My high school was next to an orange grove in central Florida. The property was beautiful, with rolling green hills and an open courtyard where students gathered before school and between classes. The campus was brand new my freshman year, and although it was still unfinished on the scheduled first day of school, we started classes anyway. We spent the first couple weeks dodging wires, plastic sheeting, and construction workers.
Being new, our school had things the other high schools didn’t have, like a state of the art computer lab, an engineering class, and a home economics room with commercial-grade appliances. We talked about these things with students at the other high school, because people like to talk about new things that make them better than everyone else.
Our school was unique in another way we didn’t talk much about – we were a desegregated high school. The boundary lines for our school were all over the county, bussing us in from middle-class neighborhoods, neighborhoods where all the kids would most definitely attend cotillion, neighborhoods with a lake, and neighborhoods that weren’t called neighborhoods – everyone called them the projects.
Being the South, we were generally polite to each other, but honestly, we quickly and instinctively segregated ourselves. I could walk you through those hallways and show you where the various groups gathered – the Puerto Rican kids, the kids that spoke Spanish but were not Puerto Rican, the black kids, the rich white kids, and the not rich white kids. It seemed natural to find people of a familiar lens and understanding. The regrouping was a reflex more than a recoil of hatred, at least that was my experience. The bell would ring and the groups would shuffle and blend in classrooms – a diverse mix of kids all sharing space in the highlands of Florida.
During my senior year of high school, I was a white, pregnant teen. There was no group for me in the hallway. My friend lost her brother to Cystic Fibrosis that year. There was no group for her in the hallway. I had a friend without arms, and she wrote with her foot up on the desk, and believe me, when I was putting her sandwich between her toes at lunch, there was no group in that lunchroom for her.
In crisis or loss, when life is completely rearranged, we don’t need a group that looks just like us or thinks just like us – we just need a safe person. Someone who receives us. Someone who will listen. Someone who doesn’t have a hundred answers or a hundred questions. They don’t have to understand – and they probably won’t – but they are understanding. They admit life is a privilege, but living it in a human body is hard. (Let’s not forget, Jesus took on a body. It was part of the sacrifice.) Safe people appreciate the human condition is complex and unique, joyful and painful, sometimes full and other times lonely, and they find common ground with anyone – any skin color, any class, any belief or viewpoint or party.
Nostalgia prompted me to dig my high school yearbooks from the closet last week. All those late-nineties trends – my kids and I had a good laugh. Turning those pages, I was reminded I had many safe people. There was Dr. King, the guidance counselor with the messiest desk I’d ever seen, who reworked my schedule to maximize my year. There was the dean of students who saw the office ladies hassling me after a doctor’s appointment. He not only reprimanded them, he told me to come directly to him for anything office related for the rest of the year. There was Raymond and Sara, Ian and Alicia, and Jessica who drove me to and from school. There was my younger sister, Cara.
I did not find these safe people congregated in a group in the hallway – I found them all over the school. They were white, they were black, they spoke Spanish. They were older than me and younger than me. They were comfortable with themselves without thinking too much of themselves. Beyond my situation, they saw a person. They saw me, they accepted me, and it made all the difference in the person I have become. This is what I believe: acceptance is the most generous gift you can give a person.
The world doesn’t need more people who are willing to love others, if. The world needs more safe people who say, ‘I will love.’ For those of us following Christ, we don’t have the option to love – Christ loved us first. We can’t say we don’t understand acceptance – we gladly accepted grace and salvation. We must – and I’ll write more about this soon – let go of being right and let go of deciding wrong, because only then will we be safe people. We must love free of duplicity – mind, heart, body, and will.
Oh, friends. We are well aware of the human condition these days. We are seeing the destruction caused when the human will is motivated by unchecked shadows that go completely dark. We are a diverse mix sharing space on this planet. We must pray to God He’ll help us see people as people, because only then will we pursue the most good. For all people.
Thank you for reading, and as always, thank you for sharing. One More Truth is for everyone.