When I was a kid, I had trouble with some words. My kindergarten teacher’s name was Mrs. Tompkins but for me, her name was Miss Punkins. And on every Halloween since, I always laugh a little when I say pumpkins (trying not to slip into punkins), because I remember how earnest I was in addressing my beloved teacher. I imagine she smiled a huge jac-o-latern grin when I, and maybe some kids, greeted her each morning with a snaggle-toothed “Hello Ms. Punkins”.
Life seemed so much simpler then. I’m not trying to be overly rosy, but when you said something that was almost right but not quite, the receiver gave you a smile and a bit of grace. Today, we are so divided that even a slip in word, thought, or deed, is worthy of the strongest rebuke. Where has our capacity for grace gone?
Yet, when I hear a president use race-baiting language I have no patience, or grace. Calling his detractors and the impeachment process a “lynching,” is totally out of bounds. Thousands if not millions have suffered and died in our nation’s centuries old denial of African-Americans. The use of such language today is even more horrendous because we actively know better. To intentionally inflame or incite racist tendencies in self or others is akin to crying FIRE in a crowded theater. But unlike a false alarm that causes panic, this word and others of its ilk, are real alarms that scream at us that serious harm is still being done.
If we are ever to achieve what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the Beloved Community, then we all need to take a step back, listen, and see the humanity in every person, including black, brown, indigenous. If we did this, our hearts might break for how we have allowed this to go on for so long. And then, we might find the courage – and grace – to do something about it.
We should be called to task for race-baiting. We should be called out for words, thoughts, deeds that hurt others. And yes, we should look in the mirror to see how we have, or continue to cause, harm. Grace may come in the form of forgiveness and it may come in the form of knowledge, and if it does, it is not to be discarded only to ask for, or be granted a repeat. It is time to change.
Learn what you can. Do what you can. And if you’re like me, there will be teachers who have the grace to greet you with a smile and say, “Take a seat. We have a lot to learn today.”
Thank you Ms. Punkins.
May my thoughts, words, and deeds be rooted in love
And may that love be grounded in my values
That I may hold all living beings in highest regard
And know that my fate is not a separate heaven or hell.