudy still day.

The Divine then rewarded me with a gentle wind that bathed me with hope. And just in case my fleecewear prevented my feeling it… The two oldest trees swayed. My tears fell in gratitude.

Someone who I had been follow friends with for a few years saw that tweet and saw where I tweeted about the lens. I’d said I would buy myself the lens for my birthday which was coming up on December 15. That person asked for my contact info and made it so that I could receive the lens as a gift:

A gift from Annette Rodríguez, PhD

I wanted to know more about this extremely kind person. I kept writing to her. And got to know her more and more. I began to feel a deep connection to her because she made me feel so safe to discuss my love of birds, my feelings of loss, but also my hope for the future. I began to feel strongly for her. Her kindness, brilliance, and deep understanding of living with loss touched me in a way that made me feel safe to seek her in ways beyond just friendship.

So as I reflect on New Years Day I think of my Ricky who is in Heaven, my daughter Chastity, I think of my friends and colleagues who have supported me, I think of my Annette and I think of all the ways I have managed to survive because of grace.

My hope to all of you reading this is to keep holding on. I will close with an affirmation of hope by Reverend Paulette Pipe:

Divine Love is present here and now, healing hearts and soothing minds. 

An unexpected canopy of peace diffuses goodness and grace over any testing life circumstances that confront me. I am filled with a sense of calm and inexplicable ease. I am comforted at the deepest part of my soul.

Even in the face of all that is before me, this blanket of peace enables me to breathe fully and, without agitation, pondering an array of positive perspectives. 

No matter how much this situation stretches me, Divine peace allows me to remain undeterred in my belief: that a  positive outcome is embedded in the midst of this and every condition.

My audacious faith, has been polished by numerous precedents of trust. Once again, my bold faith points me in the right direction, where I will not merely survive—I have what it takes to thrive!

I simply take one step at a time toward the small or grand victory that is mine today! 

I am peaceful and I radiate that peace into the world.

I now release this word with heartfelt gratitude, and trust a perfect, purposeful resolution will unfold for me and all those with whom I pray for peace. 

And so it is. Amen.

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