Leave It Better Than You Found It

     About two years ago – at the height of all the agony that 2020 wrought across the world – I worked a second job that was deemed essential. We fulfilled and shipped orders to people during a time in which shopping from home helped fight a global outbreak. The company made the news for that reason among others not quite so noble. 

     During those chaotic months of social distance and racial unrest, the CEO made his stance in support of the Black Lives Matter movement very public. Some saw that as corporate posturing, and I might have been naïve to think otherwise. Nevertheless, I felt emboldened to express my own like-minded views through a company newsletter. While also reflecting on Pride Month, I tied in my experience as an ally to my brother. I never got to see this published before I resigned. How much has changed in two years?  

     If y’all are anything like me, maybe once or twice you’ve have had some variation of this thought run through your head when a manager approached your station:

     “What did I do wrong?”

     Perhaps the paranoia is a just remnant of my misspent youth, but to this day I still think I’m about to get scolded even if I didn’t do anything to warrant it. To his credit, my manager handled a teachable moment with ease. I’m guessing he picked up on my guilty conscience – I don’t have a great poker face – when he said, “You’re not in trouble or anything.”

     He went on to talk to me about product falling out of a bin that I touched last:

     “Sometimes it’s just bad luck, but just do your best. Leave it better than you found it.”

     It’s funny how many lessons we’re taught (or have reinforced) in everyday conversations if we listen with open minds. Someone once told me that time is the most valuable currency because we don’t know how much we have, and once we give it away to someone, we can’t get it back. For however much time I have, I want my legacy to be that I left the Earth better than I found it. 

     As the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and Pride Month coincide, I can’t stop thinking about the catchphrase that became popular at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic: “We’re all in this together.”

     Have we all been in this together? Really?

     The murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd among countless others before and since, the disproportionate impact of the novel coronavirus on people of color, and the lack of funding and resources for inner-city schools nationwide have said no, we are not really in this together. Even a glance at the state of our legal system, our healthcare system, and our education system blinds us with the reality of why “Black Lives Matter” needed to be created in 2013 and why it still needs to be said today. 

     George Floyd crying for his mother with his dying breath made me think of my Black friends who are mothers of young boys. One such friend told me “there are many avenues to support the movement, and they ALL matter.” That was a text message prior to a long phone conversation, so I feel the need to clarify that she capitalized ALL for emphasis. 

     That’s why I’m writing and hoping that people will read. 

     As we celebrate Pride Month, I can’t help but think of my brother, who is also my best friend. He is gay, and he is a walking miracle. I knew he received his HIV diagnosis about two and half decades ago, but when I made that remark in a recent phone conversation, he confirmed that I was exactly right. He told me this October will mark 25 years since his diagnosis. 

     My brother is a miracle because 25 years ago, his diagnosis was a death sentence. On February 24, 1995, Eric “Eazy-E” Wright went to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles because of a severe cough. Over the course of the next 30 days, “Eazy” was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, withered away to a shell of a man, and died of AIDS complications at age 30. 

     My brother turns 48 this year. 

     What’s my reason for sharing all this? I have a lot of reasons, but chief among them is the point that if we’re going to leave this Earth better than we found it – better for our children and their children and so on – then we need to live in this together.  There are many ways to contribute financially and politically, through activism, and through creative expression, and to quote my friend, “they ALL matter.”

     But we can start by listening to each other and sharing. The most important things I’ve heard recently have come directly from my close friends and family, but I’m also hearing music differently lately. It’s like I have new ears. To that point, I’ll leave y’all with the opening lyrics from a song by my favorite band, TV on the Radio. The song is called “Snakes and Martyrs.” I’d heard it before, but it means more now. Thanks for reading.

(Lyrics by Kyp Malone and vocals by Tunde Adebimpe)

“Everyone makes waves

At the same time

(Like pebbles on water)

And we call all those interrupting lines

(Sons and daughters)

A community

So, let’s join hands in song

Blessed unity …”

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