Saturday, March 21, 2015

Minor Miracle

Sometimes people surprise us. 
Original found here

I believe in the possibility of transformation, even in the most unlikely of people. I've read beautiful stories of people who have done horrible things and then turned their lives around. I talk the transformation talk and write words brimming with hope of transformation pretty well. However, I am more reluctant to trust in that possibility when it comes to people I know personally who have disappointed me more than once. (Note: given that I am a perfectionist with high expectations for myself and others, it's not that hard to disappoint me more than once; I do it to myself all the time.)  A few months ago I was ready to give up on someone; I was certain that he was beyond redemption in the particular circumstances that we shared. However, when faced with the possible consequences of not changing patterns, he started acting differently. Perhaps he reached a sort of rock bottom; I don't know. But I am grateful for the change and I am also disappointed in myself for not believing in my heart what I know in my head. People can change. 

It was my turn to lead prayer on Friday morning and the poem below was one of the pieces I chose. My stomach turned as I read words I've never said before and don't ever plan to use in my own speech. In the context of this poem, I spoke them. The room went still after I said them. Silence engulfed us. 

I kept reading and the room got more tense (Why would she read this in prayer?) - or maybe it was just me - until I came to the part of the poem that made it OK that I'd read those hateful words, twice. 

Minor Miracle

Marilyn Nelson
- from Imagine a World: Poetry for Peacemakers

Which reminds me of another knock-on-wood
memory. I was cycling with a male friend, 
through a small midwestern town. We came to a 4-way
stop and stopped, chatting. As we started again, 
a rusty old pick-up truck, ignoring the stop sign,
hurricaned past scant inches from our front wheels.
The truck driver, stringy blond hair a long fringe
under his brand-name beer cap, looked back and yelled, 
          "You fucking niggers!"
And sped off. 
My friend and I looked at each other and shook our heads. 
We remounted our bikes and headed out of town.
We were pedaling through a clear blue afternoon
between two fields of almost-ripened wheat
bordered by cornflowers and Queen Anne's lace
when we heard an unmuffled motor, a honk-honking.
We stopped, closed ranks, made fists.
It was the same truck. It pulled over.
A tall, very much in shape young white guy slid out:
greasy jeans, homemade finger tattoos, probably
a Marine Corps boot-camp footlockerful
of martial arts techniques
"What did you say back there!" he shouted.
My friend said, "I said it was a 4-way stop.
You went right through it."
"And what did I say?" the white guy asked. 
"You said: 'You fucking niggers.'"
The afternoon froze.

"Well," said the white guy, 
shoving his hands into his pockets
and pushing dirt around with the pointed toe of his boot, 
"I just want to say I'm sorry."
He climbed back into his truck 
and drove away. 

Sometimes people surprise us. 

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