Black History Month – A Very Personal Reflection, 2 of 2

Note: The following – celebrating Black History Month commemorating those who have influenced me most, and, who more than William John Abernathy (1911-1986) and Clara Lolita Roberts Abernathy (1915-2015), my father and my mother – posted initially on February 9, 2015, I share again with slight revisions.

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The parent-child relationship is fertile ground. Capable of producing the grandest outward fruits of ethically-conscious, societally-contributing adults and the greatest inward frustrations of long-enduring complexes of guilt and shame and struggles of self-worth. So mixed is the legacy of my formative years.

I am grateful to my parents for the gift of my life. Each day, whether the best or the worst, I rejoice to be alive in this world.

I am grateful, too, for treasured lessons my parents taught me. Exposing me, from the beginning, to music and literature, history and science. Exhorting me to apply my gifts toward the development of an inquisitive mind. Sharing their witness of faith in God and the life of the church to form my soul in the likeness of Love’s virtue. Instilling in me a present consciousness of life’s inequities, rooted in discriminations based on color, not character. Thus, arming me with an awareness that I dare never assume that the world would be fair. Nevertheless, also encouraging my embrace of equality as a viable value to seek and to share.

Reflecting on my nearly 70 years, I, now, for long, see clearly what I, for so long, could not comprehend. I understand my father’s moodiness laced with bitterness in being denied opportunities because of his race. I understand my mother’s quiescent acceptance of life’s injustices. She was not possessed of the passionate temperament that compelled my grandmother and my aunt toward civic activism. Rather, embracing an inmost spirituality of an abiding trust that God somehow would provide, her profoundest belief was given voice in words like those of James Weldon Johnson:

God of our weary years,

God of our silent tears,

Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;

Thou who hast by Thy might led us into the light,

Keep us forever in the path, we pray [1]

Home life with an angry father and an amenable mother daily simmered with a restless rancor. As my disposition was…is more akin to that of my grandmother and my aunt, I understand how, in my customary contesting against my father, I contributed mightily to our domestic dis-ease.

Still, I am grateful for this, my mixed, at times, mixed-up family life into which I was born. For from this mélange of light and shadow, quiet and tempest, goodly, godly counsel and furious passion, I was formed as a person of love and justice – one who lives to share active benevolence and fairness with all, unconditioned by differences of color, culture, or creed, and unconstrained even by my most heartfelt opinions and soul-deep prejudices.

© 2021 PRA

[1] From verse 3 of Lift Every Voice and Sing, often called The Black National Anthem; originally, a poem by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938), and then set to music by his brother, John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954) in 1899.

Photograph: c. 1944

4 thoughts on “Black History Month – A Very Personal Reflection, 2 of 2

  1. I absolutely love this post and your sharing so deeply not only about your parents, but also about how your behavior contributed to the family Dis-ease. We all have a family Dis-ease of some sort but being able to recognize how your family & family history has shaped you and everything about your life.

    I’m sure we’ve discussed this but our Mom’s were soooo similar in their acceptance of things and reliance on faith. I believe we both got our fortitude from our Mom’s.

    As you love to say, carry on and thanks for sharing your parents with us.

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  2. Yes, you and I have spoken, more than once, about our mothers’ spirituality; a notable element of which is the acceptance of things as they are coupled with a faith in God who will provide in and through it all. Sometimes, though, I wonder whether such a faith-witness and worldview can stymie one’s sense of being called (and relying on that same faith in God) to attempt to alter (especially the negative or harmful) things as they are. In my case, my mother’s characteristic quiescence in the face of the ever-looming and mercurial storm who was my father (though, again, more and more I understand why he was the way he was) served little purpose to protect my brother and me from my father’s bruising, at times, soul-crushing influences…

    All this said, although it has taken me a long time (nearly 70 years of time), I have come to a place of relative inner peace; a place of personal reconciliation (at least, most of the time!) with the person I am: One who daily experiences the inner turmoil of competing, at times, combative opposite forces). So, it is, it seems to me and for me: ‘Twas only through the storm that I could come to daylight.

    Love

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  3. Dear Paul,

    I so appreciate your honoring of your parents during Black History Month. I doubly appreciate it because you do it with honest reflection and equanimity, neither with false praise nor with rancor. To be able to look back upon one’s early life with one’s parents with clear-eyed rationality and calm appreciation and see how one survived and also perhaps benefited from even the parts that were difficult and inexplicable at the time is a rare gift. It’s clear you loved and love them, as it is also clear they did you and your brother. But you struggled with the “mercurial storm” that was your father while growing to understood the winds of racial injustice and indignity that produced the storm. Knowing you as I have come to over the past five years, I know you would not be the man you are without having developed a deep understanding of how your father came to be as he was and without having developed your own will and conviction to understand, oppose, and address those shameful aspects of American society that prompted and nursed his mercurial nature. While I am deeply sorry for the pain you endured because of your father’s anger, I also cherish the man you are as a result of wrestling with the disparate, complicated gifts and burdens you received from both him and your mother.

    There are no pure and simple gifts, are there? They always come with conditions that seem to invite us to give ourselves the gift of understanding and wisdom if we decide to accept what we are offered. I think you did that with your parents. I bless them for their part in Black history, and history in general, so far as I am acquainted with and prize what they engendered and helped to nurture – you.

    Much love,

    Karen

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  4. Thank you, dearest Karen. You are kind to me…

    For, as a reflect afresh, what you perceive (and, dare I say, rightly) as my honesty and equanimity concerning my formative years and, more, aye, most explicitly, my reconciled perspectives regarding my father and my mother were, proverbially stated, years in the making. It hath been a long and circuitous path to this place of peace.

    And, indeed, as you ever so eloquently and truthfully write: “There are no pure and simple gifts, are there? They always come with conditions that seem to invite us to give ourselves the gift of understanding and wisdom if we decide to accept what we are offered.” Amen and amen and amen!

    In greater honesty, there are instances when the hurt and anger return…when I am aware (or, perhaps, via another’s life’s story, when I am given to recall and to delve deeply into my own chronicle, remembering anew some one or another signal moment when childhood dreams are dashed) of an olden wound. Nevertheless, I have learned not to castigate myself too boldly at these times. Rather, I give thanks for the gift of memory, for, as was true for my mother, there may come a time when I lose my grasp on mine own history. And, in gratitude for memory, I also know something else… As a sage friend once opined: “Bad memories are like birds that fly and alight on your head. Acknowledge them, for that is the labor of honesty. And, in that acknowledgement, also know that you need not let them build a nest to stay. So, allow them to alight, and then depart.” Amen and amen and amen.

    Love

    Like

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