is always fascinating to go back in our minds to extract those few
memories that stand out from our early childhood. Out of all the
new and exciting discoveries we make in our early development, only
a very few have managed to stay with us into adulthood. I believe
these memories are sealed in our consciousness either by our own
desire to constantly replay them, or by a very strong and omniscient
presence we feel in conjunction with the event or person in question.
-------When I was nearing the age of
five, my family took a trip to New York. Along the way we took advantage
of an opportunity to spend a few days with family friends who were
furthering their education at the University of Indiana. I have
very limited recollection of the visit, but I do recall they lived
in a high-rise building with a rather large and well-equipped playground.
It was on this playground that I had an experience that may well
have given seed to many of the attitudes that would shape my life.
-------As many children were playing
on the playground, each was doing his or her own thing. In my eyes,
one boy stood out above all others. He was a natural leader with
a very keen charisma. He must have been ten or twelve years old,
and though not the oldest, he was definitely among the more mature
children on the playground. I truly looked up to him, an idea that
is obvious in light of the momentous occurrence that took place
that day. Apart from his obvious magnetism, there was one characteristic
that stood out as being truly unique in my young eyes; he was black.
-------Although I had certainly been
around a large number of people from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds,
including many African-Americans, I'd never had any personal one-on-one
dealings with an African-American person. I guess in typical fashion
I had lived my first few years in a somewhat guarded existence,
watching from afar, but never experiencing the multitude of humanity
that surrounded me. Now it has become apparent to me that many people
choose to spend their entire lifetimes in this manner. Trading the
richness of life for an illusion of security, they exist from birth
to death avoiding the very experiences that might well yield the
sort of magic I felt on that warm summer day in Indiana.
-------I don't recall how or why, but
all individual activities on the playground were spontaneously suspended
as we all found ourselves at the merry-go-round, facing inward and
clutching the metal bars. Perhaps part of the miracle lies in the
fact that I was anywhere near this dizzying contraption in the first
place. I was highly prone to motion sickness and avoided these "death
machines" like the plague. I was clearly operating out of some
kind of unseen and unspoken trust.
-------Immediately to my left, the
black child had actively taken the role of leader and explained
what we were about to do. He delegated specific responsibilities
to many of the children. When it came time for my assignment, he
placed his hand on mine. I recall feeling an instant surge of energy;
a tingling effect that originated in the affected hand and radiated
across my entire body. To my knowledge, I'd never been touched by
a black person before. Furthermore, his acknowledgement of my importance
in the game left me feeling a state of extreme honor.
-------I've of course been touched
by many people since; people of many races, creeds, and colors.
Never since that moment in Indiana has the sheer idea of someone's
"difference" caused such a revelation. I've never considered
myself in any way to be racially biased and have worked hard all
my life to steer clear of all forms of prejudice. Even so, I wonder
how my indoctrination into adulthood has altered my perceptions?
That afternoon, I attributed all of his positive characteristics
to his "different" pigmentation. Isn't the opposite a
more prevalent lesson taught within our society?
-------Likely guided by this experience,
I've watched young children play together in multi-ethnic groups.
They are color-blind and free. There are no language or cultural
barriers. These children are not strapped to or by society's labels.
Why do we as adults insist on teaching them otherwise? What kind
of fear causes us to associate only negative behaviors and attitudes
with people of different cultures, ignoring the inherent good in
each? Why do we sit back and allow a society that promotes hatred
and exclusion to exist? And, perhaps most importantly, why do we
allow ourselves to (either overtly or covertly) contribute to the
promotion of such a society? Regardless of how we answer these and
similar questions, the forces of life refuse no one, and in this
spirit the sun shall rise tomorrow on all of humankind.
-------Wherever you are now, my anonymous
child mentor of so long ago, I hope you have encountered nothing
but the love and respect you taught us that beautiful summer day!
© 2004 - The Trill House