I’m going to be getting more and more of these emails.
Announcements of people’s memorial services. People I knew when I was coming up, as they say.
“You don’t need to be afraid of a hug. It’s all right.” One of the executives in the anti-poverty agency where I had just started working in 1976 reached out to me and when I stepped back, he laughed. “It’s all right.”
“You don’t need to be afraid of me, girl.” He laughed a big laugh.
He was welcoming me. Joking with me. Treating me like a comrade. Like family. A black man with a long face, a serious look except when he wasn’t, a person totally comfortable in his blackness. A contrast to me, trying to close the zipper on my white skin. Always uncomfortable. Never knowing which way to lean – in or out. Thinking I shouldn’t notice that everyone but me was black but hardly noticing anything else.
Well, he died right after Christmas. I haven’t seen him in years. The last time was at the post office. He seemed smaller, didn’t loom so large. He was familiar, like a fraternity brother, we had a shared history, fought the same demons, hugged with victories, patted each other on the back. He accepted me, welcomed me.
I never forgot it, him telling me not to be afraid. Of being white. Of being with black people. Of being myself. Of belonging.
His service is Saturday. I should go.