Saturday, January 17, 2009

Toenails and Patterns in Columbia

SO, I'm on the toilet at my friend Peter Duffy's house in Columbia, South Carolina.  Now before folks get nauseous, I am clipping my toenails.  Anyway.  I'm on the toilet and in front of me hangs a beige shower curtain made up of a series of suede-like and mesh panels, each about 4x4 squares.  There are some spaces where there are no panels, just a square space.  I find myself desperately searching for a pattern of missing panels -- do the missing panels make up an "X" or a cross?  Tic Tac Toe?  Do the blank spaces make any shape?

I realized that my need to look for patterns has now nearly become pathological.  I wonder what other people need to look for in the world?  Do we all look for the same meaning in our world?  As we go through the south interviewing people, I've begun to realize that perhaps the reason there is so little in the way of cooperation between Yanks and Rebels, North and South, Blue and Gray, is because each of us is looking for a different kind of meaning in the world.  We interviewed Booker Mitchell, Peter's next door neighbor.  A very young looking brown-skinned man in his 80s, Mr. Mitchell is retired from both the Air Force and Police Department of Columbia.  He talked a lot about his experiences with Jim Crow when he came back to South Carolina after his stints in the military, but never said Mr. Crow's name.   He told us he was shot 9 times as if he were reading a laundry list.  It wasn't until near the end of his interview that we find out he was the first to integrate his neighborhood in Columbia.  He said they threw eggs on his car.  I asked who "they" were -- were they white?  He said something to the effect of, "I don't know.  I didn't see them throw the eggs at the car.  That could have been anybody. "

What kind of grace is required to keep oneself from looking for meaning where there just might be some?  I wonder what kind of anger I'd see from him if I didn't have a young white man sitting next to me, although I suspect that Mr. Mitchell, and I mean MR. Mitchell, is not afraid to speak his mind to anyone.  But the absolute NEED to just keep moving forward seems to be something of a mission for his entire generation of men and women of color.  Why?

I've tried on that kind of grace, but it just doesn't fit.  I'm still angry.  Someday I won't know that a white person threw eggs at Mr. Mitchell's car. 


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