By Richard Ray:
For most of my teenage and young adult life I lived in a perpetual state of “I wish a N**** would” The angry Black man who’s very state of being was a Public Enemy soundtrack. My high school yearbook quote was by Melly Mel: “Don’t Push me cause I’m close to the edge”, coupled with a picture of me puncturing a Dean’s car tire with a knife with my roommate on lookout duty (totally true story).
I was mad all the time even when I really wasn’t. A combination of feeling like the feared, misunderstood, hunted and persecuted. I was the quintessential NYC stereotype, with the perpetual mean mug, regardless of what my mood or temperament was really like. I stayed in the NY state of mind, constantly on edge and ready to pop off at the drop of a dime. Crowded subway rides with broken AC were only an excuse to wish someone would bump into me or heaven forbid step on my Timbs or white on white AF 1’s.
I was the self-proclaimed educated hoodlum, statistically aware of the far greater probability I had to be incarcerated or killed prior to age 24 than I did to receive a college (and even Law degree) by that same age. In my hood few of my peers cared about my educational path, so I mostly hid it.
In high school when I went to a private boarding school I didn’t return triumphantly, as so many others had returning home from a “bid”, but ostracized and with consistent taunts, “Yeah college boy, but can you kick my ass?” Only when those questions consistently were answered with a resounding “Yes!” did my returns home become more tolerable.
I was constantly chided to smile or loosen up throughout my twenties but despite some upward mobility, “Positive wasn’t where I was at”. Of course privately I liked to laugh and joke, but even I had to take stock that those moments were the exception and not the rule. A few moments come specifically into mind when I knew I was not embracing life as needed.
I saw some pictures of myself on a Caribbean island with a girlfriend. The island, and the girl were all beautiful, with a good time had by all, yet every picture I was in showed a man that could have been in the 11th hour of his death row appeal. I understood that I am not particularly photogenic and not one for all that cheesing to begin with (proud declarant of never having taken a selfie to this day), but I knew the pictures did speak volumes to a man not fully at peace or at the very least a N**** With A Lot Of Attitude.
The photos caused a bit of introspection. I was not willing to change who I fundamentally was as a person, but that isn’t to say I didn’t need to make changes. I realized that while I was adventurous and an entrepreneur, I was missing out on so much of the journey itself. Laughter, and the ability to not take one’s self too seriously are tantamount to achieving any kind of balanced life.I realized that I did not need to take myself or life so seriously. Admittedly my anger, or the need to avenge slights, perceived or real, were a driving force in my ambition. However, that same anger didn’t allow me to celebrate any achievements. Getting into a good college. Graduating from College. Buying first new car. Traveling out of the country. Getting into law school. Graduating from law school. Passing the bar. Nothing was celebrated and I found that I struggled to live and enjoy any moments.
I was respected and feared, but at what cost. Too many viewings of the Godfather left me on the path of being Michael Corleone; accomplished but on a path to have no enjoyment of a life strived for. The Godfather references are almost laughable today, but I come from a community that put such a premium on “being hard” that any signs of softness or weakness like laughing or smiling were clowned.
I really did have an epiphany. However, it is too corny to reveal without a six-figure book advance deal. I will say that while life did not become instantaneously perfect, it has been so much more fulfilling. I am still guarded to a degree and continue to manage my emotions, but life has been so much more enjoyable.
It takes way more energy to stay angry. It is time consuming to detail and manage every slight, perceived or real. I am, of course, still a work in progress, but letting go of the negative energy allowed me to truly feel for the first time. Those feeling provided freedom and that freedom led to discovering what I truly was passionate about.
I always enjoyed traveling, but I found a renewed understanding of the depth of the pleasures my excursions provided. I still struggle to maintain a consistent smile in all my pictures, but my non-photogenic self truly belied the peace I have attained amidst the chaos.
I have found a passion in writing. The physicality of sports has always provided a cathartic release for every day stress. I didn’t take to writing with any specific goals. I thought I had good stories to tell (almost all based on reality) and just wanted to see if I was any good at it. The jury is still out on that fact, but what isn’t is how much I love the process.
As mentioned, I am still a work in progress. I don’t exactly possess the ability to turn the other check (and unsure if I ever want to), but I don’t live on the edge of waiting to be tried. I am more patient, thoughtful, understanding and less reactionary. I realize bad shit still happens, but I am no longer perpetually waiting for it. I love and embrace this journey that is my life (even when it is crappy). I focus on the blessings I have been bestowed and have learned to except no one is above being tried…how we react to it is what separates our paths.
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