An injustice brought by one’s failure to react to a situation that may have made a difference, or substantiated a change is as detrimental as an all out assault, with malice and intent. Though the perpetrator, being fearful and weak, may find mercy, the damage stays nestled in a valley of tears; The scars of the innocent last a lifetime.
The year was 1965 and Vacation Bible School was the order of the day. The event promised many opportunities to earn valuable rewards… Yo-Yo’s that glowed in the dark, and Barbies, and even a fancy Barbie Car. The rewards were to be distributed according to our participation in the VBS Outreach Program, which promoted the membership drive. I suppose the hope was that some of the kids we invited may get their parents to attend church. Now, I had one friend. He was my best and only friend. His mother worked for one of our neighbors and it was a rare occasion that we were not shooting marbles or catching crawfish in the ditch. I was attending third grade in Beaumont, TX; which was a hot spot in the civil rights struggle over segregation. Of course, I did not know about it nor would I have cared. I was 8 years old and playing was my predominant concern. I never realized that there was a difference between my friend and I. His dark skin and lovely face, topped with a wild array of beautiful black curls, was a sight to behold, and I loved my friend.
At this time in my life, I lived with my grandmother who was the love of my life. I remember crawling up in her lap, and knowing that I was loved, and protected, and that I mattered; And that she was perfect.
Finally, it was Sunday. This day assured my friend and I would be the proud new owner of at least one new toy, and the probability of more, because we were on top of the board that displayed our accomplishments with shiny gold stars. We had learned our bible verses and stayed late every day to help with cleaning chores. Oh, this day was bigger than Christmas Morning, because we had actually seen and touched the promises. As we quietly sat through the sermon I can remember being so happy when my friend looked at me, with tears in his eyes, as he stood up to walk that long aisle to answer the alter call. He had heard the preacher say, “come to Jesus and be saved because God loved us so much, that He gave His only begotten Son to die for our sins.” I watched as the preacher prayed for him and then the membership vote of acceptance, by the showing of hands, was carried out. This was normal, but suddenly, it became strange and awkward with no hands raised and no hallelujahs shouted. Where was my grandmother’s hand? Did she forget that she was supposed to vote “Yea”? Then, I watched my friend make his was back down the aisle, with tears streaming down his face and his chin quivering, because apparently, God only saved light skinned people.
The result of this experience was years of expressing anger in the form of agnosticism, and disengagement of all things demonstrative of virtue. Since my grandmother is no longer here to defend herself, I must fairly articulate what I believe led to her actions, or non-action, in this case. To have a better understanding, I have to remember that she loved me and she knew that I loved my friend, and that he was my first and only friend.
I was overweight and shy, the middle child of a tumultuous marriage between two teenagers from the lower social class. My father, a hard working man, and my mother, a strikingly good looking woman who got pregnant them married at the age of 16. You can be certain that much of her time was spent counting her mistakes, with disengagement in its truest form, at least toward me. My brother, 16 months my senior, seemed as though everything he touched turned to gold and especially the football. Much can be said of my sister, who is the apple of my eye, but growing up between such perfect specimens of humanity was an indicator of my many faults, shortcomings and failures, so it is no wonder that I lacked social skills.
With that being said, I repeat, she knew that he was my first and only friend. I do not doubt her love for me and that she had often exhibited volatile protectiveness over all of her children and grandchildren. But I also know that what she did was wrong; Though she never admitted it. Had she apologized, I would have forgiven her, and may have even forgiven the God who lied.
Something inherently stronger than love prevailed, and to this day I believe it was her fear of losing her place as a respected pillar of our community. I believe that her desire for acceptance and fear of rejection substantiated her actions on that particularly dreadful Sunday, the day I first experienced hate with all that it entails, and embraced the darkness where I could navigate my rage.
I did manage to find Jesus in my late teens… No, Jesus found me! I think that Jesus saw through the ugliness I had become, to the broken heart, and loved me into a relationship with Him. The story of this restoration is vivid and wild, but true. I look forward to penning it someday.