Learning to Listen

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When I was in fifth grade, my mother read Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry (Taylor, 1976) out loud to me. It was about a little girl, like me. She had gangly, mischievous brothers, like me. She had a mama who loved her and worried about her, just like me. The author even lives in Colorado, like me! But there was a difference: she was black. As a ten year old, I didn’t know why this should make a difference. I had heard words like “racism” and “slavery,” but, to me, they were articles of history, things that passed with the abolition of the slave trade and Martin Luther King Junior. Thank goodness we were past such primal sins! Could life be so very different for Cassie simply because of her skin color?

As I read, my eyes were opened to a thousand little ways that life was frustrated by the choking seed of racism sewn in our country. My country. For the first time I glimpsed the uphill battle life can be for those with a different heritage from me; I encountered my own ease. My eyes were opened to the many responses people had and have to injustice: silent submission, minimization, violent reaction, grief. As the book drew to a close I hoped for a happy ending. Those final pages left me with a hollowness and a realization that the wound has not closed.

I felt that hollowness this week.                 

A midst a hundred facebook posts and videos I couldn’t force myself to see, an echo of those condemning voices in Taylor’s book haunted me. I remembered anew that division, racism and injustice are not words associated with a bygone past. I felt in real life the complication, frustration and cloudedness I first perceived so many years ago in the pages of that book. I thought about how speeding tickets were a subject of annoyance to my teenage brothers, not of fear and danger.

One of the gifts that stories give us is the ability to see a world different from our own. They teach us not to be immune to pain we don’t understand. Clouded with our experience and preconceived notions of how life is, and how it ought to be, events like the shootings of this week become abstractions that support our already decided theses. Through stories we can imagine others pain, and let it affect us. Stories slip past our well built world views, and help us see the world through eyes that are not ours.

To live in a skin we don’t understand.

When I press my ear up against the walls of my country, I hear a wailing, wild sorrow that cannot be ignored.

I do not begin to know how to heal the wound of racial divides in this nation, and I cannot do it justice in this tiny blog post. I am not a judge. I am not a police officer. I am not black. I do not pretend to know what it is like to lose someone in the line of duty or to a broken tail-light. But, in my eternal state as a hopeless optimist, I want to believe that much can be changed through empathy. Through listening to others stories. To seeing the world through someone else’s lens, and weeping with them, because the wound of racism has not been healed. Finding in those tears seeds of hope.

My determination is that when I engage with this topic, I will not engage in it with disinterest, or preconceptions but a heart to hear stories, no matter how heart wrenching and complicated they are. I don’t want to think of statistics or platitudes, but of faces and names like Philando, Alton, Patrick, Brent, Michael, Lorne… I must imagine the people left behind. Could my beliefs stand if I had to admit them to the mothers of those who died? Surely, our facebook comments would be different if we thought that way.

When I closed the pages of Mildred Taylor’s powerful novel, I felt unsettled. It was an unsettledness that made me discontent with the weary and wounded ways of the world… a discontentedness that makes me long for a heavenly kingdom, and hunger and thirst for righteousness. We must be unsettled. Discomfort leads to change, and so to hope.

So be unsettled.

Listen closely to the stories of people you don’t understand.

Weep with those who weep.

Hate what is evil and cling to what is good.

And re-read Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry.

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12 thoughts on “Learning to Listen

  1. Beautiful post. My only critique was the broken tail light reference. All the facts are not in.
    Thank you Joy.

  2. I am so very blessed and grateful to see this post. The silence of Christian brothers and sisters is deafening.

    • A fb friend recently called for people to share their stories fb, and I hope you don’t mind if I post what I shared here? As a white woman I don’t have such stories, but I have witnessed some things.

      My husband has been questioned about what he was doing at the bus stop, under the bus stop sign, for apparently too long. He was waiting for the bus, as he had missed the previous one.

      I remember following my husband to my father’s shop to leave our car after hours one night many years ago. As he went to get out of the car he was surrounded by three (or more~I cannot remember anymore) cop cars. When I got out of the car I was driving I could hear my husband saying, “This is my father-in-law’s shop,” and I could see that they weren’t buying it. Praise God I was there to re-state that this was indeed my father’s shop, and that this man is indeed my husband. They looked confused for a moment, but all was then diffused. I hesitate to wonder what could have happened had I not been there.

      We were stopped once while driving around a neighborhood a few times. We were lost, and I guess somebody called it in. That’s weird~LOL! The officer very kindly showed us the way out after finding out who we were and asking where we had been.

      I have heard some of his other stories from his past….

      My 18yos has been stopped while walking, but thankfully it was quickly resolved without incident. I share this, because it does not ever happen that I am stopped while walking, and I have walked around here for twenty-three years A LOT. Keep in mind I am a helicopter parent and have only allowed my kids to after age fifteen or sixteen, so he’s only been walking around his neighborhood for like, two years.

      My aim is enlightenment for those that just cannot, will not believe. It is NOT because I am against the police! On the contrary, I am thankful for them. But we do have a problem here.

      I remembered another little thing: When we first moved here it was a bad neighborhood. We had a few white neighbors that would tell us who would deliver food to them, but those establishments always told us that they didn’t deliver here when we called~UNTIL we figured out they would if *I* called rather than my husband.

  3. Joy,
    This post really inspired me! I want you to know that your post was awesome and your message is one that must reach millions! Do u mind if I reblog this? I’d love to give my readers this message also! I will be praying for you! This took courage and I admire you greatly for it! God is using you in great ways, Joy! Never stop doing what you’re doing…I look up to you greatly and I hope to meet you someday!!!
    Blessings,
    Emily 😀

  4. Reblogged this on Pure Chick for Christ and commented:
    Hey all! This is a beautiful post written by my favorite blogger Joy Clarkson AKA Joyness the Brave. Joy, this was such a beautiful post! I’m grateful to you for writing it! It’s a wonderful view that I totally agree with about the event that happened Thursday at a protest in Dallas. Thank you, Joy! I do believe I owe you a blog post 🙂 . Best wishes to you and all of your family! @joynessthebrave . To my readers: enjoy.

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