I had another one of those dreams.
This time I was in the South – probably during the Civil rights era. In my dream, I had grown up in this mid-sized town somewhere, and it appeared that I was somewhere in my 60s or 70s. There was a big scandal that had just happened in town – an African American boy of about 15 or so had been caught dating a white girl. It was the talk of the town. Nothing seemed to have been done by the law in the town, but the poor boy was the object of scorn anytime he showed his face in public. Unfortunately, it was a small enough town that everyone knew each other, so it was hard for him to hide.
And so I remember one night – I was sitting in a restaurant in town. There was a “colored” section and a “white” person’s section. I remember that the African American boy who was wrapped up in this scandal decided to eat here that night. The “white” portion of the restaurant was immediately abuzz with anger. Some people shouted over at him from their tables. Others actually walked over and ridiculed him and spat on him at his table while he ate. The boy took things as best as he could – he kept his head low and tried to not look at his accusers. I could tell by his face across the room when he would look up that he was torn between bitterness and despair. A couple of people I was eating with got up when our dinner was over, and went over to ball him out as well. When they were finished yelling at him, they walked away satisfied, paid for their dinner, and walked outside.
Something inside me urged me, and I began to walk over to the boy myself. I could see his friends all look up at his table, I saw fear, anger, and frustration in their faces as I approached. I don’t recall his name in my dream, but I knew it then. For now, I’ll just call him Jim.
“Jimmy” I said. “I’m not really good with words…”
I could hardly think of what to say. All his friends and now even some of the folks at the “white” tables looked up – probably eager to hear another roast. When I stumbled for words, more got quiet and listened. The general buzz in the restaurant died down. Most people were listening for some reason.
“Jimmy, I just wanted to tell you…”
Jimmy looked up from his plate. His face showed anger now. It took me aback, but I could understand why.
“…You’re doing such a good job. You’re taking this very well. This is such a tough situation you’re in. I’m… I’m so sorry you have to go though this. I think you’re a good kid. I just want you to know your doing good…” “Jimmy… you’re a good kid…”
There was an uncomfortable silence. I remember squeezing his hand for assurance. I smiled at him as big as I could, but I immediately starting crying. I turned to leave the restaurant, but I couldn’t stop the tears, or my audible sobbing. I didn’t run out either – I simply walked slowly. I was too old to care about appearances anymore. Jimmy’s table of friends just stared at me shocked. The white people’s section just stared too. The entire restaurant was quiet now – even the waitresses and cooks stood and stared. I think I remember seeing most white folks turn their shocked gaze from me to the floor beneath them.
I walked out the door and had a hard time composing myself. I felt the pain of all the anger and hate directed at this poor boy who barely understood any of it. My heart was so terribly broken by it all. All I could do was sob uncontrollably.
I woke up in the night, tears streaming down my cheeks. Like in my last dream like this, I cried out to God broken hearted:
I wish that could be me. The real me is too conceited. Too proud. I care too much about myself and my selfish interests. I follow the party line and condemn and ridicule because I don’t understand. The real me would have ridiculed him behind his back, too cowardly to even confront him.
But in the quietness of that night, I heard God reply:
That old man was the real you.
This thought helped me today – it was a bad day. Events brought back a lot of bad memories of my old church ordeal. So many people want to accuse of me of being rebellious and against the church, and I grow very angry at them in retaliation, but in the process, I begin to see myself as nothing more than an angry rebellious person who hates what is good. This simply isn’t true.
It seems the true me is a person whose heart breaks for hurting people. That part of me is somehow still alive.