August 28, 2013

The Content of their Character

DD at the park
"What's that sound, mommy?"

"There are people outside, marching in the street."

"Can we see?"


I threw open the door to the balcony, and watched my children take tentative steps down onto it. They're not normally allowed, and the thrill of taboo with the tumult of the shouting crowd below brought excitement and wonder to their eyes. The gentle morning breeze lifted their curls from their faces, and they gazed down at the throng.

"Why are they yelling?"

"Some of them are yelling because they're happy. And some of them are yelling because they're sad."

"Why are they happy and sad at the same time?"

"Fifty years ago, another group of people marched in Washington DC."

"Where Aunt Something Funny lives!"

"That's right. It was much much more people. And they marched because some people want to be mean to other people because of how they look."

SI crooked her eyebrow at me, and I saw the gears turning.

"This wasn't like the march we went to at the big statue, where people are mean because of what you wear. This was because sometimes people are mean to people because of what color their skin is..."

I couldn't finish. Maybe because I'm emotionally fraught from a whole week of pain and nausea and doctor's visits, maybe because there is so much left unsaid when you talk about the evils of the world.

I couldn't finish, because I so badly want it to be not true that the greatest, kindest of people are those who are torn from the world too soon.

"Do you girls want to watch a movie about it?"

"Yes!" They bounced back into the house.

And before breakfast, we sat in front of the computer, and watched Dr. Martin Luther King (SI said, "I like to call him Dr. King!") deliver a speech that brought me to tears.

I remembered being in fourth grade and talking about Dr. King.

I remembered being in third grade, and my black teacher breaking down in tears as she recounted the Kennedy assassination.

I remembered watching this same speech a dozen times. A hundred. And never taking in the same things.

I know that when the bells ring throughout my city in a few short hours, I will break down and cry.

I am happy, because so much has changed since even my childhood.

I am sad because there is so, so far to go.

Because right now, we're moving backwards. Away from that mountaintop.

But I want my children, all children, to live there. Where they are never less-than, where all human life is treated with dignity.

We sat and we watched, and I know they didn't understand it.

And sometimes, I don't understand.

None of us are free. So long as oppression denies the inalienable rights of anyone in our society, we are all complicit. We are all caught in the mechanics of an engine driven by greed, and hatred, and fear.

But maybe in another fifty years.

Maybe in fifty more years, I can stand with my children and my grandchildren and maybe my great grandchildren on the mall in Washington and things will be truly changed from how they are today.

Maybe at last we can all cash that check.


  1. Beautiful. They may not understand yet, but if we set a good example of being open-minded, compassionate, and understanding, I hope we can all help shape the views of the next generation. My mother was always genuinely interested in learning about different cultures, and very accepting of people who were different than she. I know this made a big difference in my life and helped shape the beliefs I have today. I hope we can find ways to make a difference. Great post!

  2. As a teacher I have had the opportunity to share important speeches of the past and of the present with inner city children of color and/or poverty. They rarely understand everything but they always understand something. Somehow they always understand the importance of the words if nothing of the meaning.

    1. Thank you so much for what you do. I know it might sound corny, but I look back on some of the teachers I've had, even if just for a year, as some of the most influential people in my life. Especially those who tackled difficult issues. What you do is amazing.

  3. Beautiful post! I could imagine the whole scene with you telling tbe girls about Dr. King. You are an amazing writer and storyteller!



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