“She has missions and justice and soulful passion flowing hot through her little veins, pulsing true and proud in the blood below her pale skin, even at nine years old.”
She always preferred dark-skinned baby dolls. The blue-eyed ones bored her, back when she still played with dolls, but she stroked her thumb over those plastic-y brown flesh cheeks, rosy with pink, and sang to them over and over how beautiful they were. She told me once, while I braided her blonde locks, “Mama, I wish I had Asian eyes. Asian eyes are just so interesting.”
Baby Girl wasn’t wishing to be someone else. Not really. It’s just that bubbling up within her is an intense awareness of the shimmering glory only found through the intrigue of diversity. She has missions and justice and soulful passion flowing hot through her little veins, pulsing true and proud in the blood below her pale skin, even at nine years old.
I marched beside her today in her elementary school parade, up and down Main Street holding signs declaring peace and the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., singing songs with her schoolmates about freedom and peace-dreaming. We even sang Amazing Grace and songs about the Lord, spirituals about heaven and hope and eagles and doves, and we chanted it over and over: “Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last.”
A college professor spoke to the children about love and peace. Then a tiny student belted John Lennon lyrics with a massive voice and kept her eyes closed the whole time. Her voice shook and her body swayed nervous but her notes soared anyhow and the whole room was hushed.
Hushed, but only until a boy twice her size muttered spitefully from beside us, “What makes her think she’s so special anyway? She’s not special. Black people aren’t special either. This is boring.”
The teacher gave him the don’t-you-dare stare and the rest of us did as the song lyrics instructed. We imagined all the people, living life in peace, and applauded hard at her courage.
Still, he persisted.
“That girl can’t sing. She’s ugly, too.” Then louder, at the stage, “You ain’t special! You ain’t special, you hear me?! We all could sing that good. I could. Better, even!”
So I wished it. Right or wrong, I wished someone would shut the kid up before the girl caught wind of his insults.
“Stop it.” The voice squeaked out quiet, not from the teacher still glaring in his direction, but right out of Baby Girl’s bravery.
“Stop being mean. It’s hard to get up in front of all these people and sing. She did a good job and I loved it.”
Baby Girl looked down into her lap and my heart applauded her too. Courage sometimes looks like singing with shaky knees and it sometimes looks like having a dream and it sometimes looks like speaking up strong for someone you don’t even know in a school auditorium. I wondered how my grown-up self could sit there quiet in the shadow of this little girl with big wisdom.
I waited, silent, and willed the boy’s mouth to stay closed. My heart raced with pride for Baby Girl but with fear, too, at all the ways kids can be to one another, all the things he could say next to crush her spirit. I glanced at the teacher, wanting her to do something, even if I knew doing something would have caused a scene and inflamed the spirit of peace the professor was trying so hard to produce. I put my arm across Baby Girl’s shoulders just to reminder her I was there.
“I didn’t love it,” he chided. “I don’t love anything. And I’m tired of hearing about all this love everybody stuff today with this stupid Luther King thing. I don’t love black people. I don’t love no people. Nobody loves me and I don’t love nobody. This is stupid and boring.”
The teacher glared. Detention was imminent for this kid, I knew, but my heart danced wildly with the fire of motherhood and injustice. My hands clenched and I bit my lip to keep from spilling unkind words to this boy in Baby Girl’s defense … in Dr. King’s defense.
We all sat silent another moment, the professor’s voice echoing off plastic ceiling tiles as he talked about segregation. He talked about past injustices in our area over Native American land and how discrimination still happens. He talked about Rosa Parks and Montgomery, Alabama, about having a dream you fight for like Martin Luther King, Jr., and he talked about God, right there in public school. He talked about faith a little too. He talked about freedom, and then he sang with bravado,
“Through many dangers, toils and snares … we have already come. T’was grace that brought us safe thus far … and grace will lead us home.”
Baby Girl spoke the fearless words and looked him straight on. I had only just realized the depth of his dark, wild eyes.
“It’s not true that nobody loves you,” she whispered. “I love you, because you are special. All people are special and I love all people.” She swallowed hard. “And God loves you too.”
… And grace will lead us home.
He blinked for a moment.
The auditorium roared with applause for the smart man singing with the graceful voice, but I roared for my quiet girl speaking through a graceful God … The One who had His gentle way with a broken boy’s heart on the faded orange carpet of a schoolroom today.
The teacher dabbed at her eyes because she saw it too. We weren’t teaching Baby Girl anything new about freedom or about standing for peace in that auditorium. She was teaching us.
My lips stayed quiet a few moments more while I worked the moment’s impact deep. But in my silence, my heart caroled it loud:
“Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty. We’re free at last.”
Cara is a mom of four who lives in Ashland, Oregon, where she tries not to notice that she’s the oldest freshman on the university campus. She blogs at whimsysmitten.com and dreams ridiculous dreams with the support of her amazing and hilarious circus family.