African American History Month – reflection 9, concluding this series

FullSizeRender (1)Celebrating African American History Month by commemorating those who have influenced me most. In this my closing reflection, who more than William John Abernathy (1911-1986) and Clara Lolita Roberts Abernathy (1915-2015), my father and my mother.

The parent-child relationship is fertile ground; capable of producing the grandest outward fruits of ethically-conscious, societally-contributing adults and the greatest inward frustrations, imparting to that next generation long-enduring complexes of guilt and shame and struggles of self-worth. So mixed is the legacy of my formative years.

I am grateful to my parents for the gift of my life. Even on my worst day, I rejoice to be alive in this world.

I am grateful, too, for treasured lessons my parents taught me. Exposing me, in my earliest years, to music and literature, history and science. Exhorting me to apply my gifts toward the development of an inquisitive mind. Sharing their witness of faith in God and in the life of the church so to form my soul in the likeness of love’s virtue. Instilling in me a present consciousness of life’s inequities rooted in discriminations based on color, not character; so to arm me with an awareness that though I dare never assume that the world would treat me with fairness, that was a value I was expected to practice.

Looking back over my 62 years, I now see more clearly what, for so long, I did not comprehend. I understand my father’s bitterness in being denied opportunities because of his race. I understand my mother’s quiescent acceptance of life’s injustices. She was not possessed of the passionate temperament that compelled my grandmother and my aunt toward civic activism. Rather, embracing an inmost spirituality of an abiding trust that God somehow would provide, her soul’s belief was given voice in words like those of James Weldon Johnson:

God of our weary years,

God of our silent tears,

Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;

Thou who has by Thy might led us into the light,

Keep us forever in the path, we pray…

Home life with an angry father and a compliant mother was oft rancorous. As my disposition was, is more akin to that of my grandmother and my aunt and not at all like that of my mother, I, too, understand how, in my customary contesting against my father, I contributed mightily to our domestic unrest.

Still, I am grateful for this, my mixed, at times, mixed up family life into which I was born. For from this mélange of light and shadow, quiet and tempest, goodly, godly counsel and furious passion, I was formed as a person of love and justice – one who lives to share active benevolence and fairness with all, unconditioned by differences of culture, color, or creed, and unconstrained even by my most heartfelt opinions and soul-deep prejudices.

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2 thoughts on “African American History Month – reflection 9, concluding this series

  1. From what I’ve read Paul in this series of reflections, I definitely agree that you’re a lot more like your grandmother and aunt than your parents, YET the lessons you learned from them stuck too! The way they pushed the importance of learning and being well read has stayed with you for your entire life. And though you may not have understood it at the time, it wonderful that you have come to understand your father’s bitterness about opportunities denied to him because of his race. Your fight for love and justice can absolutely be traced to your parents.

    It’s amazing to me that your mom, who sat in silence during your father’s tirades, also suffered with her Alzheimer’s disease in silence for more years than is likely on record. Yet she lived in that silence in her own defiant way, often shaking her head while laying in bed, as if to say to Alzheimer’s “I’m going to go out on my own terms and you won’t firce me”. An amazing woman indeed! You’ve captured your childhood with your parents in a beautifully honest way. Much peace and continued growth to you my friend.

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  2. Thank you, Loretta, for affirming my – me in my – testimony about my parents. Again, thank you. I do believe, too, that you have captured my mother’s wrestling and resolution: “your mom…suffered with her Alzheimer’s disease in silence…Yet she live in that silence in her own defiant way”.

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