(NOTE: I started this post January 1st, under the title "Happy New Year, Whoever You Are!" I had absolutely no idea where my rambling was going and I set it aside for awhile. This morning [January 24] it took shape, veering off in a "whole 'nother direction" than I had planned, as is often the case with my writing. Maybe it was watching racism react to the Montgomery Bus Boycott in The Long Walk Home this week with my Teen Leadership classes. Or having one of my sixth graders tell me that we needed to pray for newly-sworn-in President Obama because he is . . . and I won't repeat here the hate-filled inflammatory words my student quoted me to describe the new President -- words my student had gotten from his pastor, who leads a local ultra-conservative church. Maybe it was from overhearing the sexual-laden filth a sixteen-year-old eighth-grade boy aimed at a fourteen-year-old female classmate. [And, oh yes, I dealt with it.] Whatever the reason, here's the result.)
Mama Bug. Mama Bear. Mama Muz. Muz. Rev. Queen. Queenie. Pam'la. Pammy.
Just a few of the names I readily answer to, along with Jaja ("Grandmother" in Runyankore, a southwestern Ugandan dialect), Senga ("Auntie" in the previously mentioned language), Preacher Woman, Booger. (Don't ask.)
When I worked construction, the field engineers dubbed me Space Bandit. (Those guys knew I was blonde before I was.) My youngest daughter sometimes calls me Pammster Hamster, and my father used to refer to me as Daddy's Mess (which he acknowledged as a reflection on his parenting skills rather than on me).
Still, I don't suffer from multi-personality disorder. Maybe because I once read an Indian proverb that said, "The child with many names is much loved," and I guess I believed it. Probably, too, because my own "many names" have always made me feel loved. Even Daddy's Mess and Booger. (I told you not to ask.)
In my head, each name brings with it a certain inflection, a tone -- a memory chip, if you will -- that evokes the faces and voices of people who've made me laugh, cry, giggle, sometimes raise my own voice, or sometimes just grin a little.
I don't know if no one ever really called me anything bad or if my sanguine brain just refuses to remember. I mean, I do recall the night a man jumped out of his little red sports car at a stoplight and raged, "Bitch!" directly at me because he'd finally passed and pulled in front of the truck he thought I was driving too slow. And I know "the girl with the big boobs" was an all-to0-common description of me in high school by the guys who couldn't remember the new girl's name. Still, all in all, I've never been verbally tattooed with something ugly enough, often enough, to have needed emotional laser treatment to have it removed.
Never been repeatedly called Bitch, as if it were my name.
Or Nigger. Nigger Lover.
Hurts to even write those words, but I know that there are those who live with those names daily -- or have lived with them so long that they still hear them everyday, even when there's no one around any longer to spew them. They are the walking wounded among us. Some are still oozing from open sores, some hemorrhaging from gaping holes. For others, the tourniquet is temporarily tightened while awaiting surgery yet to be scheduled.
Those of us who bear smooth skin, those who are unmarked those kinds of scars, or who perhaps do bear the marks and memories of past battles but now walk the road of healing and recovery, must choose to to look to our left and to our right for those who are not yet with us. We must train our eyes to see those who stand, dazed, just off the path, those who are waiting for someone to stop and pour the oil and wine over their wounds, bind them up, and then gently lead and guide them to a place of sanctuary. A place where old names are replaced with new ones. Beloved. Precious. Mine.
And we must choose also to stop the hurling of hatred where we are able. We must not look the other way when weapons of words are used against those who are vulnerable to such attacks.
Sound lofty and noble?
Good for a "devotional" thought but hard to put into practical practice?
Not at all. How about we start by stopping the forwarding of E-mails that flail against the short-comings -- real or imagined -- of one group or another? That pit one group against another?
How about refusing to listen to jokes that depend on the humiliation or stereo-typing of one ethnic group or another for their "punch"?
How about correcting the kid in the grocery store who slurs another kid or group of people, even when we're not that kid's parent and not a certified teacher? (We teachers already take license to correct kids everywhere, in and out of the classroom. You should try it; it's actually quite fun.)
How about being sensitive to the inferences we make in front of our children (and grandchildren) about those who differ from us.
How about refusing to publicly choose a political party for Jesus? (Believe it or not, I happen to know some fine folks in each party.)
Little things, people. Little things. But we can all start somewhere. One word at a time.
Remember: Beloved. Precious. Mine.