I cried the first night I came to my second university, I didn’t want to be around them constantly, the Christian ones, the bright smiling faces like a Twilight Zone episode, but I heard, not audibly but in that my-anxiety-is-lifting-away-like-I’m-high-on-something way, God tell me it will help me love them. I did, and then I learned even more of what I wished I didn’t.
When I was younger, my Mamaw and Papaw would only play gospel music. Well, they did and still do, but as a young girl in their stuffy, perfume-stained white van, I would grimace when I had to drive long distances with them, which was almost always as they lived about an hour from town. No one of these singers can sing. They sound like an old, bald doo-wap group, was basically what I thought. Even around two or three years ago from this current date, I mostly ignored their crying hymns as much as I could. But luckily, I was finding out how fond of them I was all along. Now, I love punk songs with out-of-tune wails and scratchy guitar rifts; preference has to do with it, sure, but also: “it wasn’t about quality to those farmers who came from taking care of the land to bellow in bass How Great Thou Art, it was about the heart.”
Today, we sang hymns at church and I tried with all my might not to cry. I wish I could tell you it was because I didn’t want to have my makeup run, but I didn’t want people to see me, think I was one of those: the sobbing ingenuine.
A couple months before my papaw died, a couple of his friends came over to play music with him. My papaw knew he was about to die, but we didn’t. We thought he was crying all the same. I see now what I didn’t want to see then. His tears were acceptance for what was about to come. Him shaking his head, in the video I took of him, it was pure joy at his life, the worship he sent into the room was a sealed letter to his soon-to-be residence saying, I am sad, to leave, but I am okay.
I almost cried because I missed him, but also because I am happy I sat in that room and listened to him play that day rather than hiding. I’m happy I sat on the bench next to my mamaw a year before, him standing behind me saying, sing, girl, sing. And I did, but not loud enough. I thought I had more time.
I always and still feel more comfortable with the poor, the ones poorer than I was, though I was always in communities around people who had more than I could ever imagine, materialisticly. I feel more comfortable around those whose skin is different than mine, those who speak inaudibly to my American ears, and I disguise this out of wonder, confusion, and confusion to others at my genuinity. I’m always disguising—the truth is something I cannot bear, though I give it too freely, not because I care what people know, but I’m afraid what people feel.
I try not to judge, but I do not understand a culture I fit into or the want for more money, something that’s actually close to fiction in my opinion, and more of experience and things. I want these, but not as much sometimes, and it kills me, rots at an organ that isn’t there, like a bad smoking habit. I am an inbetween, but I am afraid to say this as not to sound like some title that happens to be fit for the time of not wanting a title when really the whole societal codes as a whole confuse me as much as every detail does. I am often confused, everyone who knows me knows this. I think it’s because of how much my brain is processing. I see in 3D, of course not in the real sense of the term but in fictional, hazy terms where everything is taking new shapes and forms with red hues, the arm is reaching out, and I’m trying to grab it but it’s not there and I’m left alone more than I wish. I only want what I read in scripture to match this physical world, but it seems to be in the lines between what we can’t actually grasp hold of but think we can, like little kids who hurl their arms frantically for the jewels floating out from the screen. They know it’s not there, but they don’t mind raising their arms, because somewhere, they know it’s out there, the inbetween is who they are, and then their frontal cortex adapts, slowly but surely.
And in light of this all, a metaphor for this confusion, this label, this title: Christopher Columbus watches the pastor as he says, “Jesus is like this endless self-giving circle dance.” He watches us all, beautifully crafted with panes of light and colored glass, an art form that lasted ages, that cuts through marrow and lands at that invisible organ where you feel. The hymns vibrate off them, and he’s always there, smiling. His round, pale face. His victory dazzled in green tunic. He is all of our faces, the selfish worm is in us all, rotting us from places we can’t see, can’t touch, and won’t ever be able.
However I feel, whatever I touch, I am all of the elements of the world combined, and yet I strive to hear YHWH in each breath, meaning not what you think it means. If this Jesus bit doesn’t work for you, generosity still makes being a human better, I promise. These words are a gift. Not to you necessarily, but to me. These thumbs, this mind. This safety. This grass, everything, all of existence. Gifts not entitlement. And maybe I should have bought a pair of shoes for the little ones instead of me, but honestly, I will keep buying them, and that makes none of us any different. Why the uncomfort then? It’s something a little closer to home than I ever sensed before. MLK is still one of my favorite people.
And if I could sing for Papaw now, I would cry with him, too. I get it now, all of his Irish, Cherokee blood. Please forgive me, all of you.
Inspired by sermon “Generous” by Micah