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Saturday, Apr. 19, 2014
Ancient memoriesPosted Monday, September 19, 2011, at 12:09 PM
Her words hit me like a ton of bricks, right between the eyes. And I have no idea if she meant for it to happen.
I had just met this older woman who was having some trouble walking. With a cane on her right side, I came up on her left and kept pace with her as we walked to her car. I thought to myself that I could at least catch her if she started falling.
Over the course of five minutes we talked about a lot of things. The conversation just flowed. Arriving at her car I held the door as she sat in the driver's seat. And then, just out of the blue, she said those words.
"Now do your rain dance."
My heart stretched back to being six years old visiting my grandparents in southern Tennessee. Some people there would make fun of my dad, my sister, and I, but not my mother. We weren't allowed to eat at certain places. I wasn't allowed to use the public restrooms in some places, nor the water fountains in some of the buildings. My father's side of the family is part Indian. For over a hundred years people in that part of the country had kept track of who were the "pure whites" and who weren't. The locals there had to live and get along with my grandparents. Not us. And from age six until my high school years I can remember hearing that phrase, that taunt, over and over again. "Now do your rain dance."
Nearly 50 years later I doubt most Hoosiers would have any idea of that part of my ethnic identity simply by looking at me. I have no idea if that woman assumed "what" I am by my features. It's been terribly hot and dry in this part of the state and she may simply use that phrase as what she believes to be a humorous expression in saying goodbye.
Yet, whether intentionally or not on her part, it cut me to my core.
We all do this from time to time with each other. Few of us know the hidden pains that others carry inside. Indeed, many times we don't know those landmines are even within us until someone steps on one. Our world changes the moment that happens and feelings from a lifetime ago suddenly well up and "breathe." Last year I joked with a 70-year-old using the phrase "you just didn't catch the pass" never knowing of his years as a high school football player who missed the last throw of his last senior game. I felt horrible about the pain that suddenly appeared even though he assured me not to worry.
I doubt my reaction to her phrase was even noticed. I'm fairly good about hiding my emotional reactions from others except for the people who know me well. One friend this week has told me to try to find the humor in that moment and laugh about it. Maybe that's good advice.
Racism is still a spiritual stain upon this land and perhaps upon all the lands of this earth. We never know of the pain others keep buried within. And yet we can be more sensitive. Especially around the issue of racism we can change our phrases when we realize the possible impact of our words. We can become more aware of our actions, both intentional and other, and when we find someone hurt by what we do, we can decide to never do it again. That's growth and from such actions come healing.
It rained the evening of the day she said those words to me: "Now do your rain dance."
I ought to send her a bill for my services.
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P.T. Wilson is the senior pastor at Gobin Memorial United Methodist Church, Greencastle, and is also the University Chaplain at DePauw University.