Disruption is a popular buzzword these days, especially in business. With the ever-increasing advances in technology, disruption does not just happen to us. Instead, it is something we proactively choose. It is a change from the norm. Being disruptive means being innovative, anticipating future needs, and taking a chance by doing things differently to achieve the required results with minimal delays. When we choose to disrupt, we find new ways to maneuver around obstacles that would otherwise thwart our progress.
I was watching TV with my mother a few weeks ago. A news segment highlighted “upstart” companies that took over transportation and home entertainment markets by not merely entering the market with products similar to those already existing but by projecting future needs and creating offerings that resonated with customers. By the time existing companies responded, it was too late: they lost customers and market share, and their businesses failed. The reporter referred to these occurrences as the theory of business disruption. After the program ended, Mother thought it was good, but she was not overly impressed.
“There’s nothing new and amazing about that,” she said. “If you want to win, you never follow what someone else is doing. You do what you have to do based on your drive and inner strength while remaining flexible and open to new ideas. If you can’t do that, it will be difficult to find success, and life will become a heavy load.”
I thought about it, and then I had to acknowledge that she was oh so right. Precisely fifty years ago, that is what happened to us. My mother, my siblings, and I faced disruption. We did not expect it, but we stepped right into it because we quickly realized that if we were not merely to survive but thrive, we had to take charge of the unexpected events that threatened to derail our hopes and dreams. It was a season filled with significant changes: death, physical separation, emotional stress, and financial challenge, but we were unwilling to succumb to those forces. We learned quickly to find a way around these obstacles so they would not control our lives, steal our hopes, and crush our dreams. No, sir, as David did with Goliath, we were bold enough to point our slingshots squarely at the spot between the eyes of disruption and courageously aim. We did not intend to stand around and get run over. My parents had grand plans for our success, and each of us had our own ideas for our future. Our mother and father encouraged us to be confident, determined, strong-willed, courageous, supportive of each other, committed to each other, and bonded in love. We were not going to let anything come against those values. If anyone or anything tried to disrupt our future, we were up to the test to withstand it and stomp it out with all our strength.
I remember the day this challenging season began in our family—the day disruption knocked at our door. It was 1970 in Kingston, Jamaica. A small island in the Caribbean Sea, Jamaica was still growing after gaining its independence a mere eight years earlier. New communities were popping up, and families were buying or building houses to create stability and define legacies. The economy was growing from tourism, manufacturing, and the flourishing bauxite (a natural rock used in many aluminum products) industry. Political and social uprisings were minimal because the economy was stable, and generally, many families were satisfied with their ability not merely to survive but to live a comfortable life. Also, there were not many incidences of government and legal corruption or abuse.
We lived in a housing development that was less than ten years old. When we moved there five years earlier, there were no schools and supermarkets (just in-home stores run by a few private residents with minimal supplies). We had a variety of vegetables and fruits that grew in our backyard (mango, lime, callaloo, banana, coconut), and we even had a chicken coop from which we gathered fresh eggs. Our daily routines were not extraordinary. We went to school, performed our assigned chores, played in the yard, and attended church every Sunday morning. Life was excellent. As they say on the island, “No problem, man!”
Up to that point in my life, I had no problems. But early one Sunday morning in March 1970, disruption came along to challenge our routine. About four months after my eighth birthday, my family experienced unforeseen changes that would shape our future.
That morning, I got out of bed as I heard the rooster crow. Like most Sunday mornings, the neighborhood was quiet. Sundays were indeed a day of rest. Most people slept in and ventured out only for church services. Since everyone was typically asleep or inside their houses, the rooster’s crow was loud and clear as it was the only sound that traveled from outside to inside.
But this morning inside our house seemed eerily quiet. I did not think that I was the only one up, although the others may have slept in since we did not expect to go to church as we usually did. Mother had spent most of the previous day and all night at the hospital because Daddy had been admitted after being hit by a motorcycle. Before Mother had left for the hospital that evening, she told us she did
not know what time she would be home. So, we were unsure of whether we would attend church on Sunday morning. Mother’s reluctance to give us a specific time that she would be home should have set off an alarm with us, but we were kids, and up until then, our lives had been happy and routine, so we never expected anything “bad” to happen.
I heard voices in the carport, so I walked through the kitchen and headed in that direction. I saw my brothers, Champ and Kamere, but I did not need them. I was looking for my sister Faith, because I was getting hungry, and my sisters usually saw to my every need when Mother was not around. I turned around to head back inside. I knew Hope (my eldest sister’s nickname) was not home (she accompanied Mother on her trip to the hospital), but where in the world was Faith? I don’t know why I was surprised, because she always moved to the beat of her own drums. I walked through the living room toward the front of the house. That’s when I heard it: a car pulling up to our home and screams breaking the silence. Well, I’d found one of my sisters, and it wasn’t Faith. It was Hope—my parents’ firstborn. “He’s dead. He’s dead!” she moaned and hollered all at the same time.
I remember my body shaking, and I suddenly felt cold; my head started pounding at the same time, and I couldn’t fully understand what she was saying, although I heard her loud and clear. Instinctively all my eight-year-old self knew to do at that moment was cry. And that is what I did. As the tears streamed down my face, I ran toward the front door. I opened the door just as my uncle’s car pulled up into the carport. My mother, Murna, and my sister Hope exited—both sobbing in sadness. By then, my eyes were overflowing with tears, and my head was spinning. I didn’t know what to say or what to do. I remember Hope hugging me, and then I saw Champ, Kamere, and Faith coming from inside the house to see what was going on.
I thought it was a dream. It seemed like a bad dream, and I wanted to wake up from it. But sadly, it was not. I’d heard what my sister screamed from the car, so I knew it was official. Daddy was gone forever. As I think back on that day, I guess, deep down inside, I wasn’t surprised when I heard the news. I was deeply saddened. I didn’t want it to be accurate, but honestly, I wasn’t totally surprised because, secretly, I’d just had this feeling. When Mother left us to go to the hospital, there was a strange and distant look in her eyes. As much as she tried to stay calm and not reveal the severity of the situation, somehow, I sensed something unsettling that I did not understand at the time.
So, how did we get here, to this harrowing Sunday morning? This startling event began on Saturday. The day started like any other Saturday. Hope headed off early with her friends; she had a sporting event at school. As was customary before heading out, Hope said goodbye to Daddy. I’ll never forget that morning. Hope was wearing a red-and-white culotte outfit with a bow at the right hip that our grandmother, who we lovingly called “Auntie Mattie,” sent from New Jersey. Hope was in high school and extremely particular about style and fashion.
Daddy looked at her as she greeted him and critiqued her outfit, saying, “It’s a little cool out. Do you think you can survive in that?”
“Yes, Daddy!” Hope answered, bobbing her head up and down to convince him because she really wanted to wear the outfit.
“Okay, then,” was his short response, shrugging his shoulder.
“Bye, Daddy,” Hope answered, never knowing this would be the very last exchange she would ever have with her father.
Daddy had breakfast and headed into town. Our mother was scurrying around cleaning. My brothers were halfway doing their chores and halfway playing. Faith was begrudgingly doing her chores (as usual, wondering why she was holding down the fort for the rest of us kids). I was basking in the glory of being the youngest child and not having to do chores like my older siblings. Instead, I found a book to read. I had tons of books; reading was my favorite pastime.
Morning turned to afternoon, uneventful until our neighbor came running up the driveway looking harried and loudly calling, “Murna, Murna!” Mother stepped outside, exchanged a few words, and ran with him to his house to take a phone call because we did not have a phone in our home.
She returned, nervous, stuttering, “I have to go. It’s your father; there was an accident.” My brothers peered at her with serious looks on their faces but never uttered a word. As usual, it was Faith who asked the tough questions. “Exactly what happened, Mother? Is he okay? Is he hurt bad?”
Mother’s eyes welled up with tears. She turned her head slightly away as she babbled while rummaging through the drawers, grabbing keys and some papers, “All I know is a motorcycle hit him as he was crossing the street, Main Street, and they took him by ambulance to the hospital. I have to go now. Please stay inside. Your sister should be home soon.”
“Is that all you know?” quizzed Faith, slightly indignant.
“F-a-i-t-h,” Mother slowly said, “Let me leave so I can go to find out more and make sure he gets the care he needs.” Mother was definitely in a hurry and avoided eye contact.
“Okay,” Faith replied curtly, folding her arms and slowly walking away although still clearly annoyed.
Mother, likely noticing Faith’s stance and tone, took a deep breath as if to gain strength and looked at her daughter lovingly, wanting to go after her. But as she heard a car’s horn blowing, Mother grabbed her purse and ran out of the house. My uncle, who lived across the street and two doors down, was ready to take her to the hospital. I remained quiet. I did not ask Mother any questions, and I did not bother Faith. I just went back to my books, half reading and half thinking about what I had heard, the words, the tone and urgency of Mother’s voice, the look on her face and in her eyes. I knew Faith did not have any more information than I did, so there was no point in peppering her with questions. That is how I’ve always thought things out. There was no point in asking questions when I knew we both heard and saw the same things. I went back to reading because I could always find solace in stories to calm my fears and quiet anxiety.
When Hope arrived, we told her everything we knew, how Mother got a phone call and rushed off to the hospital.
“Ah, it’s probably no big deal. Daddy will be fine. Remember a few years back when he had to handle a commotion at work, and somebody tried to hit him over the head, missed, and tore his shoulder apart?”
“Yeah, on Boxing Day,” I interjected.
“You would know the exact day,” replied Faith, looking at me annoyed.
“Right, and that didn’t turn out to be anything real serious—he didn’t die, and he didn’t stay in the hospital for more than a day or two. So, I don’t care what you heard. Just like when they tried to hit him over the head, and the hit landed on his shoulder, I’m betting if the motorcycle did hit him, it wasn’t going fast, and maybe he just hurt a leg or something, and he’ll be okay. Yes, he’ll be home before you know it,” said Hope with confidence. “Where was he when it happened, anyway?”
“He was in town on Main Street. When he left out this morning, I heard him tell Mother he would stop in to see Aunt Edna because, you know, she is always at her store on Main Street on Saturdays.
Then he said that he was going to Macon’s Pharmacy across the street from Aunt Edna’s to get some ointment to rub on his shoulder. I bet that’s just where it happened,” I blurted out.
Both Faith and Hope stared at me for a second. They didn’t say much, but their eye-rolls said it all. As young as I was, I always knew what was going on, had a lot of information, and had an opinion to share. The older girls were getting tired of their little sister’s know-it-all outbursts. They ignored me and continued their exchange.
“Yeah, that shoulder he hurt in the Boxing Day incident because he just so happened to take a step, and luckily it missed the top of his head. That could have turned out awful, and it didn’t,” replied Faith confidently. “Daddy is tough because outside of having to rub that shoulder every now and then, he just moved right on as though nothing happened. But I pray the hit from the motorcycle didn’t break any bones. I bet he’ll be fine this time too. Daddy always is! I won’t worry because I know he’ll be fine.”
“Exactly, Faith, he didn’t die from that hit on his shoulder! And he’s been walking around as though it’s business as usual. I know my daddy; he will be fine. I don’t care what hit him. Daddy can make it through anything,” was Hope’s unwavering response, getting in the last word as always.
Again, I picked up a book as I always did when I felt nervous or uncertain. Champ and Kamere never chimed in on the conversation and simply walked away after Hope’s last declaration. I don’t know if they believed it. I’m not sure that I believed it myself. But if my sisters believed it, then I thought I ought to believe it. And since Faith and Hope were united in their belief, I was also willing to believe, and that’s what I tried to do.
Later that evening, Mother returned. She looked sad, and her eyes were red. She tried not to cry and to remain upbeat, but we could tell it was serious and not a minor incident. Hope asserted her position as the eldest child, asking what exactly happened and how he was. She was not going to accept Mother brushing her off.
“Okay,” Mother relented, “a motorcycle hit him as he was crossing the street. He hit his head on the curb. They rushed him, unconscious, to the hospital. He was still unconscious when I left the hospital.”
Wow, now I saw a change in Hope and Faith’s demeanors. They didn’t speak it out loud, but as I perceived, the seriousness of the situation had hit them squarely in the face. The fantasy of super Daddy who could withstand any blow was no more. Faith walked away. She was never much for showing her feelings in public (even to us). Hope, being Hope, wanted the facts. She wanted eyewitness confirmation, not hearsay, even if it was from her own mother.
But Mother didn’t appear to be up to saying much more. She came home for a few hours to see about us; after all, mothering is what she did best. She intended to feed us and get us settled for bed before returning to the hospital.
“I’m going with you,” Hope said firmly.
“No,” Mother replied, “stay here with the others.”
“Absolutely not,” Hope responded, “I’m going.”
Hope was stubborn, and Mother was not up to a fight, so Hope won.
The next time we heard from them was the bellow and scream of Hope on Sunday morning as the car pulled up. This normally calm, cool, and collected teenager lost her composure. It was clear that Hope was shaken and maybe even scared. Before that morning, I didn’t recall ever seeing my big sister so worked up, unsettled, and out of control. The seemingly unthinkable had happened; her daddy had died! Hope was losing it, and at that moment, I didn’t quite know what to expect or what would happen from that day forward.
It seemed that within minutes everyone had heard the news because before we knew it, the neighbors were swarming our house. I felt overwhelmed by all the attention, since I was the quiet one who was always uncomfortable interacting with others. I typically waved quickly in reply to a neighborly hello and ran inside to my parents and siblings—my comfort zone. I had a couple of select friends; otherwise, my attention focused on reading my stories. I didn’t like anyone asking me questions or fussing over me. Somehow it all felt intrusive. My parents and siblings were the centers of my world, and I limited any other relationship’s scope. There was a line in the sand,
and I was not too fond of when anyone tried to cross it, even when they had good intentions. This swarm of people wanting to hug me felt suffocating, but I did not want to be rude. I did my best to display courtesy and manners. Then just when fear and sadness, combined with the stifling crowd, were about to take hold of me, I felt a tug on my sleeve. I looked to my left, and it was Faith.
“Come on,” she said, “let’s go out back and play.”
“Play?” I asked as we walked away.
I was confused as she pulled me by the arm. Daddy is dead, and Faith wants to play?
“Yes, play. What don’t you get about that?” Faith asked indignantly.
“Daddy is dead, Faith; I don’t think we should be playing,” I answered. “Do you really feel like playing? I mean, aren’t you sad or upset or anything?” I continued, trembling as tears ran down my cheeks.
She sighed, stared at me, and shook her head before speaking. “I know Daddy is dead,” she replied with an attitude. “Of course I’m sad. We’re never going to see him, hug him, talk to him, go places, do stuff, smile, or laugh with him ever again. But I know my daddy; he only wants us to live as he taught us. He wants us to be strong like he told us to be. He doesn’t want us sitting around, crying, and giving up.”
I stared at her, unresponsive and wondering what was wrong with her. At that moment, I didn’t understand Faith wanting to play when Daddy was dead. Mother was painfully sad (I’d never seen her look this way before), and Hope was freaking out.
“Do you think if you sit around and cry all day, he’ll come back to life? Do you think if you just stay sad, that will make him smile again?” she responded quizzically.
“Nope,” I whispered.
“Okay, then let’s play,” she said.
“All right,” I said, since I had no real comeback for her assertions, and when I thought about it, like her, I knew my daddy and what he had taught us. Everything Faith said sounded like something he would have said. I needed to hear it and always felt somehow Daddy had something to do with Faith’s tongue lashing that day.
We walked to the backyard, escaping the crowd and playing until our mother sent Hope to find us. As I reflect now, that exchange was therapy, and I am happy we played instead of letting sadness overtake us. Faith and her never-stress personality stopped me from wallowing and getting absorbed by the enormity of the situation. Her innocent wisdom allowed me to be what I was—an eight-year-old girl with dreams and desires that were beginning to take root, even though my daddy’s time in my life had come to an end.