Many of us were raised in settings in which we had no opportunities for relationships with anyone of a different nationality, race or lifestyle.
I recall the concern voiced in our neighborhood when it was learned that a Portuguese family would soon move into the house and property next to us. Two of our long-time neighbors stopped by to moan over our misfortune.
The day after the new family moved in, my mother commissioned me to deliver a pie she'd baked for our new neighbors.
So I carried this gift out our driveway, down our street and up the walk. The lady of the house in turn told me to convey her deep appreciation. I retraced my steps toward our back door, where I met the Silvers' daughter, Millie, who was presenting a boxed gift to my mom at our kitchen door.
You see, she had been sent directly past our garden to our back door, arriving before I did!
This experience and those that continued thereafter opened doors that had long gone unopened.
Our family later moved to two other similarly stratified communities. Neither of them, like that in which I had been raised, had one resident family of color. We never missed what we never had. This rarified existence wasn't even recognized because its all-white character seemed natural, complete and comfortable.
I finished high school and enrolled in a college which had a similar proportion of students and faculty of color. I'm still ashamed that I never reached out to get acquainted with any of the four or five students of color who were on campus during my time there.
One day, during my graduate studies for Christian ministry, my then-roommate confided, “You know, back home in Virginia, I always knew just where I stood, all the time, but up here I never know. Everybody smiles at me, but I'm not sure they'd do more than smile at me if I needed help.”
Four years later, as I was preparing for my ordination at my home church, I called home.
I told my mom I had invited one of my closest classmates to participate in that service and stay the night at our house after the service. Mom assured me he'd be welcome as long as he wanted to stay.
The afternoon we arrived home, we pulled into the drive.
My dad emerged onto the front porch, beaming proudly from ear to ear. After two steps, he stopped as Al got out of the car. I'd never thought to mention to mom that Al was Black.
Both mother and dad had taught adult classes at church for years, regularly emphasizing that every person is created a child of God and should always be treated as such. But I had suddenly and inadvertently forced them to host a person of color ... for the night, to sleep in our home!
I needed to remember neither of them had had experiences like I'd been having while I was in seminary.
For a second or two, I could almost hear the wheels grinding away in dad's head. Then he resumed his smile, stepped down from the porch and shoved out his hand to welcome Al.
I've never been as proud of my dad as I was that afternoon.
Few of us have had the opportunity to shape the rules usually governing our interpersonal relationships. We usually rely on guidelines established for us by our forerunners.
We haven't created those patterns by which we govern our behavior. You can't blame us for what our forbears have been doing for generations.
Perhaps, but we can and we must chart new ways to accomplish what has to be done together to protect our descendants' future on this planet.
Use your phone to restore your touch with almost-forgotten friends. Jot down a few notes to catch up with distant, lonely relatives. Call your library to get recommendations of readable scientific issues with recommendations of things you can do with others to make needed changes. Learn what you can do to protect our vulnerable planet. Check the opportunities available to you to join other volunteers doing things for and with other ailing folks. Read the news with a blind person. Share memories with someone else who is also older than dirt.
When we invest ourselves and our discovered resources in significant issues and other people, changes will surely occur, if only in ourselves.
Francis Frellick is a Fort Wayne resident.