My aunt, Vanessa Elaine Thrasher, had the biggest heart. Human, dog, or cat--if it was unloved or treated unfairly around her, it found a soft, comfortable spot in the heart and often home of "Aunt 'Laine."
My auntie stood for the underdog, the voiceless, powerless, battered, and forgotten. The lesson that her life taught me is that all life is sacred, everyone deserves a chance, and it is a great loss when a person with infinite value is taken for granted. Her's was a heart for the unloved, the disillusioned, and the troubled. Many individuals who were regular customers of her restaurant were the beneficiaries of such a caring nature.
Aunt 'Laine was a miracle. Her dreams of an unfettered life never died, regardless of the circumstance. Growing up as a dark-skinned African-American lesbian alongside four fair-skinned, heterosexual sisters in 1960's and 1970's America should have been more than enough of a challenge. However, miraculously, her heart was still full of love and compassion for others. How did she manage to still love so much?
She was still strong enough to set an example to those who looked up to her. While she did not finish college and even experienced certain struggles that made that difficult, she let her thirst for knowledge prevail and enrolled in chemical engineering courses in her 40's. She was always adamant about the pursuit of improving one's life through practical experience and academics.
She was always looking for a way to better herself and never gave up on that. I will never forget when she went without food for 21 days in an effort to clear her mind, body, and spirit. She lost around 25 lbs and found a renewed sense of living. I remember her saying that she would wake up at 5am those days and feel so close to God, appreciating the beauty of nature in her own backyard.
When Aunt 'Laine took over my grandfather's restaurant in 2010, she was applauded for a new beginning. Her touch was strong, yet compassionate; While a natural businesswoman, her place of business, however, was more like a help center for women and young people in the area. I remember how there was always someone Aunt 'Laine wanted to help. She even told me how much her heart went out to the youth of Simpson Road, and that she wanted to make a real difference. Her dream was to open up a youth-oriented cafe where students could do their homework or just have fun without getting in trouble.
Aunt 'Laine could have easily given up and yielded her life and purpose completely to the demons of her day. But she refused. She fought. Through the kindess that I witnessed in her character she fought backwards mentalities. She was a constant example of improvement and the fact that it's never too late to do what your heart has set to do. In her were seeds of a scientist, a businesswoman, and activist. She let those seeds actually take root and yield some fruit. One of the low hanging ones is the fact that other lives were inspired by her example, including my own.
Aunt 'Laine never had any children, but her legacy will not be forgotten. Her life teaches us that while a situation may indicate vulnerability or a doutbful outcome, we can choose to be courageous and strong. We can choose to love and respect others. We can choose to invest hope in our youth. She was relentless in supporting her neices and nephews--many of whom were adopted--in their personal pursuits tp improve through education and healthy decision-making. Her hope was that all young people who she knew would become strong, independent thinkers who respected life and took pride in their own.
I went by the lounge the other day--that symbol of family enterprise, outreach, yet a hurting community--for the first time since her life was taken. I wrote "RIP Auntie" on a brick like so many others had done. A few people who were standing around told me how much they loved her and how much it hurt them that she was gone. They all reminded me that she was in a much better place. I sensed that many of the people around were very young. One of them is just an 11th grader. I told him that he should stay in school and become the king he was born to be. I hope he listens. I pray that all my aunt ever hoped for him will come to pass. As for the young men who took her life--They are only 23, just two years younger than me. I fervently pray for young men who are like them to change their lives around.
Aunt 'Laine's life added so much value to my family and to the areas in Atlanta where you might find stories of dilapidation, abandonment, and doubt. Her value will not be forgotten, nor will her story be untold.
Please remember that you can make a difference in someone's life everyday. Choose to love, respect, and uplift. You never know how far your word of encouragement or expression of love can go. Plant seeds of goodness :-)
I feel like Aunt 'Laine has gone on a special trip, and will at some point recount the true beauty of life and love, as seen from the other side. However, I think the life that she has lived her already does this.
God bless her.