The incident happened about a week ago and is only now coming into consciousness ...
Commentaries at the two o'clock programs are beginning to draw a small following. I've started to notice people who've been in those audiences a number of times, bringing friends and relatives. Invariably there's a growing closeness as my 15-20 minute talk comes to an end, and people begin to file out past me -- each obviously moved by my words. I'm not yet comfortable with the deep feelings that are tapped into as we go through what has become a parting ritual -- I stand against the wall on the stairway as they're leaving - with almost everyone pausing to say a personal word or two -- and as the last person moves past, with head down I exit through the west stairway -- retrieve my belongings from the drawer in the upstairs office -- and bolt for the parking lot. The emotions that rise with the memories is sometimes draining, and I'm suddenly tired. Sometimes I sit in my car for a time before driving into the afternoon traffic for home. How a 45-minute program which includes a 16-minute film can produce such intensity remains a mystery ... .
Without realizing it, I'm discovering the reason why I'm still here. Whenever some one asks, "how'd it go today, my answer is usually, "okay, I guess," but without an ability to say precisely what went on.
Time has taught me that how people in that little theater feel about me is far less important than how they feel about themselves as the result of my work. Sound crazy? Not so. I truly believe that the reason that -- though there are all races represented in the room -- they tend to have a similar emotional response to my stories. Maybe it's because each hears him/herself somewhere within. Ultimately, the social changes that have occurred over a lifetime are largely due to enough of us, together, bending in the direction of fairness and justice so that we've changed society in significant ways, and that we continue to do so.
Then it happened:
In the middle of my commentary a large elderly man and the 3 people who were with him rose in the middle of my talk and walked out! It was a total surprise. I brushed it aside to finish my remarks, refusing to take it personally. Maybe he just needed a bathroom break, right? But that was about two weeks ago, and today the scene rose to mind as I was slowly waking to the day.
I opened my eyes and stared into the dark wondering if I shouldn't do some editing? Maybe I was becoming too comfortable in this role and had ceased noticing rising resentment that might be present in the room. Was I missing something important in those moments?
Maybe there was doubt about the literal truth of my stories ... but I've never claimed to be an historian, always sharing my history as personal; an oral history, and nothing more or less than an accounting of my own experiences. There was no reason to believe that anyone thought of them as anything else.
... and the flash of insight that occurred this morning before day broke through -- as I felt a smile breaking with the dawn.
It matters less that my stories are "true" (when of course they are) and that they match recorded histories of the professionals whose work it is to be accurate and proven. It does matter than I'm rising out of my own shoes -- that I'm authentic. Oh how I wish I'd learned this lesson earlier in life. It's an important one. Comparing my work to that of scholars is like apples and oranges. We are on different paths.
I suspect that it is that authenticity from which the acclaim that I'm experiencing in the world comes. And it is authenticity that cuts through the walls of separation on Tuesday and Saturday afternoons at the two o'clock presentations in our little theater.
... and it won't catch 'em all. It doesn't have to, really. It still matters how people feel about themselves as the result of the work that I'm doing, and I can see the wheels turning as we part on the stairway -- when they clasp my hands in theirs as we go our separate ways.
Maybe I've found the source of the power and the reason for continuing on -- at least for now.