Friday, 22 July 2011

'Clothed in Truth, I Stand Before You NAKED.' - Pain.... and A Peek into the Past -

'Clothe in Truth, I Stand Before You NAKED.' 
I know pain. Pain is something I carry around with me, buried DEEP because that is the only way I knew how to survive all that I have been through. I have carried pain with me for so long that pain is now as much a part of me as the brilliant smile I brandish.... sometimes.

Pain has become a part of  the protective shell I have wrapped around my heart in the hope that the kind of experience that teaches wisdom will be enough to prevent new pain from seeping in.

But I have learnt that pain is consistent, an ever present companion that has existed side by side with happiness from time immemorial. Eighteenth century poet Emily Dickinson wrote about the irony of pain's insistence on showing up with happiness and waiting in the wings for its turn. "For each ecstatic instant, we MUST an anguish pay in keen and quivering ratio to the ecstasy." - ED (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886)

Pain became part of my emotional DNA so much that for years as a young journalist I was subconsciously drawn to situations that involved the deep suffering of others. It's as if by telling their stories and providing solutions to their problems I think I got some measure of satisfaction and relief from the personal anguish I had deliberately buried.

At the Gleaner newspaper where I worked for three years, I quickly became friends with people who some of my colleagues at that lofty 7 North Street establishment would regard as 'common' folk.  I somehow felt more comfortable with them than with my colleagues who were supposed to be my counterparts. Life was simpler with those ordinary, down to earth people. When they smiled they meant it and they spoke their mind with candour and I, with my sharp tongue and nimble wit, didn't have to mince my words with them. I didn't have to search for possible double meanings in their interactions with me as their actions were not cloaked  in diplomacy and all those cumbersome things.

The cleaners and I were also very good friends and many mornings they and I were the only ones at the office  exchanging good-natured banter sometimes quite loudly when I would arrive before 5am for my early morning round up shifts during the six months I wrote for the Star newspaper before being transferred to the Gleaner's Features Desk.

The people who worked in the canteen and I were also on very good terms and the security guards always knew that I was the best reporter to call whenever someone came by the Gleaner lobby with a sad story appealing for help. If I was out on an assignment at the time, although I had many colleagues who would be upstairs and available, they would simply have them wait until I showed up. Many times I would arrive hot, tired and hungry to find someone waiting downstairs to talk to me.

"Siddung right dehso, the lady who mi want yuh fi talk to no deh yah now but she soon come," any one of the three female security guards would tell them and I would often delay my much anticipated lunch or even breakfast to sit and listen to them sharing their pain.

Afterwards I would write as if possessed by the teller of the tale. Transferring their pain and frustration with their situation onto my computer screen which would later be pressed into the powerful pages of the Gleaner newspaper which would get picked up and read the next day by people who could do something to help. And in almost all cases they did.

One day when I came in, a young lady in her early twenties was sitting in the Gleaner lobby in tears. She appeared frantic with a desolation in her eyes that implied that she had been grappling with her situation without aid for a long time.

I invited her upstairs to one of the editorial interview rooms and listened as she poured out her frustration; as she unpacked her pain. Her five children had been taken from her and placed in children's homes and her children's father was serving a three year sentence at the Horizon Park maximum security prison on Spanish Town Road. Unemployed and confused, she explained that she divided her time between visiting him in prison and her children at the state home on Maxfield Avenue in Kingston. She explained that she had no money to make those trips and the last time she visited her children one of them had a gash on her forehead and she feared for their safety and well being as there had been well documented horror stories of abuse of children in state-run  homes in Jamaica

The article that I wrote and which was published in the Star the next day screamed: I WANT MY KIDS BACK! 

Read the first article I wrote about the issue in April 2004 by CLICKING THIS LINK.

It was the Star's front page lead story and grabbed public attention and sympathy. However, her situation was not addressed until after I wrote several other follow up articles and her member of Parliament gave her a house in a new development in Albion, St. Thomas and her children were returned to her. In that same year, I placed 2nd in the Press Association of Jamaica and the Jamaica Broilers' FairPlay media awards for the series of articles written about the young mother's plight.

But it wasn't until a few months later while I was a student at the University of the West Indies that one of my classmates identified what I had been doing all those years. How I had been dealing with my own pain by becoming immersed in the pain and suffering of others.

Darron Murray appeared to have been drawn to me the minute I walked into the narrow, cramped room that housed the mock radio studio where the Radio Journalism students were confined for an entire afternoon of five long hours once per week honing our craft. It wasn't long before he and I became inseparable and it didn't take long for rumours to start that he and I were an item, but nothing was farther from the truth,

Darron, with his tall, athletic build and the bearing of a cricketer, walked with a purposeful stride and had a steady gaze. He also had a comforting presence. He was very popular at UWI and was up to his teeth in hall activities including sports but he always made time for me and a few of his other bonafide sistrens in the class.

He didn't mind me bending his ear to listen to my occasional woes about my then boyfriend and often provided a shoulder to cry on. The relationship evolved into a brother/sister camaraderie with some latent sexual chemistry which I did my best to ignore and discourage. Apparently, the many occasions I hung out in Darron's dorm room after classes or during free periods or while working on assignments together gave him enough insight into who I was for him to have been able to put the pieces of the puzzle together one day in class.

We had a practical assignment for our radio broadcast class taught jointly by Alma Mock Yen and Fae Ellington which was 30 percent of our final grade. It was a half hour radio documentary which had to be based on actual news events that had occurred in the past. I was one of maybe two practicing journalists in the class at the time with any newsroom experience. The rest of my class mates had enrolled in university straight out of high school so I and my other media colleague, Rohan Powell, were being 'bomb rushed' for story ideas that the rest of the class could base their documentaries on.

I recommended some of the articles I had written or events I had covered and Darron chose the Lead Mother story or the Tennesha Rankin story as I sometimes refer to it. After he read a couple of the articles I had written and visited Tennesha, Darron came back to me and with a piercing look, commented incredulously:

"Pickney meck you can write bout pain and suffering so!? I have gone through all of your articles and there is one common feature in all of them: PAIN. Don't get me wrong! You do a damned good job of describing people's pain, but teck this from me, you fi write bout some happy things to! It can't be good for you to be so immersed in pain man!"

I felt like some one had sucker punched me in the gut! He was being so insightful and it was so unexpected but so unerringly accurate! 

The greatest gift anyone can give me is DEEPER insight into myself... into who I am at the CORE and why I am 'wired' the way I am; why I react certain ways to particular things.

I absorbed what Darron had said but as usual, immediately tucked it away somewhere and continued to mainstream life. But over the years, I would take out what my friend Darron had said and examine it, ponder on the key he had so disarmingly handed me to help unlock the enigma that was myself. Someone who I had lived with all my life but was too busy reaching out to and comforting others to ever be a friend to myself.

I did begin telling 'happy' stories but I am still drawn to stories that bleed and to people who are suffering. Many of whom I still carry around with me... ghosts, spectres, now buried in the Gleaner's graveyard of archived newspaper files; micro fiche tombs. But, some are still my living, breathing children, birth from storytelling process. Plucked from the lips of those desperate or brave enough to share their pain.

Every time I sit down to listen or type, I am in the throes of child birth, breathing LIFE into words; helping people tell THEIR stories and there is something very empowering about that.

Here, via this blog, I am FINALLY telling MY story and it is has been Cathartic. 

P.S. Please accept my apologies.. it appears most of the links in the article leads to website pages that no longer exist. I will see if I can locate the linked articles elsewhere and re-link them. Until I am able to.. please bear with me. Thanks. *ADDED March 2, 2018*

A Black Woman’s Smile
by Ty Gray-EL
Do you know how strong you have to be to make a black woman smile?
Do you have any idea what an accomplishment that is?
She has borne the weight of this country on her back for 400 years.
She has suffered the agony of unassisted, husband-less childrearing since the 1600’s.
Have you any idea how much strength it takes to put a smile on her face?
You need the strength of Sampson, 
The nerve of Joshua and the courage of David facing Goliath.

Cause she has cultivated in her womb the marvel of the universe, 
Only to have her hopes and dreams aborted and her aspirations show up dead on arrival.
She has given birth to kings and queens and delivered on her majestic promise 
Only to have her children kidnapped and sold to a criminal with no respect for her royalty.
If you can make a black woman smile, you are a miracle worker!
Imagine breastfeeding your child in Virginia and having snatched from your arms, branded; 
And hijacked to Louisiana and publicly fondled on a New Orleans auction block!
If the memory of that pain was locked-bound in your DNA, would you be smiling?
If you breast-fed someone else’s child only to watch her grow old enough to call you Darky, 
Pickaninny and Nappy-headed Jigaboo, you wouldn’t be smiling either!
If you can make a black woman smile you have DONE something!
If you can make her smile you are stronger than Atlas, cause God knows she has been.She’s been raped and ravaged and scorned and nearly annihilated.
She’s been pimped and pummeled and stoned and deliberately depreciated.
She has cooked and cleaned and sewn...and NEVER been compensated!
She’s been forced to watch the offspring of her loins mangled and maligned across centuries.
Her character has been continuously smeared, assassinated over and over and over; again and again and again.
You ever thought about how strong you have to be, just to BE a black woman?
She’s had to make brick without straw after being stripped of all her customs, stripped of all her culture, stripped of all her traditions.
No other woman in the history of the civilized world has gone what she has gone through.
No other beings on the planet have endured what she has endured.
She’s been chastised, criticized, demonized and terrorized.
She’s had to stand when her man was bull-whipped for trying to stand.
She’s had to stand when her man was castrated for trying to stand.
She’s had to stand when her man was hung by his neck for trying to stand.
She’s had to carry her man, cause every time he tried to carry himself, he was murdered for trying to do so.
Ask Betty Shabazz about Malcolm; ask Corretta Scott King about Martin; ask Emmett Till’s mother.
If you can make a black woman smile you have achieved something.
Since 1619 when we came in chains, the entire world’s been messing with her brain, disrespecting her, calling her out of her name, and she’s tired, just plain Fanny-Lou-Hamer-tired!
Tired of being called B-words, and H-words and N-words and other-words and everything except the child of God that she is.
But the one thing in this world that will make a black woman smile is her man.
A real man!
If you’re doing what you’re supposed to do she will smile she will smile regularly and gladly.
And recognize this:So, man up my brother!
Man up and make your woman smile.
Treat her like the Queen that she is.
She deserves it.
In all of God’s Creation there is nothing more alluring, more appealing, or attractive; nothing more beautiful, more charismatic, more charming or captivating; nothing more delightful, more elegant, or exquisite; nothing more fascinating, more gorgeous, more inspiring, or intoxicating; nothing more magnificent or lovely than a Black Woman’s Smile.


  1. And cathartic it is. What I love about your step to finally write about yourself is that it's infectious. Somehow I have had my own share of pain but have never had the courage to write about it. You are such an inspiration Andrea and guess what I have slowly began mine as well. Thank you for your encouragement and may God bring total healing as you gently pour it out girl!

  2. Thanks Pamela. Great to know I have inspired you.

  3. Hi Andrea. I just discovered this blog and have enjoyed it so far. I am from the country too and love the way you describe country life. I see that you referred to Tenneha..the Lead Mother.....are you still in touch with her? I know her, we attend the same church....the children are growing up nicely....but she needs a job.

  4. Wow!! Amazing. Thanks for your comment. I am no longer in touch with Tennesha
    unfortunately. Jobs are difficult to come by
    in Jamaica. Unfortunately that is not something I can help with at
    this time but I do hope she finds a job soon. I am happy to hear that her kids are
    growing up ok. There were real concerns that the lead would have a lasting debilitating impact on them.