The More Things Change…

March 13th will mark one year for me, the beginning of the year of the unusual not just for me but for the entire world

Yes, it has been a year of change all around. This year is quickly coming to an end on the calendar but not so much when it comes to the side-effects, confusion, misinformation, . There is an old saying, the more things change the more they stay the same.

Julius Caesar was warned, “Beware the ides of March.” No one warned us and maybe we, like Caesar, would have ignored the warning anyway. As it stands we e were lulled into a false sense of security. Who us, worry? We are America, the land of the free, the home of the brave. No foreign enemy has every set foot on American soil to wage war against against our democracy (9/11 notwithstanding). But, March 2020 came in like that proverbial Lion that continues to hold us at bay with its roar while we shelter in place and wonder when will it all end?

The changes have snatched the covers off a lot of things, stuff that had often been cloaked in intentional silence. But, in the heat of change, when those covers were ripped off, we startled onlookers looked out the window and immediately saw that the Emperor who walked among us was stark naked. Why had we not noticed his bare nakedness before?

Maybe we were stuck in some kind of mind matrix, comfortable in the assumption that the beat goes on and when the rhythm changes, it’s always to the good. Yeah, that’s where we were. Today, not so much.

The more things change…

The Pandemic demanded our attention, snatched us out of our comfortable comfort zones and threw us into a swirling vortex of “What now?” The cacophony of clashing political voices stopped us in our tracks. Neighbors and friends chose colors previously relegated to the Bloods and the Crips to became gangsters for their cause which they saw as a call to immediate action. They demanded that opposing voices shut up when they tried to speak up to out about the blatant injustice paraded under the guise of “Make America Great,” a statement that raised the question, “Make America Great for Whom.” Social media because the platforms where duels of words took place, the goal being to destroy credibility and undermine support. Fake news abounds, conspiracy theories thrive and instead of burning books, people gather to burn masks and decry the ignorance of the masked and hand sanitized.

The more things change…

Change ripped the covers off the undercover agents of white supremacy. The agents who had managed their “leanings” behind the corporate shield of eligibility and “we already have one,” and tentative pats on the head. The racial divide was always in place but suddenly those agents stripped themselves of their white collars to align themselves with their blue collar brethren wrapped in their 20th century confederate flags. They unified in this new manifest destiny of continued greatness to excoriate those who did not join in their lock-step demand that not only should America remain great, it should also remain supremely white controlled.

The more things change…

March 13th will mark one year for me, a year of change and self-evaluation. It has been a year of distress as I’ve watched the world evolve into planned chaos and no one seems to understand the power of unity for the well being of everyone. We live in our separate camps and give the side-eye to anyone who dares to cross over to offer a peace offering. We trust no one but those who mirror our reflection. No one will take the initiative to storm the Maginot Line of the mind. We shelter in place behind our closed doors. We hold tightly to what we believe is our right and we wrap ourselves in our self-constructed self-righteousness and the Emperor? He still has no clothes.

The more things change…

GRACE UNDER FIRE

The old man sits silently on the steps of his front porch.

These are his thinking steps.

“Always thinking,” his wife used to mutter to herself, “Always thinking!”

Miz Mae never really understood her husband’s quiet ways, his continuous reflections on the curiosities of life.

“Always thinking!”

The old man sits on the steps and stares down the street to the corner where some young boys stand discussing whatever it is young boys discuss these days.

“Hey, old man!”

Rufus, a longtime friend, shuffles up to sit beside his old friend.

It is a daily routine for these two, old friends sitting side by side on the stoop talking and listening to one another.

The old man clears his throat, a sure sign he is about to speak on something he has been thinking about for quite some time

“You know, Rufus, we as a people personify grace under fire.”

He rubs his gray grizzled chin as he speaks.

“Whut you mean by “puhSAHnuhfie?” The old man’s friend often wonders where his friend learned all those big words.

“It’s like we look like grace under fire, like if grace under fire was human, it would look like us.”

“Uh Hmmm.”

Rufus tries to make himself sound like he really understands the old man when he “speech-a-fies” but the truth is that he almost always has a hard time following his friend whenever he uses those big words.

“Yep, grace under fire, that’s us.”

Whenever the old man speaks of “us,” he means African Americans

“Grace under fire is the real story of us, you know, Rufus?”

Rufus grunts assent and waits for the old man to expand on his thought.

“Yes sir, they ripped us from our native land. The smells, the sounds, the taste of home was our only luggage on the middle passage. They dragged us onto foreign soil, alien tongues assaulted our native ears. Our language was whipped out of us and we were forced to speak a foreign tongue they did not teach us but when we finally learned to speak what we thought we heard, they laughed and called us ignorant. They did not recognize our genius, did not see the majesty of our being!”

“They barely named us, treated us worse than that stubborn old mule that refused to pull the plow. They beat us and expected us to love them unconditionally, bowing and scraping whenever they were around, had us mammy their babies and bear children forced upon our women by the master’s rough hands.”

“The sounds and the smells and the tastes of our native land were forced out of us. We swallowed our sorrow, mingled tears with sweat and endured the angry bite of cotton bolls picked in the scorching heat of every day.”

“They force freed us then designed a new bondage named after a minstrel song that foisted violent servitude upon us, brutal acceptance of their inhumanity. They hung us from trees while they picnicked and took trophy pictures like hunters on a safari.”

“We endured it all, wept through it all, buried our dead too young, muted our anger, wrapped ourselves in our frustration and waited and waited and waited for real freedom  ”

“Well, freedom finally caught up with us, we thought, but it came with conditions attached. Stay in your place, accept what we say is right for you, be grateful for the crumbs we half-heartedly throw to you, walk through that open door then work twice as hard to prove your worth.”

“We worked hard, we assimilated, we embraced our natural roots, we expected more but each day we received less and they wonder why we are not satisfied.”

“But, dagnabit, look at us Rufus, we are still here, still climbing Mr. Hughes’ torn, worn stairs. We are still striving, still pressing, and Rufus, we ain’t rioted full scale across the country, yet, not even when they  killed Martin or when Malcolm died, not even when they killed our boys, our girls, our men, our women. Our souls have been tried. Our spirits have been bruised. Our hearts have been burdened. Our tears have been bitter. Our losses have been huge. But, even so, we held on to hope, we still hold on to hope. They still killing us but we still get up in the morning. We still laugh. We still dance. We still sing. We still love. We still marry. We still have children. Shoot, we still like sex when we have the energy!”

Rufus chuckles then looks around to see if anyone heard that last comment his friend made.

“We have not yet reached the end of our rope but I’m mighty a-feared that the rope of our hope is getting shorter, that the fuse of our anger might be about to be lit for a great explosion of retribution. I pray that peace prevails and that equality, one day, will one hundred percent win. That is my prayer. It’s my prayer for our land, Rufus. Its my prayer for us, too.”

Rufus blinks a few times as he chews on the old man’s words. He is both proud and afraid at the same time but he sits up a just a little straighter, squares his shoulders and says,

“Yessuh, we sho have puhSAHnuhfied  grace undah fiyah, yessuh, we sho have. ”

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ONE MOMENT IN TIME

I have to admit it, this crutch makes me self-conscious.

I really cannot explain why I am so embarrassed by this crutch.

Maybe it’s because I don’t want people to pity me.

Maybe I feel this way, the not wanting to be pitied, because I have been taught by society to see a physical challenge as something to be pitied.

How did we humans come to score disability as a mark of shame, something to despise and pity?

My condition is only temporary, but I have experienced the rudeness of the able-bodied to whom I have grown invisible, whether on crutch or in a grocery store cart or crutching my way down a street or an store aisle.

I have been run into, almost run into/run over, ignored and passed by.

The rudeness is incomprehensible.

Still, this crutch has taught me to accept the extended grace of others, friends and strangers, without shame.

You see, I keep thinking, “I can do this,” but I can’t, at least not right now.

Now, when someone asks, “Can I help you?” if I really need help, I say “Yes.”

But, on the other hand, I am still capable of handling some things on my own even as others think I can’t or shouldn’t.

Don’t count me out just because it looks like I am down.

I am still here, which tells me His plan is still in place for me, crutch and all.

Last week, as my sister and I checked into a hotel in Dallas, a woman in a battery powered wheel chair was seated near the counter.

I thought I recognized her.

Joni Eareckson Tada.

Then I decided, in normal Donna fashion, “Naaah.”

After a whispered conversation with my sister by the elevator about this woman’s possible identity, I went up to the room while she waited in the lobby.

When my sister came into the room, she said, “That WAS her and she asked about you about and the crutch and she asked for your email, if that’s okay with you!”

Duh!

A few days later, I received an email:

“Dear Donna… it was so encouraging to see your smile as you walked into the Dallas airport hotel when I was sitting in the lobby — I noticed your cane right away and when I asked your sister, she mentioned you had gone through a recent knee replacement. I am truly sorry that you are dealing with so much pain and discomfort. Donna, I have written a pamphlet on pain management (after 48 years in a wheelchair, I deal with chronic pain), and I would love so send it to you. When you have a chance, please send me your mailing address and I will get it off to you right away. In the meantime, draw comfort from these encouraging words in Psalm 57:1, “Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” Looking forward to hearing from you… Joni”

Joni Eareckson Tada
Founder/CEO
Joni and Friends International Disability Center

The crutch seems much less of an issue these days.

It reminds me of God’s amazing grace spoken to me through a woman who has lived with a physical challenge almost all her life while mine is merely a passing moment in time.