“All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.”~Helen Keller.
I grew up in a tradition of caring for others. But more than that, we were taught to respect our common humanity, and recognize that all human beings deserve respect. My parents were practicing Christians, and they lived their beliefs. At one point in their lives they would go to the local prison, early in the morning on the day that prisoners would be released, to look out for the ones who were not being met by family or friends. They would provide them with some pocket money and try to arrange for odd jobs and accommodation if necessary. Of course such kind gestures were not always reciprocated. I remember after one gentleman was helped, he came to visit and helped himself to the lunch money my mother had put on the mantelpiece, ready for her five kids on Monday morning.
Before my parents embarked on their excellent Jamaican adventure, my father had overseen a church in the heart of Manchester, England, at a time when West Indians and other Commonwealth citizens were migrating to the ‘motherland’ in droves, in search of better opportunities for their families. He embraced the immigrant community, but recognized that their commitment to hard work interfered with their love of worship. Working shifts in the factory prevented them from attending church regularly. And so he provided other options to accommodate them. When he left for Jamaica in 1963, his church had many West Indian members.
My life has been made richer by my exposure to diversity. Growing up in an environment so different from the one to which I was born has made me a better person. More specifically, it provided me with a Jamaican husband, and children who can claim connections to many parts of the world, can identify with many cultures, even though they may sometimes feel as if they are in no-man’s land; that ‘other’ box on the census sheet. When I committed to a relationship with a man of African descent, it did not occur to me that I should worry about my kids growing up in America. I selfishly did not consider how complicated their life would be. I had already experienced the cold feeling when stared at by people who were unhappy to see a white girl with a black man. But I thought that love conquered all. That any product of the love between two people could only be positive.
It is disheartening to live in these times, when we should have come so far from the historical reality of injustice and oppression. It is discouraging to see images of hate and ignorance fill our TV screens. It is terrifying to see violence beget violence. Did I mention that my parents were also staunch pacifists, followers not only of Jesus but also of non-violent practitioners like Martin Luther King Jr., and Gandhi? I am glad they are not here to witness the total lack of leadership, and the callous disregard for the power of speech to foment inhuman behavior.
And yet. My father once preached a sermon with the theme: “Who among these is great?” He compared the acts of the so-called Greats of the Bible, to the acts of simple people. His examples came from people he knew, who even in times of adversity demonstrated courage, or generosity, or love. There are times when we look at the so-called leaders of the world, and wonder, what on earth? How can you raise your kids to have values and ethics and morality with such an example of the worst of mankind? And yet. Last week’s frightening display of brutality which resulted in the death of a first-time protester has provided us with a new leader, a woman who has been thrust into the spotlight through her own personal tragedy, the death of her daughter. This woman has managed to rise above her own pain to show what courage is, what grace is, and what leadership is. She called upon us to ‘magnify Heather’, to take the things that Heather believed in and magnify them in ways that one person could not possibly have done. She overcame, and by doing so she showed us that we have a responsibility to do the same.
It is humbling and encouraging to know that such people exist in the world, that love exists in the world. We have a man in power who thrives on divisiveness and conflict, who stands on the wrong side of history. He is encouraging those with a limited understanding of the experiences of others to remain stuck in their ignorance and narrow view of the world. For us to overcome, we have to magnify the actions of the good, we have to focus on the positive, the people who stood arm in arm against ugly racism and bigotry. We have to stand with those who are willing to put their lives on the line. We have to shine a light to root out the darkness of backwardness and prejudice. We have to live a life of inclusion, recognizing our common humanity. We also have to acknowledge the years of persecution and violence perpetrated on people who are ‘other’; by people who believed that based on the color of their skin they somehow had the right to abuse, enslave, rape, own, mistreat and kill those ‘others’.
This Friday morning I acknowledge the centuries of injustice that have brought us to where we are today, and I look to the future with hope. I choose to focus on the images of people of every color and religion that stood arm in arm, united against a minority of small minded hoodlums. I choose to celebrate the community of diversity in which I live, one which is enriched by the blending of cultures and values from a variety of sources. I choose to take the lead from a leader, one who has demonstrated that core strength and grace to rise above and overcome. And just as we cry for every mother’s child who dies under tragic circumstances, we must stand with Susan Bro, to magnify her daughter’s life.
Have a wonderful weekend Family! And more than ever, may we celebrate our one blood, and our