I have talked about Mr. Roosevelt here before. He is my neighbor who lives with his daughter across the street.
Last week Mr. Roosevelt and I were visiting on his stoop. We were laughing and joking about kids, cars, life in general. You know, all the things that African elders and youngish white girls have in common. (I can claim youngish if I am speaking of my spirit right?!)
"I have a book for you." He says.
"Is it a good book? This girl ain't got no time for crappy books." I jest.
"It is." He chuckles.
To which he then takes pause while he looks me in the eye longer than necessary. Mr. Roosevelt gives a smirk, slowly nodding his head, he takes my dirt covered hand in his worn one and says,
"This is a book about my hometown. Where I grew up and lived. It's about the south, and our struggle and our reality. It's pictures and stories and..." he paused. He looked straight through my eyes into my heart and said,
"I have come to know you and I know that you can hold this story. You are someone I can share it with and you will respect it."
He nodded again in recognition, that yes, we could do this together. We could do life equally together. He could share a part of himself with me. A part of his life, his blood, his skin, his history, his story and it wouldn't be shunned, denied, excused away or met with guilt and shame and narcism.
Mr. Roosevelt went inside and brought out this book.
He told me I could hold on to it for him for a awhile. He didn't want me to rush through it. He wanted me to absorb it. Digest it. Consume it.
He wanted the images and the words to leave its finger prints on my very soul so that I take it with me everywhere. That his history wouldn't be lost.
We are building a bridge together Mr. Roosevelt and I. One that can hold two very different experiences and accept them both. That each story can be held with respect and honor and recognition. That through listening, we would learn and grow and discover understanding that deepens our compassion.
To hold each others story in a way that honors the life and experience of another human being.
What would our cities look like if we could hold each other in that way? To cultivate those kinds of relationships and conversations? To surrender our own perspective and realize that we each experience a different kind of reality and truth? That we have much to learn from one another? That our histories can teach us how to learn from our mistakes?
If we can be blunt here? I think in general, we white folk don't do a very good job at this. We have a tendency to input our truth and our reality and our perspective into the lives of those who have greatly different experiences than our own. We can not tell them what is true or not. It would be very wise of us to start listening more without objection. Without justification. Without reasoning away hurt.
Friends, lets learn to hold each other's stories with respect and honor. But not just our friends, but also the stories of those who have been left vulnerable. The stories of injustice. The stories of our African brothers and sisters. The stories of our Mexican neighbors. Our LGBT sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. The people who suffer from mental, physical, and emotional trauma. The stories of those who worship different than you. Look different than you. Speak different than you. Spend money different than you. Dress different than you.
What does it look like for us to hold each other with respect?