I almost cried today as I sat in a room full of people talking about their past and when they first became aware of race.
Most of the stories started with people talking about their parents, their grandparents, or where they grew up. It provides tremendous context to who we are and why we do the things we do. A few times I heard people say that their parents raised them to see all people as equal, that we are all the same inside. And it was only then, at the age of 32, that I realized just how special my parents are.
You see, my mom and dad certainly taught me that nobody is greater than or less than anyone else but they also taught me that life is not, in fact, fair. This wasn’t an excuse in my family, but a call for response. My parents taught me that all people have a story and that if we learn that story, it becomes harder to not have empathy for them and where they are. They taught me that when people are down and out, face difficult life circumstances, or have a physical or mental impairment, we don’t treat them the same as everyone else because they aren’t where everyone else is. Instead, we love them more deeply.
We stop to help when others don’t. We look people in their eyes when they talk to us. We listen to their hopes, fears and stories. We treat them with dignity and compassion. Dad modeled this over and over again as he stopped to lend a hand to someone (and I would, in my teenage angst, lament my lateness to wherever we were going to at the time). But every time, once we were finished I was glad we had stopped to help. My mom, prior to her MS, would volunteer and it was so memorable to me I even wrote a poem about it one Thanksgiving. Now, we schedule holiday meals around volunteering and driving people who have mobility issues to and from their family so they aren’t alone on the holidays.
And then there was what they taught me as we faced off against MS as a family. My mother’s courage, my dad’s compassion, my sister’s patience. Mom, regardless of her physical embodiment or perhaps because of it, serves an absolutely essential role in our family and she taught me how invaluable a person could be regardless of the challenges they face. I Corinthians 12:12 says, “The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ.” We needed all of us to make up the body of our family, and all persons are necessary in order to be the body of Christ the way we are called to be.
We are not all the same inside. We are a diverse range of experiences, embodiments, strengths and weaknesses that all speak to a larger and greater truth: without all of us, none of us can live as fully as we are meant to. And this is biblical, from I Corinthians 12:22-24: “In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity.”
We are not supposed to treat everyone equally, but treat everyone in a way that brings equality to everyone. That is what my parents taught me, building it into the very core of who I am and how I operate by constantly modeling it for my sister and I as we grew up. For that, I am extremely thankful.