Friday, July 24, 2015

Race, Class and the Watermelon Men of Brooklyn.

When I was a girl living in East New York, I remember summer time by the arrival of the Watermelon men. In my mind, they remind me of Christina Rossetti’s poem "The Goblin Market." They were magical men with fruit in their hands ready to sell. They came from far away in a semi-truck. They were dark-skinned, almost burned black, even when it was not that hot in Brooklyn. They seemed to come from some far off secret place that grew watermelons like I had never seen.

Where we lived there was only the A&P or Key Food stores. In our neighborhood, the fruit was not that good. The white owners trucked in the worst of the worst produce. It stank or was pale and wilted. My mother never shopped there. She always went to the Jewish neighborhood or a whiter one. There they had better everything, even nicer watermelons. Though white people say it is a black thing, watermelons disappear in their stores just as fast if not faster than in black neighborhoods. When I was young, I always knew everything was better in white neighborhoods except for those watermelons.

They were big, as long as my arm and green with big dirty yellow spots. The men would come and park on a Brooklyn street near a bus stop. My mother and I would get off and there they would be. They looked tall to me standing in the back of their truck. They had a little table to show their wares. Sometimes if we were lucky, they would cut a watermelon right in front of us. The man was thin, sinewy, not handsome but kind of in the way that dirt is beautiful and good. His eyes were bright and sharp from working hard. He wore a tight t-shirt sometimes striped. He would raise a dark hand with that big old machete in it and go thunk, and the watermelon would fall open, split open all red. Then came the smell. The smell you could follow all the way back to Africa. It was that good, that deep, that sweet. You could smell the hands and the pockets that had carried watermelon seeds from their home all the way here past a great ocean, past great cruelty and chains.  The little back seeds filled with hope, the past, and taste.

My mother would yell, "Which one is good?"
The man yelled back, "They’re all good, mam!"
Then came the call, the magic call.

"Watermellllllllllons! Watermelllllllonen!" he yelled, leaning out from the back of the truck hand to his mouth, hanging by one arm.  It boomed across city traffic and sidewalks, and crowds and made them all go away. People would look up from whatever they were doing, whatever hardships and terrors and sadness and come get them some sweet, sweet watermelon.

My mother sometimes had a wagon, sometimes not. If not, we took turns carrying that huge thing like it was a baby cradled in our arm as we walked back home. When we entered the house. we told anyone who was there what we had. The word ‘watermelon’ would fill the house like some ghost, and my grandmother would smile her toothless smile.

Then we would cut it, not because we wanted to ruin its beautiful green skin or hurry summer along, but because it demanded to be cut. It would fall open on the table like a woman spreading her thighs. Then the smell would fill the house. It would cling in the refrigerator for weeks. Whenever you opened it, you knew it was watermelon time.

We would eat the crisp soft flesh, and it was like honey on the tongue. You could eat it down to the rind. It was that sweet, that good.  It brought laughter with it. It brought out tables and napkins. It made us sit in the backyard together and talk. It made my grandma say "Umh-umh-umh that's good." It was a magic fruit filled with good times. There would be only one of those in the summer. The watermelon man's truck always emptied quickly.  It was always gone too soon.

But when he came, I didn't live in some crime-ridden neighborhood, disadvantaged, beleaguered, and trodden down by racism, favoritism and sadness. No. I was someplace special, someplace where I got something good for being who I was, for living where I did.         

Monday, July 13, 2015

Is the Devil really God in disguise?

I have been recently thinking about the  devil. Actually, I was laughing about him. My husband and I were talking about how, according to the devil myth, all the interesting people would probably go to hell and some of the more adventurous might even enjoy the torture. Then it hit me. Why is the devil torturing "bad" people? He is evil himself. Wouldn't he be recruiting them?  He is the fallen angel rebel. Why is he punishing people who are sinning?  Hell is his kingdom. He can do as he pleases down there, so why is he doing God's job? I mean, isn't that good?

 According to many  religions, people who sin should be punished by God. So, why is the evil devil doing that? Isn't he against God? He also seems to test people's moral strength like in the Book of Job and other stories. Shouldn't he be embracing you when you do evil? Shouldn't he be putting an arm around you and welcoming you to the land of your most evil dreams? Shouldn't he be recruiting bad people to fill the ranks of his evil army with which he will eventually rise up and fight God?  But instead,  he is meting out biblical punishment to people who did exactly as he did?  Hmm. That does not make any sense to me unless the devil is just another face of God.

Jesus is supposedly the compassionate face of God. We also have God, the father. He is all judgement and law. Is the devil just a mask for the punishing face of God, the enforcer and executioner? I know people have a big problem understanding a God that is not perfectly good according to our tiny brains. So, maybe this is an attempt to explain the multifaceted and inexplicable nature of the complex universe. Religions make up the devil to do what God says he wants done with sinners but is too good himself to do. That way people don't have to deal with that part of  God and can just tuck it away in the Big Scary Dark Side and ignore it. In this way, they also don't have to deal with the dualistic nature of the universe. They can keep it nice and simple.

Religions demand that bad people be punished for disobeying their laws. So, unless the Devil (or his many  counterparts in religion) is either working for God or is God, he is being a very good boy and that is weird.

Monday, July 6, 2015

What is Enlightenment and how do you get it?

Enlightenment, from what I have understood from reading and experience, is what lies at the end of this journey. It is the far off light that beckons through the dark forest of our past. It is the thing we want to reach more than anything, but which lies just beyond the things we fear the most. The forest we must cross is the forest of lies, deception, death, illusion, fear, judgement, curses, envy, attachment, debt and delusion. We will all turn back in fear and horror many times from the straight path because it is so hard to face the things we fear. We all get lost that way by giving more meaning to what happens to our bodies than we are meant to.

Recently, I remembered being murdered as a two and a half year old child. It is hard to recall being killed. It is even worse when the one who murdered you was your mother. I wept. I gasped, I felt pain in my throat until I forced myself to realize that I have another body now whose throat has not been cut. I am living another life. I was not murdered. I am still alive. Society demands vengeance for such an act. It demands retribution. The bible says, "A life for a life."

 People think that karma is what others owe us, but even if you believe another owes you something, you will remain trapped on the endless wheel and cycle of owing and debt.  Being attached to that idea only brings you back to those same negative people, that same negative situation. Trying to get revenge or compensation binds you to that person. . An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. A life for a life kills us all. If I kill the woman who was my mother then she may want revenge for her life. She then kills me and owes me a life and so on, forever. We will be stuck trying to get what we believe is owed us by the other life after life again and again, and I can only consider that hell.

So, I have let go of my attachment to my death, to my idea of reparation. I have walked away. I am owned nothing. I owe nothing. In that way, I  begin to detach myself from the illusion of life and death of debt to others and their debt to me. We are all immortal. We are souls on a an endless journey. Our only suffering is when we become too attached to our bodies or our lives and believe we are flesh not soul. That would mean I would still be a helpless two-and -half year old child and one who wants to be that forever. I want to more. I want freedom and choice.

That brings me to the idea of how people raise their children as if they are keeping slaves. They believe these people belong to them instead of the idea that these are beings who have chosen and given their parents the honor of helping them when they are helpless. The Native American culture I was taught allowed children to make mistakes, to be free to decide what they must do with their lives. They taught independence and strength. I am glad that I was introduced to that idea so early by my father. It has allowed me to release my feelings of responsibility and the idea that I can save anyone.

I can only save myself and in that way show others that they can be saved. One must let go of the attachment to the egoistic idea that we are the only ones who can save someone or that others are powerless to save themselves. Others must grow in strength too. They have their own paths to follow and mistakes to make. Each of us is responsible to ourselves only. Each of us must find the strength to go through the forest and find the light. We each must desire to be enlightened. That is the first step  while letting go is one of the last. When we emerge from the forest of our fears and hubris and find that there was someone beside us the whole time striving like us, then we are doubly blessed by the sacred knowledge that none of us is alone.

May your suffering soon bring you Enlightenment,

Candice Raquel Lee
Author of  The Innocent: A Love Story  

and Effed Up: An Abnormal Romance

A tongue-in-cheek look at today's selfish and sex-obsessed  world.

New sweet and gentle Classic Fairy Tales