Adoption

“The old time blacks,” wrote James Thomas, “never used to take much stock in the ‘Yaller’ Nigger. They called him ‘No Nation,’ ‘a Mule,’ ‘yaller hammer.’” *

Mulattoes under slavery were in a tight spot. Often times a master’s half-white children were brought in as house slaves. Some were educated and some were eventually given their freedom.  ANDREW WARD suggests in his book DARK MIDNIGHT WHEN I RISE that some women slaves submitted to their masters for the very reason that their children might be seen differently and treated better—but by whom? Their skin betrayed to all that tribal lines had been crossed.

Darker slaves saw themselves as superior blacks with pure blood.

They even admired their masters for keeping the races pure. We can only imagine what white mistresses thought about their husbands’ liaisons (or what fathers thought when their daughters eloped with black slaves).  Yet even light blacks expressed certain stereotypes. “Some folks say that when a ‘Nigger’ is so black he just naturally mean.”*

Ward tells of a Jubilee Singer’s lineage, one so full of halves and fulls, of slaves and whites, we are met with again the notion that race, color and stereotypes are never simple things.

We do judge books by their covers. We all do. I do.

This summer my (soon to be adopted) “low-functioning” daughter and I sat waiting at the station with my two “normal” teenagers who were taking a bus south (to New Jersey). A young man about twenty interrupted our good-natured bickering about money for snacks for the bus.

You know that feeling of slight annoyance when someone asks for change and they seem to be pouring on the gratitude a bit thick?

In truth we were looking for change for the vending machine and the young man in wrinkled clothes was looking for a dollar bill. We did an even exchange and after profusely thanking us he walked off.

The bus was late.

Saratoga Springs Station is a quiet place. I like eavesdropping and people watching. I’d made up my mind that the rough-around-the-edges young man now grubbing a cigarette from the obviously university educated man about the same age was the type to find trouble. I cringed at the way the university guy gave over a cigarette with faint disgust.

Yet something about the young smoker cursing up a storm now and pacing as he spoke on an old phone to a family member in Pittsburgh mesmerized me.

From what I could catch the young man was dead broke. He had a 24 hour layover somewhere west, and he looked rake thin. Maybe because I felt a tad guilty for judging him, after we saw my teenagers off, I slipped the smoker some money (I say this not to brag of my generosity for I’d just spent a good thirty minutes eavesdropping and judging). Now when this sort of thing happens my tendency is to never make eye contact. I’m shy and don’t like intimate encounters, but for some reason our eyes met and the young man cried.

I mumbled something about God loving him or something (I NEVER do this) but felt even though I was in a hurry to move on that he needed some basic inspiration and this is what popped into my head.

My girl and I walked to the car. We sat in the car mulling things over. The good thing about “low functioning” people is sometimes they just cut to the chase. My girl said, “You feel it too, don’t you? We should go back.”

I turned the key in the ignition. “No. What would we say? No, we did what we could.” We drove around the parking lot three times. I kept hoping the kid would be gone but there he sat, now with his head in his hands, shoulders shaking.

“God wants us to go back!” my kid kept saying with urgency.

I will admit that by now after having met the young man’s eyes my entire perception of him changed. As we lingered at the exit before a stop sign I was compelled to turn around, park and with pounding heart and red face walk up to the man who I now noted had a bruised face.

My girl looked up to me for words. I stumbled around a bit but finally said, “Okay, so you may think we’re freaks but something . . .” I looked at my girl. “Well, you see, we think God wants us to sit with you for a while.”

I waited for him to tell us to back off. He didn’t. He told us his life story. He told us his mother abandoned him to foster care where he spent days locked up in a room without food. My kid told him she’d experienced the very same thing.

Imagine a little girl and a full grown man crying over past hurts.

It was obvious from the man’s story that he’d made some mistakes in life with so little guidance and so little love. He’d moved from his grandfather’s house a while back for a good job in construction. After a falling out with his boss and a night spend drinking his unemployment news away, someone mugged him. Only moments ago he’d called his sister begging for her to meet him  somewhere only to be told his grandfather had just died but they’d had no way of contacting  him. The phone he had called her from had been borrowed.

Okay so some of you reading this may be thinking the guy was just a storyteller. But to me it was this incredible God moment. We prayed together (again, I’m pretty private about my prayer life but there was this compulsion—something beyond myself, beyond my girl, too). The man mentioned he read the Bible hardly ever (I mean, who really does?).

My girl, only a year from the mental ward where we were told she had no hope and that she’d spend her life a zombie, ran back to the car.

I had told her to bring a book to read in the car because sometimes she just talks and talks and talks. I get peevish when this happens. She ran up to us breathlessly and handed the man named William her raggedly little Children’s Bible someone had given her long before I knew her.

This man William  (I hope he’s doing well) was tanned from outdoor work. My girl was pale white from the hospital and group home and I was freckled. But for a brief moment we were all the same.

Quotes from DARK MIDNIGHT WHEN I RISE

Related: WHAT IT REALLY COSTS TO FOLLOW JESUS

  ADOPTING FROM FOSTER CARE

 

Taken Prisoner

A Confederate officer stood alone at a crossroad goading his horse to move on in the aftermath of the Union retreat at BULL RUN. Sensing danger he glanced over his shoulder. A Yankee raced over the field tramping the freshly cut hay. As the Yankee drew closer he struggled to pull something from behind his back. The Confederate, with heart thumping through his uniform, pulled out his revolver and took aim.

The Yankee waved a white flag,  stopping abruptly at some distance. He wavered there for a few minutes until the Confederate swore he would do him no harm. Looking to his left and then right, the Yankee weighed his options and moved forward.

The Confederate noted the man’s flushed cheeks and face not yet ready to be shaved. The boy could not be more than twenty yet he was a lieutenant from a New York regiment.

“I give my word to you, sir. If you let me go I’ll never pick up a gun again. I’ll leave at once for my father’s farm,” the boy begged.

The Confederate kept silent and the boy on his horse soon followed, resigned to his fate.

The Confederate and the Yankee may not have realized at this early stage of the war that to be a prisoner was as deadly as fighting on the battlefield, but something in the young man’s cowardice already worked on the Confederate’s conscience. We don’t know if this Confederate officer cursed the angel on his shoulder as the two men walked ten yards.

“Go back to your friends, boy,” the Confederate ordered. “One more prisoner will hardly make a difference.”

When the Confederate met his own scouts they asked what had happened. When they set off in search of the “escaped” prisoner, the Confederate officer refused to join them.*

I wonder about the young New York lieutenant. The other night I happened upon our cat devouring the skin and fat of a just killed chipmunk and was surprised to see the organs still in movement. What moving things did this young man see at Bull Run? Was he a shy boy having trouble fitting in? No. There was something of a leader in him to be made lieutenant. Did he run all the way home or just to his friends?

A Confederate officer stuck on a stubborn horse gave the New York lieutenant his life back. Like a fish released from a net there was no time for gratitude. The currents of war and blood and peace move men along with hardly a moment to consider a chance meeting at a crossroad.

Why did boys on both sides enlist? CIVIL WAR SOLDIERS Their Expectations and Experiences by REID MITCHELL presents  the uplifting and awful traits that make us human.  Mitchell shares  the forgotten stories of individual men. Each one of them (unlike fish unable to escape mere instinct) left  marks on others they  encountered only briefly and never met again.

How did that New York lieutenant live and die? His fear, his youth, his innocence touched a Confederate soldier once. The man was never the same.

*A re-telling of one of the many poignant stories written about in Civil War Soldiers.

**Image courtesy CIVIL WAR TALK

Dog Rescue

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Malcolm in the Mud
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Cute, right?

A dog rescue was not part of the plan when two of my daughters and I took a bike ride along the dirt road at the back of our property. Just the day before a neighbor  hung a FREE sign on a retro-styled Huffy and I had to have it–my old bike having been stolen years ago in NJ. I rode the Ford pick-up back to the bike (the tires were too soft to ride on) and after my husband spruced it up I snapped this pic:

As we took the turn on the dirt road two of our neighbors’ Labrador Retrievers ran into the road to bark at us covered in mud. We’re dog people so we had to pet them and coax them back to their fenced in yard since the neighbors, who we affectionately call “the girls”  were obviously not home. After closing the gate we heard plaintive whining from the woods.

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The other lab re-escaped from the yard to help his friend.

My daughter Amanda and I live for this stuff and our new tag along daughter-to-be fed off our excitement. Poison Ivy be damned, we were going in! At the bottom of a deep ravine we saw what looked like a fat bear with a white nose (dried mud). We went to Malcolm at once, noting his hindquarters were weak. He had completely given up trying to climb out of the six inch deep mud. We later learned Malcolm weighed 100lbs which explained our trouble trying to hoist him to dry ground. Amanda raced home and came back with supplies–leashes, collars and iPhone–and the rescue began in earnest.

Malcolm’s weight and our laughter made it tough going for a while and if we hadn’t finally summoned all our strength the construction workers banging away in a nearby field would have been called in. Upper arm strength being in short supply, we still somehow managed to finally right the muddy ship of flesh and drag him out of the woods.

Amanda and foster kid (who for now has to remain anonymous) found the loose plank on the picket fence, ran for a hammer and nails and repaired the fence while I watered the dogs and wrote a note explaining why the girls’ dogs were covered in mud.

I’d planned a short bike ride and a bit of editing for the afternoon, but laughing in the woods with muddy dogs got the better of the day.

Writing, especially in the summer when animals and bicycles beckon, is especially tricky!

NANCY CHRISTIE at One on One–Insights into the Writer’s Life talked to me recently and the first part of a four part interview is featured here: ONE ON ONE WITH AUTHOR ADRIENNE MORRIS.

I hope you take a moment to read it!

Happy 4th of July!

Adrienne

 

Books I’ve Known and Loved

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The Witching Hour, The Huntington Museum

EVIL: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty by Roy F. Baumeister, Ph. D.

Do you want to get inside the mind of a serial killer or an executioner? You need go no further than your own mind. Well, you have to go a little further, but not much. Turns out people who do evil things are a lot like you and me.

Have you ever noticed when arguing with a spouse that you’re always right–until you’ve had a few quiet moments to think about the part you played in flooding the basement? Have you noticed too that when you drink the argument about how well the basement was cleaned after the flood gets more heated than it really needs to be ( you’ve been harboring the grudge about the ruined Christmas ornaments for a week now).

The first time we had to execute a rooster my husband sent me indoors because my crying was a distraction. The next time a rooster punctured my leg with his filthy spur when we had no health coverage I quite happily ordered him dead (and he was my favorite rooster).

Imagine a post-Civil War scene down south. A group of bored young veterans on the losing side of the war with no job prospects and stung egos get together for drinks. Someone comes up with the idea to dress up like ghosts to spook the newly freed and uneducated ex-slaves in their neighborhood. Just a boyhood prank, is all. They scare a black man the first time and off he runs, but the next time they do it the man is wise to their humor and waves them off with a laugh. The game is no longer fun. Putting a little fear into a man who used to be subordinate but now is equal was fun (and each young man is holding a grudge against the powers that be and the freed slaves). The mission becomes to scare the black man–a little more and a little more. Each time the black man sees through their pranks–they raise the stakes.

Are you that person in a group who stands up when everyone else is going down a bad path? Are you the person who jumps in the swollen spring river to save the young boy from drowning when everyone else waits to see who will get wet. Twice in my life I’ve witnessed someone drowning and both times I watched as if in a dream as someone else jumped in.

In Rwanda a mother of six participated in the clubbing to death of a group of neighborhood children because she thought it would put them out of their misery. A man responsible for killing Jewish children in WWII rationalized his job in the same way.

Why aren’t there more serial killers? The difference between “normal” people and evil doers comes down to a few key things: self-discipline, a sense of being responsible for one’s actions and feelings of guilt (which for normal people kick in often before they even contemplate doing something evil). People who tend to say, “I couldn’t help it” or “It’s because society made me do it” or:

“Guilt? It’s this mechanism we use to control people. It’s an illusion. It’s a kind of social control mechanism–and it’s very unhealthy. It does terrible things to our bodies. And there are much better ways to control our behavior than . . . guilt.”

we need to worry about. The last quote comes from Ted Bundy–the serial killer.

The drugs made me do it, my genes made me do it, this country made me do it . . . I couldn’t help eating all those cookies! But here’s the thing: in order to kill someone with a gun you must think about getting a gun. You must walk towards the gun using the legs you make move, and you must pull the trigger. The gun doesn’t magically cling to you, take over your fingers and shoot someone.

An early 20th century study showed that most soldiers shot above the heads of their enemies. This was a problem to be solved. Another interesting study showed that playing video games did make for more short-term aggression in players, but only people who were already tending toward evil actually used gaming as an excuse for bad actions. Most people play video games and DON’T kill their cats.

Remember when your mother warned you about the slippery slope toward evil? Remember Jesus saying something about cleaning out one demon but letting 7 more in? Evil seems to be like that.The first kill is the toughest–but then the sirens and hand cuffs don’t arrive. Life stays pretty much the same. So you kill again.

Don’t think this book is a thoroughly depressing read. On the contrary if you like gallows humor you’ll love this book. I did. But it is scary how close to evil I can become.