I wonder how she feels in her brown skin. I wonder how her white father feels as he regards her and reflects upon her future. The last few days I have read my black friends’ Facebook posts with great interest, sharing their grief and their anger. Many tell stories I haven’t heard before of learning to deal with police whose fear of black males so often leads to violence and even murder. Mothers reluctantly telling sons they must face the wall with hands interlaced behind their head whenever engaging with an officer. Sons who patiently obey and still become victims of police brutality. Fathers emasculated by their inability to protect their children…
I finish what I can of my eggs, throw out the waxed paper bowl and head toward the lobby. As I’m filling up my water bottle, Sam the shuttle driver greets my wife and I cheerily. He notices we’re looking a lot happier than we were yesterday, when he picked us up in tears from the airport. This is supposed to be the first day of our honeymoon. After enjoying so much support and blessings over the past month it was a hard dose of reality when we were firmly removed from our plane just as the doors were closing for take-off due to a visa complication. We managed to work out an itinerary change with the help of a sweet customer service agent who felt like a black version of my aunt. She called us honey, but told us that even though she’d love to, she couldn’t upgrade us to first class. We agreed that these days it’s all about money and sighed in unison.
When we arrived at the Korea Air counter an English mum checked us in, regarding us sternly as we related our saga. After looking over our records she began to cluck over a breach in protocol: somehow we’d been upgraded to Prestige Class without paying for it. She seemed quite concerned about that and for a while she seemed intent on downgrading us. While the outcome was in doubt, I became aware of my attachment to Prestige, and my fear of losing this luxury that I’d learned of only minutes earlier. In spite of our nervousness, together with my wife we stayed persistent but calm. Eventually she decided that any repercussions of this anomaly would fall on yesterday’s agent and as she proceeded to check us in her demeanor improved considerably. By the time we had our boarding passes in hand she was helping us with immigration tips, double checking to make sure our luggage would be flying with us and sharing her disillusionment with the lackadaisical British youth and their inability to counter the elder conservatives in the disastrous BREXIT vote.
So we managed to breathe through the fear, and now I’m writing this reclined in Prestige Class somewhere over northwestern Canada, en route to Bali via South Korea. And I’m reflecting once again on the blessings overflowing from my cup, and the nature of fear. This flight is a mere 13 hours - a blink of an eye compared to the life of prestige my white skin and Y chromosome have afforded me. Yet my fear of losing it was real. Imagine the fear some people feel over losing these larger privileges. Fear leads large groups of people to fight tooth and nail to deny that their own prestige exists (ALL lives matter), and to resist the movements that seek to extend the rights and privileges to all.
Where does all this fear lead us? What do we do with it? How can we continue to move forward and build a better world without opening up to new possibilities? I believe that sometimes to move forward we must look backward to see the stories our ancestors told to help their communities through crisis and struggle. In our hometown in East Tennessee we’ve had the privilege to have Yona FrenchHawk, a Cherokee elder, come to Seven Springs to share some of the stories that helped his nation survive multiple attempts at genocide. Though I cannot hope to convey even a tenth of what Yona shared with us through his songs and fireside stories, I feel compelled to write here some small part of it.
In the early times there was a village in a valley.
One night a thunderous lightning strike announces a presence across the valley in the forest.
The village is uneasy, calling council to decide how to respond.
The greatest hunter Kanati yearns to track and battle this beast.
The elder medicine man tells him it is not the time.
The next night the same spot is struck again.
Again the medicine man advises against action.
Once again in the dark of a new moon lighting flashes, roaring down upon the same clearing.
Upon the third strike the medicine man advises action.
Kanati crosses the valley to the circle of grass where he confronts a huge black bear.
As they face off across a circular clearing the bear challenges the hunter:
“Why must you hunt me?
“Because I do not understand you.” Replies Kanati.
“You need not know me for us to live in peace.” Replies the bear.
Yet Kanati will not relent and the deadly circular dance begins.
As they attack and evade their energies intertwine.
Spirits and other forces are called in, intensifying the vortex.
The battle raises them up into the sky until they can no longer be seen.
The village, having seen them disappear into the heavens, mourns their loss
After some time, once again there is a thunderous announcement in the forest
This time the medicine man hikes to the clearing where the battle took place.
Opposite him an enormous figure emerges from the trees.
The half bear half man sings him a song.
So that he may sing it with the village.
It is a song that confronts fear.
By singing it loudly we show creator we are thankful for our lessons.
We are looking forward to the next challenges, and the learning they will bring.
He tells the Medicine man his name and melts back into the woods.
He is out there in the deep forest, challenging us to face our fears and learn from them.
If you listen you can hear him.
If you look you can see him.
If you breathe you can smell him.
If you touch you can feel him.
If you concentrate you can taste him.
If you surrender, you can sense his love.
This spirit of the forest is Tsul 'Kalu, the great lord of the game, also known as Bigfoot.
Back in the Atlanta hotel’s breakfast buffet the little girl with a white father and a black mother stares blankly at a CNN feed. Is she afraid of what is coming? Is her father afraid for her safety? Is her mother afraid of the world her daughter will inherit? I want to teach them this song - but I can’t even remember it. Who will tell her this story? How will we learn the courage we need to face the massive challenges that are upon us? How will we face our fear of the unknown, and converge with it to build something bigger and better?