By Sandi Davis, Natural Energy 4
This is Sandi Davis' latest newsletter. Sandi also offers Letters From the Liminal which is where she uses her Natural Energy 4ness to pull from her deep wisdom to inform the present. This newsletter addresses some of what is going on in the world today about race and unconsciousness. These are the opinions and experience of Sandi - we share this because it is an excellent example of Natural Energy 4 in action!
Hello Dear Ones,
I have a personal story to tell you. One I have not told publicly before. But given recent events in the United States, it seems a good time to share. It is a long one, so settle in.
I was really young. Maybe 4? I want to say 4, but I could have been 5. It is one of my first memories.
It was the late-ish 60's.
I was in a liquor store with my mom, she was buying milk and bread. I sometimes go back to this store in my dreams. I remember it was dim inside, old and worn looking. Familiar. We went here a lot. I can see the counter, it is too tall for me to look over but I can see the wall of bottles of alcohol behind it. Standing near by was a man. I asked my mom why he was covered in oil. She shushed me. I could feel her embarrassment. In the car she told me not to say things like that. I got the message to never point out what is different. Never ask questions. Pretend that you are not seeing what is there.
The man had skin the color and purity of a starless night sky. While I know I must have seen other black people, none were as dark as this man. Why did I think it was oil that made him so dark? My father was a mechanic. He often had hands covered in thick black motor oil that he would wash with some weird goopy stuff if he was at work or with Lava soap in the kitchen if he was at home. It was the only reference I had to skin that dark.
The child I was, left with no explanations and noticing the details children do, wondered how this man got oil so evenly over his body. Why it wasn't on his clothes when my dad always had oil on his clothes when working on cars. Why the palms of his hands were so light when my dad's were always black after fixing things.
I have wondered about this man through out my life. As a small one he was a puzzle I didn't understand. What I did understand is that what I noticed was wrong. What I said was wrong. Very wrong. I have spent my life trying not to say anything wrong like this again. I went on noticing things, but would not often speak them. While a necessary strategy as a kid, not so useful as an adult.
When I was old enough to realize that this man was not covered in oil but that this was the color of his skin, I was ashamed. That sick kind of queasiness of shame would flood me when thought about thinking this man dirty when he wasn't. I was wrong to notice, I was wrong to speak it, most of all I was an awful person to be so wrong about him. So I tried to not notice differences in people. I tried to make it not matter. Really I was trying to erase the identity and lived experience of those who did not look like me. I have no idea how horribly I've failed, what kind or how much hurt this has caused, how much I missed, because when you can not talk about something you can not know it.
I still think of this man. I wonder who he is. If he is still alive. What his name is. If he heard me that day. If he did, what it felt like to have a small white child wonder why he was dirty. Why her mother didn't explain. If it mattered to him.
I now know that my innocence was not the problem. When I think of this now I feel such deep sadness and grief. For the younger me whose curiosity about the people in her world was shut down and made scary. That I live in a world where my only reference for the color of his skin was something dirty. That this man may have been made uncomfortable or worse. That he has had to carry the weight of so much that is not his.
Last night I was up at 3am. I could not sleep. While not unusual for me, these past nights since Charlottesville have been different. Something is working its way with me, most deeply in the quiet of night. I swirled in all my thoughts and feelings about this country, about race and white supremacy, about privilege and complicity, about what to say, if to say, how to say...what? What is mine to say? Because now I know that speaking what I see is important, not shameful.
This man from so long ago came like a visitation last night, floating up from the place deep inside that holds the treasures of my experience. Those things I have lived that have marked me, that have become the story of me. Not all shiny and pretty, some quite harsh and painful, but all fundamental to the unfolding of me.
I sat with my memory of him and this first pivotal experience of race. This is where I return to understand it all. To know where it started in my life. The difference between "us" and "them". To untangle the knot of how it fits with the uprising of hate now raging. Hate not new, but freshly ignited. Each time I come back here a new layer of what I am now willing to see is revealed.
There are so many who work on a more public, grander scale about this. Who are so much more articulate and wise about how we got here and why we stay here. About how we can, how we need to heal and shift this part of who we are as Americans, as human beings. I can donate and raise my voice and educate myself and cry and rage and love and do better.
But what I am really good at, most skilled and devotedly tenacious at, is seeing and holding and making holy these small, tiny moments that change us. When in a second a choice is made (he is different), a thought is spoken (why is he covered in oil?), an insight comes (It is wrong to notice), and the world is different (do not speak of uncomfortable things).
Some moments are so painful we dare not see them. Others so glorious they take center stage. Some we construct whole personas around to protect them. Most seemingly so ordinary that they get passed by as inconsequential, like the dust that makes up atmosphere. Until that dust gets too thick and we hone in, slow down, unfold what is held in that tiny moment. When I remember and honor that each of us have these moments where life changed, where someone replaced compassion with hate, or understanding with violence, or peace with war for what ever reason, I know the choice can be make to go back and reclaim the treasure in that moment. To look at the unseeable and integrate it. To see the mistake, the misperception, the harm. To see truth that has been hidden. To acknowledge the moment it all changed because it set the course. So you can choose again. Claim your voice. To fight to make it better. Give back what is not yours to carry. To change. Easy? Mostly not. Deep shadow and treacherous self lies live in the places we resist going. But it is holy making. Treasure reaping. World healing.
I don't know if this is the right or wrong story to tell. If it is helpful or not. That is not true. I do know. This story, and your story of tiny moments that changed you, deserve to be told. To be understood. To be included in the greater story of who we are together. It is part of our collective healing as much as any march or protest. It is necessary so we can see each other and know each other. So we can see race and honor it. So we can know the ground that formed us.
Find your stories. Mine them for treasure. Find those who want to hear your stories. Who can honor them. Make them the holy testament of you. Hear the stories of others. Especially those that are different from you.
Racism is so tightly woven into the fabric of this nation that to tease it out will change who we are. I pray we are ready for this. I don't have any easy answers but I offer the story of a young white girl and the day she learned about race. How that moment limited how she could be with people until she let it teach her who she wanted to be with people.
We all have a story of race. May we be able to know our own and hear those of others with compassion and care.
I am holding love and healing for Charlottesville and all of us.