He don’t know how hard it is to be black. He can’t even imagine somethin’ harder than what he doin’. I could tell him but he wouldn’t believe it.
~ From Little Scarlet, Walter Mosley
Every once in a while I lay down my armor for a moment and wonder what peace would look like. Sometimes it’s a glancing thought. Other times it’s an extended conversation with a friend. It’s hard, when you finally realize what this world is, to step back and visualize what the world could be. But you try.
The problem is simple: there’s no desire for understanding. Every human has their own struggles, their own pain, their own stories. It takes an open, patient human being to hear of another’s pain, listen and believe it.
The morning air still smelled of smoke. Wood ash mainly but there was also the acrid stench of burnt plastic and paint. And even though I knew it couldn’t be true, I thought I caught a whiff of putrid flesh from under the rubble across the street. The hardware store and Bernard’s Stationery Store were both completely gutted. The Gonzalez Market had been looted but only a part of its roof had been scorched. The corner building, however, Lucky Dime Liquors, had been burned to the ground. Manny Massman was down in the rubble with his two sons, kicking the metal fixtures. At one point the middle-aged store owner lowered his head and cried. His sons put their hands on his shoulders.
~ From Little Scarlet, Walter Mosley
I’m free but I’m focused, I’m green but I’m wise
I’m hard but I’m friendly, baby
I’m sad but I’m laughing, I’m brave but I’m chicken shit
I’m sick but I’m pretty baby
And what it all boils down to
Is that no one’s really got it figured out just yet
I’ve got one hand in my pocket
And the other one is playing the piano
~ Alanis Morissette, “Hand in My Pocket”
In night time we cry, we say we born and raised to be free people and now we slave. We doan know why we be bring ‘way from our country to work lak dis. It strange to us. Everybody lookee at us strange. We want to talk wid de udder colored folkses but dey doan know whut we say. Some makee de fun at us.
~ From Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston
I’m taking my time with a book and, for the first time, I’m enjoying it. I usually abandon books that take me too long to get through, but Michael Chabon peppers his story with sentences I have to stop and think about. It’s exhilarating.
She is getting old, and he is getting old, right on schedule, and yet as time ruins them, they are not, strangely enough, married to each other.
The Russian’s shoulders hunch, and he ducks his head, and his rib cage swells and narrows. It looks like laughter, but no sound comes out.
For an instant he handles the bones, horn, and leather of the old man’s hand.
Paying attention often requires some sort of empathy for the subject, or at the very least, for the speaker. But empathy, these days, is hard to come by. Maybe this is because everyone is having such a hard time being understood themselves. Or because empathy requires us to dig way down into the murk, deeper than our own feelings go, to a place where the boundaries between our experience and everyone else’s no longer exist.
~ Wendy S. Walters “Lonely in America” from The Fire This Time
Once a person truly dons this empathy, it demands that they keep their mouths closed and disregard everything they think they know. It requires them to listen with an awareness that opens their ears to something they’ve never heard before, something that sounds so unbelievable that, in any other context, they might think it fiction. When they choose to pay attention they may find that boundaries dissipate, but they may also find that, in some ways, the life they live is a fantasy and some wake up every day in hell.