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“If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”
—Barry Lopez
(as Badger, in Crow and Weasel)


To be nobody but yourself -- in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you like everybody else -- means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting.
- e. e. cummings


An Unlikely Mentor - A Magic Touch

-------It 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!

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