All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way

All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way

by Patrice Gopo

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780785216483
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 08/07/2018
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 156,139
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)

About the Author

Patrice Gopo is the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, and she was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska. Her essays have appeared in a variety of literary journals and other publications, including Creative Nonfiction, Gulf Coast, Full Grown People, and Christianity Today. Her radio commentaries have been featured on her local public radio station. Her writing has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and she is the grateful recipient of a North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship in Literature.

Patrice has a bachelor of science in chemical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and both a master of business administration and a master of public policy from the University of Michigan. While she is thankful she’s had the opportunity to study several different subjects, she’s also thrilled that engineering led to community development, which led to writing. Sometimes she wonders what might be next. She lives with her family in North Carolina—a place she has recently begun to consider another home. All the Colors We Will See is her first book.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Heaven's Boxes

Before I began to read the Bible for myself, I spent many hours of my childhood curled up on the pale silver carpet of my bedroom floor, listening to a cassette player. A gentle, raspy voice told stories from the book of Genesis and spoke of worlds so far from my Alaskan home. Stories of the aftermath of creation; stories of Abram and Sarai and their journey to Canaan, of their becoming Abraham and Sarah, of God's promise that they'd have a child. I closed my eyes and imagined the woman telling the stories must look like a grandmother. If she'd been part of my church, she'd have sat in a padded rocking chair, a circle of children leaning in to listen.

While the tape deck whirled, I envisioned a great desert that reached a dark horizon dusted with shimmering stars. Camels lumbered and smelled of manure and hay. Herds of sheep bleated in the distance. I crafted tents from animal skins — so different from the tent my family used when camping beyond the outskirts of Anchorage, the backdrop of mountains climbing toward heaven, shrouded much of the year in a sheet of snow.

My mother's voice sometimes broke through the recording — her request that I set the dinner table and her reminder that my father would be home from work soon. "It's almost finished," I would say quick enough not to miss more than a word. My mother had bought me the cassettes, and I knew she encouraged these stories of our family's faith and beliefs.

"Look toward the heavens, and count the stars," 1 God said and directed Abram's head upward. God promised descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky. So Abram left his people and his father's household. He journeyed to a land that God revealed.

My parents had mimicked Abram and Sarai. They'd left their people and their households. They'd journeyed far from Jamaica and their particular view of the heavens. They'd settled in Anchorage beneath the great North Star.

God called Abram, but the military brought my father to Alaska. He emigrated from Kingston and stopped for a few years in New York City before the army mailed him a draft notice and sent him to Anchorage. Leave your family and the beginnings of your new American life. Leave all that behind and go. Several years later my mother — whom my father knew from Jamaica — left her family and also moved north to Alaska.

Sometimes bits of Jamaica traveled in boxes to our Alaskan home, a variety of items my grandmother, father, or mother collected on trips to visit relatives in New York or Florida, places where Jamaicans often moved, built specialty grocery stores, and created new lives. My family filled cardboard boxes and increased their checked luggage on the return trip to Anchorage. And in our kitchen, after we'd hugged at the airport and heaved suitcases and boxes from the trunk of the car, my father sliced through brown packing tape with one quick motion, filling the room with the dry- ink scent of old newsprint.

My sister and I had to wait a moment longer while my mother removed the contents wrapped in crumpled newspapers. I looked past the stories and articles from faraway places to the bounty of Jamaican curry powder, jerk seasoning, tamarind balls, beef patties, and other staples and treats. All impossible to find in Alaska.

My mother, father, and sister stacked cans of Jamaica's national fruit, ackee, on the counter and talked of heating beef patties for the next meal. I looked for the tamarind balls since they were always for me. Their tangy flavor held little appeal for the rest of my family.

The sour dried fruit dusted with sugar created a sensation in my mouth reminiscent of the steam that results when water drenches a campfire — two distinct flavors coexisting in one unique form.

My family's presence in Alaska was a mixture of flavors too. Jamaican roots and an American life. While my parents adapted to mountain hikes in the frosty air and summers spent fishing for salmon, our home often featured the customs and foods from the early years of their lives — the years when they first met each other in the breezy, salt- scented air of their island home. As we lived the multifaceted existence of Jamaican American, we were tamarind balls — not fully one flavor, not fully another, but two distinct parts coexisting in my family's unique form.

Each Sunday morning my mother brushed and combed my hair back into two braids. She slid rosettes of homemade hair bows against my scalp, and sometimes she tied satin ribbons around the base of each braid. My wide- hemmed dress billowed with the passing breeze, and I joined the other children in the Sunday school circle, my legs crossed in front of me and my mouth opened in familiar song.

Jesus loves the little children,
My sister and I, the little black girls in the group — we were both precious in God's sight. Precious in the sight of an unseen God who welcomed me into a circle much greater than the one I sat in each week, an unseen God who saw my differences as ordinary, an unseen God who created me.

Even as I sat with my brown skin distinct from the pale faces of others, this song made me part of the group and part of this faith. There on that giant peninsula that protruded off of the North American continent, there in that frigid place where my family found few black people like us and even fewer Jamaicans, there in that land of feathered ptarmigans and delicate forget- me- nots, I laced my hands with the hands of other children on either side. I bowed my head, closed my eyes, and I prayed.

Several years in the future, in the basement of my tiny Baptist church, my Sunday school teacher told the class about the missionary Hudson Tayler. "He left his family and traveled across the world to share Jesus with other people," she said by way of introduction. She stood near the piano and lifted a large spiral- bound book high enough for all the children to see. I stared at an illustration printed in black and white with highlights of blue. Chinese people surrounded the English man depicted with a coarse, raggedy beard. I waited with a certain eagerness to hear my teacher read from the script on the back of the picture. Hudson Taylor left his home. On other Sundays I heard how Amy Carmichael or David Livingstone left their homes too.

The children seated around me on the metal folding chairs — perhaps they thought of these Western missionaries and the homes and families they gave up because they heard God call them to China, India, and portions of the African continent. I, though, looked at the pictures of Chinese people and Indian people and black people, too, and thought of the spinning globe. Out there, across boundaries and borders, oceans and continents, existed places to live filled with people of darker hues.

And when my parents gave me an adult Bible engraved with my name for my eleventh birthday, I sat through the church service with the pages opened to the maps of the ancient world. I took my index finger and touched the possible location of Abram's Ur. I traced a path across Arabia and searched for Canaan and crossed over the Red Sea. At times my gaze paused at the scene beyond the sanctuary windows — the great spruce and slender birch trees, the mountains I knew existed in the distance beyond my current line of sight. Then I turned back to the front, raised my eyes above the heads of the people seated in their pews, and read the words on the communion table fixed at the front of the sanctuary: Do this in remembrance of me.

The boxes of Jamaican food that arrived in my family's home — those boxes were black and white pictures with highlights of blue.

They were thick back pages of maps added as addenda to the tissuethin pages of my Bible. They linked me to a bigger world than I knew, the world beyond my silty mud flats and inlets and my great North Star, a place where there were other types of people even if they were far away. Touching the contents of those boxes, hearing those stories of China, finding the place where Ur may have been on a map — these acts were reaching for the hands of strangers and knowing the existence of far- off places.

CHAPTER 2

Earth's Freckled Sky

God called Abram by a new name, and decades after my parents moved to Anchorage, I chose to alter my name. After brief seasons living in parts of Europe and Africa, I made breathless vows to a Zimbabwean man named Nyasha beneath the stretch of lavish sky.

Together we chose to begin our new life in South Africa, the place where we'd met. I left Alaska and also left behind the last name I'd used for almost three decades. I compressed my life into a couple of suitcases and arrived in the shadow of Cape Town's famous mountain bearing a new name.

For those first few months, my tears arrived with a predictable regularity that left shirts unfolded and pots of rice to simmer too long on the stove. Rather than tending to the waiting tasks, I would lie on my bed with my knees pressed against my chest and my arms wrapped around my legs and sob.

Meeting Nyasha had surprised me. A mutual friend introduced us just after I arrived in Cape Town, the city I thought would be the final trip in my decade- long journey around the globe. A mixture of graduate studies and jobs had sent me to quite a few places, and after Cape Town, I just wanted to return to the Alaska I knew.

Then I met Nyasha.

"Wherever he is, that's where I want to be," I often said in the months leading up to our marriage. I spoke the words with a sort of glibness, not yet understanding the reality of wanting to reach for the one I loved but also grab hold of my home.

A month into marriage, I found out I was pregnant. Each new day I thought of the baby I now carried and the home I'd left behind. The open window brought in the scent of my neighbor's cooking, aromatic curry and other spices that reminded me of my mother's kitchen. On a clear day when I stared through the glass, I could make out the hazy shape of a purple mountain range that grazed the sky. For a split second, Cape Town would blend into Anchorage, and my new life would blend into the old.

The baby growing in my womb prompted my craving for a plate of my mother's stewed peas, a dish actually made from beans. What else could have justified my desire for a food I had never much liked before? A look of disappointment would take over my childhood face when I caught a whiff of the slow- cooked, gently spiced beans simmering away in a mixture of coconut milk and tender ham pieces. "Mom," I'd whine, "is there anything else I can eat?" In Cape Town, though, I salivated as I imagined that aroma levitating in the air. Was it really the stewed peas that I wanted? Or maybe just access to the familiar?

In the mornings, while Nyasha was at work, I walked down the hill past a large block of flats and the constant traffic around the public hospital. People moved with determined intent, and a slew of cars and buses curved around busy roads. I arrived at my local grocery store and wandered through the aisles in search of coconut milk. In the row of legumes, I tried to remember the type of red beans my mother used. A store employee in her navy- blue smock stacked cans on the shelf, but I refused to ask for help because my accent resulted in misunderstood phrases and curious stares. Once my Sunday school teacher had told me stories about people living in other parts of the world. Once I had dreamed of the faces on the other side of those Jamaica boxes. Now all I could think of were the plump memories and comforts of home.

"Mom," I said after another hesitant journey to the grocery store, my words spoken through the phone line that connected Cape Town to Anchorage. "I don't know what to do. I don't know who to make friends with. No one seems to want to be my friend. No one asks me to do things with them. No one invites me over." I sighed and continued. "I want your stewed peas. And I miss Pop Tarts." I didn't even eat Pop Tarts. How could a person miss what they didn't eat?

My mother fed me clichés. "You come from a long line of strong women. You can do this." She mentioned coconut milk then reminded me which type of beans to buy. She spoke of dashes of pepper and sprigs of dried thyme.

"Do people miss me?" I asked, and I thought of her wondering the same question many decades before. As the phone conversation continued, my mother told me about her own immigrant tears from thirty- five years ago as she explained how to prepare Jamaican foods I'd never bothered learning to cook. She spoke of continual gray in her heart despite the presence of sun and the changing seasons. Her words evoked the emptiness of snow- filled days when people's smiles hid behind the bulk of winter coats and scarves. Their lives had disappeared into the warmth of their own homes, leaving my mother standing alone in the cold. She relayed her long- ago musings that perhaps no one would really miss her if she disappeared into the white landscape. Then maybe, just maybe, she would melt away and find herself back under the blazing heat where she belonged.

"When I first came to Anchorage, the loneliness was real, but it has long passed," she concluded. Her stories gave me confidence to return to the grocery store and find the coconut milk and the package of dried beans. Later I stood at my kitchen counter and mixed together the flour and water. I kneaded the sticky dumpling dough and dropped flat circles into the bubbling stew. I added thyme and pepper in guessed quantities. Somehow the act of replicating my mother's meal spurred me to believe it time to recognize what might blossom beyond the contained world of my flat's four walls.

One evening at church, around the same time I followed my mother's instructions for preparing stewed peas, a woman named Daphne crossed the room and sat beside me. "I attend a weekly Bible study," she said. "Would you like to come?" Our lives shared little in common except perhaps our faith, our marital status, and now the invitation that settled softly between us.

In time I would discover how Daphne saw possibility in things others would ignore. She'd dye shirts that had turned yellow or stained with time or give an old desk a new existence as a pair of end tables. But that evening all I knew was that she had extended an offer to a stranger. I responded with a forceful yes. It was only the start of my second trimester, too early to feel the light flutter of confetti kicks. But I knew that with this invitation, life began to emerge.

Not long afterward, the first box arrived in the mail. Pop Tarts, Lucky Charms, taco seasoning. It felt frivolous, like a pair of gold stilettos, but I imagined taking my index finger and touching a map of the world. I tasted the artificial sweet of strawberry- filled Pop Tarts layered with sugar granules and icing. In my mind I traced a path across an ocean and a continent and rested my sight on invisible faces that saw me.

Over a cup of hot rooibos tea in Daphne's dining room, I gushed about my box of treats. And I made my mother's stewed peas for two guests.

"This is delicious," those women said, seated in my living room on my new couch. The gentle scent of a Cape Town autumn drifted through the open window, and full bowls rested in our laps. "You say it's Jamaican?" one went on to ask. "Your parents — how did they end up in Alaska?" I started a story as familiar as the taste of red beans softened in coconut milk. Over this act of communion my guests asked about me, and I asked about them. Perhaps this was how new friendships mushroomed through a veil of brittle impermanence.

* * *

Autumn moved toward winter, and my abdomen swelled as the weeks became months. I waited as women across many generations have waited to welcome babies into their homes. A cold dreariness hung across the days, but in the few hours of perfect sun, I carried a basket of wet linens down the stairs. I reached up to the clothesline and clipped clothespins over wide sheets, racing to beat the misty rain that was certain to finish the day. As I folded clean sheets or later trekked down the hill to my grocery store — as I listened to new friends talk about their children or began a conversation with a neighbor I passed in the stairwell — I found myself wondering, What will be the journey of this child?

On a cool evening, our bedroom lit with the yellow glow of a lamp, Nyasha spoke the name Sekai for the first time. Beyond the windows, night held Cape Town close, and the sky was alive with the frenzy of speckled lights. "Sekai. It means laughter," he told me. In the absence of trumpet blasts and new stars bursting into existence and the song of angels, I heard the beginnings of this baby's story, and we had a name for our child.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "All the Colors We Will See"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Patrice Gopo.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Author's Note, xi,
Part I: A Starting Place,
1. Heaven's Boxes, 3,
2. Earth's Freckled Sky, 9,
Part II: Formation,
3. A Theory of Known Elements, 19,
4. Back Then, 27,
5. Caught in the Year of O.J. Simpson and Huckleberry Finn, 39,
6. Acts of Cleaving, 45,
7. A Note to a College Classmate, 53,
8. Washing Dishes in the Family of God, 57,
9. Becoming All of Us, 65,
10. Notes on the Hair Spectrum, 71,
11. Tales of Want, 83,
12. Role Model, or Black Girls May Have Dreamed of Engineering Because of Women Like Me, 87,
13. On Degrees of Blackness and Being Me, 97,
14. Recalling What Was Good, 109,
15. Plucked and Planted, 117,
16. A Lingering Thread, 125,
Part III: So Then How Do We Live?,
17. Beyond What I Could Imagine, 137,
18. Marking the Color Trail, 143,
19. Before, 151,
20. Braided Love, 155,
21. Holding On, 161,
22. Preparation Days, 171,
23. What Remains, 175,
24. Marching Toward Zion, 187,
25. For My Husband Driving Down a Mountain, 197,
26. An Abundance of Impossible Things, 199,
27. So That We Can Remember, 217,
Acknowledgments, 223,
Notes, 227,
About the Author, 233,

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