Three of Susan’s children in Liberia in their school uniforms. Zevah is the girl.
One of the joys of growing older is the ability to reflect upon my encounters through a lens that changes with my perspective. I have been abundantly blessed with good health and ample time. I have visited other countries and resided on another continent. Through my truly diverse life, there has emerged a balance between materiality and spirituality and a definition of abundance that is ever-evolving.
My family immigrated to Liberia, West Africa, in 1979, and after several relocations, my family became integrated into the mainly indigenous community of Liberians on Chubor Road, an enclave off the main road that connected the outskirts of the town to the central city of Monrovia. We lived in a small three-bedroom brick home. Our front porch was laden with pots of tropical plants, and a fenced yard provided space for child’s play.
February 22, 1990, two months after rebel combatants invaded the northernmost border between Liberia and Sierra Leon, to begin what shortly escalated into the first Liberian Civil War, I sat behind closed bedroom doors, propped on pillows, listening to the whirr of my rickety electric fan. Oddly enough, I was heart-broken, not over the impending prospect of civil war, but that on the eve of my middle daughter’s 10th birthday, I could not afford to give my little girl the only gift she had asked for, a play tea set. In that moment, I found solace in the written word and poured my love into the poem below.
The next day, I performed the poem, aptly named In Lieu of a Tea Set, as a birthday gift to my daughter Zevah in the company of her siblings, after which we shared a lovingly prepared meal.
“In Lieu of a Tea Set” © *
written for Zevah’s 10th Birthday, February 24, 1990
Never saw a baby girl like Zevah, soft and clinging,
warm and demanding, determined to drink up all her mama’s love.
Playful and willing to be held by everyone!
Carried everywhere lovingly,
always waking…always peeping…Zevah
Mama’s baby Zevah
Never saw a little girl like Zevah
testing and questioning all of life’s corners
Keeping all of us busy looking for answers to questions,
answers she will never accept as anything but reasons,
to go ahead and do it her way anyway!
I never saw a face like Zevah’s.
Strong and weak, bright with sunlit curiosity
Eyes of almond slanted wisdom,
closed to fear and lack of confidence.
Never saw a face pretty like Zevah’s
Nose of grace and beauty, brows thick with ambition
and dignity, a delicately pouting mouth, jaws powerful
with subtle determination.
Never saw more charm than in Zevah.
Smiling brightly, doin’ her magic for and on you—
And before reality hits you—you are busy doin’
First born on African soil,
Splendor of God she is called.
Daddy’s Princess Zevah,
Mama’s Madam Zevah,
Yohanna’s Aintee Zevah,
Happy Birthday Zevah!
The poem was what I had-all I had. My mindset, like most parents, was getting my baby a birthday gift. The materiality was minimal, the love abundant.
Last year the 41-year-old Zevah gave her grand-niece a tea set for her 4th birthday! Full circle moment!
As I have evolved some 31 years later, my thoughts about abundance have changed. My most recent poem conveys this.
I tended to over-own and over-do,
to overeat; never full, never through.
Slowly, my concept of abundance has
shifted; beyond buying to giving and
focusing in on how I am living.
These days with unstuffed closets,
I am no longer hoarding from folks I feared might steal.
I’d rather give away things; that’s more real.
Welcoming thoughts of warm weather and crisp cold,
looking beyond good things, toward my family,
good friends, and good feelings, I feel bold.
I revel in my snow angel, made amidst a storm,
and enjoy freshly brewed coffee to keep me warm.
Now, I’m carefully treasuring time.
Reading with a grandchild or
sharing some charitable dollars and dimes,
I have discovered value that which lasts beyond a season,
that which leaves a soul imprint, that which has a reason.
Abundance is more about our ability to give than receive,
it’s all about love given, real and perceived.
*In Lieu of a Tea Set, previously published in memoir, Sweet Liberia, Lessons from the Coal Pot, 2010
Susan D. Peters, aka, Ahnydah (ah-NIE-dah) Rahm, brings a wealth of experience gained as an expatriate living in West Africa. Her memoir Sweet Liberia, Lessons from the Coal Pot, received the Black Excellence Award for Non-Fiction from the African American Alliance of Chicago and the Mate E. Palmer award for Non-Fiction from the Illinois Press Women’s Association. Broken Dolls, Susan’s second book, represents her foray into the mystery market and is the first of a series featuring Detective Joi Sommers as its heroine. Her most recent publication is Stolen Rainbow, a short story focused on the post combat recovery of a beautiful marine captain after a devastating combat injury. Her work is featured in three anthologies, Baring It All, the Ins and Outs of Publishing, Signed, Sealed, Delivered … I’m Yours, a contemporary romance anthology, and The Anthology of the Illinois Woman’s Press Association. Buy her books online and at www.SusanDPeters.com.