I Just Don’t Understand

“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

I don’t understand racism. I just don’t get it.

Some would say that statement is indication of a problem. If it is, I don’t get that either.

I know the world is often segregated. Too often. What do they say? Churches are the most segregated places in town.

As I was sitting in a music worship service last night, one of our city’s Martin Luther Kung, Jr. Day celebrations, for some reason I remembered my friend Sam.

Sam lived in my dorm in college. We got to be friends. Sam would attend Bible study with me and a group of white classmates. I would attend jams with Sam and our black classmates.

These jams would be on a Friday night and would go on for hours and hours. They had no agenda or plan. Someone would start singing and others would join in. Someone would start praying. Someone would share a scripture or something on their mind. It was inspiring and overwhelming and I loved it. But it was long.

I was a product of the one-hour-Prebyterian service, where men pointedly looked at their watches and then looked at the pastor if it looked as though the service would run over the hour they had allotted.

I never made it to the end of a jam. I understand they would continue for hours after I left (and when I left I had been there hours.) They went into the wee morning hours. I never regretted a minute I spent there, but never regretted leaving either. It seemed to fit with the spontaneity and bothered no one.

Sam found my restlessness amusing, and accepted who I was.

We went to different churches – very different churches. We’d attemd with each other. There was something we each liked about the other’s style of worship, yet neither could change to the other’s church permanently

Several times I hung out with Sam and three of his guy friends and we would sing together. I loved it. I have no musical training, though I had sung in choirs most of my life.

We didn’t dismiss our racial differences, but embraced them. Part of being friends was sharing that important part of our lives. Faith was part of that, as was culture. Still, we had more in common than different. Our friendship was supportive and easy and fun.

Singing with Sam and friends, though, everything was so relaxed. I’m a melody girl who can’t read music, but those men could harmonize and improvise and it was as though heaven had come to earth to hear them sing. It was a gift to be included. We sang loudly and passionately. They were my favorite people I have ever sang with to this date.

I looked up Sam in our alumni directory today. We’d lost touch a bit after I moved to an off-campus apartment (I didn’t make it through the dorm lottery that year) and we rarely saw each other. Somehow we didn’t see each other around graduation so didn’t keep in touch after school. We never traded addresses or phone numbers.

Social media wasn’t a thing back then, so it would have been letter writing or phone calls. That was back when long distance calls cost more than local.

When I found Sam’s alumni record it said “Deceased 1994”. That means he was 44. We was also 44. What was I doing that year?

I can’t find an obituary, but did find the cemetery where he was buried. I was in that area at the end of last year.

I also found out he had a son, his namesake, who also graduated from our university. He graduated in 2011. He must have been young when his dad died.I’m praying for him today.

It’s all made me a bit melancholy.

I believe Sam became a pastor after college. I probably found that out after thinking about hm and checking the alumni directory years ago.

I never tried to get in contact with him because that can often get misconstrued in male/female friendships. I didn”t worry about him, knowing how we’ll he knew me, but what if his wife thought “Who is this weirdo calling my husband years after college?”

I’ve always been a believer in serendipity. You don’t have to force relationships. If you need to be in each other’s lives, you can’t stop it. You will find each other.

We were meant to be friends for a season.

Still, I grieve the thought of not seeing him again on this earth. I celebrate that he was alive and our paths crossed and he was such a force for those years we were meant to be friends.

I’ve always loved having a multi-cultural friend group. I love my friends have embraced me into their lives and I have enjoyed introducing them to mine,

I’ve enjoyed the heavy discussions that sometimes had me angry, sometimes made me feel misunderstood, sometimes showed me I wasn’t understanding them, and sometimes made me feel as though I was trying on their shoes and taking a few steps.

Race never colored those relationships with anything but good.

I don’t understand racism. I just don’t get it.

Why would you deny yourself the pleasure of having a friend like Sam?

On this MLK Day, I’m grieving a bit. But mostly I’m thankful for the relationship of two college kids, who refused to let lines separate them. Race, gender, religious differences – we didn’t care. We were friends.

I still remember his smile. His shy laugh. His boldness and his goodness and his gentleness. His character.

He was a gift.

I miss him.

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