Yesterday was my birthday, and it was bittersweet — with, really the only sweetness being that I’ve lived to see another year.
Between the pandemic, Hitlerian political rallies, senseless shootings, extreme disrespect, the staggering amount of garbage people in this country, and now the death of Chadwick Boseman, I can’t say that I’m in the mood to swing from the rafters. Not that anyone is gathering in the first place.
I’m having a hard time with the death of Chadwick Boseman, and I take it as a sign that he expired on my birthday. It has crystallized, in my mind, that we require escapism for inspiration.
Looking back at the last four years, I saw him twice.
I was fortunate enough to attend the Howard University graduation of 2018 in Washington, DC, and witness his keynote speech. Boseman, himself, had graduated from Howard in 2000, and he was clearly a proud Bison. He looked great. Healthy. He was engaging, down-to-earth, inspirational, hilarious, and sent that beautiful class of brilliant Black graduates – and their adoring families – on an energized path to success.
The second time was in February of this year, at the closing party for the NBA All-Star game. It was a relatively intimate setting in the VIP area. D-Nice and Clark Kent were spinning, and the party was a who’s who of Black celebrities and NBA stars. Boseman walked in alone. He was low-profile, wearing a backpack and his signature smile. He greeted D-Nice and Clark Kent at the turntables and gave polite smiles to everyone in his midst. Everyone was happy to see him. He walked past me, and I turned to get a better look. I’d seen the pictures of him from recent months, where he was very thin, and I was pleased to see that he wasn’t nearly as gaunt as he’d looked in photographs. He hung out and joked with friends, and left within an hour or so.
People are awestruck that Boseman was able to accomplish so much while quietly battling a deadly illness, while I believe that his projects and ability to dig deep to make an impact and inspire others probably propelled him to live longer than the disease prescribed.
According to the press, Boseman had a four-year battle with colon cancer, so if we do the math, Black Panther was released in 2018 and took some years to make. Boseman first appeared as Black Panther back in a 2016 Captain America film. Four years ago. And while it must have taken all of his energy to play that character — the first Black superhero — with his secret cancer, I can’t imagine the energy it gave him to know that he was going to motivate millions of people. It was a true, selfless gift. I can only imagine that he didn’t talk about his health because he didn’t want to distract from the message, and likely because it gave him the ability to be “normal” (although, what exactly does that mean, now?) for at least a few hours a day.
And, Cancer. It’s probably the only thing that we can ALL agree on. It’s not racist, sexist, elitist, or homophobic. It’s an equal opportunity killer.
Looking back on all of it — Black Panther, my experiences, the photographs — I come away from it feeling as though I — and the rest of us — are going to need to escape into something to make it out of this. Even if it’s only a few hours a day. Life really is too much right now, and it’s easy to spend hours gaping at the television and watch everything happen to us. I find myself having to be very intentional about taking the time to be creative, contribute to the world, lighten someone’s load, connect with friends on whatever level possible, and above all, be grateful.
Granted, 2020 is a dumpster fire of epic proportions. Lots of people have lost their jobs. Many friends have caught COVID, and some have passed away. Several people have lost their parents. 2020 is the most productive serial killer that we’ve ever known.
BUT, I have to catch myself, because it’s easy to go down the slippery slope of sadness, and realistically, I have a lot to be grateful for. I have beautiful friends who thought enough of me to wish me a happy birthday. I’m starting my new year with a busy job, a thriving small business, a fun new business, a home in which I don’t mind being quarantined, a father who is across the street and easy to stalk, I mean visit, and a great quarantine partner who is my favorite person, makes me laugh and gives me hope. Also, as a bonus, we’re all in good health (today). My germaphobic tendencies, which were previously regarded as kind of strange, have made me especially equipped to remain healthy and so far COVID-free. In fact, I’ve come to appreciate masks and might insist on wearing them going forward.
Now, I do realize that any of the aforementioned could change…on a dime, so I’m determined to make the best of this situation and be happy for what I have — at this moment — and live with the realization that I never know what others are going through.