If I Die Before I Wake – A Reflection on the Regal Nature of Chadwick Boseman

I can’t stop thinking about Chadwick Boseman. He’s been on my mind so much that I caught myself shaking my head in the gym on the edge of tears. Now if you know me, you know that this isn’t characteristic of me. So, I had to examine why I was taking this so hard. Even before he died, I would find myself googling about his health. Like many people, I saw him getting thinner and would find myself concerned about him. I too hoped that the weight loss was due to him thinning up for a movie role. It had been announced, around the time that he started coming into public noticeably thinner, that he was going to play the first and only Black Samurai, Yasuke, who served under Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga in 16th century Japan. Once again, he was going to take on the role of one of the “First Blacks to…” just as he had with James Brown, Thurgood Marshall, and Jackie Robinson. So I hoped that his gaunt appearance was going to reveal itself to be indicative of his passion for his craft and the calling on his life to bring powerful characters into the consciousness of people who for so long had very few symbols to hold on to.

Thank you for being a King in this life—for challenging our imaginations and giving us an aspirational symbol. I know many people will think that you were “just an actor”. But for those of us who never grew up with superheroes who looked like us and saw ourselves portrayed in a negative light, you made an indelible mark and shined eternally bright. #restinwakandaforever

My Instagram post August 30, 2020

I don’t say this much out loud. But I often feel lonely. Part of this loneliness comes from the fact that I don’t have many living role models before me who can relate to my background or life’s experiences. Everyday, I try, in my small way, to live up to an ideal that I have never actually witnessed being displayed up close. And I do it knowing that I live in a world that, whether people will admit it or not, is always waiting for me to fail. And not just me. If I extrapolate from the conversations I’ve had over my lifetime, almost everyone who is veiled in Black skin in this country carries this burden either consciously or unconsciously. Though many people are in denial about it, if you’re paying attention as a Black person, you know. And others know it too. If we fail, we take so many other people down with us. Because to be Black here is to be a symbol. And as a symbol, you always represent much more than yourself. Whereas, if some other people fail, they are simply seen as an individual–often deserving of second, third, fourth, and fifth chances.

When you are a symbol, society tries to make you an exception when you achieve in any capacity simply because the underlying belief is that most of us are incapable of meeting the illusory standards of this country. That’s why I think our ascendance, however small, is watched very closely. I believe that this is because, every step that any of us climbs, undoes the structure of the painfully comfortable false narrative that was built upon the foundation of our supposed inferiority. In other words, when Black people do well, especially in arenas where we are not always lauded, it tears at the fabric of this nation’s institutional myth about the capacities of American Blackness that almost everyone has bought into–even many Black folks. What if we were always this talented; this intelligent; this powerful? What does that say about how our ancestors were treated? What does it say about those of us who succumbed to the lies told about us? Does the past become even more tragic if we consider that we all had Wakandan like potential that was virtually strangled out of us for centuries? The questions are almost too much to contemplate.

By simply being who he was and living into his moment, Chadwick embodied that potential. His nature was regal. And in his person he carried the spirits of many of our ancestors. Perhaps that is why he was called here to embody them for us in the enduring form of film. He showed us our past and our future. He changed our world. And then he left.

In my work, I have seen many people die. I have watched as the light leaves their bodies and often wondered if they illumined every place they came here to shine in. I suspect that most haven’t. And that’s why there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about when my day will come. But I am not afraid of death. Ever since I became aware of the expectation that, as a Black Man in America, I would either die or spend some time in the criminal justice system by 18, I have contemplated my death. So no, I am not afraid of death at all. What gets to me is the idea that I will not do all that I can with this life because I will have allowed myself to be overly weighed down by the loneliness of being the first or the only. As they say, I don’t want to die with my music still in me. I want to truly live while I am here. And the truth is that I can’t say that I’ve done that yet. So perhaps that is part of why I can’t stop thinking about Chadwick Boseman.

Consider what he accomplished in the 4 years that he was diagnosed and being treated for colon cancer. Can you imagine? And consider that he did all of this while keeping his diagnosis to himself. Talk about lonely. But I don’t think he kept it to himself for himself. I think he did it for all us who know what it’s like to be the first or the only. In a consumer driven world where illness is seen as just another failure, he commanded his body and the world it inhabited to conform to his ideal. And in so doing, he tore that mythical fabric of Black inferiority that much more.

Of course, it is sad that he was not able to share his struggles with the world and receive the wellspring of compassion that he would have likely received and perhaps lived longer. But he was Black before he was The Black Panther. So I can imagine that he didn’t think he would get a second chance. So he did everything he could with the chance he got knowing that just like when one of us goes down we inadvertently take others with us, when we ascend, we take others with us as well. And that’s why I can say unequivocally that though this man had no earthly crown, he was and always will be a king. And at least for me, his being brings about a sense of conviction that before I die, I must make contact with my own regality and do everything I can to encourage it in others.

A Poem Fit for a King (In Memory of Chadwick Boseman)
I’ll see you on the Other Side
But I still can see you now
In the ways you changed the atmosphere
And by your essence you showed us how

We can’t believe that you are gone
And yet you’re here now more than ever
Giving form to a future and a past
We salute you now and forever

Now that your form is no longer with us
We see the burden that was in your eyes
You held the Space just long enough
To show that One who is Living never dies

Someday we all will meet you
In the azure canopied ancestral plains
Where everyone is a queen and king
In the Place where Spirit reigns.

© Copyright 2020 Pedro S. Silva II

Take This Life (w/ Lyrics)

Updated on December 4, 2022

I am grateful that after more than a 4 year journey, Take This Life has finally made its way out into the world. It has been a blessing to me. I hope it blesses everyone it comes in contact with because you are made to shine. #makeitlight

I’m using Take This Life to create a #makeitlight challenge to highlight good being done in the world. Right now I’m still on a social media and blogging fast. SooBut, when I’m done, I’ll put the song out there more and share it on socials. If you happen to decide to share it online, can you use the #makeitlight tag? 

(When you shine your Light it isn’t just for you.
It’s for everybody else that’s been watching what you do.)

Take this life
Make it right
Take this life
Make it Light
To see…

You ever had those thoughts that wouldn’t go away?
They’re runnin’ though your mind like every single day.
Wake up in the mornin’
Get on your knees and pray
Don’t believe it works
But you do it anyway
That’s what it’s like when you feelin’ hopeless
Lookin’ at your life and you’ve got no focus
You say, “It gets better.”
Swear to God you know this
But you caught up in the mix
Don’t where your flow is
This is the way of the American dream
We think we see clearly
But it isn’t what it seems
Addicted to consumption
So we livin’ like we fiends
Only find meaning
When we get a bunch of things
Sooo…

Take this life
Make it right
Take this life
Make it Light
To see…

You know the Way
That’s what they say
That’s why I pray
To shine like the Day
Sooo…

Take this life
Make it right
Take this life
Make it Light
To see…

Here’s a little something
I’m getting off my chest
It’s been a long time
Since last I confessed
I denied you
Thinking I’d get the rest
But life without you
Is a life that’s a mess

The best of me
Is messin’ with the rest of me
It’s testin’ me
At least until I get to see
I’m blessed to be
Livin’ with you next to me
‘Cause life within you
Is for X to see
You see

They say you know the Way
I’m inclined to believe it
Though never in my life
Have I seen one to achieve it
You told us how to do it
I’ll be shocked
If we gon’ heed it
Then we looking all surprised
By the fact that we defeated
Soo…

Take this life
Make it right
Take this life
Make it Light
To see

You know the Way
That’s what they say
That’s why I pray
To shine like the Day
Sooo…

Take this life
Make it right
Take this life
Make it Light
To see…

When you shine your light
It isn’t just for you
It’s for everybody else
That’s been watchin’ what you do
You can talk that talk
But the walk shows what is true
Are you a hypocrite
Or the proud and the few?
That’s the kind of question
I ask myself daily
Trying to get back to my roots
As if my name was Alex Haley
You don’t like my style
But never will you play me
‘Cause I’m gon’ shine my light
Till the day that they take me

You say I know the way
‘Cause if you do, I’m supposed to
I’m glad you chose me
Even when I hadn’t chose you
The world is out of order
And everybody knows it
How’s a nation under you
When all you are, it opposes
If they gon’ be that Pharaoh
Then I’m gon’ be that Moses
They don’t want to see us shine
‘Cause when we do it exposes
So I’m gon’ keep speaking
Til everybody knows this
It’s when we turn to you
That we see where the flow is

You know the Way
That’s what they say
That’s why I pray
To shine like the Day
Sooo…

Take this life
Make it right
Take this life
Make it Light
To see…

Matthew 5:15
 
No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.

Below is the original performance of the song that I did as a pastor.