Sunday morning and no performance until next Friday and I feel slightly crazed after about a million hours of sleep and I just read an article in the paper about a woman who was raped in Tallahassee in 1959 and it was ground-breaking because the rapists actually got convicted and she was black and they were white.
I cried, reading the article. I cried for the girl who 52 years ago was brave enough to sit in court and defend herself against attorneys who said things like, "Who are you going to believe, these four men or that nigger wench?"
I cry again, just writing that. That is such an ugly word and I will not shy away from using it when it is used to show the ignorant hatred of those who used it then, or use it now. No. I will not.
This is the way it was then.
And you know what? It's not just because she was black that she had to go through questioning about her virginity before the rape or how much she struggled against four men with a gun and a knife, it's also because she was a woman.
Those of you who were born after the sixties have no idea what it used to be like, either in terms of race or feminism. White men may still rule the world but back in the really bad old days if you weren't a white man, you really didn't have shit for rights and you didn't really have shit for hopes of getting too far in this country either. That's the ugly way it was.
Of course there were exceptions but the people who made it out of the deeply entrenched traps of gender and race roles were vilified and let's face it- frequently assassinated.
Okay. This could get really long and ugly. It's a beautiful day here. Every day seems more glorious as spring races towards us. It's already over seventy and my garden is calling me. The fire ants want my flesh, the dirt wants my fingers.
I still have tears in my eyes and I'm thinking about a house I lived in as a girl and I was probably about twelve and on the outside, the family in that house looked so good. A mother, a father, a girl, a boy, then a much-wanted baby came along. The father worked at the local community college. The mother stayed home with the children. The girl was a straight-A student, a Girl Scout. She had friends and she ate books like a Sumo wrestler eats his calories. And no one knew what was going on at bedtime in that house, the quiet desperate fear the girl felt, the underlying insanity that never for a second dissipated.
There was one place in that house where the girl felt safe.
It was an added-on basic bathroom in the garage. No frills whatsoever. A toilet, a shower, a sink. Wooden walls.
And a hook-and-eye latch on the thick wood door.
The girl would go in there and lock that latch and read and feel safe. No one could get in there without great effort. Not even her stepfather.
The girl, of course, was me. And recently I was reading a book called The Help by Kathryn Stockett and it's about the women who lived in the south during the sixties, both white women who had maids, always African-American women, and those women themselves, the help, as it were. My mother had a maid who would come in once or twice a week and she needed the help to keep her house up to the standards required in those days. It was a normal thing, it was the way it was. And when I was reading that book, I learned that one of the big issues in those days was having a bathroom for the help that no one but the black maid used. And I thought about that bathroom built onto that garage in Winter Haven and it hit me with great force that that bathroom was probably built for the maid's use, not by us, because we were only renting, but by someone who came before us. And this was a very modest house. Two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, a living room, a dining area and a sort of pass-through room to the garage where my brother slept.
But still- that bathroom.
A toilet. A shower. A sink. Plain, unpainted wooden walls.
A latch that pulled that thick door shut and made a safe, enclosed space for a little girl.
Where am I going with this?
I guess I am trying to talk about the way things have changed. I hope. That no longer are there water fountains with signs that say Colored. That women, whether they are white or black, can testify in a rape case without their virginity being brought into question. That slowly over the years, people other than white men can not only count on laws to protect them, they can MAKE those laws. They can enforce them.
That little girls can find other safe places rather than a wooden built-on bathroom behind a garage to go to for protection against an abuser.
That if a black woman is raped by four white men, it is not a world-shaking event for her rapists to be brought to justice.
Don't get me wrong. I don't think the playing field is anywhere near equal yet. Fear is still rampant for women, for people of races other than the white one, for children.
But. Things are changing. We ain't there yet but maybe, some day, we'll get there.
Please god. Let us get there.
It's Sunday. I had a wonderful time last night, playing Truvy in a community theater. My husband, some of my kids, some of my friends were there. This morning is too beautiful to bear. I made pancakes and now I'm going to go work in the dirt. The birds are singing their hearts out and I can only imagine the lovin' and nest-buildin' going on. I know the frogs are waking up in their winter mud beds. The simplest, richest life I can imagine- I am living it.
And all of us should be able to ask for this much. ALL OF US.
A place to live, food to eat, a little chance at doing things we love, freedom from fear for ourselves and our loved ones whether we are white or black or men or women or children. Whether we are gay or straight or bisexual or transgendered. Whether we are Methodist or Baptist or Muslim or atheist. Whether we live in the United States or in Egypt or anywhere on this planet.
So very basic. I haven't even gone into the right to a decent education or health care or any of that which of course is important too.
No. Just the right to live a plain, simple life in the way we see fit without being held back, molested, misused or abused.
The right to set our foot down on this earth and say, "I belong here as much as anyone else and my life is as important as any other person's on this earth."
And this morning I give great thanks and great tribute to the people who stood their ground, who were treated as less than equal and who refused to accept that, no matter how impossibly difficult it was.
And I'm also thinking about how we are still presented with situations- all of us!- in which we can keep our mouths shut and get along by going along or we can stand up and speak out and we can call foul and bullshit when it is required.
We can change the world, one tiny word, one tiny step, at a time. Those steps may be so small as to be almost invisible but added up, they are as big as the world which we are trying to change.
I swear it.
I am believing in good this morning and yet, quite awake to the awareness that there is still great wrongness in this world. I will rejoice in the one, I will not close my eyes to the other.
All right. Batshit Crazy sermon over.
I am thinking our hymn today should quite possibly be this:
Shocking then, shocking now.
The truth often is.
Which doesn't mean we should be afraid of it.
Which doesn't mean we should ignore it.
Which doesn't mean we can't speak it.
My arms are in the air and I'm saying "Hallelujah!"ReplyDelete
I have my own sermon over at the satellite church, Ms. Moon -- and it happens, actually to be a weird offshoot of yours.
Beautiful sermon, touches my heart.ReplyDelete
Mary, I am humbled and in awe of your simply spiritual and powerful writing. No batshit Crazy about it, girl, you have a powerfully beautiful voice for reasoned discontent with all things unfair and mean. Glorius words.ReplyDelete
And now, now I'm ready for my Sunday.
Tough for me to read -you know why. But it sounds like you've had an eventful day already, and I'm glad you're going to clear your head in the good dirt.ReplyDelete
Mary...oh Mary...how you humble me. This is why I read you because of your honesty, your passion, your "put it out and deal with it" words. No fear, no fear...open and clear honesty. Your sermon heard loud and clear!ReplyDelete
When I feel your words from your childhood I am in awe of the woman you became. You have grit and gumption but you have tenderness and deep conviction with the family you and Mr. Moon have. No one, not one blasted person will take that ever away. I stand and applaud you.
The Help...a book that floored me. A book that hit home...and if you haven't heard the audio of it...do. Hearing it read meant more than my reading it and yet it makes me want to read it all over again.
every tiny step. every brave thought...every right action. i too have spent my sunday writing about one more injustice.ReplyDelete
i am off to read elizabeth's sermon too.
i love picturing you in the garden...the feel of the earth entering you. your hands forming miracles, the circle of love that now protects you.
i too carry you in my heart.
(my word verification is proud)
Ah. Yes, like E said, Hallelujah. And I'm glad she spelled it for me.ReplyDelete
That bathroom, and you locking yourself away in it, reading reading reading, trying to find some safety and solace, just about breaks my heart. You realizing suddenly that it was probably made for the black "help" is even more powerful, especially when paired with the Yoko and John song. The HELP bathroom.
Oh Mary, I remember from last year how you're gardening adventures helped jump start my own. I am having the same exact experience now as you talk about the dirt and getting your spring garden in. Still freezing and snow covered here, but I love thinking of you in the garden, minus the bastard ants.
Love to you today. Thanks for being so bright and true.
Elizabeth- Funny how often we are thinking along similar lines, isn't it?ReplyDelete
Lora- I want this to be a better world for your beautiful children.
Binky- Are you B. Boy? Thank-you, baby. I appreciate that. I know your heart and it is such a good one. Always.
Lisa- You're such a dear. Thank-you.
SJ- Well. There are different circumstances for all of us. I swear to you, this is true.
Love you, honey.
Ellen- That book- well, I admit- I didn't finish it. I feel like I lived it. Maybe it shamed me. No, I never had a maid. But I remember those women who came and cleaned...
I remember knowing that something was not right there.
rebecca- Yes. You wrote so beautifully about a child of god. Another person whose foot belonged to walk on this planet as much as anyone else's and who died in that walk.
Bethany- If you were here you would burst with the joy of the weather. I swear. I am focusing on that today and it is far too easy.
Love you, honey.
Exactly right, Ms. Moon! Loved this post.ReplyDelete
I read, The Help, last year and liked it very much. I was sad to be done with the book when I finished reading it and wanted more. It's simply written, but says so much at the same time, doesn't it?
yes. ten thousand yeses.ReplyDelete
one word at a time. one step. one day.
I like your sermons.
Amen! And thank you through my tears.ReplyDelete
Nicole- I need to go back and read the rest of it. Sigh...ReplyDelete
Laura- Oh. I am so glad.
Jo- Your heart takes it all in. I know that. Love you, dear.
I still see so much prejudice around. It has gotten better. Thankful for that. But it is still there, hidden and ugly. One can put a pretty coating on it, trying to cover it up, but in the end it will come out. That hateful bigotry and prejudice will eventually come out. Women and people of color still are fighting the old ways of thinking. But eventually they will out think and outlive the white males.ReplyDelete
You are my Atticus Finch. I love you.ReplyDelete
I kept checking for your sermon Sunday...I look forward to it so much. I read it aloud to A and then we listened to John and Yoko and then Sunday was complete.ReplyDelete
So why didn't I respond sooner...I'm sure I distracted by something. Probably snow removal or dog door duty.
In the grand scheme of things, the sixties really isn't that long ago. People don't pay enough attention to history. No wonder they don't appreciate all they have now.
What a video! I'd never actually SEEN him sing it.ReplyDelete
One of the most beautiful and touching sermons I have ever come across. Yes.ReplyDelete