Thursday, November 15, 2007

"Speechifying" can be quite wonderful ...

Yesterday we laid Ethel to rest from Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church in Richmond. The spirited celebration of her life would have pleased her. From the rhythms of the African drums that began the church service -- the magnificent gospel singing from her church members. It all set the stage for a four-hour long celebration (counting the service, the graveside ceremony, and the repast) that was worthy of this very special woman.

Met her son, Kariti Hartman, for the first time -- with plans to come together to explore what the future may hold for her little hotel and its colorful history.

Today I fulfilled a longtime commitment to be the luncheon speaker at Valley Bible Church in the nearby town of Hercules. What an honor to be the centerpiece of a well-planned event that -- obviously -- was built around you and your subject. The ladies brought artifacts related to World War II (i.e., vintage sheet music, miniature posters from the homefront, -- a trunk that held the army uniform, hat, personal papers from one woman's late father). Much thought had gone into this luncheon. Tables were decorated for Thanksgiving and a complete turkey with-all-the-trimmings dinner was served.

I spoke about the park for about thirty minutes to an audience of women who -- in many cases -- might have been the ages of my own children. It is often disconcerting to look out on the faces of older women with white hair and realize that -- except for two -- all had been born after World War II. It was their parents who served in the war and in the war industries. Strange ... .

Also, there were only two women of color in the audience; one Asian and the other African American. I changed not a word of my talk. The most important lesson I believe I've learned over this past year is that the trick is to talk until you run out of truth -- then stop! The truth for me is highly colored by my experience as a black woman -- so that's what forms the core of my stories. To the extent that I'm able to communicate the feelings of that experience -- those stories are universal. The knowing nods around the room, are enough to validate my life experience.

I'm more certain than ever that the secret is in being authentic. The women of the Daughters of the American Revolution were authentic. These women were pious, believing, born-again dedicated-to-Jesus members of the Valley Bible Church. They, too, are authentic. I share few of their beliefs -- except that -- I, too, am authentic. Agnostic, at times -- Atheist, but authentic. Therefore we had no problem communicating across the superficial barriers of race, religion, or politics. There is surely enough shared human experience to celebrate. Today -- as I did at Ethel's funeral -- I felt envious of the certainty I saw all around me. To be surrounded by the kind of faith that provides indisputable answers to the great questions of life leaves me in awe. I felt it again today as I joined the women of Valley Bible Church in singing hymns of praise and giving thanks. And I felt a deep kinship and an "at homeness" that has stayed with me throughout the rest of the day.

It was a beautiful afternoon.

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