Friday, August 30, 2013

We; Sasha, and Zamani: Remembering Tokiwa Mitchell

On the corner of Gentilly Boulevard and Norman Mayer Avenue in New Orleans, positioned between the wide green lawns of Dillard University, and what was once the Norman Mayer Branch of the New Orleans Public Library sits a small, perfunctorily kept park area, with a brownish-green duck pond sitting in the middle of it. At the corner of this area, closest to where the Norman Mayer Branch once stood, on Norman Mayer Avenue sits the still and somber above ground crypt annex of a nearby memorial garden, known locally as Mount Olivet Cemetery and Mausoleum.
In one crypt, situated more or less in the middle of a bank of adjacent identical crypts, at about the height of an average-sized man’s stature, lie the mortal remains of Tokiwa Mitchell: a friend and former classmate.
I had known death before; but it has always been so far away that it didn’t seem to matter. In my experience it had always been someone older, someone sick, someone I wasn’t close to. In this instance, it was different. This time it was young woman whom, by all rights, should still be alive. This time it was someone, whom, by all rights, should have outlived me.
My memories of this vibrant young woman sometimes flood vividly back to the forefront of my thoughts even now, after all these years following her untimely demise. I know she’s gone, but somehow some part of me stubbornly refuses to admit it. Some part of me says it was all a mistake, and that she’s probably enjoying life’s struggles elsewhere in some other town, raising a family, forging a career like everyone else I went to school with…except, she’s not.
On the night of October 27, 1995, Tokiwa Mitchell was murdered in front of her home, shot to death while sitting in her truck. She was 21 years old.
Someone I knew, someone I talked with, smiled and interacted with on an almost daily basis, is no longer among the living, and for some reason this terrible loss has had a profound and lasting effect upon me.
Tokiwa Calvada Mitchell and I had more in common than not; but I didn’t find out about any of that until after her funeral. We both attended Francis W. Gregory junior high, and John F. Kennedy senior high school, but at different times: we were both members of our school’s choir and both ended up attending Xavier University of Louisiana. While I supported my educational endeavors by working as an office assistant at Xavier University, she did the same by working part time at a New Orleans Riverwalk eatery called “The Steak Escape.” I stopped by there once or twice to eat an early dinner after work, and each of those times she was on duty. We’d make small talk about school while I ate my meal.
So I guess if I had to put a name to what I’ve been feeling, I would have to call it regret. I regret the fact that even though we frequently interacted, I didn’t really know her as well as I could have; and if I had, I probably would have really liked and appreciated the person she was. Although we didn’t know each other as well as we could have, we did remember each other every time we encountered on another, and there was so much potential for more there that will never be realized, at least not on this side of Eternity.
If I had known then what I know now, and I knew that I could do nothing to change the outcome, I would have made certain that the times we saw one another were more frequent, and the conversation we shared was lengthier and more meaningful. I would have made more of an effort to know the girl in life that I grew to know after her untimely death.
In his book entitled Lies My Teacher Told Me author James Loewen asserts that many African societies divide humans into three categories: those still alive on earth, (i.e. we the living), the sasha, and the zamani. The recently departed whose time on earth overlapped with people still here are the sasha, the living-dead. They are not wholly dead, for they still live in the memories of the living, who can call them to mind, create their likeness in art, and bring them to life in anecdote. When the last person to know an ancestor dies, that ancestor leaves the sasha for the zamani, the dead. As generalized ancestors, the zamani are not forgotten but revered. Many…can be recalled by name, but they are not “living-dead.”
As long as I live, I will remember Tokiwa Mitchell; and my memories of that diminutive, feisty but funny dark-skinned girl with the radiant smile, are part of the memories that will keep her dwelling among the sasha, until we all become one with the zamani.

1 comment:

  1. I really like the thought process of thinking of a death that you transcribed into writing. It is something that we can't really imagine or process in our minds, but you put it out there. We think of just recently we saw them, and that eerie feeling comes when we realize they are not there now. And that feeling of regret that will always be there, even though you could never have known. I feel like you got those emotions on the page and the thought process seemed to jump out. I will say that it took until you mentioned your friend until the piece sparked my interest, because starting with scenery with a subject seemed a bit off, in my opinion. Maybe you could start with your earliest memory of her? I did like the bit about how you'd known death before, but that it was never something that deeply affected you until this incident. It showed a lot about your relationship.