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In these Unsettled and Disturbing Days

I didn’t want to write about racial issues.  What can I say?  Why voice my thoughts? I’m a white, retired elementary public-school teacher.  I grew up in a small Tennessee county where the only black people worked in the kitchen of a restaurant near the Obey River bridge that spans Dale Hollow Lake.

            When I was young, I sang a song in Sunday School class about people of different colors, and my teacher taught that all people were equal in God’s sight. I’ve never questioned that lesson.

            When I see and hear and read about deaths, injuries, riots, and destruction, the well-known Sunday School song plays in my head.  Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world. Red and yellow; black and white. They are precious in His sight.  Jesus loves the little children of the world

            And when I see and hear and read about deaths, injuries, riots, and destruction, I’m sad and feel unsettled, restless, helpless. I think of my friends who are black.  I think of their children.  Their spouses.  Their siblings.  And I hurt for all of them.

            I reached out individually to two black women friends. One was a TTU basketball player and the other is a teacher whose classroom, a few years ago, was right next door to mine.  One has children who are university graduates; the other has young children.  I respect these women and gladly call them friends. Although I haven’t sat face-to-face with either recently, I hope they both know I’m willing to help them anytime.

            So, I asked Leah and Summer two questions. How I can share that although our skin color is different, our hearts, our minds, and our bodies are the same?  That even though our experiences and ‘upbringings’ are different, that our choices are the same?

            Leah disagreed that our life choices are the same.  She’s right; each person’s choices are different along life’s path.  I meant, but didn’t say, our choices in our actions and reactions.  Leah wrote, “I do feel that when we lead with love, we have the best opportunity to learn, overcome fears of the unknown, and build bridges!”

            Summer responded that the key is choice. She wrote, “We can choose how we see those around us, even if it challenges us. We can choose to hear and acknowledge others’ experiences, even if it differs from what we’ve heard or thought before. We can choose to be different from our upbringing, even if it makes our family uncomfortable. We can choose to learn from the past, (including a past that wasn’t written in school textbooks) so that our today and tomorrow are different. Today we must become uncomfortable. So that tomorrow will be a little more comfortable.”

            My friends wrote words that I couldn’t.  Love. Opportunity to learn. Overcome fears of the unknown. Build bridges. Choose how we see others. Hear and acknowledge.  Learn from the past.  Be uncomfortable today so tomorrow will be more comfortable.            

Although my unsettled feelings are uncomfortable, Leah and Summer give me hope for more comfortable tomorrows.

Hold Hands

 “Choose a hand,” my Grand’s mother said.

Three-year-old Dean stopped walking, looked back, and waited for me to catch up. He reached his hand toward mine. “I got Gran!” he shouted. So that windy March day three years ago Dean and I were partners as we walked through the Denver Zoo with his family and Husband. Dean reached up, I reached down, holding hands and watching camels and giraffes and hippos and all the zoo animals.

Choose a hand. All my Grands’ parents say and it sounds much better than what I told my children: you have to hold somebody’s hand. To cross the street. To explore the zoo. To walk a treacherous trail. To stay together in a crowd. To walk up steps.

When I was about nine years old, I held my Granny’s hand and sat beside her on her green chenille couch while she watched As the World Turns. Granny’s hands, strong and slim, had probably dug potatoes and stitched quilt pieces together that day. She focused on the troubles of the people who lived in Oakdale and I pinched the skin on the back of her hand forming a little ridge. I counted the seconds until the ridge flattened.

I held Jo’s hands as I sat beside her and she lay in bed recuperating from a broken hip. My friend’s hands had changed her children’s cloth diapers more than sixty years ago. Washed more dishes in her kitchen sink than have ever been inside my dishwasher. Smoothed many broken hearts during the years that she and her husband owned a funeral home. “Oh, you’ve made my day. Tell me about your family. How are all those little grandchildren?” Jo asked.

“Everybody come in here and hold hands,” Husband’s mother said to call us into her living room before Thanksgiving dinner was served. After her children, grandchildren, and great-grands juggled into place and took a hand, a thankful blessing was offered. Hands dropped quickly as children rushed to their plates. But some hands held, just a moment longer. “Oh, your hand feels so warm,” Grandmother told me.

Dunn’s River Falls, near Ocho Rios on the north coast of Jamaica, is 1,000 feet high, and the rocks lining the bottom are terraced like steps. I watched as twenty people, in one long line, climbed the falls. The river guides had said, “Hold hands, and everyone goes up, linked together.”

We’ve all heard the wedding officiant say, “And now I pronounce you husband and wife.” The newlyweds clasp hands, turn toward their friends and family, and practically skip down the aisle to begin life together. They begin their marriage holding hands. Gripping. Loving. Declaring.

Among the many gems that Robert Fulghum wrote in his book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, are these words: And it is still true, no matter how old you are — when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

How very true. Choose a hand.

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