Many of us have grown up in a world of naivety and safety. We were protected, if that is the right word, from some of the realities of the world around us. It’s like we have been swimming but did not get wet.
The cultural differences that have existed in many areas are extreme and un-acknowledged, unseen, or simply ignored. This has led to lack of understanding and a widening gulf between various groups in our country. Some are still fighting the Civil War, some would have you believe they are still slaves, and others are not aware of either.
I use to watch the Jay Leno Tonight Show and he would do the Jay Walking segment. Some of the people and their total un-connected status were humorous, but alarming at the same time.
I know a gentleman who has gone on to be very successful and I’m sure, very wealthy. He related a story to me that was somewhat an eye opening experience for him. For his privacy, I will not use his real name. I’ll call him Don Jones*.
After he graduated from Architecture school he and his wife moved to Knoxville, Tennessee where she took a job as a school teacher in an inner city neighborhood. She was white and most of the kids were black and from poor families. But she was committed to making a difference.
The school had an athletic program but was woefully lacking in enough staff and equipment so she asked Don if he could help out in the afternoons some days to assist in making the program successful for the sake of the kids. It was a volunteer effort and the only reward would be in knowing they had helped the school, the neighborhood and the kids.
Don agreed, and because she had gotten Don involved, she attended practice, etc. with Don on each occasion and would sit on the bench or right behind it and everyone knew “Mrs. Jones”* as many were her students in the classroom. Things were going well and both Don and his wife were attached to the kids and gave it their best effort.
As happens in a lot of newly married families, Mrs. Jones became pregnant. She started having some days when she was a little nauseated and on one occasion she told Don that she did not feel well enough to go to practice after being on her feet all day. Her pregnancy was so far unnoticed by the kids. So Don went on alone that day.
It wasn’t long into the practice when one of the kids came over and asked Don where Mrs. Jones* was. Don, without any great detail, just said that she wasn’t feeling well and had stayed home that day. This seemed to satisfy the young boy’s curiosity.
But in a few minutes, the young boy was back and asked what was wrong with Mrs. Jones. He was obviously really concerned about her.
Don explained that Mrs. Jones* was not seriously ill but was expecting a baby and was just tired and needed to rest after teaching all day. Again, this seemed to satisfy the young boy’s concerned question.
In a few minutes, the young boy came back, and in all seriousness, asked what seemed to be a rather normal question to him: “Does Mrs. Jones* know who the father is?”
Don was taken back by the question and had to stop before answering what could have been a hilarious question (or offensive) to some people. He responded, with a straight face, “I am the father. Mrs. Jones* and I are married.”
“Oh. OK.” was the response.
Don, if he had not truly realized it before, saw in an instant that he lived in a different world than these kids. They saw life from a different place, through different eyes, and with a stark awareness that made the world a harder and crueler place. They breathed the same air and saw the same sun rise every morning but their place was different than Don’s. A place where reality was stranger than imagination and things that Don might have taken for granted about these kids might not have been even a dream in their eyes. Things that he could not imagine for his own soon to be child were their everyday, commonplace, hardships.
This was over 35 years ago, now. And one wonders if things are better or worse in that neighborhood. About 75% of black Afro American children today are born without a father on the scene. And the number of white ones is increasing. Is there any wonder that we have social problems when so many kids are growing up with limited resources and family attention? Maybe in this world, “family” as we have known it is on the endangered species list and solutions to the problems may be as big as global warming.
*Don Jones is a fictitious name but the events are true.