I sat in my little car in a parking space outside my bank’s ATM machine, not even bothering to rationalize the environmental folly of continuing to run the engine while I unsuccessfully tried to pry myself away from an NPR story. One of those much touted “driveway moments” alluded to at pledge time, designed to prompt listeners to dig into their wallets for support. After all, who could blame me? Given the characteristic Denver summer heat and the wildly uncharacteristic humidity that, along with daily rain and severe, property-damaging storms, had left everyone I encountered in my normally dry, sunny city more than a little cranky about all too up-close-and-personal evidence of climate change these last two months.
On the radio, filmmaker Liz Garbus continued to wax eloquent about her new documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?, on “civil rights diva” and vocalist extraordinaire Nina Simone, a personal idol of mine since junior high, recounting Simone’s childhood in the segregated South. How people in the North Carolina town she grew up in, recognizing her musical talent, had banded together to raise money to provide her with classical music training. How at a classical recital at 12 years old, Simone refused to perform after her parents were banished to sit in the back of the room.
Black-and-white TV images of civil rights marches resurrected from my own childhood swam in my head. I recalled my outrage back then that people in this country, reputedly founded on a belief in equality; could be treated like this, that our government–President Kennedy and later Johnson–would allow it. How incredulous I was observing so many adults around me (even in the state of New York, where I’d been told one of my actual ancestors had fought for an end to slavery) looked the other way during these newscasts and later, too, when racial violence detonated on the streets of nearby Harlem and Newark.
It was not OK, it had never been OK, and it was still not OK, today! Even though the unresolved racial conflict and hatred simmering just below the surface in this country had erupted all year in police violence against African Americans, for example, and again, just last week, when a young white man had opened fire in a Charleston, South Carolina Church, killing nine people including the pastor and a state senator.
I shook my head in solidarity hearing about Nina Simone, the strains of her soulful rendition of Randy Newman’s song I Think It’s Going to Rain Today—a kind of personal anthem–rising from the vaults of my teenage memory banks, plaintively echoing in my head. (“Human kindness is overflowing/and I think it’s going to rain today.”) Nonetheless glancing at my watch, all too aware of a long list of tasks to accomplish before the afternoon slipped away; I reluctantly turned the engine off and noticed, with a start, a middle-aged African American man standing several feet from the passenger door of my vehicle, his mouth soundlessly moving outside the glass of my car window.
Although I couldn’t quite hear him, I could tell from his pleading expression that he was asking for money, and found myself already reflexively shaking my head no and warily scanning the parking lot to make sure I was not alone before getting out of the car. He needed to get home; I thought I heard him say, as I opened the passenger door and climbed out. Even as I continued to mutter I’m sorry, my mouth and nodding-no head apparently stuck on autopilot, simultaneously sorry for my own lack of generosity, my knee-jerk fearful reaction that, once set in motion, seemed to have taken on a life of its own.
He turned around, then, began to walk away.
“Human kindness is overflowing,” I thought, black-and-white TV images still swimming in my head. Right.
And something in the slump of his shoulders, the plastic grocery bag I guessed did not contain groceries but a tangle of scant belongings, suddenly made me reach into my wallet—still flustered, guilty, unsure, ashamed of my reaction—pluck out what turned out to be two dollars, and call out to him, hurry after him, catch him before he rounded the corner of the building, and press them into the palm of his hand. Unable this time, to avoid his eyes.
“Bless you,” he said, looking smack into mine. “I love you.”
And the thing is; I think he meant it. I could feel he meant it. Hell, there was absolutely no doubt in his eyes that he meant it! The unmistakable expression of kindness, completely unconditional love I saw there, would continue to haunt me all day, haunts me even now as I write these words. Along with the distressing awareness that I could have given him the $10 more deeply nestled in the fold of my wallet instead of the paltry $2. Hell, as the ego, rising in triumph to hijack the occasion gleefully pointed out, I could have asked him to wait while I used the ATM and given him $100! Could have said, “I love you,” returned the blessing. You know, like any other sincere A Course in Miracles student should have, would have, for Christ’s freaking sake! Would that have been so difficult? But instead found myself able only to mumble the vague assurance, “It’s going to be OK,” as if trying to reassure myself we would all make it home.
The irony of my predicament did not escape me. The timing of this encounter following my driveway moment listening to the plight of Nina Simone (which had followed continuously breaking news about the recent shooting victims and victimizer in Charleston) and, literally a heartbeat later, encountering a black hand earnestly extended right in my face that seemed to have catapulted me back into a bottomless pit of fear. “Safe” behind the invisible lines that divide us everywhere we seem to look “out there” in a world hopelessly dissected by the sinful sword of our secret belief in separation that begat an addiction to robotically upholding and defending our differences!
Revealing, as it did, the uncomfortable truth that like others of my race, I’m very good at digging into my pockets to support NPR, listening to stories that bolster the face of my theoretical generosity and innocence, even as the imaginary lines that divide us remain firmly entrenched within. Until their consequences lunge from concealment as they had just now to expose the hateful “you-or-me, one-or-the-other” thought system I blindly obey when I have chosen the ego as my inner teacher. Prompting me to realize I can also choose to remember this is not what I am, not what we are. I really am not afraid of this person for the reason I think, and can join with the part of my mind that knows beyond all shadows of doubt that the unassailable safety we share, resting in undifferentiated union while dreaming of differentiated exile, can never be, has never been, threatened.
All of us–victim and victimizer, black and white–wandering outside the one loving mind we believe we destroyed, feeling lost and alone and no longer welcome home, shares the same interest in learning we are wrong. Discovering the same inner teacher of kindness within capable of gently leading us there, one human encounter, one hand joined to a seeming other, at a time. Regardless of superficial differences that seem so important, so hell-bent on rocking our world, our inherent equality prevails and can always be accessed as we dare to look straight into the eyes of our brother through the eyes of the one Love in our mind and rediscover only our one innocent face gently staring back at us.
True, I might have had the same reaction to a white man “invading” the “personal-space comfort zone” outside my vehicle. But that, too, would have sprung from a gender-judgment based on past ego programming. And while that’s a normal response within the dream, it’s still based on the lie that our imaginary flight from abstract, eternal Love had devastatingly real effects.
A Course in Miracles is not asking us to deny our physical experience as vulnerable bodies within the dream. We can’t not react or judge as long as we think we’re individuals vying for survival, adrift in a hostile world we forgot we dreamt up. Denying our physical experience as bodies, the Course tells us, is a “particularly unworthy form of denial.” Besides, denial is unkind. After all, it’s what got us into this seemingly unkind mess in the first place.
Instead the Course asks us to change our mind about the world by honestly looking at our reactions to our experience, questioning their real cause, and recognizing we can choose to make every reaction and judgment we notice arising within an opportunity to heal our split mind of the belief in separation. To change the purpose of our difficult experiences in this difficult world from rooting ourselves more deeply in the dream, as Ken Wapnick so often reminded us and reminds us still, to taking another step toward awakening.
Although my ego continued to berate me for not giving enough, to reinforce a hierarchy of illusions we have crafted to captivate ourselves , I was done, at least for now, listening to the madness that what had just occurred had anything at all to do with the quantity of money exchanged. There was no need to keep believing in a voice that told me you could quantify real, boundless Love. Besides, I had found my teacher today in a stranger’s eyes, reflecting a kindness not of this world. And that message continued to haunt me, in the best possible way—in a way that heals instead of hurting our shared, frightened mind—and continues to haunt me, still.
Apparently, kindness not of this world of troubled humans really is overflowing. And, all things considered, what’s a little rain, anyway?
“The Christ in you is very still. He knows where you are going and He leads you there in gentleness and blessing all the way. His Love for God replaces all the fear you thought you saw within yourself. His Holiness shows you Himself in him whose hand you hold, and whom you lead to him. And what you see is like yourself. For what but Christ is there to see and hear and love and follow home?”
– (Text 24, V. paragraph 6, lines 1-6)
Susan Dugan’s books Extraordinary Ordinary Forgiveness, Forgiveness Offers
Everything I Want, and Forgiveness: The Key to Happiness are available at
RMMC and on Amazon. She writes about ACIM based on Ken Wapnick’s teachings at ForaysInForgiveness.com and teaches Tuesday nights at RMMC.