I've been reassessing relevance. I started before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington. The prospect of personal demise, presented by renal failure, focused my attention on life's importance. The horror of the hate-driven murders of thousands of innocent U.S. citizens and residents simply sharpened my view.
What matters is a sense of purpose fueled by love. The love is key. It fosters our best work. Its aim is to serve, do good, help others.
I love writing about cars and the automobile industry. It goes beyond shiny metal and horsepower. It speaks to freedom, the essence of which is freedom to speak, worship -- and move.
This is not an abstract matter to me. It is as real as breathing and watching life's blood flow through the plastic tubes of a dialysis machine. Perhaps, it stems from a childhood without freedom, growing up black in strictly segregated New Orleans.
Back then, in the 1950s and early 1960s, I had to sit in the rear of public transports. Many times, I had to walk. I worked in white peoples' houses in suburban Metairie, La. Public buses often wouldn't stop for me in those white neighborhoods.
But I could sit in the front seat of my parents' Rambler American, Chevrolet Caprice or Cadillac Brougham. I'd watch with pride as my father or mother took command of the wheel, in charge of their personal destiny, if only for the duration of the trip.
Riding in those cars was my escape from the fear of being asked to swallow my dignity; of being forced, by law, to acknowledge society's negative assessment of my worth.
I've loved cars and trucks, bikes and motorcycles, and motorhomes ever since. I'm not about to give them up because of somebody's hatred of the United States. Vehicles remain relevant to me. The freedom they represent remains relevant to me.
Some people might find those sentiments odd for a person who grew up with the worst that America has to offer. They don't understand that freedom is an act of faith.
My father, the late Daniel T. Brown Sr., often said: "The son of a slave can never be a free man." He meant that a parent who embraces slavery, segregation, who has no faith in the promise of freedom -- that parent can never teach children how to dream, how to reach beyond their immediate circumstances, how to challenge the status quo in pursuit of something better. A child so afflicted can never be free.
My father and his people, descendants of Muslims who were kicked out of Madagascar and sold into American slavery, also believed in paying their dues. They fought in all of America's wars. They educated themselves and helped to educate many others. They never asked for reparations, or welfare. They simply demanded a fair deal.
"Work, fight, and pray," my father used to say. In his thinking, doing one without the others was a sure route to failure. He used to say a lot of things. But he always thrilled me most with the best of commands: "Come on, son, let's drive."
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