Every morning as I would prepare to start my day, I would pop in the Soul Food CD, skip to track 13 and get my mind right. Before the days of iPods and sleek mp3 players, I traveled light, without a cumbersome portable disc player. I would hear these lyrics in the morning and retain them in my consciousness as I traveled to campus via the MARTA train. As I struggled, on a daily basis, to balance all that my life had become Cee Lo’s verse became a fortifying mantra.
One evening, as I was winding down my shift at the restaurant, I was in a quiet back room, rolling silverware into napkins for the next day’s place settings. As I labored through the tedium of completing my required 75 roll ups, I found myself reciting Cee Lo’s verse aloud. I looked up to see that I had been joined by a fellow waiter named Barton. He overheard the lyrics I had just dropped and observed with a tone of heart felt sincerity, “You know, I noticed that you always seem to maintain a positive attitude about life, no matter how much crap we have to put up with in here.”
I replied: “It’s a conscious choice that I make to look at life with a glass half full perspective. There are people in the world much worse off than me. I am blessed.” He and I bonded over that. Two weeks later, I came to work and was greeted with the shocking news that Barton had committed suicide. A co-worker told me that Barton was HIV positive, a disease then lacking a widely available effective treatment. The co-worker also said that after Barton witnessed numerous friends be ravished and die from AIDS, he chose to forgo the suffering and end his life on his terms. “Damn,” I thought to myself,” Could life get any deeper?” I took some comfort in knowing that I had at least shared with him the beauty and power of Cee Lo’s poetic words, for whatever it was worth. I hoped that it had provided some sense of comfort and positive feeling for him in the midst of his turmoil, just as it had inspired me.
On the Home Stretch
By the end of my semester, I was on pins and needles, to say the least. I had heard so many horror stories of other Morehouse brothers reaching this same stage only to be hit with an unforeseen last minute snafu that would derail the dream of walking across the stage on graduation day. I had been careful to be thorough and precise with all of my paperwork procedures as well as busting my hump like never before academically. I had turned in the last of my assignments, completed all of my finals and was now scouring the campus to look at all the final grades that had been posted outside the classrooms. As I checked the very last list I had to take a step back. I was speechless. I PASSED!! I was done, complete!
I would now be able to proudly wear my cap and gown, strut across the stage and receive a simple piece of paper that I had worked so hard for. Having that sense of supreme achievement is one of the most empowering things anyone can experience. I liked it. I still had my job. All was well on the home front and I could now decompress a bit and prepare for graduation day. The hard work had paid off and I was enjoying my victory lap. Then one day I received a call from my dear friend Dara Roach, then a fledgling magazine writer.