The scalding and the blessing

It’s been a few days since my last post, and what a busy few days it’s been! Clearly, the big news is a new president-elect here in America! And I’m quite sure there’s very little I can say about that which hasn’t already been said — although that rarely stops me from saying something anyways.

So, here’s what popped into my mind.

In 1972, when I was sixteen, I left my home in Montreal and lived in a very small town in Nova Scotia for a time. One day a friend of mine asked me to meet for a coffee and I said sure, why don’t we meet at the lunch counter in the hotel on the main drag.

He paused for a moment and then said, “I can’t go in there.”

Now, I assumed he was having some sort of a beef with one of the folks who worked there. It was a really small town, and sometimes disagreements simmered a while before resolving themselves. I fancied myself something of a mediator in such matters, and so I asked him why not.

He just looked at me, as though I had dropped in from some other planet, where clearly the IQ was considerably lower than here on earth. “I just can’t,” he said.

Never one to pick up on a cue, I persisted. “But why not? Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad.”

He reminded me of the hotel’s name. The B________e”And so?” I said.

“Doesn’t that have kind of a southern ring to it?” His smile was utterly without humor.

Southern? “This is Canada,” I said.

“Maybe, but they won’t serve blacks there, and I don’t feel like getting my head bashed in,” he said. I will never forget the look on my friend’s face. Humiliation. Rage. Grief. Shame, although God knows, it was not he who ought to have felt shame. Pride. Confusion. But of these, perhaps the greatest was simple pain. Combined, there is no single word to contain the emotions I saw in his face. It was scalding.

1972. Canada.

And so my melancholy education began and so did the stripping away of my arrogant naiveté.

I cried like a baby on election night, and I suspect, wherever he is, my old friend did as well, but I also know that I still can’t really feel or understand what he felt, on either that day so long ago, or this recent most historic, most transforming, of evenings. However, I do believe that there now exists a true possibility of transcending (not forgetting) a profane and evil history. I’m just as grateful as I can be to all these Americans who audaciously stood up for hope instead of cynicism, for optimism instead of fear.

I don’t know where my friend is now. We lost touch many years ago, but wherever he is, I raise my coffee cup to him. Because of him, I will never forget. Because of that moment, faced with an agony I could not soothe, my understanding was, even if only slightly, deepened, and thus, this moment is all the more blessed.

Thank you.

Copyright 2008 Lauren B. Davis For permissions:

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