The Beauty of my Day of Birth

Every year is so much sweeter than the last. My day of birth is more than just getting older. With each new day, I become richer with every breath that I take. I celebrated with my sister earlier today over a beautiful lunch. So precious is our time with family!!

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Oh Please!!

Never has it been truer than the old adage: you can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I’m starting to feel like ‘some of the people‘ is quickly moving into the ‘none of the people‘ category. It has become increasingly difficult to gain the approval and/or acceptance from others, for simple acts of kindness both big and small. The more you try and satisfy everyone, the further away you seem to drift from that goal altogether. To please or not to please? A most appropriate question in this instance.

So, you might conclude, why even bother? And who could blame you if you feel this way? Especially when you’re more likely than not, to be shot out of the sky. Why would you not opt to fly closer to the ground, where the crash landing is bound to be less painful? But what fun would that be and what about your satisfaction? When you’re a ‘people-appeaser’, it’s very hard to retrain yourself to be of the opposite mindset. And why should you feel like you have to change who you are? How unpleasant of an experience would that be for you, to behave in a way that goes against every grain of your character, just for the sake of what others may or may not think?

You might find, that as soon as you change your modus operandi, those very same people, who couldn’t acknowledge your good efforts in the past, will come for you, with guns a blazing, to show their…wait for it, wait for it…. displeasure in your ‘new attitude’. Which would be more disheartening for you, the seemingly never-ending hard to please people around you, or the facade you decided to wear, in a sad attempt to please those who cannot be pleased? After all, isn’t misrepresentation of yourself, the worst representation of all, since it does not reflect the real you?

What are you to do when going left wreaks havoc, and going right compounds things further to your disadvantage? Should you continue doing what makes you feel good, even at the risk of having your good intentions and gestures promptly returned to you, like a letter that unexpectedly comes back to you in the mail marked, ‘return to sender?’ In the end, you have to be pleased with yourself before you can please anyone else, right? Or are you simply reading this post while concluding, “Oh please!!”

By Sylvia Porter-Hall

Goodbye To My Girls….

Don’t you just hate goodbyes? Just as you get to know someone or get use to the way things are done, the person leaves or the situation changes. I think this has been the story of my life. It seems like I’m always saying goodbye to someone or something. Sometimes the goodbyes are bittersweet, in that people are moving on to bigger and better things, while leaving me behind. At other times, the goodbyes are just bitter, leaving me feeling like I’ve lost a part of me.

Well, I’m about to embark on the biggest goodbye of my life. The time has come for me to say the dreaded two words, that come together to mark the ending of an era. But this is no ordinary farewell. Honestly, even as I’m writing this, I still find it hard to wrap my head around it. How hard would it be for you to say so long to friends that you’ve known your entire life? These girls have rode with me through thick and thin; true ‘ride or die’ chicks. My girls have been there for me even when I didn’t seem to notice or unintentionally took them for granted. When the chips were down, they stood with me in solidarity, while lending there silent yet powerful support. They made me proud and instilled in me a confidence that made me honored to be represented so well by them. I can only hope that I’ve done them the same justice. Yet, the time has come in my life where I’ve come to realize that things can change, even my girls. My ‘ride or die’ crew is no longer what they once were. They’ve become a danger to me to me that cannot be ignored.

Even as I sit here, writing and sharing about how good my girls have been to me, it makes me so sad to think about what my life will be like without them. Of course, there will be newbies that will rise to the occasion I’m sure, but there will never be another pair to replace the originals, in my heart. I know that they would remain if they could, after all, they’ve been with me from the beginning. But I’ve got to let them go and it hurts in a way like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.

So, fellow bloggers, please keep me in your prayers and turn up the volume on Wednesday May 20th, as I undergo radical surgery and once and for all, say goodbye to my girls.

Sylvia Porter-Hall

The Decision is In

Well, the decision is in. It happened just like I was told it would. Being faced with the daunting decision of whether or not to remove not only one part of my anatomy, but an additional and equally important part as well. Honestly, I hadn’t been toiling over the decision as much as a person might that found themselves in this position. I mean, I thought about it on and off, but there are always so many other things happening in my life, that my focus ends up in many different places, almost simultaneously. I guess that could be a good thing, because it doesn’t allow me to dwell on any one thing. Instead, I flit around from one issue to the next, sharing little pieces of my attention respectively, much like a bee that buzzes around from flower to flower. After all, there are so many choices. I wonder how the bees decide where to begin.

On the morning of my follow up appointment with my surgeon, I woke up and I knew immediately what I was going to do. There wasn’t any fuss or muss and I saw things with a clarity that isn’t always a part of my decision-making process and for that, I am very thankful. As I lay there calmly, looking around my bedroom, the decision floated into view as vividly as the clouds in once blue skies, that signal the impending rain that is sure to follow.

Okay, so that part is done and I am content with my decision. Well, as content as anyone in this predicament could be. However, the hardest part is still to come. Yes, I have come to a decision concerning breast cancer surgery but along with this knowledge comes the fact that I will be minus two parts of my anatomy that I have lived with my entire life. My breasts have always been a special part of my body and I’ve always valued and revered their beauty, their purpose. I can’t help but wonder what a woman does when she has this mastectomy surgery that removes her entire breast(s)? How does she feel about herself when she looks in the mirror? Does she worry about how her husband/mate, family and friends will view her post-surgery? I am now that woman with all these questions.

I’ve had my share of surgeries in my life time but this one will be the most intricately personal one by far. A woman’s breasts can instill a whole lot of pride or they cause her to bear the brunt of much shame, when faced with their surgical removal. However, I will remain alive and well as a result of this decision. Beauty may be only skin-deep, but this experience will no doubt make me a more beautiful person from within. That is what matters most, right? I’d say, the decision is in!

By Sylvia Porter-Hall

Family First!!

Why is it so hard to share crucial news with family? These are the people we’ve grown up with our entire lives. Yet, it is often extremely difficult to disclose unfavorable news when these unexpected times arise. I know for me, the reasons vary widely.

I never want to feel like I’m burdening my family with any issues that pertain to me. I feel like they all have their own lives with respective issues to go along with everything else that they have to worry about. So why would I come along and make their load(s) even heavier? That being said, what’s worse, not sharing important life events or unloading all of our chaos on our families?

I chose to share my latest health crisis with each of my siblings, one by one. Each of them is so very different. It was so hard to say the words without choking up. These are the same people that I used to run, jump, skip, get into trouble at home with, defend from punishment until the end. Being the oldest of my siblings, sometimes holds me to a higher level to be emotionally and physically strong. So, when illness started visiting me more often a few years ago, I felt like I was somehow letting my them down. It was as though I was somehow damaged and that they could no longer look to me as their solid pillar of strength. Illness had chipped away at the ‘rock’ that they’ve always known me to be. So, here I was again, showing them that transparent and most revealing side of my vulnerability with this latest health interruption.

My family has been there for me through some very rough times. As I sit here writing this piece, I don’t recall them ever making me feel like I was weighing them down, in terms of giving them one more thing to worry about as a result of sharing. They’ve always been gracious and willing to jump in wherever and whenever I needed them and that is priceless. After all, that’s what family is for right? I guess I would feel pretty bad if there was something going on with any of them and they made the decision to not share with me, no matter what their reasons were.

It is sometimes very hard to look at things with the shoe on the other foot. My family has a right to feel like they don’t want to burden me further with their problems. I certainly have felt like that before, as I touched on earlier. At the end of the day, we are all blessed with the love of family for many reasons. They are the glue that helps to hold things together when the going gets rough. The load often gets to be a little too heavy to carry alone. So, God blesses us with siblings and parents that are down here with us on earth to provide the all-important emotional support and love that is so necessary for survival.

For me, the word family exudes togetherness, love, friendship, support and strength. It’s so easy to take it for granted when you have a supportive family. Unfortunately, not everyone does. Have you told your family lately how much they mean to you? When is the last time you told them how much you love them, or encouraged them in their life endeavors? If you haven’t done any of these things lately, maybe it’s time to do that. Let them know that you appreciate them always being there for you when you really need them the most, and even when you don’t. Now, obviously I can’t ask you to do that without doing the same myself. It’s an unwritten item on my daily list of things to do. Even on those days when I don’t speak to my family voice to voice, simply because of busy schedules and time demands, I send them love through my prayers, thoughts, and hopes for each of them. A quick text works well too, just to say, I love you and I’m thinking about you. Family first I say!! What say you?

By Sylvia Porter-Hall

Not Knowing Could Kill You!!

We all have routine things that we have to do and revisit from time to time. For the most part, we can often expect the same outcome. So we go about our business, not expecting any different results. For example: a routine medical appointment. You’ve had several follow-up appointments in the past and usually they have been uneventful, thank God. But then comes a time, maybe two, when you are caught completely off guard.

If you are anything like me, you may tend to do the majority of things in life on your own, flying ‘solo’ in most cases. Now, this may be for any number of reasons. It may be personal preference, or the fact that your usual support system is unavailable at the times when you could really benefit from their physical and emotional presence. For me, it’s a combination of both.

Yesterday, I went to my annual mammogram screening. Actually, I was overdue for my screening which is still a mystery to me. I could have sworn I had a screening in 2014, but records show that I had not had a screening since 2013. Wow! I really missed the mark on that one. I’m a real stickler when it comes to following up on all of my medical appointments, or so I thought. Yet somehow, this one escaped me. Forgive the old cliché in this instance, ‘but better late than never’.

As I sat in the lobby and watched people come and go, I noticed that quite a few women arrived in pairs. I’ve often heard of this ‘buddy’ system when attending mammogram screenings. The emotional support must be priceless. I’ve seen this many times before but for some reason, it really stood out to me yesterday. How I wished I had someone with me, if for nothing but to pass the time away.

I observed quietly while a pair of women would emerge from their testing, receive their favorable results and prepare to leave. They always seemed to be in such high spirits. After all, a clean bill of health in this instance is reason to be jubilant. I couldn’t help but wonder as I watched numerous women come and go, if they would go some place nice for lunch once they left the facility. Did they meet up with other friends to celebrate their favorable outcomes?

I continued to catch up on some reading while I waited for my results. I expected to be called from the left side of the room where those that have been screened are called into a specific room to receive their results. For some reason when my name was called, it came from the right side of the room; where people are called that still have to have their screenings done. My heart started pounding as I contemplated why I was being called from that side of the room. A technician greeted me with a wonderful demeanor and an infectious smile while advising me that a few more images were needed. If only she knew the bullets I was sweating and that she stood directly in the line of fire – an unsuspecting target, much like I felt as we made our way down the lengthy hallway.

This immediately took me back, a kind of de ja vu.  The year was 2001. At that time, I was again waiting patiently for my results when a technician informed me that the doctor needed a few more images. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with breast cancer during the Breast Cancer Awareness Month of that year. Imagine that! Thankfully, it was caught in time. As a result, I am a survivor – a title I only want to hold once as it pertains to this potentially deadly disease.

As I followed the technician down the seemingly never ending hallway, I heard my heart beating loud and clear. I was convinced that the technician could hear it too. Several more images were taken at which point I was directed back to the waiting room. I noticed a few women noticing me return back to the same seat I was in before. I could almost see the questions within their kind facial expressions. There was a silent camaraderie that we all shared and that was both understood and appreciated. We were all there for the same reason(s), whether in pairs or alone as I was. I realized then and there, the beauty in this kind of unspoken sisterhood where no words or conversation is necessary.

Again, I was called from the right side of the room and asked if I was able to stay for an ultrasound. Oh my God! This could not be happening. Of course, I agreed as I couldn’t imagine leaving there without any and all necessary testing being performed. The doctor that performed the ultrasound was a breath of fresh air. He was very kind and thoroughly explained the images to me and the importance of looking deeper into his findings to ensure my health and safety. He even gave me his personal cell phone number to contact him if we miss each other concerning the results which should be available some time today.

By the end of a visit that began at 11:00am on yesterday, I had completed a needle biopsy in addition to all the other testing. I was able to finally leave after 3:00pm with many thanks from staff for my patience. Evidently, some people get really upset when they find they need to stay far beyond what they had originally planned for. I wasn’t happy about spending my whole day there, but I am very pleased and thankful for the prompt and thorough attention that was extended to me. I would much rather allow all the required testing while I’m there, rather than come back and forth at a later time. For me, it’s a no-brainer. Sometimes, we have to be inconvenienced in order to get to the bottom of red flags that we are made aware of when it comes to our health. After all, it’s the not knowing that could kill you, right?

By Sylvia Porter-Hall

Racism 101 – An Unsolicited Introduction

Evidently, I am no different than most mothers out there. From the moment I first laid eyes on my son as a baby, I knew I would do anything in this world to protect him. I truly thought I could protect him from all the things that could threaten his tiny little world. Little did I know that my incredible desire to shield him from all negativity would not only last throughout his life, but increase by leaps and bounds over time.

Being the African American mother of a male child, is no easy task, especially when doing so alone. The careful shaping and molding of a young boy into a man without any handbook or instructions to refer to. After all, I am not a man. My main hope as a young mother, was to instill the vital morals and values within my son that would later manifest and help to solidify his manhood. There always seemed to be so much to share and make him aware of and that is still true today. I often wish I could pour my knowledge and experience into him as a kind of ‘heads up’ to the many storms that life can unexpectedly rain down on a person. But we all know that it’s impossible to make our children aware of every little thing, try as we might. Trial and error has proven to be a constant teacher in my son’s world and to this day he is still an unsuspecting student.

In spite of some kicking and screaming, my son made it into manhood. It’s so interesting to watch him evolve a little bit each day. There are times when I am stunned by the level of growth and transformation taking place. Sometimes life allows him to ease into situations and adjust at a comfortable pace, while there are other times when life slams him hard, forcing him to face the oftentimes deafening music of real life.

A couple mornings ago, my son woke me up at 6:00am to tell me about an incident that happened while he was delivering newspapers on his route, one of two jobs he holds. I was stunned by what he was saying, so much so that I sat up in bed with a spring-board like reaction. He proceeded to tell me about his encounter with a man in the wee hours of the morning during his delivery. It didn’t take long for my son to figure out that this man was a full-fledged racist. This particular morning, my son was late delivering the newspapers and as a result, he crossed paths with an ugly evil that he was not expecting. My son said he asked the man three times if the paper he was about to deliver belonged to him, as the man would not move out of his path. The man just stood there like a statue, not moving left nor right, backward or forward and not responding in any way. My son finally gave up and carefully maneuvered around the man and threw the paper past him.

This action seemed to set this peculiar being off. He started yelling at my son while to calling him a monkey and threatening to report him for throwing the newspaper to close to him. Really? This man then proceeded to grab the paper up from where my son had tossed it and began to dismantle it. My son asked the man AGAIN if it was his newspaper. The man started spewing the word monkey and other racial slurs in an onslaught of negative rapid fire. Thankfully, the man’s words were not bullets, or my son may have met with a very different outcome.

No doubt the verbal attack penetrated my son as a human being far deeper than any bullets could have. I’m sure my son didn’t tell me every word that was exchanged between the two but I’m sure he had some choice words for the bigot that stood before him. My son did express that this is 2015 and that here this man was with these ignorant prejudices and distorted beliefs of years long since passed. Years that have transpired yes, but unfortunately have left their relative behaviors and backward thinkers behind.

I have to say that as his mother, I felt my heart breaking twice over as he told me this story; once for the pain and shock it must have been for him to encounter this hatred full on, and secondly for the pain of knowing that the one thing I wish I could spare him from the most, blatantly introduced itself without warning nor provocation. There was nothing I could do about it. If only there was a channel I could change and flip to another station. Unfortunately, it’s an ugly life truth that exists in full living color on a seemingly never ending wide screen. Everyone plays their role in life and then in walks an unwanted extra, onto the scene without solicitation.

How do we prepare our children for the outrageous and vicious behaviors of others that can break out at any time? I don’t think anything really prepares them until they’ve actually met this ignorance face to face. I’m just thankful that things ended with my son walking away. In spite of the nature of this incident, he handled the situation like an adult and didn’t allow it to provoke him into doing anything he might later regret. I couldn’t be more proud of him. As ugly as this incident was, I am confident that it has cemented a much needed awareness in my son that he will definitely need as he continues to walk out his life journey!

By Sylvia Porter-Hall

How Do I Do It?

 

I posted a piece during the wee hours of the morning on June 17th 2014 called, “When Silence Isn’t Golden”. Believe it or not, I contemplated for quite a while on whether or not I should share this article. I wondered if it was a bit too much and I certainly didn’t want to offend anyone. After much thought and consideration, I decided to share it, and I’m glad I did.

A ‘Twitter’ friend of mine read my post and posed a few very interesting questions to me. Firstly, he asked why I didn’t mention anything about the struggles of the African American Woman as a single mother? My friend spoke of his disgust and anger at the prejudice that is so rampant and that seems to always boldly point in the direction of the African American woman; which led him to his next question. He wanted to know how I, an African American woman deals with all the negative push-back and resistance on a daily basis? In his words, “How do you do it, Sylvia?”He pointed out the double whammy situation that I’m in; not just being a woman, but an African American woman. Thirdly, he wanted to know why the many defining characteristics African American women share collectively, are not highlighted in a more positive light?

As I read all the great points he brought up, I could only shake my head. I wish I had all the answers but I don’t. I would be happy to have even 1 answer. Thanks to my friend’s prompting questions, I am now going to attempt to respond to all of them as best I can, though I can and will only speak for myself. So, please bear with me as I try to paint a picture that will hopefully shed some light on the struggle I experience regularly as many African American women do; single motherhood. Here it is…

Why didn’t I include in my post, the issue of single motherhood as it pertains to the African American woman? In all honesty, it never occurred to me to include this aspect in this piece. Not because it wasn’t or isn’t important. It most definitely was and is. However, I wanted to focus on the main issue that I was dealing with as an African American woman at that time. Unfortunately for me, it was a time of hopelessness and despair, as I tried to fit in to a world where I was not wanted; the corporate world. My fitting in or not, determined whether or not my livelihood would exist or cease to. It became the primary focus of my attention. Being a single mother, I was the sole bread-winner. I put up with a lot of nonsense in order to keep food on the table.

How did I and how do I deal with all the negative push-back and resistance that I face daily as an African American woman? At the time I was dealing with the workplace situation, I continued to go to work, even though I knew I had to fight and that I was in it alone. I was not at liberty to quit, so it was a no-brainer. No work – no food, no home, etc. I was responsible for my son and myself, so I had to go on. Looking back in retrospect, I now know that I stayed in that situation much too long. Now, when faced with the in-your-face boldness of prejudice and racism, I stand firm in knowing that I have just as much right to work, to play, and to simply ‘be’, just like anyone else. I guess you could say, I’ve found my voice, and I’ve learned to use it. Maturity has provided me with a very thick skin that helps me to deflect the many bullets I often have to dodge. I never know where they’re going to come from. But instinctively, I know that they will.

Lastly, why are the attributes and defining characteristics we share collectively as African American women, not highlighted in a more positive light when they should be? I revert back to that old adage: “You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”. We as black women can only continue to be the strong, resilient, intelligent beings that we are. Others recognize our strengths and talents, but until there’s a general consensus if you will, or willingness to support and include African American women in every way, the question(s) will always remain, “why?”

By Sylvia Porter-Hall

 

When Silence Isn’t Golden…

 

How many people can go to work daily and face the kind of adversity that the African American woman often times experiences on a regular basis? Not many I predict.  As if it isn’t enough, to have to be two and three times better than her white counterparts – but to also have to prove herself, over and over again, is beyond comprehension. Then comes the ultimate slap in the face. All of her hard work was done in vain, because there really was no plan to promote her, the African American woman. There wasn’t even a vague promise of being elevated to the next level for fear that she, might take it seriously and hold ‘the powers that be’ accountable to an expectation they never had any intention of fulfilling.

What is the ‘woman of color’ to do when she finds herself bound by the tight reign of a corporate arena that neither accepts nor acknowledges her intelligence? It seems apparent that the corporate world would rather give up a third of its wealth than to share it even remotely with a woman of ethnic heritage. All this while knowing full well, that she has everything it takes to be an asset to the company, while enhancing its overall image and bottom line.

Where does this kind of disdain and resistance come from? It might be easier to solve the problems of the nation’s economy, rather than tackle the long-standing issue of differential treatment; a problem that is so prevalent in today’s workplace setting(s). The reasons for this behavior could stem anywhere from unfounded insecurities and preconceived notions to outright racism and indifference. But, no matter what the reasons are, the problem is alive and well and needs to be addressed.

How long is the ‘woman of color’ supposed to suffer in silence for fear of retaliation from those who have contributed to her present state of mind? Should she wait for change that may never come? Should she give in and grovel in hopes that a few pebbles might be thrown her way? If she stands strong as only she knows how to do, what will be the fallout of that stance? These are just a few of the things that the African American woman faces daily, in addition to all the other curve balls that life throws her way.

Thank heavens she’s a good catcher, this remarkable woman that seems to have eyes in the back of her head! How is it that she can instinctively duck without ever seeing the curve ball come her way? How is it that she can sense danger long before it reaches her front door? Why is it that she, more often than not, seems to know when something just isn’t right? It could be because, the African American woman has a built-in radar that is crucial and very necessary for her daily survival. Thankfully, these skills of ducking and dodging bullets are naturally ingrained within her, because there is always something she has to watch out for.

That is why exhaling is something the African American woman often finds so hard to do. Can she ever truly relax, when dropping her guard would only leave her wide open to being pelted relentlessly with life’s many unpleasantries? For her, this is risky business; a chance she would rather not take. So, she has to walk through life with shoulders that are strong and square; able to sustain the weight of the world while wearing a smile, dodging a bullet, and ducking a curve ball, simultaneously. What an extraordinary woman that can master all of these things while maintaining an air of class, dignity and grace.

Is it just easier to disregard the African American woman and dismiss her as expendable? Or would it be a display of humanity to just give her the respect that should come naturally and effortlessly? It is amazing what some will expend energy on, especially when it comes to negativity. You might be wondering how I know all these things? Well…I am that African American woman!

By Sylvia Porter-Hall

 

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