10 Small Goals.

I struggle setting realistic goals.

When I don’t live up to the expectations I get disappointed in myself. Then I’m too hard on myself. So I set even more outlandish goals to compensate for missing the goals.

Hell, sometimes I just set too many goals. Or I set them and lose interest. Or I get in a rut. Or I forget about them.

Goals can be great. There’s nothing like crossing a big goal off a list. Or they can kill you if you don’t keep them in check.

So I’m trying something new. No timelines. No expectations. Just a short list of small personal goals.

I believe today each goal below will add happiness to my life. I may complete them. I may replace them with different goals. These are what I’m contemplating today.

10 Small Goals:

  • Learn to crack an egg with one hand. Because I enjoy cooking and want to make fewer messes.
  • Bench press 225 pounds 10x in one set. Because I want to get back in peak shape and this one will take commitment.
  • Write 5 thank you notes. Because I would like to practice gratitude.
  • Perform an act of service for a stranger for nothing in return. Because I’d like to work on compassion.
  • Meditate once per day for 5 minutes (for 5 days). Because I’d like to get better at understanding my emotions.
  • Entertain conversation without arguing with someone with a different point of view. Because I would like to get better at listening.
  • Journal about something that made me laugh or something that made someone else laugh. Because life’s more fun when I’m not taking myself so seriously.
  • Journal about something I’m struggling with and publish it. Because I’m convinced the best writing is honest – and I’d like to work on that.
  • Journal about something that inspires optimism and excites me and publish it. Because it sounds fun.
  • Journal descriptively about a happy memory. Because I want to.

 

 

 

 

Gym Rat

Are you done with that bench or can I have a turn? I’ve been waiting all day to get on my burn.

I’m tryna get strong because inside I feel weak. But pretending it won’t take me months ’til I peak.

If you don’t like what you see in the mirror, lean muscles don’t hurt, but neither does beer.

In the gym like in life consistency rules; also true is that you’ll meet lots of tools.

The most you can hope for is not to be one and to always remember life’s best when it’s fun.

Masquerade.

Put on your mask. Hide underneath.

Else others will see you. They’ll see that you bleed.

 

Dress up. Choose your costume. Conceal your real name.

Then no one can stop you from fortune or fame.

 

Hide as anonymous. One lost in the crowd.

Control who gets glimpses. Even then only shrouds.

 

Deny all your struggles. Lie about your pain.

Others will see them. That’s unwanted shame.

 

Hide from the horror of losing what’s loved.

If they see your true colors. They’ll leave you. They’ll run.

 

The mask is the safest. A tested disguise.

Though you can see past it might trick others’ eyes.

 

Masks grant perfection; protection from pain.

A shield to your weakness; an umbrella in rain.

 

Hide from your feelings and abstracts like love.

Keep the world beneath you. And let nothing above.

 

So put on your mask. Don’t you dare take it off.

Or the world will hurt you. And hurting will cost.

——

 

If I take off the mask I’ll stand so exposed.

The truth to confront from my head to my toes.

 

This mask cages demons. It’s darkness, despair.

Yet I long for the sunshine, the wind in my hair.

 

I. DON’T. WANT. THIS. MASK!

The world must see. This is who I am.

And my soul must break free.

 

— M.E.

Stay Hungry.

Six months ago I sat salivating over South Carolina’s tastiest chicken biscuit and an irresistible business opportunity.

I had flown to Charleston to pitch a pretty aggressive business development proposal to my then-boss. My presentation projected 200% growth for his company in 12 months, led entirely by yours truly. It was ballsy. It was unlikely to be accepted. But I believed I could do it and I had to try.

I didn’t know what was going to happen when I took that 1,200-mile flight to a city I’d never visited before to pitch the most aggressive presentation I’d ever crafted to a man I’d never met. But I wasn’t scared. Quite the opposite. I was as alive as I’d ever been.

So when my proposal was rejected I didn’t lose an inch. I gained miles. What I did that day made me proud. It gave me confidence and resolve. It gave me closure. It made what happened next seem natural, providential even.

My experience has given me an acute awareness that failure is part of life. I’ve learned failing usually signals an opportunity to succeed at something else, perhaps even greater. What happened in South Carolina that week did not shock me. It came as no surprise. Not to me. I’ve been working my entire life to position myself for the exact type of situation that unfolded.

What I didn’t know when I got on the plane to leave Oklahoma was that I wasn’t going to South Carolina for this proposal I worked so hard to create. I was following a path years of diligence had carved for me.


It was 24 hours before my proposal and I had taken maybe a bite out of my biscuit. I lost my appetite for food. A new hunger had taken hold of me.

Sitting before me on that table was more than South Carolina’s best breakfast food. There was also opportunity served. The type of opportunity so one-of-a-kind you can’t even dream it up. But for me it was also the kind of opportunity that made me hesitate and ask myself, “Am I capable of this?”

The shellshock wore off with the rejected proposal, and I knew what I had to do. Nothing would stop me. No one would stop me. I knew the only way I could answer that question was to meet it with my best effort. So I did. And everything fell into place.

In the following weeks I uprooted and moved 1,200 miles away. I had no second thoughts. I hadn’t even figured out how I would make it all work when I left. But I found solidarity in the drive. I knew I would make it. I believed I would.

In the short months that followed I learned just how capable I was. Capable of working hard. Capable of learning. Capable of observing. Capable of improving at least 1% or more each day. Capable of waking up early and working ‘til late. Capable of dedicating myself to labor I believed in and capable of being mentored. I was as capable as I was willing to be.

Now I no longer worry if I’m capable. Instead I believe with enough resolve, effort, and willingness to get in the trenches and deliver, I am capable of anything. Anything. And I intend to prove it. Every. Single. Day.

I’ve come a long way since that chicken biscuit, but I’m still as hungry as ever.


Present day, I report directly to the Founder & CEO of a VC-funded startup. No two days have been the same since I started. I’m intellectually stimulated and challenged daily. I get to dive in and solve problems all the time. I get to learn new softwares and help design and implement new processes. I have 360 degrees of exposure to a rapid-growth business that’s taking an $81 billion industry by storm. And I’m only 24 years old.

I could be in law school or working toward an MBA. Instead I experiment daily with actual business operations and with actual entrepreneurs. I could be married and working on a family. Instead, I’m single and creating a fulfilling life. I could have taken a high-paying corporate job, grown roots, and bought a house. Instead, I‘m mortgaging myself so I can be an asset wherever I choose to go, with no cap on income potential. I could be living out any number of prefabricated lifestyle templates. Instead, I’m not. Instead, I’m blazing my own trail and I’m creating a life governed by my own terms.

It all happened because I bet on myself. Not on a credential. Not on conventional wisdom. Not on the status quo. It happened because I refused to follow the beat of someone else’s drum. It happened because I needed to prove to myself what I could do given the chance to thrive. It happened for me and it can happen for anyone who wants to go out and discover the life they’ve always wanted.

Your story to the life you’ve always wanted can begin anywhere, too. Mine started with a chicken biscuit. And that’s why I believe it when people say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Stay hungry, my friends.

 

Make America Great Again: A Journal Entry with Adam Smith.

 

The alarm buzzed and I reached to hit snooze. Who am I kidding? The alarm had been ringing for 20 minutes before I finally wrangled it into silence. Not unlike every morning the first move I made was to walk into the kitchen and flip on the coffee pot.

It’s the fancy kind that has an alarm but I don’t set it. You could make a case that I’m too lazy. I pretend it’s because I enjoy the sound of the drip-drip-dripping followed by the wafting scent of the freshly brewed ground beans. Whatever. I’m just glad somebody built such a contraption.

I prefer a dark roast ideally. Right now I’m on a Columbian kick. Something about opening up the little yellow bag and smelling the robust flavors makes me appreciate the little things in life. I bought the coffee a few blocks away at the Publix. It cost about $10 for the bag. Not to mention the tax I paid. I enjoy good coffee and I’m glad it cost so little.

I’m glad for the guy who probably makes around market wage to stock the shelves so I don’t have to hunt for it long. I’m also glad for the guy who took my money at the register and made the purchase so easy. The guy who thanked me for shopping at Publix and sacked my groceries wasn’t so bad either. I thanked him back. We both smiled and went about our own lives. Everybody wins.

In a way, I’m happy I contributed to their income. It didn’t cross my mind when I bought the groceries. I don’t think about them when I brew my coffee. I’m just glad they’re there when I need them. Providing a service. Exchanging their labor for my money. It’s brilliant.

So anyway, back to the coffee before it gets cold.

I sat down at the table to work. These days as I make my start in the mornings I pull up one page on my Macbook Air and another on the Microsoft Surface. I like screens. The more the better. What a cool world I live in where I can drink my coffee from the comfort of the house and talk with people miles away before I’ve even stepped a foot out the door.

I didn’t think about it this morning but I’m thankful for the people who built those machines. Not to mention the wireless internet. I bet the inventors weren’t thinking about me. Nor the manufacturers. Or the technician who installed the internet service. They were just living their lives. Just like I was living mine.

I finished my second cup of java and poured the remaining contents into my steel Yeti cup. If you’ve never had one I highly recommend it. I still burn my tongue in the afternoon from coffee I poured in the morning. It’s fantastic. Those two guys that created it did me a solid. I tossed on real people clothes and headed out. It’s pretty cool to lock the door and leave all of my stuff behind each day. Remind me to thank somebody for that later.

For the past couple weeks I’ve been switching between talk radio and podcasts on my morning commute. Today it was talk radio. What good entertainment. There were several riffs about Chris Rock’s monologue last night. Some demonized. Some praised. After about the fifth election ad I settled on another station. It was one where people call in and talk about terrible dates. “Who listens to this shit?” I thought to myself as I became invested in Jessica’s story about Todd. It was clear the talk show hosts weren’t thinking about me. They were each just doing their thing. I’m glad they did. I got a kick out of it.

By the time I made it to work this morning I had probably benefitted from a few dozen other people, maybe even a few hundred. I hadn’t even spoken a word aloud to any of them. I just used their stuff. The products of their labor. The stuff I’d traded money for. It didn’t cross my mind. Today was just another Monday.

I bet none of those people thought of me today on their way to work either. It doesn’t bother me. I didn’t think of them. They were each just doing their own thing. Just like I’m doing mine.

Tonight I scrolled through my news feed. I saw a million more campaign ads. I tried to ignore it. I couldn’t. I ended up watching a few spoof videos. “Little Marco Rubio…the light weight…” I laughed. I liked. I scrolled on.

I started to fall asleep on the couch. I got up. I took a shower. I laid down for a few minutes. I began to drift off and the words Make America Great Again stirred me back to life.

I started thinking about all the individual actors whose labor had gotten me through the day. I’m glad I could trade my money for their products and services. I bet they weren’t thinking about me. They were each probably just doing their own thing. Just like I was doing mine.

I thought about my coffee drip-drip-dripping tomorrow morning. America’s pretty great already I guess.


“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities, but of their advantages.”

–Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature & Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Vol 1

 

 

 

 

Abstinence & Voting

I’m saving myself for a better world.
 
Someday when I find it I don’t want to have to explain how I gave myself up to George Bush. Then John McCain. Then to Donald Trump.
 
I want to be pure for it. So I took a vow of abstinence.
 

I stopped voting years ago. I’ve been frequently challenged to provide lengthy explanations for my decision. It never ceases to amaze me how affected others are by the news. Like I’ve betrayed them. Like I’ve committed some kind of Grand Treason.
 

Sometimes these conversations lead to realization that I share many of the same frustrations as voters. I hate taxes. I’m repulsed by war. I don’t trust politicians. Prohibitions and licensure laws are tyrannical. Government should stay out of ____________ (everything). Blah blah blah.
 
I participated in these conversations for years (as a non-voter and as a voter). I punched my ticket at each election. Which was maybe 3. I stopped voting not long after I was “of age.” One day I just got bored.
 
I started to see the whole thing as one giant circle jerk. A new guy would come up for election. He’d make promises. He’d secure some votes. He’d be stonewalled in office. Nothing would change. Repeat. That’s not progress. It’s madness.
 
When I began reading more broadly into political philosophy and economics I found I wasn’t alone. There were tons of theories about why voting isn’t particularly useful. There were as many about the incentives politicians face for acting in their own interests over the interest of ‘the people.’ None of this surprised me. It simply abhorred me.
 
I never stopped hoping for a better world. I just couldn’t buy into the fairy tale that voting would accomplish this any longer. I had new information. But my experiences and observations had confirmed the same.
 
It inspired me to empower myself to eliminate my frustrations. Voting seemed too passive. I wanted to be active about making my world better.
 
I started by educating myself. I wrote a lot about what I read. I engaged others. I challenged. I argued until I was blue in the face. It didn’t matter. Other people couldn’t envision the world as I saw it. They didn’t want to.
 
That no longer bothers me. Everyone should do what makes them happy I think. If voting has value to you, then vote. If it doesn’t, then don’t.
 
I think a greater issue is at the root. Every person is an individual actor in his or her own universe. We’re all just trying to go out and get what we want according to what we know and believe.
 
This idea was revolutionary to me. It made want to stop changing others and start by changing myself. Hoping 51 percent of people agree with me was disempowering. Voting for that world was just not enough. If there was a better world to be had and I wanted it, then I must take action.
 
A great explanation of this comes from Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action. To summarize he posited three requirements must be present for individuals to take action: 1) unease or dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs, 2) a vision of a better state, and 3) belief that they can reach the better state.
 
The three requirements are contingent upon one another. The first two conditions are nearly always satisfied for me. Yet, in the context of the political establishment the third criteria ceases to be satisfied for me.
 
I abstain from politics not [only] because I hate politics and not because I’m apathetic. One significant reason stems from the third criteria above. It would be illogical for me to cast a ballot knowing I don’t believe it will effect any desired change. Why should the burden of proof be on me anyway? Make the political system prove that it’s invaluable to social progress. It hasn’t yet.
 
My belief that a better state can be reached rests on the creation of that better state. Not by governmental mandates but by individuals who set their vision into motion in the world.
 
It is not through handmaidens of the political establishment with their waving pens and  crummy rhetoric that the standards of living across the globe have ever been raised. It’s by the sweat, blood, and commitment of men with a vision for a better world and a bias for action to create that world.
 
If you’re dissatisfied with the present conditions of the world; and you possess a vision of a better world; and you believe that world can be achieved…it’s time to act.
 
Don’t rely on the ballot box to create a better world. Just go build it.
 

 

My Librarian, The Drug Czar.

I didn’t get really into drugs until I was about six or seven years old. During the summers, I used to visit the Enid Public Library and wander about the shelves, carte blanche. It was there, cloaked from the public eye behind numerous texts, where I would be administered dosage upon dosage of fresh, new, enlightening psychotropic devices. Even so, this freedom to binge diminished as I relocated during the school year to a more cautiously monitored environment: the public school library.

Potent substances of epidemic proportions, if you look carefully enough, can be found littering the shelves of most libraries, though, and I was determined to find the most satiating of these. This, in my opinion, must have been why I was banned from visiting certain “Dark Arts” sections as an elementary student. It must have been that look in my eyes. Perhaps they were too red, or maybe the librarian had begun to take notice of that slight change in my disposition each time I made a new visit to this wonder emporium. Either way, I had to proceed with caution most days, if I was, after all, going to get my fix.

One day, in fact, the librarian caught me perusing around this “off-limits” section of the bookshelves. There I was at 11 or 12 years of age, Atlas Shrugged in hand, when that user’s itch overtook me. I dropped the book immediately and began frantically convulsing, part from fear of being caught in the act, part from knowing my stash was about to be flushed. All the while I knew if I did not administer soon, I would surely die.

It was no use, however, the ruse was up. At that age, I was hardly tall enough to see over the counter to check a book out, let alone hide a 1,200-paged manifesto behind my wimpy little back. So, I picked the book back up from the floor, replaced it on the shelf, and obediently followed the orders, promising myself I would find a way to unlock the potency of its contents at a later date.

That memory seems so long ago; I oftentimes wonder if it happened at all or if it was no more than the birth of some intense trip. After all, I have been using most of my life, and, it is not uncommon for me to drift entirely from all tethers to reality into fantasies tucked deep away in the darkest crevices of my mind, readily awakening to the inspiration I find in each new literary drug.

Subsequently, even if the instance with the librarian did not occur, I am certain the restrictions to prevent me from self-medicating or overdosing at such a young age were, in fact, in place. I despise that truth even to this day, but realize it did not stop me from introducing myself to those much harder drugs, so much as it merely delayed me.

However, what I know now is that had I simply been allowed to satisfy my craving when it initially had sprung, perhaps I would not have been so receptive to its effects or so keen to discover even harder, more illicit scholarly substances to fill the void such a prolonged introduction had created.

Furthermore, perhaps under the cautious supervision of the librarian or some other pedagogue dealer of dalliances, I would not have—once self-prescribing—been so keen to consume far above the recommended dosages. Perhaps given the opportunity at self-discovery—though this might be a stretch—I would have even hated the drugs, and rejected altogether any such interferences with my worldview as it then existed.

Even so, such was not the case, and it was made clear that such voyages into the unknown were impermissible for such a young, budding mind. This created nothing but contempt and inspired in me a sense of rebellion, a sense of courage to gallivant off into uncharted waters as a freelance pharmacist for myself, eager to indulge in every new available banned product I could find. So, too, did it make me more receptive to the mind-altering nature of these unapproved commodities. I found in these not merely a delightful escape, but more importantly, I discovered truth. I felt alive and aware, as if my eyes had at last been opened to all that was around me. I saw the world not as I thought it to be, but for what it truly was. I saw myself juxtaposed to the universe as a finite entity, both free and powerfully awestruck by the magnitude of what I had previously not only not known, but dismissed as impossible.

Those substances freed me from the restrictions imposed not only by coercive authorities, but of the inhibiting limitations I had enforced on myself through ignorance. Upon discovering this newfound, vast expanse of intellectual wealth, I gained a new appreciation for life, for learning, and for contemplating axiomatic truths.

I discovered how to listen rather than talk, how to humbly promote myself rather than boast, how to speak sincerely rather than with grandiosity. But far and above more imperative than all, I came to know how to love myself and as a result, how to love others. The ideas resulting from of all these trips and highs in prose and poetry unlocked all of these things for me, and I think they can for anybody courageous enough to give them a try.

So forget about prohibitions, censorships, or coercive deterrents. Why don’t you give the unknown a shot? Why not explore the limits of your own vast cognitive abilities?

Go pick up a book today, who knows? Your gateway drug could be waiting for you.

 

 

How A Stranger Taught Me To Love My Neighbor.

Take-Home Message: Spread hope, not hate. Focusing on all the bad in the world can make you lose sight of the good in it.

Writer’s Note: This is based upon an actual conversation from Summer 2015. I have preserved the integrity of this to the best of my memory.


 

It was a normal day and I was headed to get a haircut. Since I was from out of town and driving around the city, I pulled up Yelp and searched for the nearest barber shop. The closest result showed up just a few blocks from where I was and it was on my way back home. So, I pulled in and walked up to the door.

Immediately after walking into the building, I began second-guessing my decision. In the barber’s chair sat a large Mexican man covered in tattoos, carrying on conversation loud enough for the whole building to participate. But there wasn’t anybody else but the hair dresser and me. Towering over this man was a large black woman working on a high and tight for the customer. She was humming a few bars of what she later told me was one of her favorite Billie Holiday tunes.

I thought I should leave. I pulled up Yelp again and refreshed my search for a haircut and found the nearest one almost 7 miles away. On a Friday afternoon around Atlanta, GA, 7 miles is a several-hour-long commitment, and for some reason I felt like I was being frozen in place. For some reason, I thought, I’m supposed to stay here.

So I gulped my preconceived prejudices down and waited. After a painful amount of time, the Mexican man stood up, politely thanked the woman, paid her, and headed for the door. A few paces before he exited, he flashed me a smile and asked, “How are you?” shattering my earlier notions that this was a dangerous man. “I’m fine, thanks,” I replied, disgraced by my stereotyping.

“You’re up next, Sweetie,” the warm, inviting voice of the hairdresser beckoned to me. “What can I do for you, today, young man?” she said politely awaiting my instructions. I told her how I liked it cut and she said, “Oh, that will look great on you.”

She asked me where I was from and how I made my way to her shop. She asked me what I did and how I had found my way from Oklahoma to Atlanta. I told her what I was doing in Georgia and how [at the time] I was about to go back to school. I was interested in studying law because I had a passion for helping people live more freely, I told her.

“I can already tell you’d be one of those good attorneys,” she said. “The world needs more of ‘em.” But she paused for a moment after that and seemed bothered. “I’ve had experiences with bad attorneys,” she said. “Someone I know (I think she said her nephew) got arrested for possession last year, and he’s been locked up ever since. They [the Public Defenders] didn’t really care about his case.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” I told her–and I really was. I could tell that this was really troubling her.

“What do you think about marijuana?” she asked. “Do you think it should be illegal?”

A rare moment with a stranger had arrived for me. Here I was, simply wanting a haircut, and my prejudices had almost driven me out of this shop. But her kindness and sincerity had sent my smugness packing. “I don’t have a problem with it,” I told her. “In fact, I think it being illegal does a lot more harm than good.”

“Why is it that so many people don’t think that?” she asked.

“I couldn’t tell you for certain, ma’am,” I said, “But I think the world could be a lot better place if the government and law enforcement stopped interfering so much with people’s lives.”

At this she stopped cutting my hair altogether and I saw a tear stream down from one of her eyes. She took a deep breath and wiping it away said, “Young man, I think you were supposed to come into this shop today to get a haircut.”

“Thank you,” I told her. But I didn’t reveal to her that I had felt that strange sense of assurance earlier that I was where I was supposed to be.

“You know, I look around at the world and I see so much hatred,” she said. “It’s all black versus white and cops versus people and the news all riling everybody up. But here you are and here I am. I love you and I don’t even know you. I want the best for you and I just met you. I don’t think people hate each other as much as the media wants us to think,” she said. “But this ain’t anything new, Sweetie…”

When she said that, she sort of drifted off, her eyes got misty and she let out a couple of more tears. She had set the scissors down at this point and was looking directly at me.  “I’ve seen this story all my life,” she said, “People don’t naturally hate one another,” she said. “Their circumstances and the way the world treats them teaches them that. I want to share a story with you if you don’t mind,” she gestured to me.

“Of course!” I told her. I was intrigued by this point and had entirely forgotten I was even there for a hair cut. And then she began narrating a story that has forever changed me.

 

“I remember the day those men in black suits came rolling through our neighborhood,” she said. “I was only about five or six at the time, and my sister and me was out in the front yard playing when we saw this big, new, fancy car roll up to the house at the end of the street. That was back in the ‘60s, though, just a few years after Mr. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, and we hadn’t ever seen a car like that before. Then these two men climbed out all dressed up, they had them a couple of black suits and white shirts, with the black tie on, looking all official and such. They just marched up to the first door and disappeared. My sister and I went running into the house hollering at Momma and Daddy telling them all about the sight we just saw. Then, one by one, them men just kept making their way down the block, one house at a time, until they got to ours. Momma and Daddy said we had to wait outside seein’ as we wasn’t old enough to talk business yet, so we did, and I tried peeking through the window the whole time. I never could make out what they was saying, but Momma and Daddy seemed a bit troubled by it.

Just a street over at the time was a huge lot surrounded by great big, tall fences. We never knew what was going on inside there, but we could hear the banging and hammering around the clock. All of us on my block kept guessing what it was that was going up, and whether or not we should be afraid of it, but the walls stayed up and the banging kept on a’ coming. Until one day, it stopped. The walls were torn down and behind them stood two great big, brand new towering buildings.

It wasn’t until Momma and Daddy told us we was moving that they explained what those gentlemen in the black suits months before had shown up to discuss. It became clear fast that the offer those men made wasn’t the best for everyone in our neighborhood, though. Momma and Daddy explained that those men were offering us one of the few spots in the shiny new apartment buildings. ‘The spots are going fast,’ they said to Momma and Daddy that day they came to our block, ‘So you’ll have to act now.’

We didn’t have a lot of money at the time, but we also didn’t have reliable electricity or indoor plumbing. In fact, almost everybody on our block still had an outhouse. So when me and Sissy walked into our new home that day, we couldn’t hold back the excitement. “Our very own toilet!” I remember yelling to my Momma. “And what’s this machine over by the wall?” I asked, as Daddy swooped me up in his arms and set me atop our very own washing machine unit. That was such a happy day.

After a few days, I started to notice that very few of the other Daddies from our neighborhood had come over with the families who had moved. I asked Momma about it and she told me to stop pestering and one day when I was older she might tell me.

Days passed and turned into months. Months into years. Until one day, I was watching the news in the apartment building, an older girl now, and I saw this fancy pants man get on the screen talking about all the homeless blacks that were causing problems with drugs and violence and vandalism. He talked about how the cops were roundin’ ‘em up for disturbing peace or something like that. Most of the problem, fancy pants said, was coming from over just a block or so where we used to live. The problem was, none of those houses that used to be there was standing any more.

Just a few months after we had moved out, some wrecking crews came in and tore down all the houses. They said it was the city who had bought all the property up preaching about eminent domain or the likes of some law. They said it would be better for the whole city and that they had built the apartments and offered them real cheap for all the former residents. They said the ones who didn’t take up the offer were lazy criminals and deserved to be snatched up by the law. Some of those men were my friends’ daddies.

So I mustered up the courage to ask Momma and Daddy again about what happened to the other Daddies and why they never moved over. They sat Sissy and me down and explained what they hadn’t told us about those men in the black suits who had come knockin’ on our door for all those years ago. They said they were making an offer to move to a better life.

Those men told my parents it was $39 per month rent to have running water and electricity in the new place they’d built for us.

Daddy had a job at the time, but he didn’t make very much money. He worked long hours and Momma stayed home with us kids. Back then we wasn’t old enough for school yet. But, Momma and Daddy told us, the new apartment buildings didn’t have room enough for all the members of all the families so if the men wanted to move in with the families it would be another $9 per month. Those men in the black suits told Momma and Daddy and all the other neighbors that day that it would be a lot cheaper and just fine by them if the men stayed in the houses where they lived. They’d be allowed to visit whenever they wanted, so long as they got a permit and left by 9 p.m. And they told them the men could come and live with the families one week out of every month, too, if they got the permission from the building. But there just wasn’t enough room to fit everybody.

And so that’s what happened. Most of the families moved over to the new buildings and the men stayed put figuring they could keep more food on the table for their families if they saved the extra money per month, Momma told me. The cost of renting the houses on our neighborhood wasn’t even that much at the time, so they could use the difference to help out. Most of the men in our neighborhood worked jobs like my Daddy, too, long hours for not a lot of money, so it didn’t really make a difference where they laid their heads at the end of the night. But not my Daddy. To him, it mattered, and he told us he wouldn’t let our family be separated even if it was going to make things tight with money.

But after we moved over, the worst thing happened to those other men. When the city came in and bought up the properties, they evicted all of the Daddies who were still living over there. And some of them came over to the apartment trying to work things out but they weren’t given permission by the building to move in with their families. Maximum capacity by order of the fire marshall they told ‘em. No more room for more people.

That’s when new men in black suits came to the apartment building. The marched up and down the hallways to the rooms with a clipboard and some pens. Daddy wasn’t home when they came by but Momma told us later the men were walking by explaining how families could get assistance to help with the bills if they needed to.

“Since a lot of families are facing hard times, we want to make it known that there are options,” those men told Mamma. “We can offer assistance on a monthly rate and even more depending on the number of mouths you have to feed.”

Momma knew Daddy wouldn’t like this, so she asked those men to leave. Mamma told me that it’s because a lot of the Daddies had been arrested by the police and were out of work and couldn’t pay their families’ bills anymore.

 

She broke character after this, lightly sobbing, and began to shake her head. “After they ripped those families apart and kicked the men out onto the streets, many of them lost their jobs,” she said. “My Daddy knew a lot of them. He told me that it was like they had lost their reasons to live, so a lot of them turned to alcohol and drugs to help them escape. And then it got a lot worse,” she said, shaking her head again.

“The laws around those times that were passed were really harsh, especially on marijuana and crack rock, on the poor man’s drugs,” she said. “They’d catch somebody one time and he’d go away for a decade or more, and nobody could do anything about it. They’d just keep yelling from the news about the ghetto and drug dealers, and how it wasn’t safe unless they were all rounded up.”

“So, that’s exactly what they did. They rounded up all those men that used to be Daddies and husbands, working long hour jobs to support their families, and they threw them behind bars. Meanwhile, they were running through the families whose husbands and daddies were being jailed and they’d get them fixed up on government assistance. They had pretty much replaced the role of the husband and father with the government over the course of several years. That’s not making society a safer place. That’s destroying it. And that’s how I feel almost every time I hear about new laws for making us safe or about gang violence or any of the white noise coming out of the TV, there’s usually a much bigger problem behind it somewhere else.

And it doesn’t look hopeful still today. With all the police killings and the rioting, it’s sadness and fear and hate every time you pick up the newspaper or turn on the TV. It’s bombing other countries and wars and arrests and politicians breaking promises. It’s people hurting people everywhere you look. But that’s not the way it has to be,” she said. “That’s not how we were supposed to treat each other. Loving one another is a choice, and it’s one I choose to make every day.”

She went silent after that. I was at a loss for words, but I wanted to give this stranger a hug.  After a few moments pause, she picked up the scissors and set to finish up on my haircut. When I finally found some words, all I could muster was to thank her for sharing her story. I was too choked up and taken aback to come up with anything worth adding.

“Mitchell,” she said, “I’m going to pray to Jesus for you tonight. I hope you get to help people like you said you wanted to. Thank you for listening to an old woman’s story. It was nice to meet you, and I hope the best for you.”

“Likewise,” I told her. “I think you were right that I was supposed to be here today. Thank you so much.”

I paid her for the haircut and left her the best tip I could afford, told her goodbye, and walked out in the warm Georgia air shaken up but somber. Her story pulled scales from my eyes about my attitude and how I look at the world. It wasn’t dismay that I found from her story, but hope. She didn’t have to share her story with me. She didn’t even have to be as kind as she was. She could have just done her job. Instead, this stranger taught me what it looks like in practice to love your neighbor, and how you don’t need a grand stage or billions of dollars to change the world. You just have to be willing to use your voice, and to see goodness where others see only bad.