At my father’s memorial, his obituary stated that he had five children.
My father had six. His first-born son was Arthur, named after his father.
Arthur was born with muscular dystrophy – the debilitating kind. He would never walk and would remain unable to lift his head, chew food, talk, raise his arms or legs. He would remain in the state of an infant for the rest of his life.
My father was a soldier in the Civil Rights movement. His family at that time also included four small children, including twins. After trying to care for Arthur at home he and my mother, who just experienced the death of her mother, felt forced to make the decision to place him in a nursing home in Cambridge.
Arthur was a miracle. Doctors told my parents he would not live beyond a few years, but he made it into his teenage years … and then the calls began to come from Cambridge.
First, a nurse from Cambridge called my parents reporting Arthur had broken his nose. He had no movement in any of his limbs, but he had broken his nose.
Next my parents received a call saying that Arthur had broken his leg. And then, the final call saying that Arthur was dead.
I describe what happened to our family in my book “Purpose For Your Pain” as I documented a dream that characterizes what happened to our family during this period.
In one of the dreams, I was a little girl, playing with brother and sisters in our two-story home in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The house was completely dark, and all five of us were either playing with our toys or watching our black and white television. Out of nowhere, the deafening sounds of a helicopter above our heads tore us away from our activities. As we ran to the window to investigate, we were stopped in our tracks by bright beams of huge floodlights coming from the helicopter, which began hovering lower and lower over our home. The intensity of the lights blinded us as an avalanche of bright white lights illuminated our entire home. All five of us children took off running, but our legs became rubber, and we just bumped into each other and collapsed to the floor. As soon as we managed to stand, we would tumble to the floor again. I began screaming for my father at the top of my voice, but he never answered me. I continued screaming for both my parents then abruptly, an eerie, screeching voice spoke through a loud speaker, proclaiming, “Surrender the children or we’re coming in. Surrender the children; surrender the children.”
Fear turned to terror as we all dived under beds, dressers and behind furniture. The more vigorously we tried escaping, the brighter the light and the closer “the voice” and the helicopter propellers. Suddenly we heard a huge crash on the roof, and we all screamed at once, realizing that the helicopter had landed and we would all die or be taken by “the voice.”
The fires captivated our family as forces beyond my father’s control seemed to swallow each one of us up; each in our own way.
What me and my “burn baby burn” “fathers” did not understand as the fires continued to madly rage through the 1970s is that real strength is shaped by character, which is molded in another type of fire – the fire of affliction.
Since the beginning of time men and women with mantles of leadership were mandated to walk through a wilderness experience that served to shape, prune and develop the person for ones destiny.
What we did not understand was the slow (seemingly mundane) walk that men like my father took. Day after day he woke up at four in the morning, punched his time clock and worked for eight hours. From there he came home and prepared for his second job … his landscaping business that was nothing short of sun-scorching back breaking hard labor. His motivation was not to get proclamations from four presidents of the United States, mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the State of Minnesota, and honorary Doctorate of Laws from the State of Minnesota, and on and on. His motivation was not to receive a Ghanaian chief’s stool from the Asantehene in Ghana. He did not aspire to be wealthy, nor did he teach any of his children that this was important.
My father’s prime motivation was not even the Civil Rights Movement. My father’s motivation was the love of his wife and children and on our behalf, he placed himself “on the altar” over and above his personal aspirations.
Azaniah Little lives in Seattle. She works as a freelance writer, minister and consultant, and is currently seeking publication for her first book, “Purpose for Your Pain…”
She is the proud mother of Namibia Little who lives in Minneapolis.