The Grace of Silence

by Michele Norris

Even in the most terrifying moments at a sterile hospital, there is some comfort in knowing that a world you recognize is just outside and beyond the parking garage. You can fixate on a familiar image as a doctor shaves years off your life with each sentence. He can talk all he wants about therapies and opera­tions, but you’re thinking of the parking lot where you taught your daughter to drive, or the gas station that uses red reflective press-on letters to spell out a different Bible verse each week, like “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” While the doctor yammers on, you’re thinking of the grizzled gas sta­tion attendant who climbs the ladder to change the sign, and wondering what pearl of wisdom he might offer in light of the news you just got.

In Fort Wayne, in a large hospital in an unfamiliar city, we were confronting an unknown illness that had swiftly robbed my father of his ability to carry out the most basic functions. We were looking at complicated surgery and, at best, a long and complex recovery, so the doctors suggested that we quickly move Dad back to Minnesota, where he could be treated closer to home.

We wanted to get Dad on the first flight to the Twin Cities, but his gait was unsteady and he seemed increasingly disori­ented. He clutched my arm as we walked through the airport; he kept shooting me tight little smiles: reassurance. By now his speech was so slurred that only I could understand him, and so labored that he wasn’t able even to whisper.

At the airport we sat across from two stout middle-aged blond women with wet-set curls and matching pink satin jack­ets. 

I remember them so well because they were sitting next to a large Amish or Mennonite family constantly rifling through their pocketbooks for mirrored compacts, then checking their makeup or blotting their lipstick.

When my dad tried to lean toward me to ask a question, his words sputtered forth like bricks tumbling from a shelf. The satin dolls found it hard to mind their own business. They stared and pointed every time Dad attempted to speak. They didn’t try to hide their disparagement, one of them harrumph­ing loud enough for anyone to hear, “Goodness sakes, it’s not even noon yet!”

After spending a lifetime trying to be a model minority — one of the few black men in his neighborhood, at his workplace, or on his daughters’ school committees — my father now sat facing the condemnation of the two blond scolds. They had apparently concluded that he was an early morning lush instead of a gray-haired man fighting a losing battle with a devastating disease.

Here is the conundrum of racism. You know it’s there, but you can’t prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, how it colors a par­ticular situation. 

I do know this: the fact that they were white women added mightily to my father’s humiliation. I knew my father felt the sting of their judgment.

The jut of his chin showed indignation, but the sag of his shoulders and the crease in his brow conveyed something dif­ferent. Something hovering between anger and shame. There was also, however, a hint of grace. I see that now that I have come to understand my father better, as a man who was always in tight control of his emotions. I believe now that he was trying not just to salvage his dignity but also to absolve the two women from dishonor.

The aphorism “Kill them with kindness” might have been penned with a man like Belvin Norris Jr. in mind. By fiddling with his wrist he was saying, “If only they knew,” rather than “Shame on you.”

Excerpt from The Grace of Silence by Michele Norris Copyright 2010 by Michele Norris. Michele is one of the most trusted voices in American Journalism. Her voice informs, engages and enlightens listeners with thoughtful interviews and in depth reporting as one of the hosts of National Public Radio’s (NPR) “All Things Considered

About awakinOAK

Intentionally located in east Oakland -- to, on the one hand, overcome institutionalized violence and on the other hand, be showered by the multicultural love and wisdom from neighbors-- this small community strives for integral nonviolence and supports activities that foster fearlessness, courage, autonomy, unconditional love and compassion for all beings. Every Friday for the last 10 years, the anchors of Awakin Oakland, host "Wednesdays on Fridays", an open-house meditation night that was inspired by a family in Santa Clara who has been doing this for close to 23 years [2020] No teachers or gurus. No set agendas or proposed beliefs either. Just one strong principle -- when you change within, the world changes
This entry was posted in ahimsa, ARTivism, Awakin Oakland, fearlessness, kindness, noncooperation, Peace Army, soulforce, WednesdaysOnTuesdays, wisdom and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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