I have been a participant observer in my own life for a very long time. My first written notes about what I observed were in a diary that I received as a gift when I graduated from eighth grade. I was diligent about writing in my diaries. When I left home to attend college, my mother found my diaries, read them, and trashed them. I never could understand why she would do such a thing.
Except for brief periods, I continued to be a participant observer in my life. I kept journals of my every day as well as extraordinary experiences. Now, at this stage of my life, I have decided that time is too precious to write daily about what I observe and experience. It’s time to reflect on what I’ve observed over the years, to realize what I’ve learned, and to embrace all parts of the experience.
I wrote my journals to be aware of what was happening around me, to be my companion, to be my confidant. I didn’t write them to be read. So now that I am doing just that, I can take the time I did not have previously to discover patterns and themes. Reading my journals now, it is as if I’m excavating precious pieces of history that when put together will define my life as only I could observe it.
An obvious pattern is that change is constant. One day all is right with the world, and not long after that, the opposite is true. Sometimes the rise and fall of circumstances occur within a day or two, or within a week.
And, whether I use the word or not in my writings, love is a theme. When I read entries that I interpret as the love theme, I empathize with the self that I described then by being tender, kind, and loving to the self that I am now. I’m so glad that I have lived long enough to show myself the love that I think no one else could have given me.
My extended family invited me to go with them to see Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3. Though I didn’t voice this to them, this movie—among the plethora available—was not on my must-see list. On other occasions of wanting to be with family, I’ve seen similar blockbusters, but I’ve never been invested enough in the movies to retain who did what and what happened from one film to the next.
Perhaps you are a serious fan of superhero movies and will understand why our discussion following the movie was animated and seriously enlightening. I say enlightening because before seeing the movie and being part of the subsequent discussion, I didn’t think that it was about storytelling. I mistakenly assumed that this and other similar movies were all about shocking actions and comedic interludes. Intrigued by what I was hearing in the follow-up discussion, I left the conversation with suppositions and questions.
Storytelling, in whatever form, entertains, interprets, teaches, and stimulates the imagination to create possibilities that often need the space of the multiverse to be realized. Whether the heroes are in the form of humans, animals, or the inanimate, the throughline is wanting to do the right thing despite the improbability of success. The heroes believe and have faith that good will win out over evil.
In one sense, these very loud and extraordinarily violent superhero films are like fantastical nightmares. But what is a nightmare? Might they be our way of being in the multiverse grappling with evil and fighting for what we believe in?
These movies and our fantastical nightmares may free us from ordinary planes of consciousness in order to help us gain insights through extraordinary ways of imagining what else there may be out there in the multiverse.
At the Holiday Inn in Philadelphia Left the Stage Neck Inn at 1:00 p.m. yesterday Driver of the car to take me to airport is a moonlighting very petite teacher Alas, no help with heavy luggage
Arrived at Portland Maine airport Stood in line 45 minutes waiting for delayed plane Missed connection to Philly Stood in line for over an hour to get later flight at 7:00 p.m. 7:00 p.m. flight rescheduled for departure at 10:30 p.m. Flight finally cancelled
Stood in line for an hour and a half to get voucher for room at Holiday Inn Told to pick up luggage at Carousel C Waited an hour and a half at Carousel C Informed that luggage went to BWI
Called the Holiday Inn for shuttle Went outside to wait My purse was missing Made mad run for all the places I had been Purse not anywhere Went to service area They kept my purse thinking it belonged to personnel What a relief!
I believe that all of these delays and this scare about my purse were warnings to slow down, be more deliberate, take care of what’s absolutely necessary, and stop feeling compelled to make every scene, to respond to every bell. I’m going to miss the trip to Region III in Orlando because my connecting flight in Baltimore is boarding now, and I’m still in room 554 at the Holiday Inn in Philly.
Beginning now, I’m just going to relax into this situation and take care of some work that I would not otherwise have had time to do. I’m happy to have a moment to take stock, to look at what I’m doing to determine my way forward.
“I grew up in Orange Mound in the 1950s, and I lived right across the street from a park, which had a great swimming pool, a great recreation program and that’s where we went to have fun because every day all I had to do was walk across the street. I could either swim, I could play softball, I could play volleyball, I could do any of these things every day of the week except Saturday and Sunday.”
No, this was not my experience. I found this story narrative online as part of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service’s Museum on Main Street program designed to provide “access to the Smithsonian for small-town America.“
Orange Mound, six miles from Memphis city center, is purported to be one of the first subdivisions built specifically for Black people. Created in 1890, it is said to be second only to Harlem in having the largest concentration of Black people in the United States.
My own experience must have been in the very early 1950s, and I’m sure that there was only one park in Orange Mound. That park was across the street from the cabstand where my Daddy had a taxi. On the days that I was with him, when I wasn’t in the little shack that housed the telephone and operator to receive calls requesting a taxi, I would be at the park across the street. Having never seen another park, I didn’t know that our park with its two sets of swings side by side, one glistening sliding board, a big pool, and a little pool was pitiful compared to the parks just a few miles away.
I recall the creaking noise the swings made that created a rhythm that matched the velocity of my swinging. I remember that when I reached my legs back under the swing and pushed myself off, I couldn’t go very high. But if someone was giving me a push, I could eventually swing so high that the chains that I held onto on both sides of the swing would buckle.
This was both a thrill and a fright for me. I would scream “higher, higher, higher!” When my sight line was just about to skim the top of the cross bar, I would get scared and want to slow down. I would stretch my legs straight out in front and lean back pulling the chains to slow down. Always careful not to let my shoes drag in the dusty grooves at the foot of the swing,
I would disembark smiling, laughing, happy. Skipping to the side of Carnes Avenue, I would look both ways before crossing the street and return to the little shack where I would wait for my Daddy to return from a trip.
“’Tis the times’ plague when madmen lead the blind.” —Gloucester in Shakespeare’s King Lear
It has been a couple of weeks, and I still can’t get out of my mind Maureen Dowd’s April 16 column in The New York Times, “When the Mad Lead the Blind.”
In today’s world, who are the mad and who are the blind?
What comes to my mind is that some of the people who hold political positions of power are mad. They are in positions of immense responsibility but lack the wisdom and grace to fulfill the promise of their title. Those who have good intentions—not the mad but those who don’t have the wherewithal to persuade, build coalitions, and execute plans—will hopefully have short terms in office avoiding catastrophic damage. However, it is those who are mad who will hang on to their positions, seeing every position as just another rung on their quest for dominating power. These officials have no regard for the impact of their decisions on citizens and the ideals of the nation.
Why do we elect people who are mad? Is this not a vote against our own wellbeing? Do we elect people who are mad because we are blind to who they really are? Acting as if we are blind to such people’s true nature makes us vulnerable to their maniacal actions. Willful blindness is a transgression paid for by retribution down the line.
We should not be surprised when some officials attempt to enact unconscionable policies that would have been unimaginable just a decade ago. These bold actions are just the tip of the iceberg because these elected and appointed officials believe that the citizenry is blind to who they are and to the purposes of their actions.
Imposters abound, using rhetorical tools that sound as if they are protectors of the electorate all the while spewing words that increase contempt and polarization among groups of people. When a candidate vilifies any group with no regard for the consequences of their message, you will know that this candidate is mad. More than party affiliation, charisma, or credentials, history tells us that it’s the character of the person that will foretell the kind of leader or representative that person will be.
Perhaps more than the sighted, blind people can discern if a person has empathy as well as a moral pale beyond which they will not tread. A yardstick to measure and a thermometer to test the degree of madness of potential leaders and elected officials is to listen to how they imagine the nation can restore a sense of unity; how they imagine creating cooperation among governing bodies; and how they imagine defusing bitter conflicts at home and abroad with compassion, justice, reason, and love.
For our own sake, we must believe that we can overcome the shame that some of our elected officials are creating when they enact punishing and disgraceful policies aimed at stifling freedom and rolling back progress for everyone, not just some. Rather than being discouraged by the actions of those who foment conflict indicating that they have no human compassion or moral compass, we need to do our due diligence in preparation for our next opportunity to choose.
We must not be blind. We must see who among the prospective elected officials are mad.
What I fear about aging is becoming conspicuously and stereotypically old. I’m not talking about the natural physical and mental changes that accompany aging. What I fear is the calcification of my attitude and outlook on life. I want to avoid falling into the trap of thinking according to a generational divide and believing that I must stay on my side of the generation gap.
Each generation has its place in the continuum of time, and unfortunately there are negative comparisons coming from both directions. Past generations create myths that support their belief that they were stronger, smarter, bolder, cooler, braver than succeeding generations.
The younger generations, because they are more technologically advanced than previous generations, see a mirage that indicates to them that they are more savvy and capable than the generations that came before them.
I want to know what I need to do to continue to be relevant and engaged in the continuation of human prosperity for all generations. I want to take a walk in the athletic shoes of younger generations to try to feel what it must be like to be facing an uncertain economic and social future in today’s world. I want to meet younger generations where they are in their interests.
I feel extremely lucky when I have the privilege to have conversations with the newer generations. I’m eager to understand their views on representation and culture; family and values; work and play; politics and human interactions. If they want to hear my perspective, I’m happy to share. However, I do not believe that because I’ve lived longer and have more experience in some things that I, and others like me in older generations, have the insights and knowledge to change the trajectory of the future. As in all things, I believe that shared knowledge among diverse groups is essential for optimal outcomes.
I do now believe–and always have–that our upcoming generations are our hope for the future. My hope for myself is that I can be a help and not a hindrance to the work that they must do. One way that I plan to avoid being conspicuously and stereotypically old is to be transgenerational. I want to cross the generational divide by accommodating to the new order of things. I want to lessen the distance of the generational gap by being in the moment with what’s happening now.
Recently, I have been thinking about the concept and nature of luck. Throughout time there have been omens, signs and symbols that purport to predict or indicate good or bad luck.
Following are some common superstitions around luck:
If you break a looking-glass you will have seven years of bad luck.
If the palm of your right hand itches, money is coming to you. If your left hand itches, money will be leaving you.
If you see a shooting star, make a wish and it will come true.
If you find a four-leaf clover it is a sign of good luck.
If you can, don’t plan anything on Friday the 13th because if anything could go wrong, it will on this date.
Before considering my question about whether or not you’re lucky, it may be helpful to first consider a definition of luck that may have common agreement. According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, luck is “the force that causes things, especially good things, to happen to you by chance and not as a result of your own efforts or abilities.”
Starting with the premise of good things happening—hence being lucky—do you think that being lucky is solely by chance, a proverbial roll of the dice? Or do you think that nothing happens serendipitously?
While enjoying a lovely dinner and an enviable view of Camelback Mountain at sunset with a dear friend, I asked my friend to tell me her thoughts on being lucky. Her cogent and assured response was impressive. As I listened, it seemed that the idea of being lucky was not something that she would ordinarily forward as the cause of good fortune. That became clear as she used three powerful terms to elucidate her idea of having good fortune: faith; surrender; and free will.
We were in complete agreement and harmony on the idea of faith or belief as a foundational requirement for positive outcomes. Having a strong faith is a touchstone of both of our lives. However, I needed to have her tell me more about what free will and surrender meant to her in responding to the question about being lucky. Though I dare not attempt to relay or summarize her ideas about free will and surrender, I was inspired to think about what these concepts meant to me in regard to luck.
As I continue to mull around with ideas about being lucky, I encounter big questions about the universe and our very existence. What I’m finding is that to live as a human, if we’re lucky—and though some of us may be uncomfortable with this kind of thinking—we will be open to conflating the ideas of logic, chance, serendipity, synchronicity with faith, free will, and surrender.
Everybody has an opinion on the slap heard around the world. The Oscars on March 12 reignited conversations about two of entertainment’s most celebrated men. They were the butt of jokes by the 2023 Oscars host, fodder for every journalist who can write an opinion, and a major topic of discussion among some of us Black people.
I had a double dose of Smith and Rock the night before the Oscars. With some other film lovers, I watched Will Smith in Emancipation. Though not on our agenda, we could not help but talk about the slap. That same evening, I watched the Chris Rock Netflix special, Selective Outrage. Seeing these two men back-to-back exhibit their talents in such stunning ways, I ached for them and for all of us who are witnessing this episode in their lives.
Two rich and famous Black men torn asunder by an ill-conceived act of chivalry. They say that chivalry is dead. On the night of the Oscars in 2022, many of us wish that chivalry would not have been awakened. After a period of absence from the public, Will Smith made what I thought was a contrite and sincere video apology to Chris Rock. He apologized to everyone and took full blame and responsibility for what he did. He also said that, “If you hang on, we can be friends again.” Chris Rock obviously didn’t accept the apology and said so by calling it a “hostage video.”
Chris Rock put his response to the incident in his Netflix special, Selective Outrage, and timed the release to correspond with the anniversary of the slap. Before Selective Outrage, there may have been hope that, in time, the two men would get beyond the unfortunate and unforgettable incident. Now, I fear that there may never be a proper reckoning or any kind of sorrow and forgiveness.
Rock waited until the final minutes of his hour-long routine to clean his spleen about Smith. The unvarnished feelings that he conveyed were more than anger. There was fury. I felt that the anger he showed was not just for theater. His feelings of outrage seemed to be a fresh wound and not a bruise left over from a year ago. The bitterness of his retaliation was stunning.
Though the audience laughed at the revenge monologue, I want to believe that, upon reflection, many of them felt sympathy for both men who at the pinnacle of their careers are the butt of jokes and ridicule. Sadly, these two great talents have become a cliché.
I just finished listening on Audible to April Ryan’s book, Black Women Will Save The World: An Anthem. #BlackWomenWillSaveTheWorld. This is a powerful and emotional reflection on the toils and unwavering leadership of Black women in a world in which our contributions are not valued and, in fact, our very selves often are devalued.
This book made me think about those women—“hidden figures” —who, over the decades, have provided the very foundation for all the successes of subsequent generations of Black families. One such group of “hidden figures” is the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion from World War II.
The 6888th was a unique U.S. Army unit that had the distinction of being the only all-female, African American battalion to serve in the European Theater of Operations during World War II. Made up of 855 women—824 enlisted and 31 officers—this Women’s Army Corps Battalion was commissioned in Europe between February 1945 and March 1946, and was led by 26-year-old Major Charity Adams.
The specific mission of the 6888th was to sort and clear a multi-year backlog of mail for the American Army, Navy, Air Force, the Red Cross, and uniformed civilian specialists who were stationed in Europe. This represented seven million people awaiting mail.
In February 1945, the first contingent of the 6888th embarked from Camp Shank, New York, to sail for Britain. They survived close encounters with Nazi U-boats and arrived in Glasgow, Scotland, where a German V-1 rocket exploded near the dock. The second contingent of 6888th soldiers docked in March 1945 in Gourock, Scotland.
Upon arrival by train in Birmingham, England, the Battalion confronted warehouses stacked to the ceiling with letters and packages. They endured inhumane working conditions, including dark, unheated, rat-infested aircraft hangars with broken windows and air raids. Despite these conditions, the Battalion created a new mail tracking system, worked three separate 8-hour shifts, 7 days a week to process an average of 65,000 parcels per shift (which is 195,000 daily), and cleared the 6-month backlog of mail in 3 months.
After resolving the immense mail backlog in Birmingham, the 6888th Battalion sailed to France for their next assignment in Rouen. They encountered undelivered mail dating back two to three years, which the Battalion again successfully processed and cleared in just three months.
Upon concluding their final assignment in Paris, the last of the Battalion returned to the United States by ship and was disbanded in March 1946 at Fort Dix, New Jersey. There were no parades, public appreciation, or official recognition of their accomplishments.
Adhering to the motto, “No mail, low morale,” the Battalion provided essential support to the U.S. military in the European Theater of Operations by linking service members to their loved ones back home. The 6888th achieved unprecedented success and efficiency in solving the military’s postal problems. The Battalion was the largest contingent of African American women to ever serve overseas, dispelling stereotypes and representing a change in racial and gender roles in the military.
It was not until nearly 80 years later that the 6888th received the well-deserved recognition for their service to the United States. In March 2022, the Battalion became the only women’s military unit to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, which was first awarded to General George Washington in 1776.
The 6888th has a very special significance for me. My mother, Private First Class Annie Knight (Jordan), was one of those brave Battalion soldiers. As kids, my siblings and I always knew that she was in the Women’s Army Corps (something about which she was extremely proud). She mentioned to us that she did Morse code. We just thought of that as being like another language of sorts. It was not until Fall 2022 that we understood that her enlistment classification was not military postal worker. In fact, mom was in a special category called “Cryptographic Code Compiler.” Cryptographers, also known as code breakers, were secretly trained to crack code that provided intelligence information for the Army. Very little is known of the Black women who served in this capacity.
As I learned more about the 6888th, I began to think about how many ”hidden figures” there are and wonder how we might ensure that their stories are shared and their legacies known. I asked questions like, “What inspired these 855 African American women to enlist and pursue the 6888th?” “What gave them the internal fortitude to take on unknown ventures in a dangerous foreign land?” “What made them so different?” and “How did that very difference change the course of their lives post-military service and influence their legacies?”
So, in 2022, I became a first-time podcaster: NextUs818 Podcast is a reflective platform for connecting past successes with future progress in the African American community. There are many African American heroes—some known and many unsung men and women—who helped build this country. Some were the first or only in their fields of endeavor, like the 6888th. Yet little is known about how their unique journeys influenced the trajectory of their familial legacies…such as their children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews. The NextUs818 Podcast introduces the multi-generational descendants of these heroes. On the first and third Wednesdays of each month, I interview descendants of an African American hero and explore family lore, traditions, and values, and how the descendant’s journey was directly impacted.
The inaugural season of the NextUS818 Podcast features the descendants of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. Now 14 episodes in, 4 themes have emerged to help me better understand what inspired the 6888th soldiers and how their service has influenced subsequent generations: patriotism, fearlessness, adventurousness, and unwavering commitment to lifelong learning.
Patriotism: Despite the rampant racial and gender discrimination of early 1940s America, these women were exceptionally patriotic. With the country at war, they felt that it was their DUTY to contribute to the war efforts against the Hitler regime. They eagerly embraced this chance to serve.
Fearlessness: The notion of a young African American woman going into war zones would be darn right scary, even today. Yet these brave women exhibited a remarkable degree of fearlessness.
Adventurousness: Not only did these women demonstrate fearlessness, but they were excited to explore the unknown. As kids, mom always spoke about her adventures, especially once the Battalion moved on to France. In all the stories I heard about the women, they saw serving in the Army as a way of giving them broad exposure and opening post-military opportunities otherwise unavailable to them.
In the NextUs818 Podcast, I enjoy hearing the stories of the soldiers’ civilian lives after World War II. The women of the 6888th were college graduates, teachers, nurses, college deans, and entrepreneurs. As important, they influenced the trajectory of their children and grandchildren who, among other things, are PhDs, physicians, engineers, lawyers, educators, professional musicians, and financial and advertising executives. All of the descendants with whom I have spoken emphasize that their successes are directly attributable to the foundation laid by the women of the 6888th. From them, they learned how to be focused, tenacious, and how to persevere under adverse circumstances. They learned how to survive and thrive. So when we are tempted to live in the moment and think we got here solely on our merit, we must never forget those shoulders on which we stand!
Five final notes:
Fort Lee Redesignation: The U.S. Department of Defense has made a commitment to rename military bases named after individuals associated with the Confederacy and other dark periods in American history. On April 27, 2023, Fort Robert E. Lee will be renamed “Fort Gregg–Adams” in honor of two trailblazing African American officers: Retired Lt. General Arthur Gregg and the late Lt. Col. Charity Adams (commander of the 6888th Battalion).
6888th Legacy Tour: A group of 6888th descendants and advocates will return to Scotland, England, and France, walking on the grounds where the brave soldiers made history as part of an upcoming 6888th Legacy Tour.
Carmen Jordan-Cox, PhD, is a retired university vice president and judge/magistrate. Currently, she is producer and host of NextUs818 Podcast and a freelance curator of stories about descendants of World War II soldiers.
I was a proponent of wearing face masks everywhere during the height of the pandemic. Today, I’m still on the side of donning one in crowded indoor spaces.
Here in Arizona, I have become recognizable because I’m one of the very few people who continues to wear a mask. I was in line at the grocery store and a stranger asked me if I had worked out that morning. He could see the quizzical look in my eyes above the bridge of the mask. He explained that he usually sees me at the gym but missed me this particular morning.
When I go to see plays at the theater, I buy tickets, when possible, for the one day when masks are required. If I go on days when masks are not required, I stand out as odd in wearing a mask. I feel some sense of the recognition of my right to wear a mask when the recording before the play begins: In addition to providing the usual information about exits and such, this recording now also includes a request that patrons respect those of us who choose to wear a mask.
The recent dueling research reports on whether masks are effective in protecting one from a swarm of viruses have given me pause about my decision to defiantly continue to wear a mask. In fact, the reports may be giving me an excuse to stop wearing a mask as often as I currently do.
Although I think that there ought to be a benefit in wearing a mask, I’m tired of wearing one. My equivocation about the mask makes me feel like a person who professes to be religious but only practices it when it’s convenient or out of desperation for an answered prayer. I’m faithful in wearing a mask in places like the gym where people are grunting and exhaling to the extreme. However, I’ve not been consistent in wearing a mask when I have visitors or go to someone else’s place. Until very recently, I wore a mask when enclosed in a car with another person, as well as upon entering restaurants and when the servers were at the table, only removing my mask to eat. I’ve finally given up on wearing a mask in restaurants.
My masks are supposed to be high-quality but they are not the recommended N95. They are KN95. When I read that one researcher said that if the mask is not N95 and worn correctly, you might as well not wear one at all. I’m questioning whether what I’ve been doing lately is an exercise in futility. Yet, I fear that if I abandon wearing a mask and then become infected, I might think that I “shoulda” kept wearing a mask.
I wonder what you are doing in regard to mask wearing. Are you wearing a mask religiously, judiciously, or not at all?