Strength to carry on
“This is why one must say Yes to life and embrace
it wherever it is found–and it is found in
terrible places; nevertheless, there it is: and if the
father can say, Yes, Lord, the child can learn that
most difficult of words, Amen.”
–James Baldwin, Nothing Personal
The decision to quit my job as a bookstore manager for a major retail chain and become a full-time caregiver for my severely diabetic and arthritic mother, then seventy-seven years old, was neither an easy nor a practical one to make. I knew that I stood to lose a great deal financially because we lived in a state, Georgia, that did not provide supplemental income for volunteer caregivers. One’s sacrifice was one’s choice. I knew, too, that emotionally and spiritually I would often likely find myself treading the very thinnest of ice.
The fact that the long hours of retail management allowed me just enough financial flexibility to pay someone else to care after my mother was something I could no longer ignore. Moreover, ten to twelve hours of building displays, training employees, and repeating a thousand times per hour that the customer is always right no matter how utterly abusive was generally followed by an evening of cooking, cleaning, and nursing, or a night of unrelenting trauma at a hospital. Years of such a regimen can challenge the physical and mental integrity of even the most serene spiritual beings. Hiring myself out to hire someone else in depleted the quality of my life rather than enhanced it.
There was also one other important factor: although my job as a bookseller had allowed me to contribute to the education of my community and to introduce numerous youth to the profession, it had also claimed hours and years I would have preferred to spend on my own writing. I had drawn much solace and encouragement from selling books at a time–throughout the 1990s–when black authors in the United States were experiencing a surge in popularity that surpassed even that of the Harlem Renaissance writers in the 1920s through 1930s and that of the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s and 1970s. I enjoyed a great deal of a militant’s satisfaction in my full-wall displays of works by Maya Angelou, Terry McMillan, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker in a chic southern mall bookstore where blacks and whites alike expected to encounter an occasional African-American face behind a register or broom but not smiling at them from the glittering displays reserved for bestsellers. And more than a little inspiration warmed my soul when I hosted book signings and other literary events with such authors as Tina McElroy Ansa, John Berendt, J. California Cooper, E. Lynn Harris, Pearl Cleage, Susan Taylor, Kephra Burns, and Reg E. Gaines. Whereas such encounters quieted my hunger for a time, I had known since the age of eighteen that only my full-fledged entry into the ranks of authorship would wholly satisfy it.
At the age of forty-two, the possibility of staying home to take care of my mother while pursuing my dream of establishing myself as a writer struck me as highly feasible. Possibly even divinely intuited. If I could somehow, I decided, gain my bank account’s cooperation, I would release the false security of a job that could only result in my eventual collapse and I would take a spirited leap of faith toward achieving a dream I had deferred all my adult life.