How are you doing? So much going on in the world and in our neighborhoods; some good, some not so much.
I thought I would share a story today.
My mom and I went to Florida for spring break when I was about 14. When I say this, please don’t get the impression that we just took vacations to Florida as a regular thing. This was my second time. When you live in Michigan, Florida is where you go – straight down Interstate 75. Plus my grandparents lived there. It was 1981.
After driving forever (says the 14 year old), we stopped for the night just over the Florida border at a Days Inn. Not the greatest place, but it was clean, quiet, cheap, and best of all, they had a pool.
Since we had just come from winter, I could not wait to get in that pool. It was sunny and warm, and I barely got out, and even though we still had a ways to go to get to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, my mom made arrangements to stay past the 11am check out so I could dive about 428 more times.
Mostly I was by myself, but after some time, three or four young men showed up to swim. I thought it was pretty cool that they would be interested in talking to me and playing whatever we played (that part is a little fuzzy), and just hanging out in the pool.
One of the things that I was so impressed with was that when these boys went under water or got splashed, their hair never got wet. The water just beaded up and rolled off.
They were black.
I did not give one hoot about that. I was thrilled to have someone to hang out with. That is, until the manager asked them to leave, saying that the pool was for paying guests only. I remember they left without an issue. But after they left, the pool wasn’t as much fun.
When we arrived at my grandparents, she told them about where we had stayed and that I had made some friends at the pool.
And that was that.
My mom was the kind of person that always seemed to say the right thing, and I think most of the time it was because she did a lot of listening. I like to say that my mom was peculiar, and I think most people who knew her would agree with that. When I was a child I didn’t always appreciate her style or the things she found interest in, but as I am still a work in progress, I’ve come to appreciate the gifts she had.
One of her greatest gifts was that she loved to learn all kinds of things from all kinds of people. To me, it seemed she had something in common with everyone she met and no one was off limits to her as a friend.
So she really meant what she said about me making friends at the pool. She had shown me that people are people, and everyone had value. As a kid, I did what my mom did. Not always as good as she did, but I just didn’t have any reason to treat people badly because of their race.
(Let’s not talk about how I was just a general brat for a few years in middle school please.)
I wonder where those boys are now. I wonder if they remember swimming in the pool that day, having a fun time with a scrawny, pale (and quickly sunburned) white girl. Was that unusual for them?
It was for me. In the neighborhood I grew up in, there were no black kids. Not one in my graduating class of about 500. I just didn’t have much personal experience with people of color, good or bad.
I wanted to share this story for a few reasons.
One, my mom was really someone to admire, even if I didn’t always think so. She was good to all people.
Two, there is value in simple experiences like the one I had with these boys. I was grateful for their acceptance of me, and I was happy to have called them my friends, even if it was just for a few hours. That experience helped shape my view of blacks, especially because I didn’t have too many others as a kid.
Three, people really are people, and it’s as simple as that. Those boys were happy to be swimming, just like I was, so I can totally relate to that. I believe most people just want to be surrounded by loved ones, to find happiness in their lives on a regular basis, and basically be good. That may sound naive, but I’m okay with that.
Four, as much as I think I am not racist, I need to check my ignorance. I have friends in my life who are black, and as much as I like to think we are the same, we just aren’t. They have fears that have never entered my heart and challenges I will never face. I can never fully understand, but I am going to do more learning, and then act on what I learn.
As Martin Luther King, Jr said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” I hope to be silent long enough and often enough to listen, and then speak up for those who need a friend. Even a pale friend.