Two Stories of Strong Men
There are people I have looked up to for a long time. Men, that are strong and wise, loving and successful. Good husbands, close friends. Willing to take a bullet for their best friend. Able to cry through the pain of seeing that friend's chair empty after his death.
Then there are the times when that hero worship is faded by reality. All of the above still being true, the words of privilege and prejudice come reluctantly to my ears. Now I seek balance between disappointment in the new found flaw in their armor and maintaining the space in my heart for the wonderful love and care they display.
One man made comment of the "rough neighborhood" we drove through on the way to the hospice center each day, almost apologizing for our having to travel through it. This tree lined street with old, low-country homes had struck me as a beautiful, welcoming series of blocks that reflect the slow, southern pace. There were signs in several front yards, drawing attention to the work and support a local association was doing for those struggling with substance abuse in the area. Although a stark contrast (perhaps understated here) to the gated golf course-lined neighborhoods where this man lives, this place was steeped in history and had little intention of changing. To me it was a community in the truest sense of the word. More about togetherness and support and wearing all of that on its sleeve. The big houses on groomed lots across town seemed so cold in comparison. I was immediately uncomfortable with his judgement and I just made quick of mention of how I had actually been admiring it on my way through. I was surprised by his statement and thus didn't have the conversation we perhaps could have had about all that I explained here. Still it was a more productive response than my reaction to this second story of another strong man.
Are you comfortable?
This second strong man told a story involving a friend of his, an Enya CD and a gay man. He told the story of when his friend went to buy the music for a gift and the gay man's fairly stereotypical reaction to a particular genre. It was confusing. I didn't understand the purpose of the story. Nor how he wanted me and others in the room to react. Perhaps I should have inquired to that end. Instead I put on my best confused/disapproving look and said nothing. As a result, I am sure he will go on to tell the story again and I sit with some regret in not speaking with him then or at a less public time regarding my thoughts on his story. I was uncomfortable, but I didn't speak up.
Lastly there is a story to share of my nephew. A future strong man. At 18+ months, it is a joy to see the world through his eyes. Innocent and loving. One morning as we took a walk around the center together, he stopped in his tracks to notice someone he hadn't noticed before. She was a nurse at the facility and she was black. I smiled and watched as he watched her with curiosity. She didn't look like anyone he had spent time with before. After a pause, he smiled and waved and we went on about our walk. I realized, then, that this is our future and he is our opportunity. The economic status he was born into, his striking blonde hair and fair complexion need not be a continuation of the structures we have in place, but an opportunity for him to grow to acknowledge his privilege and use the power bestowed upon him by our society to show the world the joys of our diversity. It must begin in these young years and perhaps this is among my duties as his godmother. To help him grow up seeing potential in the world. Adulthood is an awfully long time from now and could be too late for some of these conversations.