There has a been a lot of pain and joy and violence and heartbreak and celebration and divisiveness and reunification in the past two weeks. Almost more than I can begin to take in and really wrap my brain around.
It has me feeling a bit discombobulated frankly.
Or maybe that’s the headache.
This afternoon I went into my bedroom to get something I’d left in there, and as I rounded the corner of my side of the bed, I heard the voice in my head.
It was from over thirty years ago. I guess I must have tucked it away really well, because I haven’t thought about this in years. But today, with all of this that has been going on–people posting and shouting and crying out to be heard and understood and others crying out for things to stay the same and just folks crying in general–it all came rushing back.
And it near about sent me to my knees, weeping.
I was in elementary school. In the county I grew up in, there were two towns. The one I grew up just outside of and the other one where everything happened. This was where the 4-H office was, and it was also where the old school my Daddy attended growing up was. The 4-H group used an area in that school for their Square Dance classes.
When I first heard of the classes, I was excited. When I was in third grade, only a select few had been allowed to go to the gym to learn square dancing. I was too young to understand why, so I can’t answer that question now. I just know I was not one of them. So when this opportunity came about to learn through the 4-H club a few years later, a club I was involved in at my own school, I was elated.
My parents were willing to take me, something I don’t take lightly now, being a parent who is part taxi driver much of the time. Daddy took a book and would sit in the car reading, as best as I can remember. As I was the only one from our town attending, I didn’t know anyone else there. There were three girls who were welcoming to me, and I was so thankful. When the caller announced, “Square up!” the four of us stood waiting for partners to join us. And off we went.
I loved it.
My Mama made me a couple of skirts and a crinoline. I loved the feel of flouncing around in them and my bright white tennis shoes. I had found something I truly enjoyed.
Then one night one of the ladies who was volunteering as chaperone called me to the side. She quietly suggested maybe I’d want to square up with someone else for a change. I can hear her voice now, but I can no longer see her face. I can still see the dimly lit room and that tile floor, all scuffed and dull from years of use, but her face is gone. Which is probably for the best. Some things are better left forgotten.
She was strongly suggesting that I change. While she didn’t say it in so many words, it was very clear to me, shocked as I was, that she thought I should leave my three friends because they were black. African-American.
I was in shock. Speechless. Broken.
That’s what drove me to my knees today.
I had forgotten what that felt like. To have someone in authority telling me whom I should be friends with, hang out or associate with, whom I should care about. For someone else’s prejudices to be inflicted upon me.
And here we are. Over 30 years later. We are still seeing this happen today, and it is heart wrenching. People who are so certain that their way of thinking is the only way–the right way–that they believe everyone else should abide by their beliefs as well.
I don’t remember exactly what I did in that moment, except that I do remember feeling sick. And dirty. And I remember going back to my friends. And squaring up.
Because that’s what you do. Stick with your friends. Even when others suggest they are “less than” or you could do better.
What I’m having trouble remembering is whether or not something was said to my Daddy, or if I ever told my parents myself. I can only imagine what my Daddy, who came up during segregation, would have said–the man who told me later in life that when I was in high school, he searched his soul and decided that if I ever brought home a boyfriend of a different race, the only thing that mattered was if that person loved me and treated me right. The same man who also shared that if one of us came home in a serious relationship with someone of the same gender, he would be okay then too. As long as we were loved and treated well.
Because he loved us. And that’s all that mattered.
Mama too. She was all about loving folks. And feeding them. But that’s another story.
Tonight I’m still a little shaky. For a few minutes today I was a pre-teen and had my world rocked all over again. I was overwhelmed by the shame of feeling like I was doing something wrong, and yet also confused because I was pretty sure I wasn’t. Once again I feel the weight of being responsible for little people and shaping their thoughts and hearts. I don’t want to mislead them. Ever. I’m thankful for this memory resurfacing today, painful as it is, as it has reminded me to guard against prejudices–those get passed along very easily, even when we aren’t trying.
I want to take a page from my parents’ book on this one. Love all. And let my children know again and again there is never a story or person they can’t bring home to me.
Let’s go out there and make this world a better place. PLEASE. And please someone show me that we have moved beyond where we were thirty years ago. My heart really needs that right now.
Love to all.