#This is Us – This is Me

Who will tell whether one happy moment of love or the joy of breathing or walking on a bright morning and smelling the fresh air, is not worth all the suffering and effort which life implies…

~Erich Fromm

Last nights episode of This is Us hit me to the core. I have been a fan of the show since it’s inception, not only because the writing is so beautifully woven but I was particularly impressed at how perfectly they captured the personality and stressors of being a gifted black male in a white world. Randall reminds me so much of my own son and although I am not a white woman, as a sole parent, I can relate to her character as as a mother mostly raising her children on her own.

This episode brought back the deep sadness that I felt as the caretaker for my own mother. The hospice nurse coming to let us know that she had 48 hours left with us and the goodbyes we had to say as we stood sobbing by her side. It was the most heart wrenchingly beautiful moments I’ve ever experienced. At the age of 35, in my first trimester, carrying my first born in my womb I wished time would stop in that moment and raise her up just to see me through my pregnancy. I carried so much grief for so long afterwards, not just for myself but for my unborn child who would never know how it felt to have a loving, nurturing grandmother hug and kiss them. So of course my tears flowed during the goodbye scene, both affirming the end of this part of her journey and experiencing the writers vision of a soul’s transition from this life to the spirit world. I saw myself in the only daughter, the last one to say goodbye moments before she took her last breath. I saw my brothers, I saw my Godmother, her best friend letting her know it was okay to go and that she’d take over the nurturing.

I saw the sadness, the pain and the peace.

I saw the joy when Rebecca was finally reunited with her true love.

There was so much that reminded me of my own mother’s transition, yet what hit me the most was how Rebecca questioned if she had done enough as a mother. The what ifs that I often feel especially when my children are struggling with school and life. The questioning and guilt I feel when I leave them alone or with a caregiver because I just need some time away from all of the heavy responsibilities of giving and mothering. I adore my children and I wouldn’t have it any other way -well, maybe I would have a regular housekeeper! – raising them on my own, but I think society places such a burden on the custodial parent regardless of why the other parent is absent from parenting.

I am thankful that I have loved ones who remind me that I am a loving mother, and that I am doing the best I can with my children. I remind myself of how much I’ve sacrificed to provide for and support them. I think one thing the writer didn’t get right is that our loved ones continue to show up for us, care for us, help us and nurture us even after they transitioned. I’m sure I will do the same for my children and loved ones when I transition.

And because I have several decades of healthy life remaining in this lifetime, I am committed to incorporate #rest into my daily living so that I won’t have to wait until my transition to experience true rest.

Love,

Toni

bit.ly/tonilovemerch

TONIGHT! Poetic Memoir Intensive with #Ursula Rucker

This intensive word/ thought/ emotion, self-truth-culling, seeks to be a journey of healing, art, therapy, and authentic conversations about life that will result in the creation of individual works/excerpts of EPIC memoir poetry. Each student is invited to perform their created works at this live-streamed event.

Check out the live streamed event on the SIFT Media 215 You Tube Channel tonight, Sunday January 30th from 6-7:30 PM. It’s a creative masterpiece to heal your soul, with the finale by Ursula Rucker!

The Day I Left God – Performance Poetry with Sistahs Laying Down Hands, Mother’s Day 2018

Mother’s Day is always bittersweet for me. I know as a Mother that there is pressure to smile and gush at the numerous mother’s day wishes, cards and love from my kids, but even after seventeen years, I still awaken with a small void knowing I can only speak the sentiment to my own mom, and seek to hear her respond in soft whispers of the wind.

When I was asked to collaborate with the phenomenal drummers and artists Sistahs Laying Down Hands for Mother’s Day I immediately said yes. Every performance together has been a gift to me and as I tapped into my intuition I knew that I needed to be in that space on that day, I just didn’t know why. I chose to recite a poem I wrote as part of my grief work after my mother transitioned. I was in my first trimester and I thought God to be so cruel to take my mother when I was first becoming a mother. Writing helped me come to terms with the loss and my faith and I recite this poem to help other motherless children feel that it’s okay to speak the pain of grief and release it.

I didn’t know that at the dawn of Mother’s Day this year I would be admitting my first-born to the hospital after spending hours in the emergency room. Everything in me wanted to cancel the performance but I had committed and my son told me “you should do it Mom, I know you’ll be good”. So with little sleep and a strained voice I sang and performed my poem surrounded by the healing energy of the drum. It was where I needed to be and I am grateful for the opportunity to receive the strength and the spiritual support through art.

My poem is about 5 minutes in, but you will want to watch from the beginning for a wonderful spoken word of remembrance of mothers and of course the powerful hands of the Sistahs Karen Smith and Miriama Koroma! You can search this blog for the words to the poem.

May you be continue to feel the nurturing of a mother’s love in spite of where she may or may not be in your life. Love comes in all forms. ~Toni Love

#loveistheanswer

 

Not One (New original poetry by Toni Love)

 

Mothers of Black Sons and all who support in solidarity are welcome to join us as we stand together United against racial injustice, police brutality and inner city violence. We need your collective voice, wisdom and support to effect change. Please come out Sunday, October 16th at 12noon. We will march from Broad and Cecil B Moore Avenue to 1401 JFK Boulevard, Philadelphia. In addition to being a poet, I am the mother of a young black male. I am honored to be on the program and will recite this piece as well as my poem “Born of Warriors” written after the #PhiladoCastille murder.

MOBS can be contacted via email at : millionmomsphilly@gmail.com. Please also donate as little or as much as you can to MOBS Go Fund Me which will help cover the cost of permits and travel to our state and US capitols. Gathering as one unit is an essential part of the healing process. I hope you come.

~Toni #loveistheanswer

Not One   

Not mine, son
Not mine

Not my son
Not my brother, nephew, uncle or current lover
Not my neighbor cousin or future husband

Not mine, not hers
Not anybody’s
Son

I am not saying “no more”
I am saying “not one”

We with the millions of ancestors behind us
Forge a force you will feel into centuries

Your gated communities will not be safe
Your land will not be prosperous
Your wealth will not sustain you
Your privilege will not save you

We are millions today plus millions from centuries before us
We are far more than your eyes can see

We gather together
Seen and unseen
When mothers pray
The heavens come forth to listen

So rest assured and be forewarned
There will be a price for your descendants to pay
If you ever look at our sons in a disrespectful way

We, collectively are not playing with you today

No more
Not one
Not
One
Son

(c) Toni Love Publishing

 

 

 

Born of Warriors- Original Poetry inspired by the #PhilandoCastile murder

Born of Warriors

Now is not the time to sit down and grow weary

For we are born of warriors

Trained on soil rich with the spirits that passed before us

We were selected from our tribe and trained for battle

Even stripped of our land, our riches and our families

We stood strong ushering the chained weary in front of us

Walking miles to the beach to meet our battle with the sea

Some were not strong enough to endure the nausea swaying beneath our ribs

Diseased corpses laying by, vicious attacks of salt water on open wounds

Watching the constant raping of wombs and deep screams of torment

Many were not trained for this battle and vanished into the sea at night for comfort

They were not capable of taking the journey so they took their own lives instead

But we did not

We are born of warriors

We were trained for this

Taught how to survive capture

How to lead without authority

Torment and torture we withstood

We are born of warriors

So this is nothing new

We will always come up against those who never wish to see us free

They have seen us rule, prosper and conquer

They seek to degrade, demoralize and destroy our power

We have forgotten who we are

But they have not

They fear us because we are born of warriors

Now is not the time to be paralyzed in fear

Queens expect their sons to walk off into battle

Their tears rolling down the backs of their Kings as they prepare sons for their destiny

Never is the battle fair

Never is the outcome expected

But we must not sit and fight battles with feathers

Now is the time to stand up and fight

Remember who you are

Your ancestors did not fall weak and die before reaching land

Nor did they jump to their demise

They stood and fought and ran and rallied and walked and planned and waited and revolted but they did not sit down

The only reason you are here is because they fought for your life

Never forget that some will never cease at trying to take your freedom

You were born for this

You were trained for the battle

You are here solely because you are born of warriors

Those who seek to destroy you have not forgotten

You descended from Kings and Queens

Born a warrior
© M. Tonita Austin aka Toni Love 7/7/2016

9-11 Emergency – Original Poetry

wpid-img_20150911_081424.jpg9-11 Emergency

This poem was written during a trip to New York City in 2009. As the taxi cab stopped in traffic I looked up and I was right in front of Engine 34. I felt the energy in the building and these words came to me…

Back in New York

and nothing is the same

I know it’s been more than ten years

I expected that a lot had changed

The taxi cab was shiny and new

No familiar ganja or curry scent lingering in the air

No arrogant driver to talk to

Either from fear of a bad review or the thick bulletproof shield

that assured there was no conversation to share

The streets were still dirty, the buildings still grey and stoic

Yet the soul of the City had changed and I almost couldn’t put my finger on it

Until I passed by Ladder 34

This is where the City lost its soul

All of the years I spent walking these streets riding in taxi cabs and liverys I had never passed this place

The building was so lifeless

The pain, the heartache washed the color from the red paint

The emotion felt just driving by in the cab almost made me faint

I wanted to stop the driver and run to the building to perform CPR

Jump-start the hearts and souls of the firefighters inside waiting for the next emergency

and praying to God that they are not called to another tower

And lose what’s left of the hope they cling to each and every hour

Sadness overwhelms me as I see the fighters from the past

running to get ready to save us from the blast

They never knew what hit us

why the towers were coming down

never thought twice about the danger that awaited them underground

Not knowing who was in danger

They didn’t hesitate to answer the call

All of our brave and dedicated servants showed up for us

I pray for the souls of them all

(c) M Tonita Austin aka Toni Love 3/30/2009

The Day I Left God – Original Poetry from Toni Love

digging graveyardThe Day I Left God

I laid the red carnation on top of her casket

Collapsing through showers of grief

The sight of them lowering the flesh and bones of my mother

Into the cold hard ground was too much for my fragile womb to bear

I had prophesied years before

That her life would end when her decayed lungs could take no more

Tobacco

Stress

Worry

Fear

Yet I still was not prepared

God was not supposed to take my mommy so soon

I did all the right things

I was baptized and attended church

I paid my tithes

Helped the elderly, sick and poor

Volunteered and served my community

I got good grades, graduated from college, supported myself

And although I wasn’t perfect I tried to do every righteous thing I could do

Stayed by her side like a good daughter should

Took her to doctor’s appointments

And brought her clothes and food when she was unable to move

I was so good how could he take my mommy so soon?

Every day I walked into the cancer center I stopped in the chapel to pray

Please wait until my baby is born before you take my mommy away

Every day

On my knees I would pray

Please God

Please God

And he took her anyway

Standing over her casket tears flowing too fast to even wipe away

I sobbed again for her grand baby comfortably swaying in my womb

Anxious to see the light of day

Not realizing the would never get the chance to wrap his little

Hands around her face and say

I love you mom mom

Day by day the anger filled up every space left in my perforated heart

How dare my God leave me to do motherhood alone?

Without my mother to tell me how to hold him when to feed him

When to worry and when to let go

How cruel can he be to leave me mourning during the most beautiful time in my life?

Just two months before I would walk down the aisle and become someone’s loving wife

With each contraction my unborn child had no choice but to drink in my tears of pain grief and anger

My soul cried out why

And received no answer

I found myself sitting in silence once again

Praying to find the strength to go on

So I did what I felt God had done

I banished love and left my soul deserted

Back in the cemetery in the cold hard earth I left my faith in God and buried it deep

And I walked away

And I wept

The day I left God.

© M. Tonita Austin aka Toni Love

New Shoes: My Mother’s Day Gift from Above

wpid-20150510_100024.pngMy Mother transitioned a little less than fourteen years ago, and last year was the first year I awakened on Mother’s Day without heaviness in my heart and tears in my eyes. Our relationship expanded beyond mother and daughter, we were best friends, so it was a deeper loss for me. The first few years were the most difficult. Even though I was a mother myself, all of the Mother’s Day commercials with scenes of children hugging and delivering gifts and flowers to their mothers trickled into my joy like Chinese water torture. The constant barrage of reminders and emails about the day made me want to crawl under a rock until it was over. One day about ten years ago, my Godmother called me to wish me a happy day and I burst into tears. She spoke to me about the pride she felt when she watched me with my children, and that she knew my mother was watching with even more pride and how I should pass the joy of motherhood on to my offspring, not just the sadness of the loss. She told me that it was normal and acceptable to have a moment of sadness and recognition of the loss, but not to sit in it and watch the day pass without honoring myself and all of the other mothers and mother figures in my life. That same year my daughter’s Godmother talked to me about the love of a Mother and how her presence is strong and with us but we have to push aside the cloud of grief to see their light. She suggested that I ask her to manifest herself in some small way during the day and so I challenged her belief and I did. Later that afternoon my best friend’s mother showed up on my back porch (mom’s favorite spot ) with a beautiful bouquet of plants and flowers and also reminded me that this is a day not only of remembrance of my mom, but more importantly to celebrate and applaud myself. Mom had sent her most faithful messengers to me and I finally had no choice but to hear them loud and clear and drink in the love that she was offering through them.

I can’t say that the weeks leading up to the holiday aren’t still sometimes melancholy and that I don’t think of her more because of all of the commercialized sentiments, but I do three things leading up to mother’s day that keep me from being overwhelmed by the sadness that can envelop the holiday:

  1. I pamper myself : Last week, I put appointments in my calendar for a massage, manicure and pedicure. I also made arrangements to take a mini-retreat; a 24 hour stay-cation at a nearby hotel complete with wine, bubble bath, and as much sleep and relaxation I want without anyone yelling “mom” or bursting in my room, even if it is for a morning hug. As caretakers, our first priority should always be to check in with ourselves and make sure we take the time out to refuel every once in a while. I save $50 a month and put it into my Serenity Fund so that I can take a stay-cation at least four times a year. If you patronize a particular hotel each time you can end up with points and some of your retreats will cost you nothing.
  2. I purchase myself a gift that will arrive on or before Mother’s Day: In the last few years of my marriage, my ex would not even buy me a Mother’s Day gift. My children were babies so I would be disappointed to say the least. I realized then that I didn’t have to wait for another person to validate me as a mother and that I could do it for myself, so each year I purchase one gift that I wanted but had refrained from buying for myself, and I purchased one gift that I would probably have given to my Mother (almost always ends up being a pair of shoes!). This year, I replaced my worn out couch with a slightly used couch with two recliners. And I ordered three pairs of shoes. I honor myself and honor my Mother at the same time and receive twice the love. Win-win!
  3. I ask for Mom to “show up” and always expect a gift from her in the form of a mini-miracle: I never really felt my mom’s presence until months of grief therapy helped me get past the mild depression that set in after her loss. She was around but I wasn’t present. Now, I ask her to show up for me and she always does. And I always experience a random act of kindness from one of her angels here on earth. This year, the day before Mother’s day my shoes arrived and I got the sudden urge to rid my closet of old shoes I can’t or won’t wear any longer and to organize my closet to fit in all of the shoes that I can wear since my ankle fracture. It truly felt as if mom had taken over my body because I haven’t cleared out my bedroom closet in about ten years. Mom had so many shoes that she had each shoe box cataloged by number on her computer. Halfway through the project I smiled because I couldn’t deny that she was making her spirit known to me, and I thanked her for the beautiful gift of her presence! Most years I get several mini God-incidences (much more than a coincidence) or miracles, so far for this Mother’s Day I’ve received two. I have been wanting to replace my couch. I originally purchased it from a Thrift Store just to have something to sit on when my ex moved out and took the furniture with him. The couch was nothing fancy but it was cheap and comfortable and would suffice. A few weeks ago on a Yard Sale site I saw a double reclining sofa listed for several hundred dollars. I mentioned that I was interested but knew it was still not in my budget. A few days ago the woman contacted me saying the other buyer had backed out and she was dropping the price of this gently used couch (it retails new for over $700) down to $100. When I mentioned that I needed to find someone with a truck, she said she had a friend who could move it for me, no extra cost; mini miracle #1. Friday I went to the local Whole Foods to get fruit and thought about what I could get that was appetizing and also easy enough for the kids to cook me for Mother’s day. While browsing, a gentleman working at the fresh pasta counter invited me to consider some of their options. I started thinking that pasta would be easy enough for the kids to prepare especially since fresh pasta cooks so quickly. Before I could decide, the young man said that he would give me a sample of Ricotta Gnocchi to try at home and proceeded to fill up a small box of fresh pasta that I could take home at no cost to me! I picked up a small container of marinated and grilled chicken breast and just that quickly my Mother’s Day dinner dilemma had been resolved. I smiled again and said “thanks Mom”; mini miracle #2.

Some don’t believe in spirits or the after life or even that people transition and remain with us as energy, but I do. And even if you don’t, and you have or have had the experience of a Mother’s unconditional love, you should at least believe that she would not stop loving you or showing her love for you just because she is no longer physically able to do so. Mothers are God’s miracle workers and I don’t believe the miracles stop just because their earthly heart stops beating.

Wishing all of the caregivers of beautiful children, a beautiful day of love, gifts and miracles! And oh yes, shoes!!

“Grief Waits” – Original Poetry by Toni Love

Grief Waits
Grief Waits

I read this original poem “Grief Waits” at The Collective All Artist Open Mic a few weeks ago at Rose Petals Cafe and Lounge and a few people asked me to post it. This was written a few weeks after my father transitioned, not for sympathy but to support the little girl inside yearning to tell her story. Not sure I’m finished with it, but here it is:

Grief Waits

She cries
Into makeup stained pillows when no one is awake
This single mother of two wants her own daddy back
But no time to be sad with taxi runs to baseball ballet and piano lessons
No chance to cry with the babies watching and counting on her strength
Even peaceful meditation is interrupted by children’s nightmares soaked in sadness
She greets the morning sun holding back the tears
Adorning sunglasses so the suburban moms don’t ask her “what’s wrong?” as she skips her child to school

Gotta make sure her offspring are happy and
Gotta make sure they keep up their grades and
Gotta keep their schedules consistent so they won’t feel the pain
Gotta keep a smile at the job and
Gotta search for the desire to
pay the bills, do the laundry and cook them a healthy meal

Gotta shield them from the rain

But who is taking care of the little girl who just lost her daddy
Who makes sure she eats and keeps the heaviness of her heart from sinking into the pit of her stomach
Who holds back her fear of the journey through life as an orphan and raising strong kids alone while the village is slowly disappearing
No grandfathers, no grandmothers, no great grands, no mother no father
No father

Who holds her at the end of the night when the kids are counting sheep and she can’t find enough energy to weep
Who takes her by the hand and lifts her off her feet to give her burdens a chance to sleep
Who says its gonna be okay and wipes her tears away
Maybe tomorrow will be a better day
Maybe then she’ll feel like going out to play
But not today

Because she’s tossed and turned all night
Living a nightmare until the first ray of daylight
Then its time to dab away the pain and push away the tears
Because its 7:15 and the school bus will soon be here
And no one wants salty tears in their lunchbox

Yet she rises once again meeting the morning with a smile
As grief waits behind every closed door

God Bless the Child

(c) M Tonita Austin aka Toni Love  5/30/2013

Life (for Elizabeth) Original Poem 11/23/14

AngelandStaircaseLife ( for Elizabeth)

Your breath became my own

and you exhaled life’s elixir into my lungs

as I was yet being formed

Your dreams were etched into my DNA and each step you took created my legacy

You are life

No one can doubt a Mother’s love

It’s God’s favor manifested from above

Life’s shelter from our enemies

A Mother transforms herself often to be

Best friend and nurturer

Wife and reliable comforter

Steady and stern when necessary

With laughter sweet and colorful as ripe strawberries

You are Life

You will always be life

You will continue to love us

To help and encourage us

Your love transcends time and earth and breath

It is everlasting

It is omnipresent

Love is here

You are here

Your spirit remains here

With every breath we take

Because

You are life

(c) M. Tonita Austin aka Toni Love  11/23/14

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