Listen, can you hear it? No, try again, become stiller – drop further into silence. Surely now you can hear the buoy bell as it chimes outside my window. Why is hearing it important? For me, it has been associated with Colette Parker’s voice in the months since her death. The buoy bell is both peaceful and melodic and is an indicator that a person is safely close to harbor (home).
My bell has been making its presence heard a lot this past month as we reflected again on Colette’s wisdom. It has been calling me to listen to the journey on which she partnered with me. A journey that helped move me from a place of wondering ‘How did I not know?’ to accepting I could not have known because the past history of people of color in the United States had been locked behind doors to which only a few possessed keys. But then what was I to do since I now had eyes to see? I was to listen openly, to listen willingly, to listen believing there was truth to be heard.
I listened through the discussions of my Dominican study group as we processed the information in the Congregation’s study packet on racial justice, so I thought I had done the work. Not so, says Colette, there is more listening to do. I again moved to study and leisure reading but only works written by and about people of color. I heard the pain of injustice, the daily fears, the struggle for existence, the inequities. I moved out of my comfort zone to attend events in support of Breonna Taylor. I watched webinars and documentaries. I had conversations about blackness in Louisville with my hairdresser. Surely, I had done the work that Colette challenged me to do. But not so, the bell kept ringing, asking me to listen beyond the knowledge and limited interactions.
What was the “more” I needed to listen to? Strangely, the more was with me every day. To understand the pain and suffering, I needed to walk in the shoes of the other. Now clearly I could not be black and inhabit skin the was not mine, but I could listen to my body’s responses.
The listening asked me to recall the inner terror I experienced when the bus I was on in Tanzania was stopped by a military-looking guy with his gun clearly in view. To hear inside me the fear as a shouting match took place in a language I did not understand. After all, haven’t we all read of kidnappings of foreigners? I had to listen again to my own body’s response as I heard George Floyd’s cry: ‘I can’t breathe.’ I had that experience in my dentist’s office. I remember the terror that filled my being. And last week, as I listened to a presentation by the director of Roots 101 (a new museum of black history in Louisville), he dropped a set of shackles. My body trembled just hearing the sound.
So what I hear Colette teaching me is my own body gives me insight into the black experience. An experience that a body of color lives every minute of every day and everywhere. My experiences were all time-limited, brief, and mostly in safe places, yet I felt the trauma. How does one’s body heal from that kind of trauma when it is relentless? Maybe what I am hearing Colette invite me to is more listening to the responses in my own body when I am in places of discomfort and then to listen with compassion to those who know of no other way to live. They are always coping with the generational trauma as well as the daily ones.
So my invitation to each of us is to listen not only to the words outside but to turn inside and listen there as well. That is the gift contemplation nurtures. Contemplate and share with others the fruits of that listening.