May I share a scene with you?
It’s a scene from Spike Lee’s Malcolm X. If you’ve never seen that movie, you should! IT’S INCREDIBLE, not so much for historical accuracy as for Spike Lee’s ability to capture the realities of black people, then and today, and as a homage to a man who went forward to affect change in those realities- a leader. This post isn’t about Malcolm X (though we’ll touch on leadership later), but this scene definitely relates to what I’m writing about. Cut to a classroom, there’s lots of wood, lots of brown with gold tints reflecting sunlight, the walls, the desks, Malcolm’s skin. It should feel warm, but it definitely doesn’t. It’s surprisingly cold… and, seated in the back row, a young Malcolm, by himself, speaks with his teacher:
TEACHER [speaks tenderly]: “Now, the important thing, is to be realistic. Now we all like you here, you know that, but you’re a nigger, and a lawyer, is no realistic goal for a nigger.”
MALCOLM [in genuine confusion, protest]: “But why, Mr. Astrowski(?)? I gets the best grades in class. I got voted class president! I wanna be a lawyer-“
TEACHER [patient, but more firm]: “Now, I want you to think about something that you can be. You’re good with your hands. Making things. People would give you work, I would myself. Why don’t you become a carpenter? That’s a good profession for a colored! Wasn’t your pa a carpenter? Jesus was a carpenter. People like you as a person, you’re doin’ real well… Remember what we said, ‘Nothing succeeds like success.’ Let me hear it.”
MALCOLM [dejected, submissive]: “‘Nothing succeeds like success.'”
TEACHER: “Right, as long as you’re realistic.”
May I share a story with you?
As a child, I found a cat. Well, not me, but my aunt at the time (who was my age). Where we lived, stray cats were common, and as kids we were nothing if not inquisitive. It was gray, actually pretty small, which indicated that it was likely malnourished, and had this “crust” around its eyes, which I know now, indicated that it was most likely sick. We thought it was adorable. So, we brought the cat into our apartment. The cat was docile as well- it didn’t fight us, hiss, or bite as we brought it in, and we took turns petting it.
The day begins to wear on and we start talking of other things while petting the cat. The topic comes up about cats being able to land on their feet. Not sure how we brought it up, but soon, we started tossing the cat into the air to see if it would land as we had heard. It would! So far, so good! Then, we started tossing it faster and higher, and laughing, and seeing what would happen. Pretty soon we were throwing the cat as hard as we could. By then, it was no longer landing on its feet, it was slamming into the ceiling and falling on its belly to the ground. We would have killed that cat, if someone hadn’t come to take it away from us. I think back on it now, and I can’t remember if it was my mother or another aunt. But what I can remember clearly, is that as it was being carried away, it moaned, uttering these long, exasperated meows. It was clearly in pain. I wasn’t sure where it was taken, or if it lived or died, but I felt, only afterwards (and after some scolding) that I had really done something wrong.
Have you ever been in an abusive relationship? Have you ever seen one up close?
I have. I would go into detail, but that’s not my story to tell. What I remember is its end, and how the one who did the abuse, left sobbing. In this person’s actions, when being taken away by the police, there appeared to be nothing but love, regret, and a confusion about what was taking place. But the actions before that, showed only rage, danger, and a lack of care or concern or even sanity. I think back to that time and, while I know it is wrong to hate a human being, I hated this person. I still do. This is a person who I do not trust to be safe around me if we should ever encounter each other. I have become quite a strong man, and I fear I would definitely do this person physical harm…
Why am I thinking on all this, and asking you to read it? Well, in my last post, I mentioned that I may not be a smart man. But I know what love is. I do. I’ve given that more thought, and when I think of love, I believe that the approaches to it are as varied as the people living on this planet. Some of these approaches definitely miss the mark, so- what I hope to share is one particular aspect that I’ve observed about love (hopefully you have as well) that appears to be overlooked at times. Especially during times when it’s most important: True love has an object, and that object provides feedback.
I’m being too global- what I mean to say is: When you love someone as an equal, they will tell you how to love them; when they are feeling loved and when they are not. As equal human beings, with minds, and hearts, and reasoning, 99.999% of the time, their feedback will be accurate to them, and they will be right. Your decision is to choose whether you can adjust accordingly. There are times when you falter, but overall, you try. You listen, and you try. If you decide this is not something you can, or are willing, to do, then you separate. Have you ever heard people say that love is an action? Or that love, or marriage, or relationships are work? Well, THIS trying? THIS is the work.
Love is an act. Acts of love have givers and receivers. Love is a bond. The bonds (givers, receivers, subjects, objects) are as varied as the people living on this planet. But within those bonds are the cycles of action and feedback. Love is complicated, as is life. However, as long as we mind this cycle of actions and feedback in our bonds (be the bond wife and husband, child and parent, partner and partner, friend and friend, sisters, brothers, pets, owners, or any equal combination of others) love flourishes. When we ignore this cycle; when we remove the concept of equality from our bonds, that’s where we leave love and invite cruelty.
This teacher, in Malcolm X, may have been speaking to Malcolm in love, but he was being cruel, and ignoring Malcolm’s clear, human feedback, that what he was doing was causing Malcolm harm. I thought in my REALLY young mind that I loved that little cat, but I was cruel, and I was abusing it. And I ignored its clear feedback that my actions were causing it pain. That person I mentioned, ignored clear feedback that their actions were causing another pain. That person ignored the cries, the screams, and the resistance, and continued on.
It wasn’t how we, the abusers, myself included, saw it. But that’s was it was. It wasn’t love. And that would have been easy to see if we weren’t, in those cases, so damned selfish. I hate to say it, but in my adult years, I don’t always show love. I certainly show cruelty more than I would like, and I certainly ignore feedback when I should absolutely be paying attention. I’m truly a hypocrite sometimes. NO JUDGEMENT, but maybe you are too sometimes?
So, with the knowledge that I cannot claim a moral high ground, that I am still learning and growing and making mistakes, that I can still be cruel even when I want to be loving, I say this, hoping that there are those out there that are further along in love than me:
My Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and religious (of any persuasion) brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, teachers, and elders,
who DEFINITELY have men and women, boys and girls, sisters and brothers, in their lives that are lesbian, or gay, or bi, or trans,
and in their hearts love these people,
I affirm your love and believe there is truth in it. And I hope that you can hear my words- you are hurting us. Your words, your actions, your denials, your arguments, your scriptures… are hurting us… killing us. I know some of you aren’t able to receive this yet, but some of you are. And for those that are, please- think about the objects of your love. The people you see everyday. The flesh and blood people. Their hopes and dreams and identity. They are telling you, “You’re hurting me.” Listen to them. Think not on your intent when you act, but on its reception. And, give yourself room to try another way. Look at those around you and SEE YOURSELF IN THEM. LISTEN TO THEM. What have they been telling you?
Christians. I know what the Bible says. I know you may believe it’s right there in black and white. I know some of you aren’t able to receive this yet, but some of you are. And for those that are, please- RETHINK your idea of what love is. Not because you need permission. YOU are LEADERS. Leaders don’t need to wait for permission. God gave you reason, and a heart, and a mind, and a world of people to live with, to act with, to grow with, to love. And if you’re being honest, for most of that life, you don’t go to the Bible for permission (no judgement there, I don’t either).
You don’t need permission for this. It’s not that easy, but it is that simple. Even I can get it.
Human beings NEED love. Without it, we die. So, give it.
I may not know everything.
I may not be that smart, but I know what love is.