Last week, there was a memorial service for a sweet lady who had lost her fight with Alzheimer’s after far too long (though any length of time is far too long to witness the horrors of this heartless disease.) I helped to carry her casket in & out of the church, spoke at this service, and stayed afterwards to share a meal with the family. I really did love her and would be happy to tell you why, but this post isn’t going to be too much about her at all. Instead, it’ll be several observations and a final thought or 2.
We almost got into an accident less than a mile from the church. My son has been driving on his own less than a month – he’s a good driver who made a mistake and it is nothing short of a miracle that we didn’t collide with the other. I cringed as the metal should have loudly twisted but didn’t. I saw every second and still can’t begin to explain how it is possible that we avoided this angry mess, so I won’t try. We’ll just leave this here.
She was Puerto Rican, and I am not. She speaks Spanish exclusively, and as much as I like to brag that I speak fluent Spanish, it’s simply not true. I had 1 year in high school almost 30 years ago and only remember autobus, caca, hola and senorita. So, she would see me and light up, grab my face and kiss my cheeks, then she’d talk to me like we were old friends. I’d nod and smile. It didn’t really matter, we understood each other even as we didn’t understand the words the other spoke. The Spirit speaks, and that is very often enough.
We first passed by the church, called New Birth, because we couldn’t read the sign. Then when we arrived, most of the people there were family, Puerto Rican and exclusively Spanish-speaking, so I required a translator. This was my first experience with translation and my translator was a very short, lovely woman named Miranda. The passion I have for everything comes pouring out of my mouth quickly, like water. As you may or may not know, a fast talker and translation (even with as gifted a translator as Miranda) do not always make the happiest combination. It wasn’t easy for me or for her, we stepped on each other, fumbled for words through awkward pauses, but it absolutely worked out, tears and celebration and wide open hearts are universal.
The service was 4 hours long, with singing, sermons, shouting, laughing, sobbing, and everything in between. In the culture I am familiar with, we search for excuses not to attend funerals but when we have to, we are quiet, reserved, and try to fake whatever emotions we deem “appropriate.” This was not the culture I am familiar with.
The food was Spanish and amazing, especially this coconut rice that I’m still thinking about.
Anyway, the reason racism is so dumb is that coconut rice. It’s not what I’m used to, it’s not apple pie and cheeseburgers. The funeral wasn’t what I’m used to, it’s not quiet, dark, and too often inauthentic. The language wasn’t what I’m used to, isn’t what I even understand, it’s not American English. They’re also a big part of the reason tolerance is pretty ridiculous, too. Here is the definition of tolerance: the capacity to endure continued subjection to something, especially a drug, transplant, antigen, or environmental conditions, without adverse reaction.
The capacity to endure something without adverse reaction? Like a cobweb or vegetables? So, the bar we’re setting is that I can endure a different sex, color, faith, culture without getting hives or committing a violent crime? Endure your language? Endure your food? Endure you?
Is it the best we can do that I simply endure another human being without adverse reaction? What are we doing when that is the expectation or, worse, the hope?
I didn’t endure this service, and they certainly didn’t endure me. We loved each other, we loved each other’s skin tones, practices, & accents. We hugged each other and cried in our multicultural shoulders, then we laughed in our diverse ethnicities.
Why would we want to be the same? And why in the world would we want to pretend we aren’t different? It’s the different flavors that make everything taste so good, the various textures that make living feel so good. Nothing was endured without adverse reaction, no one was discriminated against. The call isn’t colorblindness, it’s brilliant, vivid color-fullness. We are different and we are wonderful. We loved this woman, each other, each other’s everything, and the same God that created all of it.