If you've heard Sly and the Family Stone's version of that Doris Day classic "Que Sera Sera," then you'll recognize that Corinne Bailey Rae is doing Sly's arrangement in the linked video below. I found her rendition particularly moving (as I do the Family Stone's rendition), but I feel that Rae's soulfulness, her bluesy clutching of her guitar later in the song, may have been the result of the young singer suffering loss.
This is a 2010 performance. Her husband, Jason Rae, died in 2008 of a suspected drug overdose.
I knew the words when it was a Doris Day hit, and in my mind her version will always be lively and playful like Ella Fitzgerald's "A-Tisket, A-Tasket." But I remember when I listened to Sly and the Family Stone's version after not hearing it for many years. In my 40s and in the midst of a dying marriage, I heard Sly's version as a black mother talking, a mother considering the pain to come, that an innocent child would never expect. A black person or any person who's known pain and loss will probably not sing a Doris Day version of this song.
To say "que sera sera" to one's self is also a healthy response in some circumstances, such as during the long period of coming to terms with someone's death. It becomes a pillar of the Serenity Prayer -- "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to face the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference."
When we have the wisdom to recognize what we can't change, we may say "que sera sera" to that and move forward. If we move forward seeking the courage to change what we can change, then we move forward with hope. Often what we can change most effectively is our own attitude toward whatever we face. What I've been facing most lately, however, is undulating fear.
Recently, I felt the immense weight of New Orleans crime personally when I received a call that a relative had been shot in the neck while walking home. He is an only child, a fine young man of 22. A gang wanted his iPhone or some other gadget that is not worth human breath. It's possible he will be paralyzed for the rest of his life, but we hope that is not true.
We pray that he will be whole again, that the doctors will perform something akin to a miracle, but in the meantime, what do we say to his parents? I cannot say, "I know what you're going through," because I do not know and hope I never will. Neither can I reveal my anger, because how is my anger useful to them right now?
After I'd processed the news, I can't describe the rage I felt. If someone had asked me what should be done to the young men involved in the shooting, I would have said, "Lock them up. Throw away the key. No hope for 'em." This kind of thinking goes against my tendency to hope that with the right resources and support, almost anyone can change.
Despite hearing of horrific violent crimes daily on the news, there's nothing like hearing someone you know has been shot. Seeing up close a young man in his prime with tubes in his nose and braces or casts from the lips down, all due to a gunshot wound, makes the nightly news intimate. After the anger begins to subside, and you recall that you and your family live in the same city not too far from where the shooting occurred, you become aware of another emotion -- fear. How do I deal with the fear that this crime has planted in me, fear for my own children and their futures?
I struggled with the need to find healthy coping mechanism shortly after my young relative was shot when my son did something minor that forced me to look at my fear. While I was sleeping, he left the house on his bike and rode to the Wendy's for a fast food breakfast. My cell phone woke me up. I saw he was calling, but when I answered, the call was gone. I called back, but he didn't pick up. When my daughter told me that her brother was out of the house, my heart shuddered in panic. I replayed the recent shooting in my mind and switched out my relative's face with my son's.
Fifteen minutes later he was home. He had dialed me accidentally, but I fussed anyway because I had imagined some gangster snatching his phone before I answered, and then I saw him on the ground, bleeding. It was not mother's intuition that had engulfed me but terror, and I wanted my son to know that terror. I wanted him to see it and be more careful, to not leave the house unnecessarily, to take no risks ever. I wanted him in a cocoon, an impossibility because my son is 21 years old.
That something could happen to either one of my children -- car accident, biking collision, gunshot wound to the head -- is not far-fetched. Asking them to stop living their lives so I can be fear-free, however, is. Attempting to control others when we feel we have no control is a common reaction to fear, but I have to do better. I must find more constructive ways to deal with possible futures over which I have no control.
My method is always to return to writing poetry and to write prose, as I am doing now. I use verbal art to process grief, loss, and fear the same way, perhaps, that Sly and Corrine use music. Still, sometimes I wish I could move to the woods, way out away from people, from danger and the potential for loss. Self-contemplation is beneficial, right?
And yet, too much isolation is rarely a good thing and is never effective insulation from loss. If you are human, you will lose someone at some point. Voluntary isolation is really the self-imposed loss of human connection, the illusion of dodging bullets.
It would be easy for a writer to choose isolation. But given where I've placed myself, home in the city of New Orleans, I cannot choose such a segregated life. And as much as they fool themselves, neither can those who flee the city for its suburbs. I will continue to seek ways to plug myself into the community, finding moments to help others more. In so doing, it's possible that I will be part of a solution, a conduit for progress and health.
I see that I must embrace the world and life, and learn through improving my community how to release the worry about possible futures over which I have no control. In this way, I practice a control -- self-control -- which benefits us all. Most of us can control how we relate to others if we choose to do so.
The future is not ours to see, but if we can see ourselves changing ourselves to cope better with life now, then perhaps we will find the courage to make a future better than the violent past.
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