Submitted by William Elder.
Before I write, let me tell you who’s writing. That’s something few writers do and they end up spending too much time excusing or denying.
I am a guy— an old white guy. Moreover, an old, Southern, white guy, born and reared in Norfolk, Virginia, on the right coast, with my naked toes planted in the sands and tides of the Chesapeake Bay. Moreover than that— an old, Southern, white guy, who, along with his sisters, was raised by a Black Mammy called Minny. We all loved Minny, who did everything for us from smacking our bottoms when we were out of line to hugging us back into line. None of us could have imagined loving our mother, Rosalie— who would have thought of calling her that but her own mother and older relatives— one whit more than we did. I said Southern. But with Minny it was a close second. For Minny was always there, while Mother had three full-time businesses to run to keep food on the table after my father died.
Their joint success in jerking our little wild tribe into adulthood may be measured by the jolting fact that I was well into my thirties before I realized that I was a product of a single-parent household— family cohesion just then such a hot topic of sociological finger-pointing. I was the product of a one-parent family. My father died when I was seven, leaving my mother to run those businesses, hand make both my sisters’ clothes through high school, until she sent them off to college, trunks packed with her handiwork. My young nose got wiped, my ears reddened with mostly-deserved lectures, the Boy Scouts endured and cleaned up after, enough to shepherd me through bumpy adolescence with a short rap sheet, and into manhood at UVA as a young Virgina Gentleman. When it finally dawned on me what the two of them had managed to do, patiently, on my behalf, I was flabbergasted. Then deeply, deeply grateful.
All things human change; some things human leave deep shadows when they do. My mother, my sisters, and I went down to Church Street— in the Colored District— where we were escorted down to a family pew at Minny’s funeral by the most correct Black ushers. I sat, sloped by strangeness, surrounded by music of massed Black voices, and wept like a baby at hearing Minny’s soul rise from among us.
Now as then I am deeply, deeply grateful all over again. For all the thoughtfulness, the love, the rough guidance vested in me, all the thoughtfulness I have been beneficiary of. It is what has made me the me that I can respect, one who is grateful to pass along my own good fortune to whomever I can, wherever I find them, whenever I can. Extend respect first, I was taught, expect it back second. Something like smiles.
Because I remember growing up around civility, I miss it. Across much of the country these days respect and regard, accord and forgiveness are such unfamiliar usages it seems we have to carefully re-define them before we dare use them easily. Those always were learned values that had to be regularly practiced to become instinctual. Still are.
Yet it seems as though we as a nation are standing in a sump of rising tumult, especially politically, and I hate the corrosion I feel creeping up and the howling discord I hear. More lies endlessly spew in, filling the pit. Makes me want to lash out, brand the lies for what they truly are, ulcers in our body politic. And I have. And, through the din, I have also heard my own howl. It is then I remember the better angels that raised me and I shut my mouth. For a time. I pause above the keys that blister my fingers. For a time. I try to think better of us all, of what I truly hope is in our hearts— despite what our loud mouths say.
Jesus, is forgiveness tough!
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.