Almost all of my childhood and almost every Tuesday, we had a black maid named Pauline clean our home. Mom would trade days with Pauline’s Friday employer whenever mom prepared for a big cocktail party. I remember Pauline’s laughter, her chess pie, her discipline, her love, but I don’t remember her crying…. except once. The second Tuesday of April 1968, I was home from fifth grade watching a long funeral procession on our color TV. It reminded me of watching a long funeral procession in first grade on our black and white. Pauline sat with us, shedding so many quiet tears her apron was soaked. I remember hugging her, but I really didn’t get it.
Twenty years later, the thickest book on my shelf was “A Testament of Hope – The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.” Unlike too many books around it, I actually read this one — moved by poetic prophetic preaching. During their annual meeting, the fourth week of April 1988, I was given the Mexico Missouri “NAACP Drum Major for Justice Award”. Why me? I didn’t deserve it and I wasn’t even a “C” (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). When I pointed that out to the leader she said, “Honey, we’re ALL colored by God — there’s just a variety in the complexion.” I still didn’t get it.
Four years later, the last week of April, my best friend leading youth events was my roomie at a training event at Montreat. The fact that Keith was African American only mattered when we awoke to the news of riots after the Rodney King verdict and I experienced his reaction. That night the Montreat community gathered to pray and watch a 16 mm projector film of a speech Martin Luther King, Jr. had given at Montreat. Maybe I was beginning to get it.
The following December Keith and I were at a national training event in Kansas City for the new “God’s Gift of Human Sexuality” parent and youth curriculum. After eating with a group at The Plaza, and on the way back to our hotel, I drove Keith to the Alameda Plaza, a ritzy hotel on a hill with an outstanding view of the Plaza Christmas Lights. As we walked in I said, “We’ll just ride the elevators up to a top floor and look out at all the lights below and come back down.” Keith said, “I don’t think we should, Wally.” I said, “O come on, Keith. It’s great. Just look like you’re going to your room and catch the view. I DO IT ALL THE TIME!” With fear and frustration on his face and in his voice, Keith said, “Obviously you don’t do it in my skin!” I think I got it.
What is your experience of my story? Whatever “getting it” means to you, what has helped you or blocked you from “getting it.”