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Glimpses along the Way

Awareness of the song rose up quickly from my belly, startling me, even making me afraid.

I saw Ms. Joyce Parrish O’Neal leaving the Selma Library, presumably heading to her car. She had just spent over an hour sharing her story of the Selma March, of being a ‘foot-soldier’ in the 1965 Selma Movement. She had led us in some freedom songs, which providentially we’d been listening to on the bus ride there. Several participants from our United trip were walking out ahead of her, having each made sure to take a picture with her. But she was walking out alone, behind them.

A song I’d learned in Red Tent circling erupted into my awareness…”Woman, woman…Thank you for showing up, thank you for sharing your sweet love and truth. We are so grateful for your holy presence in all that you do…” The belly-fear that arose in me was a familiar sense Quakers call a leading. It’s uncomfortable and usually resisted at first, while feeling inevitable. It was also an old fear of being foolish, being “too much,” of being chastised for making a scene of some kind. Even of being dismissed by a black woman who (understandably) may or may not welcome a white woman’s imposition.

I asked her if I might sing her a women’s circling song anyway. She paused, smiled, and said yes. I told her I hoped I wouldn’t cry but took a deep breath. I closed my eyes to center in my belly, the gratitude I felt pouring out of me. My voice steadied enough as I sang for me to open my eyes, to look into hers. When the song was done, she gave me a big smile and leaned to give me a hug. I whispered into her ear thank you, thank you, thank you. She asked me to get her number from Tony Hunt so I could send her the song. I said I would, and I have.

I don’t know all that’s happening on this trip, Retracing the Steps of Freedom, visiting persons, places, cites of the 1950’s-60’s Civil Rights’ Movement. I do know that it is meeting the curricular purpose I’m here to steward as a United professor. I do know that it’s stretching and opening participants to an experience of Beloved Community as we travel together. Participants are learning our own history, while also observing how fragile it is, how much resistance there is to preserving this history for future generations.

On the Eve of Yom Kippur, on the day when the US Supreme Court began to hear arguments in a case from the Republican Party in Alabama to further gut the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a small band of Beloved Community pilgrims walked the Edmund Pettus Bridge, together.

In challenging times, it was a good day.

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