Like many in the world, I have been following the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and now in New York with a mixture of dread and horror.
I truly wish we could all live with each other in a kind, caring and respectful way.
I wish that the color of a person’s skin, the language they speak, and the country they come from weren’t an issue. I wish we were more fascinated with each other’s differences than fearful of them, and that this would lead to getting to know each other rather than hating someone we don’t know, or have even met.
My heart breaks when I hear women say they dread being the mother of a black man, because it means they live in fear every day of their lives, that they fear he will be beaten or killed, simply because he is black. I’m a mother, and I cannot begin to express my sorrow that I can’t bridge the gulf between us, because of the vast difference in our experiences.
When my daughter was a child of around 6 years old, she had two buddies from church, boys, who fought with each other who was going to marry her. She came to me, and we had a very serious conversation, regarding what she should do when the three of them were all grown up.
Mom, she asked, who should I marry? David or Jesse? I told her I thought she should marry David, since he was very nice and treated her well, while Jesse, well, he was a rough boy. I told her I thought it was important to choose someone who treated her well.
Was this remarkable? Well, maybe not. David’s parents, dear friends of mine who I adored and deeply respected, come from Ghana, while Jesse’s mom is white and his dad is from the Philippines, and who I also held in high regard.
This innocent childhood conversation seemed unremarkable, and us three moms laughed together as we talked and told each other the kid’s responses. We were all good friends, and it seemed like the logical thing to tell a child to choose the person who treats you well.
Apparently there were some people who thought I should have given my daughter different advice, and who snubbed me for my “liberal” views. I knew I couldn’t change their perspective of how the “world should be”, any more than I can change how some people react to racial issues now.
I’ve always chosen to see people as people, and to get to know them or to not have them in my life, based on whether they were good and caring, or if they weren’t. This takes more time to get to know them before making a snap judgment.
The list I carry in my heart of people who have hurt me, lied to me, cheated or cheated on me, have all been white people. Are you surprised?
Oh, you may say, you live in the heartland of America, in a small town. How many people of color have you actually known in your life to make this proclamation?
Well, I actually come from Montreal, Canada, a city that is multi-cultural and diverse; a place where conversations are routinely carried out in 2 or three languages, depending on the commonalities between the people having the conversation. My friends came from every continent, and reflected the diversity of the world. I lived there into my forties, so I have a few years under my belt.
Oh, you’re a Canadian! That explains it! Canadians are all nice aren’t they?
Canada has it’s share of racists and bigots too, as in every country. This is a human condition.
What makes me different? Why do I choose to see people as people?
Well, my maternal grand-mother was Jewish. She escaped with my mother who was four years old at the time, on the last Red Cross train leaving Hitler’s Germany. She found shelter in London, England, where she wrote many, many letters trying to find out what happened to the love of her life, a German man she had been forced to divorce, due to a new German law forbidding the marriage between Jews and Germans.
She did finally find out what happened to him. He had been put into a camp, and finally put to death. Why? For his crime of having loved a Jew, and for having married her and having a child together.
When my grandmother was older she went to live in a retirement home with many Jewish people who had lived through the Holocaust in Germany. My brother and I were still kids when we went to visit her, and had to walk past the line of old people in wheelchairs lining the walkway. People spat on the pavement in front of us as we walked through, because we had blond hair and blue eyes, and represented a long hated enemy.
My grandmother was not looked upon favorably by many, who saw her as a traitor, for having consorted with the enemy, yet she had simply fallen in love and had followed her heart.
My father was taken away from his mother’s arms by German soldiers when they invaded the Ukraine when he was 17 years old. He was brought to a slave labor camp, and had to work in a machine shop making bullets, under the watchful eyes of soldiers, who shot prisoners for the slightest reason. His crime? He was Ukrainian, seen as an undesirable by the invaders.
My family’s experiences have marked me and made me vow never to perpetuate in any fashion, man’s inhumanity to man. I raised my daughter to be kind and loving, to see the goodness in people, and to get to know them before making a decision about them.
I always approached life with this kind of openness and have always been rewarded with getting to know and have beautiful friendships with some pretty amazing people from all corners of the earth.
Haven’t we all suffered enough as humans, and hasn’t there been enough hurt, hatred and evil? Yes, each nation, each culture has enough reasons to harbor grudges against another to perpetuate the status quo… but isn’t it time to change all this?
When I lived in Montreal, with my close friendships with people of all cultures, our friendships didn’t erase the terrible pasts some had lived through, but instead we created something new. The bonds we shared created islands of love and caring in what can be a harsh world.
So, please, let’s all take some time to get to know one another, to learn about each other’s cultures and pasts.
Let’s build bridges and bonds with each other.
It’s time to heal. It has to start with each of us. The more bonds we make with each other will help to change the world, one person at a time.
May peace and friendships be our legacy we leave!
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