There’s a lesson to be learned from every situation in life; good, bad, or horrific. Sometimes more than one if you pay close attention.
A dear friend of mine is in the hospital. She’s had pancreatic cancer for over two years and three weeks ago her colon burst. She’s been in the critical care unit since then and has undergone six surgeries. Six surgeries in three weeks! She has tubes going in and out of every vein and artery hooking her up to machines that help her to breathe, monitor her blood flow, pulse and heart rate. In essence these tubes have been keeping her alive while she lays there in her semi conscious state.
I met my friend, my dear friend, five years ago when, by the grace of God and the kindness of choir director and legendary gospel singer, Dr. Henry Jackson, I was allowed to join the Brookinaire Gospel Choir of LA’s FAME Church. ( First African Methodist Episcopal ) Seriously, a life long dream of mine; to be a gospel singer. Actually the original dream was to be Diana Ross but since that was taken and Flo and Mary were in place, I switched my dream to being a gospel singer.
I was put in the alto section seated next to my friend. Can’t say we hit it off like gang busters from the start but she was tolerant and kind, helping me each time I sang off key ( often) or forgot the words to the songs((more often!) After a while she figured that this skinny white woman from uptown might be sticking around so she started sharing her side bar comments with me. If choir rehearsal ran overtime or if someone repeatedly asked questions she had no time for, she’d turn towards me letting out a wisecrack. If it’s one thing I’m a sucker for, it’s a quick wit, and hers is so fast you have to run to catch it!
Our real bonding occurred during a road trip we took to Las Vegas two years ago. Our mutual friend, Granny ( Rappin’ Granny, Youtube her, she is too cool!) threw herself an 80th birthday bash in Vegas and my pal and I drove up together and shared a room for the weekend. The five hour drive from LA to Las Vegas whooshed by in a blur of laughter. If we weren’t laughing, we were singing, and if we weren’t singing we were eating. Not Thelma and Louise, but darn close. Two girlfriends enjoying each other’s company, sharing their life stories, discovering commonalities.
Did I mention that my friend is black? I, as previously stated, am white, though I used to joke that if I squished all of the freckles ( an Irish gift/curse) on my body together I might be black.
One of my friend’s daughter’s sleeps in the hospital room with her every night. The rooms in critical care are not spacious so she sleeps on a barker lounger instead of a cot. I try to go to the hospital if not every day than every other day to relieve her daughter so she can go home to shower, change and hopefully get into her own bed for an hour or so.
My husband and several of my friends have commented on this , complimenting me and saying I am words that I am very uncomfortable with.
Because I know the truth.
I go because I love my friend. I go because I want to help her daughter and make sure she doesn’t burn out or get sick herself. But the real reason I go is because I am selfish.
I believe with my whole heart that in order to live a peaceful , contented life , I have to treat other’s the way I want them to treat me. Treat their children the way I would like others to treat my children. I didn’t always roll this way but I have tried to for the last several years and it is the way I aspire to roll until my rolling days are done.
Now we’re heading into the crux of today’s tale…
I am no stranger to prejudice or racial intolerance. Not that I’ve been privy to much, but I have experienced the ignorance and been hurt by it.
My best friend’ for the last 35 years is a African American woman married to a Nigerian man. A Harvard trained kidney specialist, as well as, one of the nicest men I’ve ever met. Their son,a well educated, terrific young man himself, was walking in his neighborhood on his way to a friend’s house one evening when he was stopped by a white cop and harassed about why he was in his own neighborhood. From what I’ve been told, that’s just a black boy’s Bar Mitzvah.
When I was dating my ex husband, a handsome 6 ft tall man born in Shanghai, we were walking down Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs on a weekend away when a group of white teenage boys walked by us with their pointer fingers stretching their eyes into slants. Out of their mouths came gobbley gook sounds. I wanted to be just as ignorant and scream, “Hey, Assholes, he’s wearing Armani and you guys have beer stains all over your tee shirts where the pin- up girl’s big nipple is, so shut up!”
Thankfully, he was( and still is!) a gentleman. He told me to walk on and say nothing.
One of my favorite ignorant moments though, was when our daughter was in preschool and all of the mothers were looking at kindergartens. I ran into one of the mothers in the market and she stopped to ask me how our search was going. After telling me about the schools she’d seen , she told me about a public school she had just visited that ” felt exactly like a private school, no Blacks, no Mexicans , and no Asian kids.”
To this I replied , ” doesn’t sound right for my daughter. In case you haven’t noticed , she’s half Asian.” Her reply came without a beat or change of facial shade, “Oh I never think of her like that!”
There was nothing for me to do except say “well I wish you’d try” smile and walk away.
OK so getting back on point, or rather, pulling this all together; Over the last three weeks I’ve noticed how when I am in the hospital room visiting my friend with a family member or another friend who is a person of color there with me and a doctor or nurse comes in, they usually address their comments on her condition to me. If not directly to me,then making the most eye contact with me. I’ve been there enough to note that this is not a one off nor I am not imagining it.
Hmmm…I do dress somewhat tastefully but so do both of her two daughters. I do wear simple. yet good , jewelry, but so do her daughters. And here is the joke of the whole thing: both of her daughters are far more educated than I am! One has a master’s in education, and the other is working on her masters in psychology. while I , the college drop out, am slowly working on my BA. “Slowly” being the operative word. If and when I get it most likely I’ll go up to get my diploma using the aid of a walker!
It’s conditioning. They probably aren’t even aware of it, those people imparting information. Tell it to the white lady, she’ll understand, is not even a consciously formatted thought. It’s a reflex. As giving a sigh of relief is when turning back and noting the footsteps behind you late at night on a dimly lit street are coming from a white man not a black man. That statement was made, by the way, by Jesse Jackson.
Conditioning and ingrained beliefs can sometimes manifest as fear, or if not fear, wrong thinking . We must check our actions, reactions and our beliefs . Are they conscious or unconscious. Sitting in that hospital room on the very same lazy boy her daughter sleeps on night after night now, this is what I ponder as I watch my friend fight t like Muhammad Ali in his prime, sometimes conscious sometimes unconscious,to stay in this crazy mixed up world.
Here’s the best share I can think of , show your friends how much you care before it’s too late. As busy as we all get, as much as each of us has to do in a day, make time to spend with friends and family. Let go of the past, forget the future as there’s no guarantee about that anyway, and make the most of today.
Obviously I’m not going to include a picture of my sweet girl friendl in her hospital bed, sporting her multitude of tubes. Instead, I hope this entry’s picture puts a smile on your face and hope in your heart.
As always, with love, AS