Two Stories—One World


Two Stories—One World

by Rev. Marian Hale

I was attending the 2002 regional meeting of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Chicago, and we had been given an assignment—to go outside in nature and get in touch with the issue that claims us this lifetime.

I sat on a log among the trees that surrounded the college where we were meeting. I knew the issue, and tried to dodge it. Two stories from my life cried out to be told. "Tell us," they whispered in my ear. "Tell us now—and from now on, always tell us together."

As soon as we gathered back inside, I took the talking stick in our small circle, and began to tell our group my two stories.

A few years ago, I revealed, I attended a seminar on healing racism. Every Monday evening we sat in small groups, trying to find a way to increase our understanding and appreciation of the issues that separate us. At one session, we Caucasians were asked to turn to the person on our left and tell them about the first time we came upon a person of color.

Since I was born in Canada, and there were no black folks in the small town where I grew up, I described being a teenager in high school and how I felt when my older sister brought home a friend from university. He was from Africa, a proud grandnephew of Jomo Kenyatta, who was Kenya's founding father. Kenyatta's grandnephew spoke at the school, and I told the group how I was impressed with his presence and his knowledge.

Later that night, as I drove home from the healing racism program, I felt I hadn't shared the whole story. I drifted off to sleep trying to place the facts that were hiding from my consciousness. The next morning, I remembered the doll.

When I was four and had my tonsils out, my mother gave me a little black doll. She knitted a blue and red dress for it, and it became my most prized possession. But why had she done that? A tiny, white, English Canadian mother going out of her way to find and purchase a black doll for her daughter? So I called my mother in Toronto and asked her why she had given me this doll. She was surprised that I didn't remember.

"When you were about three years old," she told me, "I took you and your sister and brother shopping one day. We were in a department store, and I was talking with the clerk at the counter. As soon as she handed me the buttons I needed, I glanced down to check on all of you—and you were gone! This was unusual and I was worried. You generally stuck pretty close to me.

"Suddenly I saw you in the far corner with your arms wrapped around a little black girl, who was sitting in a stroller. Her mother looked very surprised at your behavior. I walked over and asked her what had happened. She laughed and told me that you had appeared from nowhere, ran right up to her little daughter—and started kissing and hugging her.

"Then, when we tried to separate the two of you, you started to cry and scream. 'No, no, Mummy—we can't leave her behind. She's my sister, she's my sister! Please let's take her home with us! Please! Please!'

"Obviously, that was impossible, and so we pulled you away and headed home. That night and every night after that, you cried yourself to sleep. 'Where's my sister, Mummy? Where is she? Why did we have to leave her behind?' You were inconsolable, and your health began to deteriorate. You just wouldn't stop crying about that little girl.

"A few months later, you had to have your tonsils removed, and it was then that I decided to get you the doll. It was very hard to find. I had to make quite a few phone calls and ask a lot of people where I could find one. Many people thought it was a pretty strange thing for me to be looking for. I still have that doll in my house. I'll send her to you if you like."

The doll now occupies a place of honor in my home. That is the first story. Here is the second.

I was in my 40s and returning home late from work one evening by train in Chicago. I was focused on reading a novel, and paid little attention to anyone around me in the crowded car. Gradually, I noticed that there was an odd, soft pressure on my left shoulder. It came and went, then seemed to intensify. Finally I turned my head to see what was causing the warm heaviness.

Just behind me at an angle, a young black man had fallen asleep, and his thick head of hair was leaning into my shoulder as the car swayed and bounced. I quickly turned back to my book, chilled at the immediacy of my very first thought—"Oh my God, I hope I don't get lice!"

My skin turned cold and clammy as shock and revulsion for myself surged up from my guts. "I will never tell another human being what I just thought," I decided. And I didn't for a long time.

But these two stories want to be told. And they are calling out to be told together. It's clear to me—from these events in my own life—how innocent and loving we are born, and we then become corrupted by living in a society that is deeply imbued with separations, with racism, with cliques, with large and tiny lessons about superiority and inferiority.

I want to explore ways we can dismantle our desires for walls between us, ways we can become more deeply connected. I simply trust that these stories will know when and where they can best be told to encourage this healing, connecting process.

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