Last week I watched how people responded to the sad events in Charlottesville, Virginia. I followed social media, listened to family members, and watched carefully at church. In processing the events with a friend, she shared how she responded within her neighborhood last Sunday. So tender was her heart and so poignant her story I asked to share it with my readers. These are her words today:
One year ago, my address changed from California to Georgia. Since arriving, I have thrown myself into learning about the culture in which I am now immersed. Along with unpacking boxes and packing on extra pounds from BBQ and fried pickles, I have stuck to my pledge of only reading books about the south, and only those written by southern authors. My reading list began with gentrified plantation stories but quickly moved to slavery. I have read about the Jim Crow era, been introduced to the writings of Dr. King and have been caught up in the current modern-day accounts of lives that matter.
I am now more sensitive to racial tension and my heart is burdened for racial reconciliation.
This weekend, when the photographs of hoodless, golf-shirt-wearing, torch-bearing, white supremacists hit social media, my heart broke in new ways and to new depths. After church last Sunday, I spent some time investigating what people were writing on Facebook about Charlottesville. One comment stood out above the others:
How am I to tell if the person next to me in line at Publix is a white supremacist? He or she looks like my doctor, neighbor, coworker.
That’s when I knew I had to do something. Anything! My neighbors on both sides of us are people of color.
I wondered; Do they know that I don’t hate them?
I should take them food, I thought, but I hate baking. Instead, I prayerfully gathered two flower arrangements, tied each carefully with a ribbon, and headed to each neighbor’s front door. One neighbor said she knew I was a safe person already. What happened on the steps of the neighbor on the opposite side surprised us both.
She answered the door.
With a bouquet in my hands, I told her I thought it had been a horrible weekend and that I wanted to make sure that she knew I didn’t want any association with the hate of supremacy and that we, her new next-door neighbors, were safe white people who wanted to be a part of building a bridge to understanding, forgiveness and reconciliation. Saying those words brought tears to my eyes, and then hers.
She stepped out onto her porch, threw her arms around me and hugged me long and hard!
After that moment, she told me that the day before she had been asked the very same question I had seen on Facebook: Are you safe in your neighborhood? She had answered that she didn’t know!
My gesture, as awkward as it was, was met with deep gratitude.
Our conversation on her door step lasted a beautiful and sweaty hour as the Georgia sun dropped below the surrounding trees. I had the privilege of listening first-hand (not on Facebook) to the challenges and fears that face my friend as a well-educated, hard-working woman of color in this predominately white suburban town. She shared that she was having her own awakening and was beginning to embrace being a black woman without the compulsion to assimilate, as had been her instinct for years. Then she described the fear that shadows her growing courage. She listened as I explained the work I had been doing that gave me the compassion to understand what she was talking about.
She accepted my gift and in turn, gave me her trust.
First thing the next morning I got a text from her asking if I wanted to walk in the neighborhood. YES, PLEASE! Our conversation continued and included other less difficult topics too, like our mutual struggles with menopausal weight gain and the constant distraction of social media!
By doing what I have been taught, “Love thy neighbor,” I pushed back against the darkness brought to Charlottesville.
Isn’t this story beautiful? I am convinced relationships will be the bridge through which racial tensions dissipate and heal. Let’s be like my friend. Let’s approach people with a heart of kindness. Let’s start exchanging sentences, however awkward the conversations may feel.
We need to make room for God to show up. My friend is on to something.
Picture Explanation: I have been looking for an opportunity to re-display photos I took two summers ago at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. My friend’s act of kindness to her neighbors gives me the perfect excuse. Who are you going to approach with a heart of kindness this week and initiate the exchange of sentences?
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