Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Father's Son

It was a time of celebration far too long in the making; a festive occasion where banners flew freely and those gathered basked in its glory. Sparks of electricity bridged the gap, arcing from one guest to another, energizing smiles and providing fuel for the dreams of tomorrow.

A sudden hush fell over the crowd as they were asked to take their seats by a distinguished looking gentleman.

“It is a glorious day, indeed, and our distinct privilege to have Reverend Darius Williams II as our speaker. Please join me in giving him a warm welcome.”

The Reverend appeared comfortable behind the podium. Time only allowed a quick glance at his watch and like a man seeking to make up for lost time he launched into his speech.

“The houses along Spruce Lane stood in rows of conformity. Precisely .75 acres of plush Bermuda grass surrounded each, mowed and manicured twice weekly on Wednesday and Saturday between the months of April and November. Each owner was free to apply for a tree permit, but if approved it would be a Blue Spruce and could not exceed six feet at maturity. Routine patrols ensured the Sea-gray #12 brick exteriors remained free from debris. Cracks in the mortar could not exceed two inches in length. Owners which fell out of compliance would find themselves reprimanded with official notices of correction. An owner ticketed more than twice in a calendar year would be summonsed before the architectural council, and nothing good ever came from that. Those who presided there did more than dabble in evil; within the secret chamber they formed unholy alliances. The neighborhood was a nightmare of symmetry and oppression. Just as a cancer can never be content with a single organ, so was the dysfunction here.

As a young boy I struggled against myself. It was my heart which took exception to what they stood for, or more importantly what they stood against. Yet my father, an eternal pacifist, continued to preach against hate. He reminded me often, ‘The harboring of hate will not only kill the heart, but render a heart blind to solutions.’ Believe what I tell you, many speak of principles but few have the courage to apply them to their own life.

The council allowed my father to address them and for six long hours he pleaded to stop the expansion. His desire was to spare the tattered homes and broken down house of worship that lined the north perimeter of the golden neighborhood. Not only did they flatly deny his request, he was savagely beaten as he left the meeting place that night. I suppose a not-so-subtle reminder that a black man might realize his place in society.

Even when the bulldozers arrived he asked the neighbors to carry him there. I begged him not to go, but he assured me he had an obligation to speak for those having no voice. His body was broken but those who gathered came to hear his spirit speak, and without judgment he calmly put his faith in dialogue. On the surface my father pleaded for worthless homes and real estate, but they belonged to relatives, friends, and neighbors, and even a seven year old realized there were greater things at stake. Armed with an open Bible and crucifix my father began to speak, believing fully that God would provide him words that might change the course of events. His once powerful voice that carried conviction from the pulpit now sounded weak and ineffective against the backdrop of whining diesel engines. In the end powerful words were not nearly enough. Justice of the day allowed a single neighborhood and its powerfully corrupt council to hold us all hostages.

For months I was summoned to my father’s room each evening as he required help to kneel and pray. Although I requested to leave and return when he was finished, my wishes were denied. He knew the importance of me hearing as he prayed for the very men who had beaten him. While obedience required me to sit, obstinacy prevented the words from penetrating my mind.

Year after year I bitterly harbored that which my father warned against, and still I wandered there in a wilderness of my own making even as he passed. On the year anniversary of his death I went to lay flowers for him. Through a stand of trees came a single beam of light, powerful enough to penetrate the walls I had fortified. In that golden ray I heard my father’s voice and suddenly realized this world could ill-afford another damaged heart.

In that moment of revelation I found my mission. Little did I realize the rocky road would bring me before the very council my father once stood. There was little hope that my words stood a chance of being more convincing than his, so instead I prayed my father’s belief might be put in practice. Even on his death bed he held firmly to a notion that appealing to the sensibility of another man’s humanity might produce results—and eventually it did.

The past has passed, but should not be forgotten. The very ground on which this sanctuary sits was the land my father fought to preserve. Long ago I forgave the council for stealing my father’s dreams. Dreams are of our own design and where one rises and falls certainly another can be born. As you move forward so shall I. It is with great pride I can finally announce; I am my father’s son!”


Jo Janoski said...

Another excellent piece with drama and inspiration. I'm really taken with the light coming through the trees. Just the beauty of it alone would be a moving experience. It works for me!

Jo A. T.B. said...

I like how you teach the lesson that hatred can make you hard and blind. May the light shine on the walls of bittered hearts, and reminds us of all the love that is still in the midst of lunatic minds! Enjoyed!

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