Robert was feeling down that day. A taller, chunkier teen than the rest of his classmates, he bought their acceptance by joking around and being ‘class clown’ in his own quirky way. As his teacher, I sometimes found him to be on the edge of going too far with his antics, but I liked Robert a lot. He had a childlike winsomeness that appealed to many of us.
That day his playfulness was gone. He sat quietly at his desk. When I walked over to check on him a tear glistened at the corner of his eye. “Is something wrong, Robert?” I asked softly.
He kept his head down but finally raised his eyes and looked into mine. “May I be excused?” he asked. I searched his face. Years of teaching had taught me how to detect when a student just wanted to con his way out of class. I saw no sign of that.
“Are you ill, Robert?”
“No, Ma’am.” His eyes welled, and I allowed him to leave. Crying in front of classmates would have been social suicide for him. Robert left the room, and I carried on with class, making sure the students were busy with their practices. Then I stepped to the door and saw Robert at the far end of the hall. Needing to follow up on what was troubling him, I asked a passing teacher to cover my class.
By the time I reached the end of the hall, I found Robert outside, sitting on the stoop. He was alone, and he was angry. “Robert, what’s wrong?” I asked gently. His eyes were fixed on his arms and hands as he clenched and loosened his fists. A tear splashed on his arm. I sensed his anger was not toward me, so I sat down beside him. “Do you want to talk about it, Robert?”
He hesitated, then burst out with, “I’m just too d_mn black!” The weight of his words descended like a shroud. We sat there, heads down, my white arms suddenly in stark contrast to his ebony arms. Then I remembered overhearing a classmate teasing Robert about his deep complexion. Of all the students in our small school, Robert was the darkest. He did not photograph well. The picture of our fine arts class that I had snapped the day before was evidence of that, and the fact didn’t go unnoticed by some teasing girls. I had called them down for it at the time. Something more must have been said before class started today.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Evans, I shouldn’t ‘ve swore like that.” Robert was always polite. I pulled a clean tissue from my pocket for him. He blew his nose, wiped his eyes, and listened. To tell the truth, I forget what I said exactly, but it seemed to help a little. Then I made him promise to be in class the next day.
As the class filed in on that appointed day, Robert came in too, clowning again, but with a tinge of sadness on the edges that I alone noticed. “Class, I’d like you to come with me outside today. We’re going to explore a painting by the greatest artist of all time.” Mixtures of applause, chatter, and questions followed as we started our ‘journey’. I said nothing more until we were outside. “OK, look around you, class, what do you see?” The answers flooded in. Flowers, trees, clouds, sun, birds, bushes, rocks, butterflies. “Yes, and what else?” I asked.
“Well, I don’t see a painting yet,” quipped one student.
“Oh, yes, you do!” I teased, “The painting is all around you! It’s everything you see. Just look at this beautiful palette of colors. Amazing isn’t it! So, tell me, what else DO you see?” A thought filled moment passed. “Come, stand in a circle,” I instructed. The circle formed. “Now what do you see?”
Giggles ensued and someone ventured, “US! I see US!” More laughter.
“Yes! You’re right!” I laughed too. “Now, who do you think is the greatest artist of all time?”
“You mean God, don’t you, Mrs. Evans!”
I smiled. “Would you like to see His FAVORITE colors?” Eager eyes met mine. “OK, everyone reach into the circle.” Arms and hands of every human hue touched fingertips, but Robert’s wasn’t there.
“Wait!” a classmate interrupted, “You too, Robert! We aren’t US without you!”
Robert’s ebony hand reached in, touched by tans, bronzes, creams, and golds. At that moment we became US, and God smiled.
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