The hardest thing I’ve had to adjust to over the years has been the good moment. Given my background, you’d think I’d savor every positive moment, every small victory, every tiny miracle, every gram of beauty in my life. Sadly, I don’t. I mean, for most of my twenties, I’d often tell myself not to get excited when those moments came, partly because there were so many of them, and partly because I had gotten caught up in my larger goals, my life-long aspirations.
About eighteen years ago, my friend Marc paid me a compliment regarding something I did my first semester of graduate school — I think it had something to do with an article I submitted for publication about multicultural education, Afrocentricity and the so-called Culture Wars. My response to his compliment was both lukewarm and self-effacing. To which he response, “Is it so hard for you to just say, ‘Thank you’?”
Marc was right. I didn’t know how to embrace others’ acceptance of me, others’ compliments and affections, and in a few cases, even admiration. Having been the semi-outcast and inadvertent loner I’d been through most of my middle and high school year made what had started happening as a result of my new-found success seem strange. It was like having a new set of really expensive clothes to wear — clothes that fit and accentuated the best of me — and not being comfortable wearing them.
It became easier to accept and to give compliments over the course of the ’90s. Partly because I had no choice as a solid grad student, a Spencer Foundation fellow, a person with several publications under my belt, and with my constant networking and presentations at conferences. And partly because it’s awfully difficult to date without the ability to be positive, complimentary and affectionate at least a plurality of the time.
Yet I remained guarded. I only had ten days to enjoy my Spencer Foundation fellowship news in April ’95 before my family in Mount Vernon was rendered homeless by the fire at 616. I barely started dating my future wife Angelia before my advisor Joe Trotter began putting up roadblocks to my finishing my dissertation and degree. My mother had ruined my doctoral graduation weekend. It took nearly two and a half years for me to find a semi-decent-paying job in the DC area, doing a mere fraction of what I hoped to do coming out of maximum warp from finishing my doctorate.
But over time, I’ve learned to enjoy the moments, if for no other reason than knowing that there’s a good chance they won’t come again. Going on our honeymoon to Seattle in May ’01 will be five days that I’ll remember for as long as I live. God, those were wonderful days of endless sunshine — in Seattle, of all places — and endless enjoyment! Taking a few minutes to yell “Yes!” upon publishing an article in The Washington Post or about Derrick Bell’s work in Radical Society or doing a radio slot on Pacifica Radio about Fear of a “Black” America. Those were all good things, and I did take some time to enjoy them, even if they weren’t all I hoped they would be.
It’s been a bit different in recent years. This is where having a young child is a good thing, for Noah really does keep me young. Seeing things through his eyes makes me appreciate many little things. Like the turning of leaves in the fall, the excitement over watching him read a few words for the first time, even when he first pooped in the toilet in September ’06. Just thinking about those moments right now has put a smile on my face.
So, while life hasn’t exactly been great for me of late (I’m still looking for an agent to represent Boy At The Window, after all — maybe I should change it to Boy @ The Window), with the small amount of consulting and large amount of teaching that I’m doing these days, I still appreciate little things. Like the love and friendship story of Aang, Katara, Sokka, Toph and eventually, Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender. Or watching a squirrel run with and then eat a slice of pizza in the middle of Princeton University. Or a gentle breeze while jogging on a picturesque day in a normally hot — not this year! — July. Or just hearing Noah’s voice over the phone.
These are the things that help make our lives worth living, taking a moment to not think about career or money, to realize that we should have more hope in thinking about our futures than trepidation. I’ll try to find a moment today, even if it’s only a moment in one of my dreams.