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It’s 1990 or 1991, and here he is, my dad,
a stranger, showing up for Sunday school.
Earnest Unitarian, in town for the national assembly,
with his blue eyes, white hair, Colonel Sanders-
style goatee, he has decided to make a pilgrimage
to honor the martyred girls. What are you doing here?
an elder asked, a deacon perhaps, or prayer leader.
I believe it was a men’s class, serious students
who had studied and worshipped and likely grieved
together for years. I imagine their surprise,
but it’s clear my father was sincere and humble enough
in asking to pay his respects and so was allowed
to stay. It was summertime, hot in Alabama,
but I believe the church was cool, and the men
gathered there—how would those students of the Bible
have regarded him? Were they charmed, annoyed,
tolerant, condescending? Did they pity a man
so unaware of codes and boundaries? Did they bow,
even in their own sanctuary, to whiteness
or did faith persuade them to offer him a chair?
The scripture that day was “Jonah and the Whale”—
an almost poetic stroke of justice, although my father
never said what he took from the story. My father,
the professor, who as a motherless teen thought ministry
might suit him, just as a pastor’s wife had ministered
to his loneliness—even if I question his intrusion
and wonder why a wreath wouldn’t have sufficed
for his intent, I still think of that day as a nimbus
around him, a hiatus or ceasefire, midway
between Addie Mae, Cynthia, Carole, Carol Denise
and nine open-hearted souls in an evening class
at Mother Emmanuel, who twenty-five years later
would acknowledge a stranger and let him in.
Copyright 2021 Terry Blackhawk
Terry Blackhawk is the author of many books including One Less River (Mayapple, 2019)
I’m glad you caught the clumsiness…and the acceptance. Thank you!
LikeLiked by 2 people
Beautiful. We all can be so clumsy in our good intentions and acceptance of our flaws is powerful.
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