MY FRIEND AMY–someone I’ve known since we were in first grade together–wrote a story about her experience at a church service that was held in memory of Martin Luther King a few days after he was assasinated. She was taken by her parents to the First Institutional Baptist Church which is still on East Jefferson street in Phoenix. I am honored to post her essay on my blog this holiday weekend. It is creative nonfiction.
While searching through an old box from the attic, I discovered my old diary. I must have been about 11 when I used it. I knew the key was nowhere to be found, and lacking patience, I took some scissors to the latch, and it opened. Each day had a small space with five lines to fill. I glanced at statements like “Mom and Dad are so weird!” or, “Cindy is so mean!” Whoever Cindy was. There were several days where I wrote about not having many friends or how I hated school. Most of the days were filled with what I did that day – went to school, came home, played tetherball, watched TV, went to bed. Then, there were no entries for many pages. After flipping for awhile, I came upon one that took up several pages, penned in fat, purple print, and I read:
April 7, 1968
Dear Diary, I haven’t written for a while. Sorry! The last few days have been really strange. This might be kind of long, but I have to get it all out and this is super important. I’m pretty sleepy but here goes. It all started on Thursday when Mom and Dad ran to the TV, because a black man had been shot with a gun. People on TV were yelling and crying, and my Mom and Dad were yelling, and grabbing the phone and yelling over that too. It was BIG NEWS. He died, and a lot of people are upset. I heard he talked a lot about everyone getting along, no matter if they were black or white. They told us in school on Friday that he was a hero that way. I thought that everyone did get along pretty well for the most part, but I must’ve been wrong.
This morning, Mom told me to put on a dress because we were going to church. Well you know I don’t like church. I’m always bored crazy. Plus, I have to try to avoid Mom’s friends that tell me all that junk about becoming a young lady, and men cracking the dumbest jokes and then laughing their heads off.
I figured out that we were not going to our church, but some other church. We were traveling far, into a part of town we never go. It was the kind of neighborhood where people were poor, stuff was junky and people sit on the curbs more than on our streets, waiting for something. We went to a huge church that just looked like a building. Dad wore those stupid shoes I hate and frowned a lot, pushing me by my shoulder a little into the church. A black man who I guess worked there pointed us in the right direction into in a pew.
The place was packed. There were lots of ladies with hats with little veils and things. Some of them were dabbing their eyes with hankies. Some of the men were super wrinkly. Here’s the strangest part of this whole thing: we were the only white people in the whole building! This had to be Dad’s weird idea. He always has the crazy ones. He told me that we were celebrating the man who’d been shot, and that someday this would mean more to me than it did right then. They were all so dark. I felt like some kind of alien. We started out right away with singing, and I thought oh boy, here we go…boring.
I wanted to stand between Mom and Dad, but Mom moved me to the outside of them, next to a big lady. She was wearing a turquoise hat and was squishing in way too close. I tried not to look at her, and I was a little mad at Mom. The lady stood way over in my space, and she sang so loudly, I swear she was the loudest one in there.
Here’s another strange part: Suddenly, there was a new thing we were supposed to do. I had to give the lady my hand from the opposite side, crossing it in front of me to hold hers, and crossing my other arm over to Mom’s side to hold her hand. Sort of a self-hug. I thought maybe everyone needed that, I don’t know. Having to hold the lady’s hand made me feel stupid. We sang a song about overcoming something that must have been one of those soul songs. Everyone started swaying back and forth in their rows. It was fun, especially for church, it was almost like a party. While holding the lady’s hand, I noticed that she was not at all shy about it. She didn’t really look at me, I mean right at me, but her hand held on good and felt warm. I think she might have liked me a little. I felt better. And when the song ended (and this is what I keep thinking about), she gave my hand a little squeeze before she let go.
I know this stuff I’m writing to you now is important, I’m just not sure how important. I wish I was grown up already. Here’s what I think though: I think everything will be okay.
I closed the small book. Now, I remember that day, although I had forgotten it. I remember being in the back seat of the car, being driven to a place that I never would have picked to go, for a reason I didn’t quite understand, to be with people I didn’t know anything about. I held the hand of a stranger whose eyes I never looked into yet felt something for. I remember that warm brown hand like it was yesterday. Mom and Dad are both gone now. I swelled inside with sorrow, but also for gratitude for their wisdom and love for me. Little did I know how wonderful, how very powerful, “weird” could be.