Confronting where I’ve been.

I’ve been thinking about this panel discussion on healing which I’ve been invited to participate in tomorrow at St. Paul’s in San Miguel. I’m billed as a former Christian Science practitioner, a profession/denomination usually referred to as “those people who don’t go to doctors.” Right. I didn’t. Then I did. Now not so much anymore. It’s ironic that sometimes your credibility increases when you’ve failed spectacularly at something. One question I’ve been asking myself these past few days is “When was I healed of being a racist?” And “Am I well and truly healed?”

It’s time to speak about this. I hope I can do it with compassion for myself, for my parents (who are both gone), and for anyone who happens to read this. The events of the past few days, particularly the words and actions of the “leader of the free world,” have evoked a visceral reaction in me that I’ve been loathe to voice, mainly because I look at those tiki-torch bearers, and think “There but for the grace of God…”

I’m not going to say “go I,” because if you notice, they were all men carrying those torches. Now that’s a whole other riff, but not one I’m going to pursue at this moment. For now I’m sticking with blatant racism. I would dearly love to see some healing take place along these lines. I speak as one who has been in that fire.

I like to think that when push came to shove, my father and brother and uncles would not have been in such a crowd. But let’s just say that sweeping racial generalizations and stereotypical judgments were pretty standard fare in our house. Dad and Mom were ardent Goldwater supporters, and in 1967, (this is so difficult) Dad was the local poll representative for George Wallace’s American Independent Party.

There. I’ve said it. But I need to say more, because at the time I thought my Daddy was the smartest man in the world and if anyone thought differently, I at least didn’t hear them voice what needed to be said then and needs to be — no, must be said now. Dad was wrong, wrong, wrong. And my mother was wrong when she questioned President Obama’s birth certificate, and when she said Michelle didn’t “look like” a first lady.

I loved these people. They loved me and I believe on the whole they raised me well. Many would say I don’t need to say these things about them now, raking up the rotten and exposing the yuck. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in these last few years of studying history on sight, it’s that the most important stories, the ones that most affect the course of countries and of the world, are seldom written down.

My purpose in writing this story down now is that I know from my own experience, that racism can be healed. I hope I stand as living proof. I have to admit that even as I write this, a nagging inside voice says “Don’t be a Pollyanna. We’re not going to get through this by joining hands and singing Cum By Ya.” (or however you spell it.) But my higher self asks me to consider the alternative: As a people, the American people, we need to hold to the fact that healing does happen — even when confronted with all those young white male fire-lit faces in Charlottesville. Racism has to be recognized, called out and condemned as evil. That’s where Number 45 has failed so miserably. But despite what anyone else does or doesn’t do, we ourselves can make an effort to follow the Jesus-example. He cast out the demons, and healed the individuals. He didn’t fight fire with more fire or fury. He snuffed out insanity with his unconditional love and moral authority.

So in this healing process, I have to start work with myself and my history. I have to recognize where I’ve been, how far I’ve come, and acknowledge how far I have to go. I have to cherish every honest human heart, even though that heart is misdirected, misguided and mistaken. That goes especially for my own. We human beings are always works in progress.

My parents did raise me to “seek truth righteously,” even if in retrospect there was a lot more self-righteousness in their manner of seeking than any of us recognized at the time. But because of this innate love of truth, the opinions I so passionately parroted in junior high and high school quickly became cringe-worthy and repugnant when I was actually exposed to and engaged with people of color in college and in the workplace. I trust, I hope, and I pray that Mom and Dad have moved on in their life-after-life experience like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. In the meantime, on this side, I will continue with deeper attention to the prayer I learned in the Sunday School they sent me to, Mary Baker Eddy’s “daily prayer:”

“Thy kingdom come.”
Let the reign of divine Truth, Life and Love be established in me,
And rule out of me all sin.
And may Thy word enrich the affections of all mankind,
And govern them.

2 responses to “Confronting where I’ve been.

  1. Beautifully written, Susan. I grew up in NY, but my parents still espoused the stereotypes–even though neither of them would ever have treated anyone unkindly. They were horrified when I told them in high school that I would have no problem dating a black man (there actually was a black guy that I would have gone out with in a heartbeat–he was extremely good-looking–but he never asked me!). They were equally suspicious of a Catholic in the White House (JFK)! But the one thing they got totally right was raising me in Christian Science and when I quoted MBE to them– Mis. 236:10-14 “To the child complaining of his parents we have said, “Love and honor thy parents, and yield obedience to them in all that is right; but you have the rights of conscience, as we all have, and must follow God in all your ways.”, there wasn’t anything they could say to refute that statement!

    Jeremy Hearne

    • Oh, good one! I’d forgotten that passage! Yes, I know what you mean. My parents would never have been directly unkind to anyone. But it’s that simmering nastiness under the surface that needs to be extracted. I’m wondering if these times aren’t the equivalent of sucking a snake bite wound. Not a pretty process. Let’s just remember to all spit!

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