River City Rising: Ready for Sunrise

Let me cut to the chase: I have never experienced so much irreplaceable loss as I did the past eleven months. If it were any other year, I might expect you to pause here for a bit and feel sorry for me, but we are talking about the year AD 2020 which my spiritual side respectfully acknowledges as Anno Domini (2020) and my human side exasperatingly sees as Absolutely Devastating (2020.) Because as much as I’ve lost, many have lost much more so there is neither time nor space for a pity party, no matter how crushing the blows.

In February, the fields of science and medicine lost a renowned child psychiatrist; I lost a confidante who had become a dear family friend and one of my son’s most vocal advocates. Dr. Ronald Ricker gave me the courage to educate my son in a way that, though unconventional and scoffed at by some whose opinions I valued more than my own, was the best way for us. When I learned of his passing I sat sobbing at the desk where my son and I solve math problems and diagram sentences, feeling the void of his matter-of-fact voice pushing me through my greatest insecurities. One person wrote of Dr. Ricker, “this man has saved my life.” That he was and will always be to me: a lifesaver.

In April, my pastor Dr. Johnny V. Baylor moved on and up, no doubt dancing his way through that city street made of pure gold. Though I often thanked Pastor Baylor for being an immovable rock in my life, I don’t believe I could have ever thanked him enough. He was the spiritual guide I leaned on most heavily when I roamed hopelessly about my darkest valleys, when I concluded that though God surely must not be listening to me, at least Pastor Baylor was. I have yet to come to terms with the fact that, for the first time since I met him twenty years ago, he can’t take my call. He’s busy boogying down one of heaven’s parkways, pain-free and, I imagine, fist-bumping fellow angels along the way.

No sun – no moon!
No morn – no noon –
No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day-
No sky – no earthly view –
No distance looking blue …

These words pulled from the poem by Thomas Hood aptly describe my November as I faced the reality that my best friend was gone. Julisa and I met as college students and where others saw brokenness, she saw beauty. Somewhere along the way she began calling me her Mary and I began calling her my Elizabeth and that’s about as much as I want to dedicate to our story in this particular space because it’s too painful a task, honestly, to write anything more.

Countless times over the past 362 days my husband held me as I cried myself to sleep. And countless times when I awoke, curled into a ball, and cried because I had to face another day without my confidante, my spiritual guide and my Elizabeth, he brushed my curls away from my face and asked, “What can I do to help you today?” More often than not I answered,

“Can we get Sunrise, please?”

Sunrise, as in Sunrise Memphis- the breakfast/brunch restaurant that had become my respite not only because of the food but because of the people who prepared and served the food. Unknowingly, they had become a lifeline for me.



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Mr. Steve’s infectious smile- leading the way when he stopped whatever he was doing to come over and say hello- instantly brightened my spirits. Sue made me laugh so hard one day while conversing with us at our table that I had tears rolling down my cheeks. I thanked God for these tears. Ross and Sarah and Brittany and every other person at Sunrise who stopped kneading dough, making coffee, and wiping tables just long enough to help me see past my pain, also helped me see how apropos it was that they all worked at a diner whose very name signifies the dawn of a new day.

As we set our sights on 2021, a year we anticipate, with elevated hope, will be better than the one we’re leaving behind, I consider that even in the midst of looming uncertainties and lingering hurt over insurmountable losses, as long as the sun rises and we along with it, there is opportunity for restoration. And as long as there is Sunrise, there remains the opportunity for renewal as both our stomachs and souls are nourished with daily bread.

Happy New Year, Memphis!

About the Author, CJ Kirkland

C.J. Kirkland was born in New York to an Italian American mother and a Bahamian father. Raised in the Bahamas and having lived for three years in The Netherlands, she considers herself truly multicultural!

C.J. attended Spelman College on a full academic scholarship. She initially chose to major in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. However, her desire to study and better understand the human psyche (because of events that transpired during her childhood) led her to transfer to the psychology program during her sophomore year. She was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and subsequently enrolled at Morgan State University to pursue a Master of Arts in International Relations. C.J. planned to embark on a career in journalism and, at the advice of her best friend, moved to Los Angeles during her second year of studies. She completed her requirements for her MA in International Relations at UCLA, during which time she had a short internship at CNN. It was during this internship that C.J. met her mentor who believed she should open herself up to opportunities in mainstream television, not just news broadcasting. After booking a national commercial on her very first audition, C.J. worked as a commercial and voice-over actress for four years before returning to her first love: writing.

While working as a freelance writer C.J. embraced her psychology background and began a creative writing group at a Los Angeles residential home for at-risk youth. She also volunteered at a Memphis non-profit organization, helping students build their writing and English skills in preparation for the GED exam. In 2011, C.J. was the graduation keynote speaker at BRIDGES in Memphis, Tennessee.

Currently, C.J. is writer of the River City Rising blog for cityCURRENT. She is also a contributing writer for Executive Speakers Bureau and the Ronald McDonald House of Memphis.

C.J. recently completed her first Contemporary Fiction novel, FOR TRUE. She lives in Memphis with her husband, young son, and two dogs.

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