jump to navigation

Speaking of Rivers February 2, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
trackback

[This is the post for Monday, February 1st! You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es).) Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.]

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]

“I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow of human blood in human veins.

 

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”

– from the poem “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes

Since 1976, February 1st has marked the beginning of Black History Month in the United States of America. I always found it curious: Why February, the shortest month of the year (even during leap years)? I sometimes wondered if the reason had anything to do with Langston Hughes, who was born today in 1902.

Born James Mercer Langston Hughes, the poet was a prominent member of the Harlem Renaissance and the first Black American to earn a living solely from writing and public lectures. In addition to poetry (including jazz poetry, which he started writing in high school), he wrote novels, plays, essays, and letters…so many letters. He wrote so many letters, in fact, that at one point he was writing 30 – 40 letters a day and, by the end of his life, he could have filled 20 volumes of books with his letters.

He traveled the world, wrote about his experiences in Paris, Mexico, West Africa, the Azores and Canary Islands, Holland, France, Italy, the Soviet Union, and the Caribbean – but he always came home to Harlem. After all, his patrons were in Harlem. They were, in many ways, the very people about whom he said that he wrote: “workers, roustabouts, and singers, and job hunters on Lenox Avenue in New York, or Seventh Street in Washington or South State in Chicago—people up today and down tomorrow, working this week and fired the next, beaten and baffled, but determined not to be wholly beaten, buying furniture on the installment plan, filling the house with roomers to help pay the rent, hoping to get a new suit for Easter—and pawning that suit before the Fourth of July.” He made a name for himself specifically writing about the Black experience, but (in doing so) he wrote about the American experience.

“Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.   

I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.   

I like a pipe for a Christmas present,

or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.

I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like

the same things other folks like who are other races.   

So will my page be colored that I write?   

Being me, it will not be white.

But it will be

a part of you, instructor.

You are white—

yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.

That’s American.”

– quoted from the poem ”Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes

Being an African-American born at the beginning of the 20th Century meant that Mr. Hughes easily trace his heritage back to slavery. Both of his paternal great-grandmothers were enslaved and both of his paternal great-grandfathers were slave owners.

He could also trace his heritage to freedom and a time when there was no question about freedom – as well as the time when people appreciated their freedom in new ways. His maternal grandmother, Mary Patterson, was African-American, French, English, and Indigenous American. She was also the first woman to attend Oberlin College. She married a man, Lewis Sheridan Leary, also of mixed heritage, who died in 1859 while participating in John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry and eventually married her second husband, Charles Henry Langston. The senior Langston, along with his brother John Mercer Langston, was an abolitionist and leader of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society, who would eventually become a teacher and voting rights activist.

“So boy, don’t you turn back.

Don’t you set down on the steps

’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.

Don’t you fall now—

For I’se still goin’, honey,

I’se still climbin’,

And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”

– quoted from the poem “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes

The Langstons’ daughter, Caroline (Carrie), would become a school teacher and the mother of the great poet. Raised primarily by his mother and maternal grandmother, Langston Hughes should a definite talent and interest in writing at an early age. He was also devoted to books. Despite being academically inclined, he struggled with the racism in school – even when it seemed to benefit him, because he couldn’t escape the misconceptions, marginalization, and oppression that came with the stereotypes.

Still, he persisted. He attended Lincoln University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Chester County, Pennsylvania, where he was the classmate of the then-future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. And, when he had the opportunity to share his poetry with a popular white poet whose poetry “sang” (and was meant to be sung), he took advantage of the moment – even though he was working as a busboy at a New York hotel where the poet (Vachel Lindsay) was having dinner.

“I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom’s way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,”

– quoted from “I Dream A World” by Langston Hughes

Langston Hughes and his words left an indelible mark on the world. As Black History Month is all about recognizing African-Americans who were influential to our society – but not always recognized by society; I have often wondered if Langston Hughes’s birthday being on the 1st was the reason Black History Month is in February. Well, as it turns out, it’s just one more example of serendipity.

 Created in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, an African-American historian who was the son of former slaves, the annual celebration initially started as “Negro History Week” – and it was the second week in February for fifty years. Mr. Woodson started the week so that it coincided with the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln (2/12/1809) and the observed/assumed birthday of Frederick Douglass (2/14/1818), the abolitionist, who escaped slavery at the age of 20). The existence of this heritage month has inspired heritage and cultural observation throughout the year so that the calendar, in some ways, reflects the United States: diverse and (academically) segregated. It has also changed the way some aspects of American history are taught.

“I look at my own body   

With eyes no longer blind—

And I see that my own hands can make

The world that’s in my mind.

Then let us hurry, comrades,

The road to find.

– quoted from the poem “I look at the world” by Langston Hughes

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice. (But my Langston Hughes playlist is full of Bessie, bop, and Bach – all of the poet’s favorites!)

IT’S ALMOST TIME! Are you ready for another “First Friday Night Special?” Please join me this Friday, February the 5th (7:15 – 8:20 PM, CST) when we will be “observing the conditions” of the heart. This practice is open and accessible to all. Additional details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar!

### KEEP ON A-CLIMBIN’ ON ###

Comments»

No comments yet — be the first.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: