rain at 3 am
and the unjust
i must go out
and walk in it
on the just
and the unjust
belongs to no one
to no religion too
washes me clean
you know what i mean
The word freely is brought us by Lorelei Kay. May grace follow her freely wherever she goes.
WORDS FROM FRIENDS
Going back further and further from Old French, to Latin, to Greek, and at last to Indo-European, eclipse, at its most basic means "to leave out." In the Old French it meant "darkness," and of course referred to solar or lunar events, but it began to be used metaphorically in 1570. If a student shines too brightly, she may eclipse all the others, which, under a less than skillful teacher can cause the others to be left out. Or the shining star may be eclipsed by the needs of the others.
Left out. I just finished reading for my town library book club Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. It turned out I was rereading it, which took me a few pages in to realize. Perhaps I'd suppressed it because, despite the achingly beautiful writing, there is pain on every page. The pain of being left out. Left out of the conversation, left out of the dance, erased from ordinary life in small town Ohio. A mixed Chinese-white family clipsed by the whiteness of the town.
I'm recently back from my mother's memorial in New Mexico. Typically, at wakes and funerals, no one wants to speak ill of the dead, so no one mentioned, until my nephew posted about it, the damage caused to Native people by the missionary ethic and how that was part of the legacy of both of my parents. After I read his post, I acknowledged to myself how some people's truths about my mother's putative saintliness were not my truth. The privilege, the systemic and personal racism had been left out of the encomium, eclipsed by whiteness in a land once red.
There was also erasure of me as a queer woman among family members, something I've been so accustomed to, that I mostly didn't notice or name it until after the fact. Having this essential part of my identity shoved to the margins for others' comfort or due to lack of awareness is Everyday.
On the other hand, especially in art and writing, what is left out informs the whole, is critical to what is left. After reading Ng's first book, I was motivated to read her second, Little Fires Everywhere. One of the main characters is an artist who alters her photographs to make an artistic statement. In an interview, the author says, "Photography is…often seen as objective—after all, the camera captures what it sees—but it's also inherently subjective: so much depends on the framing of the photograph, deciding what gets included and what gets left out, how it's shown." Which, of course, is also true of writing. What will you permit to be eclipsed? What will you clip out? What will you decide is essential to the art, to the point?
The word eclipse is brought to you by Diane Joy Schmidt who is, among other things, an award-winning journalist, photojournalist and screenwriter. She knows from diverse experiences what it means to be left out and continues to shine in the dawn light.
I'd like to think it was sometime in childhood that it occurred to me to wonder: "When I see a field that I call 'green,' and you see the same field and also call it 'green,' are we actually seeing the same color? Or have we just agreed on a common name for a color we both see quite differently?" That pondering would end with the realization that we could never truly know what it is that each other sees.
As I said, I'd like to think it was in childhood, and I know it was fairly early in life, but it's quite unlikely that it happened in my earliest years. Here's why: I was raised in a tight-knit system in which there was literally One Reality. That reality existed in the Bible, and the interpretation I was exposed to was not interpretation; it was literal Reality. It was impossible to conceive of anything existing outside it.
I probably still lived in the embrasure of that reality when I first entertained that speculation about how we each see colors. Little did I know then that what my mind was exploring was the possibility of different and many realities. In fact, it's probably strange that we use the word "reality," since there are so many varieties of experience, so many angles from which to see what we think of as reality.
It's said sometimes that a person living with schizophrenia is "out of touch with reality." But which reality? Sometimes it's more accurately expressed that they are in touch with a different reality than "the rest of us." That assumes that "the rest of us" never experience the schizophrenic person's reality, whereas perhaps we do at times. It also assumes that there is a monolithic reality that the "rest of us" all experience, when there actually isn't a single one. And, it assumes that there is such a thing as "the rest of us." A lot of assumptions. About reality.
One of Cheyenne's uncles was schizophrenic, and once when I was walking across Copenhagen, deeply engaged in conversation with him, I nearly walked into busy traffic. Michael put out his arm to hold me back. Which of us was more aware of reality?
And then there's science, which is touted as a paragon of reality and objectivity. Science is no more objective than the people conducting it. Scientists searching for a particular outcome, a certain cure, often, and not maliciously, come up with results that are later shown to be inaccurate or even false. It's important to know what entity funded scientific research because sometimes the source of funding leads to biased results. Even in science there are different realities.
I sometimes think of reality as what we see through a kaleidoscope—ever shifting, many faceted, lavish with color and shape. The magnificence of many realities.
The word reality is brought to you in WORDS FROM FRIENDS by Mirakhel Windsong, whom I got to know, though not well, during my last time of living in Gallup.
Black. So much power, such varied power, in the word and the images and reactions it evokes.
My first teaching job was with third graders on the edge of the Navajo Nation. There were three brothers in the class, and the oldest, Benny, had dark brown skin. Some of the other children, when they thought I wasn't listening or didn't understand, called him Zhínii, the Navajo word for African Americans. It was pejorative, and the act was bullying. I witnessed Benny's hurt from day to day.
My partner at the time was a Black woman, and we talked about how I could intervene. She suggested I read the class a 1969 picture book, Black Is Beautiful. Each page displayed a beautiful B&W photograph of something black—a blackbird, black puppies, black jelly beans, a young Black girl in dress-up, a black butterfly. Accompanying the photos were short poems about the beauty of these things.
I thought it was a good idea, a way to start a conversation with the class. I always read to them after lunch, sitting on a stool made of an upturned bucket fastened to three wooden legs. I began reading, but a few pages in someone began sobbing––Benny. I knew immediately that this had been the wrong strategy. I stopped reading and put the book down. I decided that what I needed to do was lay down the law. "Black is beautiful," I said. "Everyone who is Black is beautiful. But Benny is not Black. He is Navajo, like most of the rest of you. He is brown and beautiful. If he were Black that would be beautiful, too. But he's not. And you may not call him Zhínii. It's a mean name, and it has to stop. You are not allowed to use it." I never heard it again, which doesn't mean it never happened other places.
A few days later, Benny and some other kids hung out in the classroom after school, which they did often because they were boarding students. Benny came over to my desk and stood next to me, chatting about ... just stuff. Then I noticed that he was leaning into me, resting against me while he talked.
I look back at so many incidents of my teaching career, even some of the later ones and think about what I could've done differently. I ask myself why I have so many better ideas now than I did then. There were so many teachable moments I missed. I think about how much more I might have helped those students understand about prejudice, racism, bullying, kindness, acceptance.
Black. A word that evokes baseless fear. The color given to death and mourning in the Euro-American world. The color of conscience. The color of restfulness. Of power. Of velvety softness. Of beauty. Black is beautiful. Black is.
The word black was brought to Words from Friends by Wayne Dale Matthysse. who is the cofounder of Partners in Compassion and has been a father to the fatherless in New Mexico, Honduras, and now Cambodia at Wat Opot Children's Community .