When we misplace our keys or our glasses the first question we ask is ‘where did I have them last.’ The comedy of such a question is that if we knew where we had them last they wouldn’t be lost. There is little comedy attached to the misplacement of lost love, lost youth or lost fortunes. Herein is proof that what is forgotten has far more weight than the common proclivity to forget.
Although I was born a Yankee I was drawn to the culture of the Deep South at an early age. Amidst the beauty of moss covered oaks and antebellum homes there exists something not so attractive about the southland’s historic involvement with slavery. In time anyone’s worst behavior becomes almost subjective in nature and perhaps that is how we learn from our mistakes. We can hold our behavior at a distance and examine it in the clear light of reason.
It is clear to many of us that with the help of the clear reasoning, appeals to our better nature and with the help of iconic figures like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. that our history with slavery is now seen as a period of our worst behavior.
In normal personal relationships when we have recognized that we have wronged somebody we give it the old one, two, three. First is acknowledgment that a wrong has been done. Second we stop what we are doing and change course which may include apologies and reparations where possible. Thirdly we must begin a course toward forgetfulness.
This kind of forgetfulness is not associated with denial but it is directly akin to growth. No person and no nation can move through the present or the future very swiftly or efficiently while dragging the baggage of the past along behind.
In America we may have well reached the juncture where our effort to forget for the sake of gaining the future is beginning to pay off; but not for all. It is easy to say that it is incumbent upon the black man in America to forget the past and move on, but we are the offenders and they are the offendees. Have we rushed the matter?
The almost 100 years between the Emancipation Proclamation and the civil rights laws of the sixties does make it look as if we were dragging our heals. But now almost a half century after the visitation of Martin Luther King it is the black man that seems to be dragging his heals.
When an old wrong is constantly referred to in a domestic argument between spouses it is called nagging. When the infractions of the common criminal are filed and categorized for law enforcement to refer to it is called record keeping. But when the sins of the fathers are held over the heads of many future generations it is called excuse making. Thus is born something known in the modern vernacular as ‘the race card.’
When the race card is pulled out for every purpose great or small in a last ditch effort to define both crime and motive it does more than get old, it begins to look like what it is. It is a device to shift blame, to confuse an issue or worse to ignore the truth of a matter entirely. The race card in America is beginning to lose its punch. It is fast becoming the card the cheating gambler has hidden up his sleeve and pulls out by sleight of hand when he knows he’s holding a losing hand.
When special acknowledgements or events occur year by year in America to honor the blacks we in the white majority show our willingness to help the black man remember. We do not take offense and we don’t counter with a ‘white history month’ or worse. We want to remember along with African Americans the great contributions and achievements that blacks have added to the American dream. That inclusion is what makes it America to start with. Not only must the past be forgiven but it must now be used as the springboard to the future; that too is uniquely American.
In my high school there were only two black families in the entire town with high school aged children. One of them was my best friend. I surely would not claim to understand the black culture or the horrors of slavery because of this brief friendship. I could not see the difference between my black friend and any other student. I had not yet learned of the history of slavery or the trials of the black man; all I knew was that my buddy was cool.
In perhaps one of the only mildly violent incidents in my life I once clobbered my dear friend in an argument. Although he was not seriously hurt, later that night I could not sleep. I lied in my bed with a powerful sorrow gripping my heart for hurting my friend. Not once did I ever consider the pain that I caused him to be worse because he was black. I apologized to him the next day and we went on as friends until time finally sent us in diverging directions in life.
My humanity had offended his humanity, my selfishness and callousness had offended our friendship and only my own one, two, and three could restore it. Isn’t it time for the black man in America to respond to our collective one, two, and three?
Learning tolerance and diversity may speak of maturity in relationships but it is not what makes a friendship. Friendship is born out of recognition of every man’s humanity and an attraction to each mans specific expression of that humanity often known as a personality. It is what made me think my young black friend was cool.
Perhaps cool is a weak starting point but it led to friendship and retrospectively I can say it led to love. Enduring friendships are often used to define love.
In our Bibles the word love is broken into three distinct categories by use of the Greek language. The first is Eros love which is obviously pure physical love. Second is Philos love which is brotherly love or general friendship. The last is Agape love, the unconditional love that is like God’s love.
While friendship falls into the category of Philos love it does not define it. In the English language there is one word for love. In the far more expressive language of the Greeks there are over forty words used to express the powerful nature of what we call love. Even at that, a finer definition can be found only when expressing the use of or, the actions of love.
Christ asked his disciples, who was a friend to the battered man found on the side of the road beaten and bleeding? The disciples concluded it was not those who passed by and ignored him but the one who stopped to help him. The example of the Good Samaritan shows us that action is always the best example and the best definition of love or friendship.
Refining this definition took the deeply spiritual insights of another man we know as the Apostle Paul. He declared that love was not only shown by what we do but also by what we don’t do. In what has long been referred to as the ‘Love Chapter’ Paul lists the attributes of genuine love. Among them is this one. Paul said love, “keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Cor 13:5 NIV)
Is it time for black America to give up its record keeping and get on with something else? Maybe we can’t jump, dance or look hip in the hood but there’s got to be something about the white man you can find cool, start with that and maybe friendship will follow. Does it sound like I’m saying ‘let’s just be friends?’ Don’t you think its time?
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