Published in Epiphany online magazine January 2003
The truth sometimes turns up in unexpected places.
...With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world? Desiderada by Max Ehrmann...
Halos of fine white dust filled with particles of the dead and plain old concrete from the once majestic structures, which were once the World Trade Towers of New York City, crown the heads of courageous men and women who have not paused since that fatal day Sept 11, 2001. These are the city’s bravest, the Fire and Police departments of New York City: America’s Angels in Black, women and men standing tall amidst carnage and sorrow pledging to bring everyone home. Once, not so long ago, my image of an Angel had always been of a white, blonde male or female dressed immaculately in a white diaphanous gown flowing out and around them in peaceful soft folds. Their heads illuminated by a golden-white light in a circle a few inches above their heads hands clasped in front of them or held out in supplication. Of course, this image was drilled into my psyche from younger days when I first began to see clearly and identify images shown to me by my mother in my favorite Bible stories. Later the images were further imprinted into my maturing psyche through the media, school and the church. But as I found the courage to step away from my childhood and the images steeped in it my vision changed.
The harsh reality of life and the day-to-day struggle to survive as a separate person; as an individual, drove me to ask questions and seek answers in places alien and foreign to me. As time went on I found my answers, most of them, harsh and gut wrenching. The reality of being seen as black (not as a human being): seen as inferior was the hardest one and following quick and immediately behind my blackness, was my womanhood and then my ‘Caribbeaness’. These realities taken together are not such a pleasant or tasteful combination in the eyes of many. As my innocence was stripped away in the secular world, I found my spiritual core being tested in unexpected ways. No longer could I find peace or answers in uttering the words of the Lords Prayer: “Our father who art in heaven” those words no longer afforded peace, no solace, no comfort, no clarity. Images of those Angels in white, blonde-haloed with blue eyes, pink-lipped with rosy cheeks no longer made my heart thump with wonderment or with awe. How come I never saw an angel who looked like me? An Angel whose skin was dressed in black like mine? It took me three decades and four years to see an Angel dressed in black skin. It took a trip to West Africa’s Senegal to find my first Angel dressed in black skin and it was all by accident. As I traveled by foot in Senegal’s capital of Dakar on a college sponsored trip with two Caucasian Americans one male, one female and a Senegalese guide, I looked up on my way to the American Consulate and there they were. Standing strong, tall and black with kinky black hair statuesque against a building of, which I cannot recall its name or its location, I only saw two angels dressed in black skin. It was on that day and the twenty days following that my perception of almost everything changed and still continues to change to this day. Today as a practicing Buddhist, I see life through eyes that are no longer glazed over by delusion: through eyes that are lighted by the light of faith and that of humanity, and compassion. On September 11, 2001 when all headlines in newspapers and on television news channels heralded a new day of reality for Americans I smiled. I was no longer alone. The world had finally caught up with my kind (I thought smugly to myself). As everyone accredited New York’s finest with courage and humanness in the face of the horrendous tragedy in the financial district, I watched and wept and smiled, and wept. The Angels whom I thought I had found in West Africa were here with me all along. In each and every neighborhood I had ever lived in this country, they had tarried on sharing the same stage of life with me and countless others tirelessly saving people like myself first with no thought of themselves. Just as I thought I had arrived at the pinnacle of my spiritual journey, I found there was still a long way to go. The women and men dressed in black were not all dressed in black skins but in black cloth and rubber cloaked in white dust; dust of carnage and of brick, concrete, steel and marble; dust that formed a halo over their heads and a halo of golden light over my heart.