Out of a far-off time and place there’s a continuing, haunting scenario. It emerges from a world in which a little girl comes a-boppin’ and a-groovin’ down the well-worn corridor of the campus dorm she and I were destined to share for a couple of days. In her glory, she comes trimming along, eyeing the room numbers as she passes, checking to make sure she still has her key, occasionally to confirm that her name tag is still plastered to her sweatshirt and that it still says: “Hi, I’m Lisa.”
She’s pictured comfortably in scruffy Nikes that bring her height to about 5’ 1”. There’s a blissful pride in her ebony cornrows, in the obligatory milky-grey jeans that cling to her like fuzz on a peach. She’s got teeth that light up the night. She sparkles, this kid; she’s alive. She sets fire to the soul. She’s possibly 14. She’s just stepped off the set of the old Cosby Show.
Well not so much. Actually, she’s just scrambled from a bus that’s ferried her from some seamy crosstown urban quarters to the school gym that’s granted her and a few of her neighbourhood pals a day or two of recreational round ball and a brief respite from urban swelter. Back home there’s no obstetrician father, no lawyer mother, no upscale brownstone with polished brass and stereophonic doorbells. Instead, mom may be racking pop bottles in the neighbourhood seven-eleven. She’s never known her dad; her walk up digs, in season, struggle to keep out the cold and heat.
Still, she shines, chortling as we pass: “We’s goin’ ta college!” she beams with the rapture of a lottery winner: “We’s goin’ ta college!”
Did that ever get real, Lisa? Did it ever happen? Were you ever, from a couple of institutionally-inspired days, able to reach out and garner an enlightened humanity? A noble career? A classy reputation? Or were the events of those days, when we were strangely and fleetingly introduced to each other, simply some well-intentioned scheme to get you temporarily off mean streets, out of the immediate range of bullets, barbiturates and brutality? Did basketball, for the moment, help keep you from falling over your tanked-up uncle who was propped against the Dairy Queen, flung there by ignorance and left there by impotence? What after that sportsy weekend? Was it back to bigotry and banditry?
I sure hope you can now say “no”, because you deserved better…a learning experience not all that interested in your rebounding abilities or the effects of your presence on budgets and statistics. I sure hope that some exemplar academy had the decency and foresight to shape and applaud your obvious curiosity and mettle, to welcome a bit of your naivety. Tell me that, in this often boorish world, there’s been an ivy hall that was ready to gamble on your essential elegance and in the bargain, find out that it could learn something from you.
Because, folks, what persists in one’s head, from those few distant encounters, is the aura that’s a reminder that a lot of us need to be kicked out of the complacency wherein we take for granted our peaceable kingdoms, protected and cozy, out of assuming first dibs on Caucasia’s wealth and power.
You see, the kid I remember had the oomph that could and should pull a lot of our thinking and misunderstandings up short. Her force maybe should always be coming a-boppin’ and a-groovin’ down our corridors, sparkling, wise and setting the world aglow. We should train ourselves to recognize it. Always, we could welcome her to all our various daily classrooms, to lecture, to illustrate, to guide, to give us homework, to test our retention. She’s likely to do it softly, with quiet elegance and understatement; she’d pass out our demerits with gentleness, and dispense our rewards with caution. She’d do it with modest gaiety, verve and understanding.
And with guts.
Peter MacRae is a retired Anglican cleric and erstwhile journalist. He lives in New Glasgow.