Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Saadeka Miriam Joyner-Chandler, 1950 - 2010

Celebrating the life of a Phenomenal Woman.

Sunrise: June 9th, 1950

Sunset: February 3rd, 2010

Thanks to Pop, Sister Deborah and Matthew for putting this slide show together.

During my grade school years my family would drive from Charleston, South Carolina to Brooklyn, New York every summer to visit family and friends. We’d normally stay for a week or two before returning to Charleston. I think I was eleven or twelve years old when I begged my parents to let me stay in Brooklyn for the whole summer. I had a great week playing with my god-brothers and god-sister before I called home crying. I was terribly missing my mother.

“What are you crying for?” she asked. Too embarrassed to tell her I was homesick, I blubbered, wiping snot from my nose as I tried to think of something to say. In truth, I was one of those kids with a sometimes pessimistic imagination. Something in the back of my mind had me worried that something awful might happen to her or my father while I was gone, but I could never bring myself to utter such words.

Mom’s intuition was always on the money. “Whose idea was it to stay in New York, Zik?” she asked.

“…Mine…” I sniffled.

“That’s right. And do you remember why you wanted to stay?” I don’t know what answer I gave her, but she proceeded, in her gentle way, to remind me to make the most of my summer in New York. She concluded the conversation with, “Don’t worry, son, we’re alright and you’ll see us soon.”

Before I knew it the summer was over and I was crying again. This time because I was leaving my New York friends behind. “Well, did you have fun?” Mom asked.


“Then you have a choice. You can cry because it’s over, or you can be happy that it happened. Which would you rather do?”

Years later, I came across the words of Kahlil Gibran, who put it this way, “When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

And that’s what I’m doing today: celebrating the life of Saadeka Miriam Joyner-Chandler, the world’s delight.

You know, names say a lot, and in Mom’s case her names offer an accurate description of the content of her character.

Miriam is what my maternal grandmother named my mother. Miriam was Moses's older sister, the one who placed him in a basket by the river, thereby saving his life. Egyptian and Hebrew variations on the name mean “Beloved” and “Waters of Strength.” Through her work as the director of a runaway shelter and mentor to countless youth and adults through activities as far ranging as coaching soccer and teaching African dance to tutoring at adult literacy programs and serving as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1984 (in support of Jesse Jackson’s presidential bid), Mom was, in fact, a beloved lifesaver whose waters of strength buoyed, and continue to keep, many people afloat.

Saadeka, an African name meaning honest and sincere, is the name she chose for herself during an era when African Americans began defining themselves by returning to our cultural roots. Derivations of the name translate to happy, trustworthy and lucky. Mom had an undeniable knack for bringing joy to people’s lives and revealing truths in a way that people could acknowledge them without being offended. She definitely lived up to her chosen name.

Joyner, Mom’s maiden name, is derived from the Anglo-Norman French "joignour", meaning to join or connect. Even in making her graceful transition from this world to the next, as witnessed by the hundreds of people who hugged one another at her wake and memorial service, Mom was always about bringing people together.

Chandler, the name Mom accepted when she married my father, is an old English occupational name for makers and sellers of candles. Anyone who’s ever met my mother can attest to the warmth and light of her spirit. The radiance of her smile and laughter could brighten anyone’s day!

Not only was she light, she was the embodiment of the Chinese proverb, “It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” She was the epitome of optimism in action.

We couldn’t contain her even if we wanted to. She was a sun, bringing light and warmth not only to those fortunate enough to meet her, but also to people around the world who’ve met her through her family and the countless other lives she’s touched.

Big Heart. Pure Love. The embodiment of peace, joy and optimism, to know her truly was to love her.

She was taken from us way too soon, but not before role modeling and teaching us all how to love and live life fully.

Mom and Pop were a team who lived by the seven principles of Kwanzaa, including Kuumba, which means creativity. As a team they’ve endeavored their whole lives, using their collective creativity, “to do as much as they could, in the ways that they could, to leave each community they encountered more beautiful and beneficial than when they inherited them.” Due to their efforts, whether we’re talking about Roots Music Karamu, citywide Kwanzaa celebrations, live reggae in Charleston, The Ebony City Soccer Club Lil Peles, The Moja Arts Festival, or the Charleston Remembrance Program (just to name a few of their endeavors), Charleston is indeed more beautiful and beneficial than when they inherited it.

Mom was also the epitome of grace and class. On the night of February 2nd, 2010 it seemed as if she was holding on – waiting for something or someone. I think she was waiting for my godparents, Baba Bill and Mama Arlene, to get in from New York. Their train had already been delayed a couple of days due to snow on the tracks of the eastern corridor. They came straight to the hospice and spent the last couple of hours of February 2nd with her.

Then it was just the two of us.

I read to her for a while, told her we loved her and that we’d all be alright, gave her eleven good night kisses (for our immediate family, Granma, her grandchildren and their mothers), and passed out shortly after 1:30am.

I awoke - fully clothed and on top of the covers of my makeshift bed - around 5:30am on February 3rd to find her breathing no more. It was a sad moment, and I didn’t know what to do. But in the midst of my grief, I found myself smiling as I shook my head, thinking, That’s my mama! She was always so considerate of others. Even in making her transition, she waited until everyone who wanted to see her made their way to Charleston. Then she waited until there was no fanfare in the room, and finally she waited until I fell asleep to make her peaceful transition from this world. So much class and grace. It seemed as if she left a smile on the face of her earthly body to comfort us and remind us not to weep for her. Her body succumbed to cancer, but she was now pain-free in a new realm. And for that I give thanks.

I’m sure there are more tears to come, but for now I’m rejoicing in all the lessons I learned from Mom, among them: breathe deeply when I find myself frustrated or overwhelmed, smile, laugh, find the humor in tense situations, don’t take myself too seriously, remain optimistic, believe in myself, follow my dreams and make them into reality.

No, I can’t wallow in self pity for too long. I love and miss my mother, but I have only to remember her full-bodied, genuine laughter, and the warmth and brilliance of her million dollar smile to feel her presence again.

Mom radiated joy and optimism. They were two of her greatest gifts to the world. No one who’s ever met her can think of her without recalling the radiance and brilliance of her smile and laughter. She wouldn’t want us to be sad for long. So rather than lament her transition, I’ll give thanks and praises to the Most High for having had her for so long, and for her spirit, which now lives on in so many people.

Armed with smiles and laughter, I’ll honor her by doing my best to light candles where I find darkness, attacking the world with the same joy, optimism and love with which she enriched so many of our lives. And I encourage you all to do the same. “How about that!”

You can see Mom's obituary & guest book at:

Rest in peace, Mom. I know you're watching over us.

PS – Thank you to all of you who’ve shown kindness to the family through words and deeds. For those of you who know my father, I’m thanking you in advance for checking in on him from time to time.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful blog in rememberance of your mother. Eloquent, poised and filled with the love that only a son can provide. Thanks for sharing your story with us. Take care


3:58 AM  
Blogger Mr. Ellington said...

Brother, I'm in tears after reading this. Your mama's spirit was always delightful and she always exuded dignity and class. I learned so much from you & your people growing up....I know that you will keep her lagacy going strong. Namaste.

12:19 AM  
Blogger rene said...

zik -
what beautiful words! such a tribute to your mother's spirit just made me wish i'd gotten to know her much, much sooner than i did.

bless your bones for writing this as soon as you did (how in the world did you DO it?)

i spoke to your dad just the other day. you can count on us to keep in touch with him.

call us when you get back to colorado. we have GOT to see you so we can hug your neck.

luv, luv and mo' luv,
rene & jesse

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Upesi said...

A beautiful moving tribute. Asante sana

4:06 AM  
Anonymous Halona Agouda said...

Your Khalil Gibran quote gave me some healing in remembering my own mother -- thank you. Your mom seemed like she was a beautiful woman. May she rest in peace. Thank you for sharing your memories of her with us.

1:45 AM  
Blogger Sana said...

Very fervently written! It seems like your Mother was a very loving person. May her soul rest in peace, and may God bless!

5:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is Heather, and I worked with your mother several years. She was a massage therapist, and I was one of the spa managers at Wild Dunes Resort. I just shortly learned of her passing. Just today I was asked to describe her-my answer that she was strong and intelligent (both very true). But really what I remember about Saadeka was her grace and calm-you just couldn't help feeling even-keeled and peaceful around her. Nevertheless, I was thinking of her today and became a bit emotional. My friend (also an old co-worker of Saadeka's from the resort) told me, "She's in good hands. God loves her". And she's absolutely right. What a bright light! God Bless, Heather

4:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Of all the words we have at our disposal, I choose beautiful. A beautiful nature of your mother and your words spoken.

9:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey there Zik. not sure if you remember me. but this is Nikki. we met thru Nina and CD Glin, while i was working at the Peace Corps recruiting office in Arlington, downtown, Va. i was 'Googling' for Kahlil Gibran and i looked down thru the pages and saw your website/blog. IT IS AWESOME!!! you are living out my dream. i was too timid to ever do what you have accomplished. i am so proud of what you have done. i was going on line to find a good Gibran quote for my grandmother's passing and came across your website. i am so sorry about your mother's passing. i loss the matriarch of our family, my grandmother, not too long ago. the pain was immense. looking at your words were very uplifting. You may not know of the many hearts you have touched and inspired from your blog, but i wanted to let you know of one (mine). your words on here made me realize how to see and vocalize how special of a soul my grandmother's soul was on this earth. you are truly an amazing person. keep on blogging brother. you are truly a great asset to this behemoth called the internet. share on!:)

1:00 PM  
Anonymous j. santiago said...

I didnt get ro know your mother for a long time but mrs. Saadeka was my aunt Elaine's best friend. Me and my sister would spend days with ur mother and she was our favorite family friend. She'd always make us laugh and smile and had wonderful stories to tell. She taught us about Kwanzaa and some african dances. We miss her a lot. She was a wonderful woman.

12:37 AM  

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