When I was twelve years old, Olivia Newton-John released a new album called, “Clearly Love.” I have always been a huge fan of Olivia–I actually saw her in concert at SFA in the William R. Johnson Coliseum during her pre-Grease days.
I loved so many songs on the “Clearly Love,” album, and wore that 8-track tape out, as I listened to it almost every day. A favorite song of mine was “He Ain’t Heavy…He’s My Brother.”
Back then, as an almost teenager, I didn’t understand the song. I actually thought Olivia Newton-John was specifically singing about HER brother. I didn’t get that in this song, the Christian definition of brother–fellow man–was what she was addressing.
Sometimes when I heard the song, I actually imagined “carrying” my older brother, and thought about how heavy that would be. Literally.
Thankfully, I grew up from the scrawny twelve-year-old with braces, and began understanding more about my “brothers,” as well as the term heavy.
I’m five feet tall. That’s it. Whenever I’m asked to give my height on a form, I always have to enter a big fat zero on the inches blank. I have never really minded being short, except for the fact that any amount of weight I gain seems to be amplified, because there isn’t anywhere for it to go!
I have thought about and battled my weight since high school. I honestly have had a love/hate relationship with food for most of my life. I feel guilty when I overeat, and deprived when I eat too little.
My first year at A&M, I gained the freshman fifteen, and after having my babies, I fought to get the weight off. In the middle years of my life, it has become a different kind of battle, as my metabolism is like that of a sloth, and I also LOVE food.
I battle the feeling of “heaviness” every day. But this heaviness, just like in the song, isn’t always about how much I weigh. Many days, I have a heavy heart and mind, and I am crushed under the weight of all that is going on in our world.
I don’t like confrontation, and often, I’m not bold enough or brave enough to express thoughts that might be controversial.
But the time has come for me to speak up. Although, I can’t possibly understand the weight of all that is going on in our country, I still feel it, and it is heavy. It weighs on my heart and my mind, and my shoulders. I feel it every day, and I am overcome with sadness, and shame.
As Andrew Boyd wrote,
“Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. You can not turn away. Your destiny is bound to the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.”
On most days, I feel that my quest to save the world isn’t working out as planned, and I chalk it up to not being strong enough, or loud enough, or important enough to do or say anything that might make a difference. I choose to be silent because I don’t believe I will be heard. And that, my friends, must change.
I was fortunate to grow up in a family that didn’t label people. I was taught to look at the character of an individual, not their color or race.
One of the biggest influences in my life was my babysitter/housekeeper, Lovis. I adored her, and she was a part of our family. She taught me that love comes in all sizes, shapes, and hues.
I remember during my second grade year, schools in Nacogdoches were finally completely integrated. I made many new friends that year–friends whose skin color was different than mine. I never noticed that, though. I was too busy being covered up in the sweet, beautiful innocence of childhood. I grew up singing, “Jesus Loves the LIttle Children.” I never once thought children of other colors were different than me.
I never saw first-hand, the ugliness of racism, and I was never a recipient of racial slurs, or the ignorance of those whose hearts and minds were eaten up with intolerance, and hate. Because I didn’t think that way, I wasn’t aware of the depth and enormous inequalities many people experienced and dealt with daily.
When I was a freshman at A&M, I was talking with a friend about people being “prejudice,” the term that was commonly used in the early 80s. This friend commented about how terrible race relations were, and I was shocked. I am now embarrassed and ashamed that these words came out of my mouth, “America doesn’t have racial problems.” You should have seen the other person’s face!
Being from a small town, and not being raised in an atmosphere of hate or intolerance, I didn’t have a clue. In my mind, because I didn’t know about it or understand it, meant it wasn’t real.
And then I began my work in public education…
Early on in my career, I redirected a young lady who was talking and not paying attention in class. She didn’t take this well at all, and decided to scream in front of the entire class, “I wasn’t doing anything wrong! You’re just prejudice!”
I was completely shocked! I asked the student to go out in the hall so I could speak with her. I questioned her as to why she blurted out what she did, and she replied, “Because you’re prejudice!” Again, I was speechless! I have been called many things in my life, but never that.
I thought long and hard before I replied, because I wanted to be sure I chose my words carefully. I was absolutely caught by surprise with this allegation–one I believed was completely false, and I certainly didn’t want to cause the situation to escalate. After a minute, I responded with this,
“You’re right I am prejudice.”
The young lady’s jaw dropped. I could tell she was feeling like she had won a huge battle; that she had been right all along. That I was prejudice, and even admitted it.
But when I said these words, her face changed, and she began to listen.
“I am prejudice…I’m prejudice against bad behavior.”
She was stunned. She finally said, “I’m the only black person in the class, and you’re always picking on me.”
I then gave several examples of other students who had been called down for the the very same actions. At the end of the conversation, I asked her if I had ever corrected her when I shouldn’t have. She reluctantly said “no,” and actually apologized.
That episode has remained with me for several decades,and I have to admit, on that day, and every time I think about it, my soul is re-crushed. Not because I was called prejudice, but because this little girl felt that most white people were.
I’ll never forget where I was just before I heard about the planes crashing into the twin towers on September 11, 2001.
It was during my sophomore Pre-AP English class. We were reading To Kill A Mockingbird, my favorite book and absolute favorite novel to teach.
There was a knock on the door, and when I opened it, I recognized a parent of one of my students. She asked if she could speak with me for a moment. I knew that my well-behaved class would be fine if I stepped into the hallway to hear this parent’s concern.
She didn’t waste time, and said, “My son doesn’t want to read To Kill A Mockingbird. He said the “n” word is used throughout it, and it offends him.”
I paused for a moment and replied, “It offends me too, and I hope it offends every person who ever reads it.”
I continued by adding, “The whole point of the book is to show the ignorance of those who use that word; the complete and absolute intolerance that people have toward different races and classes of people. It is very difficult to swallow, and when we read it out loud and skip over the “n” word, it still echoes loudly in the silence of the classroom. I’m asking you to encourage your son to finish the book. I think that in the end, he will change his mind about it. I apologize for the use of the derogatory word, and as we read on, if he feels that he simply can’t finish the book, we’ll figure something out.”
This was without a doubt one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had as a teacher. Here I was, a white woman, trying to convince a black mother that she should encourage her son to read a book that was filled with hatred and racism. I could never understand their point of view completely. I could only be compassionate, and empathetic, and pray that the intended message of the book was received by this brave student.
In the end, this young man learned a great deal from the book, and as a class we had several deep, and hard conversations about racism. We were all changed for the better.
That day, September 11, 2001, after the parent left, and class was dismissed, I went to the office and was told that our country had been attacked by terrorists. In the many years which have followed, I always remember both the horrifying events that happened that day and the book by Harper Lee. And I remember personally feeling the sadness and the heaviness of the intolerance and hate that can fill men’s souls.
It was a horrible day, and changed so much about our country. But in the midst of this tragedy, and a book that was on the required reading list for Pre-AP English, my students and I were united. Instead of seeing how different we were, we realized how many things we shared. How we were all Americans.
It’s important to note that the key to this change was dialogue–we didn’t hide behind the issue. We discussed it openly and respectfully.
And that brings me to where I am today. We are all Americans.
I understand that my America might be different from your America. I understand that things are unequal, and unfair, and wrong. I understand that justice for many has been denied.
We all bring our personal experiences to the table. We can’t possibly understand the hardships that others feel, if we, ourselves, haven’t experienced them.
But, we can be empathetic, compassionate, and love one another.
This probably sounds too simplistic, and even a little condescending. For such heavy issues and inequities, this suggestion doesn’t seem to match the weight of all that is upon us.
For me, before I go any further, I need to apologize, because without knowing it, I have been a racist.
When Colin first kneeled, I didn’t understand. I felt our flag had been disrespected. I never once thought of the disrespect that he along with an entire race of people was feeling. I never imagined that the flag didn’t symbolize the same freedoms it represented for me.
I didn’t like what his kneeling did to the game of football and other sports. I was looking at it on a very shallow, surface level. I honestly didn’t get it.
In fact, I had no idea what the protest was about. And I kept all of these thoughts to myself. I didn’t want to bring it up and ask about it for fear I would be considered racist.
I didn’t understand that it wasn’t about the flag, or the national anthem, or hating the USA.
And for that, I am ashamed. While sitting in my comfortable place in America, I made it about something it wasn’t, and never once did I ask for an explanation.
And now I’m ashamed that I didn’t understand both the significance and importance of a quiet, non-violent protest. I didn’t understand what it meant when Colin kneeled. As I watch the looting and the violence I am reminded of the “dream deferred.” Had I, along with many other Americans, stopped and asked, and taken a moment to look deeper into the reasons behind the action, maybe things would be better today.
Please forgive me for my complacency, and reluctance to move out of my comfort zone.
Forgive me for not speaking up and speaking out. For not putting myself in your position. For not climbing into your skin and walking around in it, as Atticus Finch suggested.
And now, more than ever, we all need to kneel and pray to God for forgiveness. To ask God to heal the hearts of man. To raise awareness, and hope for change. To take a minute and understand, and kneel like Colin bravely did.
I know in my heart of hearts that some of my friends will disagree with this. Heck, I might even be de-friended or blocked on Facebook. I’m fine with people not understanding my words, because I know what God has laid upon my heart. I hope these words might lead to healing for some, and serve as an awakening to others.
This goes much deeper than people believing Kaepernick disrespected the flag, and those who have fought and died for this country. It’s about Americans who have lost their lives, or struggled to be heard, who have been mistreated, or simply want to have a voice. It’s about Americans who are seeking to have the same respect we give our flag.
It may seem simplistic, but God has commanded us “to love one another.” And that’s where it all begins…
Rather than making judgments based on skin color, we need to be prejudice against bad behavior, and work diligently to be fair and just to every single person in our land.
We have to do better. We have to be better.
Until we are all free from hate and indifference, we will never be united. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…
His welfare is of my concern.
No burden is he to bear,
We’ll get there.
He would not encumber me.
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.“