Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Past and Present: The Message is the Same

I’m tired. Exhausted, actually. I spent May 8 to 15 in Halifax, visiting my sister and her two soon-to-be one-year-old twin boys. It wasn’t a vacation. While my sister was a work, and my nephews at daycare, I was holed up in the room that used to be my father’s office. My task was to “clean up the mess” — sort through all the papers, decide what to keep and what could be thrown out.

It was a daunting task.

My father’s office, which was commonly known as the Blue Room, became the “catch-all” room after my father died in 2001. It was a chore just to open the door, and with all the clutter that had gathered in the room over the years, I had forgotten that the carpet was almost the same shade of blue as the walls.

It took five full days before I had managed to clear out the room, when I could actually lay down in the middle of the room. My father kept everything. I mean everything. I found church finance reports going back to 1978. The original plans to the family house. Letters exchanged between my uncles — a sort of “family feud” — around the time when it became necessary to place my grandmother in a nursing home. Photos of me and my sister as children, and our unruly hair. I came across a number of gems that made me think about the past, my childhood, and how so much has changed since then.

One of the gems I came across was the keynote address delivered to my high school graduating class on June 25, 1992. The guest speaker was the late Dr. Ruth Johnson, a former resident of Africville and, when I was a child, the organist in our church. My father had typed Dr. Johnson’s speech, and like he had always done, kept a copy. As I reread the speech, I could see Dr. Johnson standing behind the podium, telling the audience about what it was like growing up Black in Nova Scotia, and the audience fully enthralled.

Her speech inspired, reminded us of our possibility, and what she said nearly 20 years ago still holds true today: “Set your goals high … for there is a ladder to climb and every rung goes higher and higher. […] This world needs the somebodies, for there is no place for the nobodies.

Her message was simple: if we are going to succeed, we have to set our goals high and believe in ourselves, in our ability to succeed. There are days when doubt crowds the way, when I second guess what I’m doing. But stumbling upon Dr. Johnson’s speech reminds me of the ABC’s of success, or in Dr. Johnson’s words, Victory: A=Attitude, B=Believe, C=Confidence.

I just have to keep on keeping on.

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