“Positive anything is better than negative nothing.”~ Elbert Hubbard.
I aborted my exercise class after 45 minutes yesterday. It was the first time I had attempted kickbox cardio in a while and it was kicking my butt! One of the big disadvantages of being a person of the Caucasian persuasion is that it is not easy to hide certain things. Overheating, blushing, fear, any of the emotions that may cause blood to rush to your face turns you an unattractive shade of beet red, and attracts the comments and concern of those around you. Especially the instructor, who kept looking at me to make sure she didn’t have to call 911! My weekly (more or less) Zumba class gets me sweating and moving, but this class was another level.
I was very aware when I was growing up, of the physical and superficial differences between black and white people. And since I was a child when I moved to Jamaica, and not yet tainted by society, in my mind the white race seemed to come off worse. My hair was always getting messed up, it wouldn’t stay neat in a ponytail all day, while my girlfriends’ careful plaits looked as neat when they were going home as when they came to school. Not only did exertion turn my face red, the sun also was not kind to me, and if I did try to get a tan, I usually ended up with stripping skin, dead layers peeling off like a snake. When you think about it, and think about the excellence of athletes of color, of artists and singers, of people in all walks of life it is amazing that any white person anywhere can still buy into the thought of any superiority whatsoever!
I also learned that Jamaicans can be very harsh critics. They are not going to be polite and worry about hurting your feelings if they feel you are anything less than excellent. If you have ever watched the early shows of Amateur Night at the Apollo, you can imagine what I mean. In fact, in some live shows with clashes of local deejays, if the audience thinks that one artist is not performing up to scratch, they are likely to ‘fling bockle’ (throw glass bottles) on stage, leaving the artist to run for cover! Talk about sticks and stones may break my bones! It takes great confidence and determination to perform under those conditions!
Last weekend I enjoyed a performance by a local amateur theatre company as they put on a series of skits, poems and songs in celebration of the famous Mrs Louise Bennett Coverley (affectionately known as Miss Lou). Miss Lou took the national dialect of Jamaica and turned it into an art form, performing poetry and songs at home and abroad, introducing the wider audience to the charm and diversity of Jamaican culture. Everyone has their favorite Louise Bennett poem. I, on the other hand, have a least favorite – Po Sammy was an ode to a dead dog, and whenever it was performed there was this one line in the poem that had everyone turning around and laughing at me (or so it felt!). The poet was so distraught at the death of her dog, that when ‘Parson Jones’ (my father’s name) came to visit she ‘bus out a cry’, the Parson’s head bobbing over his collar apparently looked just like Sammy!
The performance on Saturday night was a joy; a multigenerational celebration of the culture I grew up around. There is something lovely about a performance of Jamaican folk music, with harmonizing and accordion accompaniment, and the facial expressions and hands-on-kimbo dramatizing of old time stories. I don’t know how far back such entertainment goes in Jamaican history, but I can imagine that it has its origins in slavery times, as a people ripped from their homeland and traditions sought ways of connecting through song and dance.
Whenever I go to my (less strenuous) Zumba class I see moves reminiscent of African dancers mixed in with the Latin American beats. I feel the hopes and dreams of oppressed people being kept alive in graceful swirls and defiant stomps. I hear echoes of African drums whose sounds could not be drowned out by deep oceans or brutal practices. Despite all attempts to subdue, control and eradicate people who are ‘other’ than those in power, the forces of love, positivity, and hope will rise up like the notes of a song. We just have to have a little faith.
It is hard to look for the bright side when the sky is so dark. But we must. It is easy to dwell on the negative, to feel overwhelmed, as if there is nothing we can do. But we must. When bottles are being flung we must stand firm. Victory comes to those who endure in the face of all injustice. And if those who are doing something about it are criticized, it is good to reflect on the words of Theodore Roosevelt who said:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
There are times when we are discouraged, when it would be easier to go with the flow and keep quiet. The challenge is to keep on fighting even if we fail while ‘daring greatly’. But if kickbox cardio proves too much, quit before they call 911!
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!