History, Hug

I’m thinking a lot right now about a phrase Lucille Clifton offered last night. She kept stressing that humans, each and every one of us, are complex beings. And too often, we forget this. We dismiss it.

Right now, I’m feeling sorry for the world. I worry about the world, about us. I’m wondering how many ways we can cause one another to suffer, and in counting I lose track.

Tonight, I wonder about myself. For as much as I worry about the world, I worry about myself as well. I’m a selfish bastard many days, and this thought is with me tonight. Walking home, I felt lonely and defeated, for no real reason at all. After work, I started to slide into a sadness that only seems to come when there are thunderstorms about. The sky was dark and the air smelled damp, like things rotting. Lonely is a loaded word, but that’s how I felt walking down the street. Removed. Distant. Lonely.

Right now – sitting in front of my computer, separated from that walk by several hours, I’m still fighting to shake that sadness. Who am I to feel this sort of self-pity? My own worries and sadness seem so insignificant, so miniscule compared to the real hurt and suffering experienced by so many others in the world. Compared to that, who am I to complain? I should consider myself lucky, beause I am. Blessed, even.

But here I am, feeling sad and feeling sorry for myself. And at the same time, I feel sad and sorry for the world as well. I’m thinking about the future, and how I want very much to be loved in the same way that I hope to love the world some day: freely and unconditionally.

It’s strange to be moving back and forth between my small self and the wide world. I’m thinking about both and worrying about both in equal measure. I guess this makes me a complex human being too. Does this sound conceited? It sort of does, but I’m really just trying to write down what I’m thinking here.

I watched the news briefly tonight, and there’s a lot of talk about what we’re capable of doing to one another. And in hearing these stories, I want to tell you a story. This one belongs to Lucille Clifton, who told it to us last night. And since I was there it’s now, in some ways, my story. And since I’m telling it here and you’re reading this, I’m hoping it becomes your story too.

Lucille Clifton was sitting on a chair on stage, microphone in her left hand and her right hand pushing down on her knee. She talked about a class she taught called “Unpopular American History.” The students in the class were very diverse, and from a wide array of backgrounds – economically, geographically, socially.

She told us how, at the end of each class, she would have the students gather in a circle and hold hands. And they would take turns, one after the other, and say something that was on their mind. A word. A phrase. Anything. They just spoke what they thought or felt at the time, there in a circle, holding hands.

There was one man near the end who she described as a “dude.” He was a young black man, and when it was his turn to speak he said something akin to “Peace out.” Hearing Clifton describe him, he sounded incredibly young. A little gruff. Just going about the exercise.

To his right was a young white man. And when it became his turn, he said that he felt a little worried about what he wanted to say. But decided to do it anyway. And when everyone turned to look at him, he said that here – standing in that circle – it was the first time he had ever touched a black person.

And this is the great part, and you could feel it in the audience and you could hear it in Clifton’s voice as she described what happened next. The “dude” heard what was said and broke the circle. He let go of everyone’s hands and turned around to face this man who, just then, had confessed that this was the first time he had ever touched another black person.

He threw out his arms and opened them wide. And when the young white man walked into the young black man’s arms, the two of them stood there, holding one another.

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  1. Stumbled across this after googling ‘nicest place on the internet’. What a wonderful story.

    Jessica Reply

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