One deep dark night this week amid revelations of sleep, I heard a chirp – a shriek – a buzz. I struggled to wake up. A bird outside the window was panicked by a perpetrating presence in the nest. Her feathered breast read that something was off and react she did. I rubbed my fuzzy head and remembered with dread that something was in fact not right with the world. A pandemic – check. A leader without empathy or diplomacy – check. Still something else – something harder to reconcile. Something that felt overwhelming – a call to undertake the hurt buried in us all, now spilling over into peaceful pleas and even destruction.
Pain and embarrassment are my emotions. Unconscious white entitlement feels beyond forgiveness. As Scott Wood explains racism to those without color – “it’s a set of socioeconomic traps and cultural values that are fired up every time we interact with the world. It is the thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work, but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.”
Born in 1955 I can count on one hand the substantial conversations with African Americans that I have been privileged to have. Those chats linger in their value to me. But how is it possible that the number of these real interactions are so paltry?
Only a public school education could have held out hope. But the schism wasn’t recognized as a major exit from the garden. As children we were not shown a way.
The balance of power has been psychotic. Them serving us without receiving respectful remuneration. Us serving them in what might be judged as self-serving.
We needed to heed such poetry as the Negro spiritual “I’ve got a song, you’ve got a song, all God’s children got a song.” Today we require the practice of deep listening for that song, human to human – fearful heart to fearful heart. The reward: a patchwork quilt of warmth for the evolution of those to come.
We white folk have a deficit – an insufficient funding of our health. We must wake up to the patient and benevolent folk who have always shown the way.
After we settled our first baby home from the hospital, Dalton was back in the car to bring Eddie Mae Inge to our little yellow house. She was considered a legendary “baby nurse.” In fact she was present at Dalton’s birth to care for him. His mother and mine contracted with Eddie May to care for our baby in the same way she had for hundreds of other babies both rich and poor.
The process felt ancient. The input received from her was expert.
My rest and diet were paramount to her. Every night she ushered me to bed early, waking me with a tap of the shoulder to signal a trail back into the baby’s room where she would place the swaddled bundle in my arms to nurse.
The box fan whirred and the bentwood rocker creaked. Eddie Mae sat on the edge of the bed with her brown hands resting on her long white cotton gown. She talked so quietly that I had to tilt my head in her direction to hear.
She suggested that I would be a successful mother if I set a tone of peace and joy. “Calm babies come by way of calm mothers,” she whispered. She did not placate me with apologies that it would be hard work. The rewards were evident she said.
Life need not be over-complicated. With twinkling eyes behind her glasses, she mirrored a way of gliding from one task to another without a bother. Sitting down to simple meals together was vital. Putting things in order like a breath of fresh air. Waste was abhorrent particularly when preparing meals. Creating something out of nothing was not only practical but an art.
She laid out an uncluttered call to parenthood. It was the sort of mothering that a novice in life desperately needs.
These engraved prescriptions from those hushed first days of family indebted me to Eddie Mae, and now I see fully the enchanted sisterhood of expert black women who for generations under harsh circumstances have cared for white children while raising their own. Cry me a river…an ocean….
I walked outside to see the source of the bird tussle. Up next to my window was a rattled nest, feathers all around helter-skelter. The mother bird had left her home to begin again.