Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Heart of compassion

SORTING/Pastel on paper

Listen to post:

Over the weekend,  I was clearing out my desk and preparing to move into new studio space. One of this things I can do while waiting ... for a move-in date and better insurance quotes.

I was able to pitch and recycle so many pages of earlier versions of the book I continue to plod away teaching, eventually to revise and publish, when I discovered the small, black-and-white program stashed between file folders. It was titled "Understanding Cultural Differences" and outlined the 2004 community forum I helped organize.

It brought tears to my eyes and opened a large soft spot in my heart. I had almost forgotten my small role in our local Neighbor-to-Neighbor group all of those years ago. Saddened by the 2001 Cincinnati race riots and with an infant, I answered the daily newspaper's call to host a community conversation. In retrospect, I realize it wasn't just the newspaper's invitation. It seemed something proactive that I could do, tied down with young children. I called my neighbors and posted a notice and, lo and behold, if we didn't get a large, diverse and dedicated crowd unafraid to tackle some tough questions about racial differences and how to bridge that gap. Some of the comments still ring in my heart as truth:
• Children are colorblind, they have to be taught prejudice.
• There's still racism, it just went under ground and is more subtle.
• White privilege exists.
• Education is crucial to negating racism.
• You can change prejudice, one heart at a time.

2 FACED/Pastel on paper
After an initial year or so of getting more deeply acquainted, the group opted to share what we had formed more broadly by hosting a public discussion. Interestingly enough, I never got to the forum. One of my daughters was extremely sick that evening and my husband was out of town. It was a turning point and time for me to hand over leadership. I never forgot that warm and loving group, the times we marched in the local parade together, bonded over re-telling tragedies and hugging, changing the world one heart at a time, as my co-leader Frank Evans always said. Retired teacher Bob Terwillegar, no longer with us, diligently kept the group going for many years. It still meets and, about a year ago, I was invited to attend the monthly dinner. It was a joyful homecoming.

I am still struck by the mission statement we carefully and collectively crafted:

" ... to understand and respect life experiences and cultures different from our own, then help others understand by speaking against injustice and becoming an example of compassion and love for all."

Several weeks ago while I was waiting for my youngest and a friend to finish their after-school snack at McDonald's, I struck up a conversation with an animated older farmer. He told me many interesting things, but when he said something derogatory about African-Americans, I thought about what Neighbor to Neighbor had taught me and shot back: "that's offensive and inappropriate." We gently argued, but he could see I was not going to back down. I could also acknowledge that he was just passing on what he had been taught. I left with the prayer on my lips that my words, my heart may have touched his attitude.

How could I not, I was defending my friends and neighbors?

• How has racism touched my life?
• When have I spoken up against it?
• How have I been moved by the story of one of its victims?
• How has my past work influenced who I am now, what I am doing?
• How do I see Spirit present in all of this?

responsible for two
young lives, so

yet also outraged
by the countless
others who
have been marginalized,
tortured and lived as other

in the same country,
same city,
same neighborhood

that I inhabit
with my white privilege

something drives me to
take a small step

that still serves me today

a small step that
enlarged my
heart of compassion

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