A time when things were black and white
As a little girl, I grew up in a small rural town in Virginia. An incident that has stuck with me for over 35 years was that of a 5 year old who encountered her first issue of racism.
One sunny Saturday morning, my mother decided to take me to the local library to find a book or audio recording to help pass the time away. As we walked down the steps to the basement library, I saw one of my kindergarten classmates. I was happy to see her, and from the smile on her face and eagerness in her step, she was happy to see me too. As we walked towards each other, I looked up and saw the expression on her mother’s face. She had a frown and looked as if she wanted to erase me and my mother from existence. My classmate’s mother grabbed her and said “Don’t talk to niggers”. I didn’t quite understand what was going on, but somehow I knew it wasn’t good. My mom gave the woman an angered look, but just took my hand and said “C’mon Melanie! We don’t need to be around ignorance”.
We all went our separate ways, but I was still confused. My mother only explained the exchange as some people do not like others because of the color of their skin. It still didn’t make sense to me, but I’d learn exactly what that meant as I had other encounters in life. The thing is that for some, these experiences jaded them to the point of judging or treating a group of individuals the same as the one who caused the offense. Instead, I try to live my life in a manner where each person is judged on who they are.
And here is the kicker to this story. That little girl and her family moved away not long after the incident. I didn’t hear or see her again. However, approximately 30 years later, the very first person to request my friendship on Facebook was none other than the little girl from kindergarten all grown up. I was in utter shock and disbelief. First, I couldn’t believe that she still remembered me from all those years ago. Secondly, I figured that since her mother disapproved of me that I would be the last person that she would ever contact.
Since then, we’ve exchanged messages a few times, but nothing major. I’ve never mentioned the incident from the past and neither has she.
Maya Angelou and her legacy
I first heard about Maya Angelou my senior year of high school. I assisted in the school library during study hall. This included helping other students find books or reshelving those that had been returned or left behind. Sometimes I’d read the back cover or the first few pages as I’d put the books in place. And on one occasion, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was a selection that caught my attention. Some things I could relate to and others just opened a window of perspective on how others lived and endured.
By the time I graduated, I had read many of Ms. Angelou’s works including “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise”. The impact she made for me through her writing was one of confidence, encouragement, and pride. Throughout the years, I’ve seen, read, and heard many of her works. Even her quotes are profound and full of wisdom. The one particular quote that sticks with me is:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” ~Maya Angelou (1928 -2014)
And with that said, for me, Ms. Angelou will always be remembered.
Those who contribute and those gone but not forgotten
Piggybacking on the impact of quotes, I recently read Wes Moore’s book The Other Wes Moore. While the story was a good read, the quote below left me in deeper thought. Just as it impacted Wes while sitting in a chapel pew, it caused me to reflect on my own life while sitting at home reading the book.
“When it is time for you to leave this school, leave your job, or even leave this earth, you make sure you have worked hard to make sure it mattered you were ever here.” ~Colonel Billy Murphy
By the time I was 28 years old, I had lost both of my parents to illnesses. While growing up, my parents just seemed like mom and dad – nothing out of the norm or extraordinary. They led quiet lives, but didn’t hesitate to help others when they could. At each of their funerals, it was a huge turnout. I never thought that they knew so many people, or that they had touched their lives in ways I never imagined. It amazes me now as it did then, that even when we think that something is irrelevant or doesn’t matter, it could actually mean the world to someone else. The above quote, only illustrates that point as I’ve never met Wes, but his mentioning of the quote in his book sent an enlightening reminder to my mind and spirit that we matter and every life has a reason.
What this all means
Life is truly short. Whether we live in this world one day or 100+ years, the time God has granted us is precious and should be used wisely. It is sad when small things or even things from our past hold us back from enjoying life and the people who fill it.
Through my life experiences and witnessing those of others I have learned a few things…
- We should read the contents of “books” rather than judge only by their covers,
- We should stop shrugging off responsibilities and accountability or procrastinate on doing something, ANYTHING, to help change the world for the better and to help/love our fellow man,
- We should realize and appreciate the blessings in our lives that may come by accomplishments, opportunities, or just the mercy God shows us each day.
There is more to life than fame, fortune, or frivolities. We each have a purpose and our destinies on this earth do matter. The legacies we leave behind could be the jumpstart or impact to change for the better in the life of one or many. When someone says “I remember…” what will they remember about you?
XOXO, Melanie Dawnn
Photos: The Concierge Psychologist, Press Herald, Good Reads
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