Tuesday, November 4, 2008

PROMPTuesday

Our PROMPTuesday assignment is: So where were you when history was laid down? Was the TV playing Nixon in the background while you ate an innocuous chicken dinner? Were you born the day Kennedy was shot? Did you watch the falling Challenger from a classroom full of fifth grade students like you?

The first thing that popped into my mind when I read that was a memory that troubles me. I'm almost ashamed to publish this - but dammit, it's the first thing that occurred to me when I read the prompt. Race in America is still a complicated thing, and intolerance or insensitivity can bubble beneath the surface. We teach children things we don't realize. Let's do our best to cut off the secret tendrils of hatred that may root in our hearts.

This is a history-making day. I am so joyful that our nation has elected Barack Obama to be our President.

My father was born in the south, and his feelings about race were complicated. He respected people who worked with their hands, and like many Southerners, he was a courteous man. Unlike many of his peers, corporate businesspeople he worked with where we lived in the Northeast, my father cared to learn the names of the custodians, the laborers, and the people in coveralls who served the people in suits at his company.

Yet my father was politically conservative, and throughout my childhood in the 1960's he raged at the television; at the protests, the freedom marches, the unrest in our country. His rage became a regular feature of our pre-dinner hour, in the family room, as I sat on the marigold-colored Naugahyde couch, watching the pictures move on the TV screen.

The protesters were presumptuous. They wanted handouts. They didn't believe in hard work - as he did. The activists who came down South from the North were troublemakers. When Martin Luther King, Jr. appeared on TV, my Dad fumed. Dr. King was stirring things up in our country that should be left alone. I heard this kind of talk day in and day out

It was spring - April. When Dad came home, he took the martini Mom made for him, and sat down in his chair in the family room, and turned on the news.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot, and killed.

I turned to my Dad and started to say something - I don't remember what. But it was something about how wasn't it a good thing the man he hated so much was now dead?

My father looked at me. His face was stricken. I felt the smile shrivel on my face, mirroring the chill on his. "No, sweetie," he said. "No. This is a terrible thing. Killing a person is wrong. No one should ever kill another person." Suddenly I felt ashamed. I threw myself into his lap and started to cry, and he put his arms around me.

My father did not experience a life-changing epiphany after that. He remained a complicated and sometimes angry man, and in my teenage years we both sniped at one another, I sassed him and he shouted back at me, up and down the stairs of our home, about race in America, about politics, about Vietnam, about everything.

But I will never forget his look on that evening - the sense of disgust at what I'd said, and the sense of shame knowing he was responsible for it. And I think he took that shame, and owned it, and showed me how wrong it was, while still loving me.

I forgive him for planting - unawares - the seed of hatred in me. I'm grateful to him for pulling the seedling out before it fully took root. But like bindweed, noxious roots can sometimes sprout anew from the tiniest fiber or snip that remains in the soil. Give me the grace to cultivate something nourishing and good instead.

12 comments:

Mingus said...

Wow.

brightside-susan said...

Wonderful post, thank you for sharing.

KathyR said...

Amen. Funny, this election put me in mind of my dad, too.

Liz said...

Wow. This post stopped me in my tracks this morning. I too am from the south, born and raised. And the things you said are so true. Thanks for sharing this.

Queenly Things said...

We all have complicated pieces of our personal jigsaws - pieces that just don't seem to fit. Sometimes you have turn them around and around and examine them carefully to see exactly where they should go.
Lovely piece of writing.

Me said...

That was amazing! So amazing that it moved me enough to make it hard to type through tear filled eyes.

Really incredible!

San Diego Momma said...

That was quite simply, great.

Thanks.

Internation Musing said...

Great post, great story and congratulations to the USA for election this remarkable person as President.
Kindest
Hans
Dutch in Istanbul,
Lived three times in USA: Irvine, NYC, Miami (2000-2002)

womaninawindow said...

Brave and honest and inspired. I sense new things are growing from you. I hope you're able to see past your legacy and into the truth of things. Hope those roots don't trip you up. Your writing of this suggests you've grown more than your father would have anticipated!

Daryl said...

Wonderful post ... someone else who read this posted a link to it over at http://david-mcmahon.blogspot.com/

:-Daryl

Beverly said...

Glennis, I'm glad you shared that with us. It must be something you needed to say.

My family is from the south, but I grew up in south Florida. Anyone in the south will tell you that south Florida is not the "south". It is a place where everyone is from somewhere else. I always had a hard time going to visit relatives because of their prejudices. It wasn't that they were bad people, it was the way they lived. My husband and I knew that one day we wanted to move closer to family, but we made a decision to wait until our son was old enough that he wouldn't be influenced.

I pray that one day all people will recognize the good in others.

I recognize the goodness in your heart, and am proud to call you friend. God bless you.

david mcmahon said...

A friend of mine told me to come and read this post - and I can see why.