I posted the following piece three years ago, in honor of Father’s Day. I thought I would post it again. Although the dates in it are three years ago I think it works for today. Happy Father’s Day to all you dads!
It’s June 16, 2018, the day before Father’s Day. I just finished some reading, but while I was doing so, I sensed my mind wandering off into the topic of fatherhood. We all know that words have many meanings. One of the more basic meanings for the word father, I just Googled is: A man in relationship with his child or children. I was struck not only by the sheer economy of phraseology used in this definition, but also by what seemed to me the objectivity of it. There’s no qualitative measure assigned to it. It simply states a man is in relationship with his child or children. We all know something else, don’t we? There are excellent fathers, good fathers, all the way to men who one wonders why they were blessed with the ability “sire” (not father) a child?
Dictionaries commonly define micro as extremely small. When I think of micro, my mind conjures up images if things that can only be seen with an electron-microscope, too small for the eye to naturally perceive. Of course, most of us know there are social situations that are appropriately defined using the prefix micro. Of late (recent years), we hear the term micro-aggression being used to refer to the isms that plague our society. Stories where people of color are confronted with various comments, actions that pierce to the very heart of their being by someone who is troubled, it would seem, by their very existence on the planet. For example, asking an Asian American where they’re from or informing them that they speak English well, without assuming that they were born in Kansas and grew up next door to Dorothy.
Before I poor any more words unto this little blue screen, let me confess from where the prompt for this blog comes. Last evening, in our living room, my oldest child, my middle child, my better half (Chris) and I were sitting around talking. Of course, we couldn’t have done this a year ago; however, we’ve all been vaccinated (two shots) and we feel comfortable socializing as in days of old. Somehow our conversation meandered into politics, racism, and a few other topics that many families forbid being broached at the dinner table, for fear of familial civil discord. One thing we got bogged down in was whether minorities can technically be defined as racists, or would the term prejudiced be more accurate. The prevailing definition of a racist speaks to one from a socially predominate group who has power to deprive someone of another group of life, liberty, etc. because of their race, ethnicity. I’m not going to divulge the full dynamics of our lively discussion hear but let me just say I was troubled by the bridge of life experience that divides our generations.
As I think back to twelve hours ago, I can see that much of our conversation dealt with microaggression, and the degree of sensitivity each of us has to it. We even had a labored discussion about whether Black folks should speak up when uncomplimentary things are said about white folks in a conversation among Black folks. This stemmed from what is often thought to be the reluctance or uncertainty of some socially conscience white person to do the same when they find themselves having such a conversation in a group of white folks.
At almost 71 years of age, I’ve experienced a lot. I’ve gone from a time when Black folks couldn’t go to a lot of public places; to being granted entre’ to many of those places; to being granted the opportunity to pursue many of the material things that don’t define happiness well; to experiencing life in ways that my grandparents and great grandparents couldn’t even imagine. And now, it seems there are forces afoot that want to turn back the clock to a time when they thought America was great. Anger, confusion, disgust, exhaustion is but a few of the deleterious emotions that just won’t go away.
I started this piece with what I thought to be a clear direction of where I was going, but do we ever really know where we’re going when we talk of isms and micro aggressive behavior that too often accompanies them. Our conversation left more questions than answers, but that doesn’t mean it was worthless. I’ve heard many times that this conversation needs to be had in the public square. I agree. But it must be a conversation with no end. The conversation must be a part of a process that encompasses families, neighborhoods, regions, the entire country. Will we feel good, having it? No. But we can’t have gain without pain.
We live about equidistance from three Walmart stores in Little Rock. I often shop at one more than the other two; however, I do switch it up occasionally, sharing my hard-earned retirement cash with all three stores. Some time ago, I found myself in one of the stores going through checkout and realizing most of the checkout lanes, normally operated by humans had no humans stationed there. The store had installed several self-checkout lanes. More of them by the way than the ones requiring a human to operate.
When I first noticed the addition of more self-checkout lanes at Walmart, I remember thinking that one day I’ll have to check myself out. The image of me having to checkout a week’s worth of groceries and various household items myself didn’t seem very appealing. Shortly after my experience of noticing the increased number of self-checkout lanes, I placed a post on Facebook about this. Many of my Facebook friends were troubled by the idea that they would have to check themselves out some day. One of them even said, “I’ll politely leave the cart full of groceries and walk out of the store.” That seemed a bit extreme to me. I reminded them of a time when we enjoyed personal service at auto service stations. These were wonderful places where you drove up, and someone uniformed in an outfit that displayed the brand name of the oil company immediately came out smiling and asking you what they could do for you today. There was no need for you get out of the car. That unique experience faded like vapor a long time ago. We’ve been pumping our own gas and checking our tire pressure for decades. It would seem strange if someone suddenly appeared when I drove up to a gas station, asking me what’s my pleasure.
I got out of the house early this morning and made my weekly trip to one of my Walmart stores to buy groceries. I normally do this early to beat the crowd. I often find myself navigating through stockers replenishing goods on the shelves; however, that’s okay because there’s normally not a shortage of any merchandise early in the morning. I’ve been noticing a steady, albeit small, increase in prices for many of our staples over the last few weeks. News reports have informed us that the production of many things is reduced and supply chains aren’t operating as they did pre-pandemic. I understand this, and I have adjusted, allowing us to keep our grocery bill about the same as it was a year ago.
Then it happened. As I made my way to the first checkout lane there was no human. Looking down at the other lanes, I saw no human at any of them either. All shoppers, who had finished selecting whatever they needed were lining up at self-checkout. Emotionally, I felt something that almost tempted me to do as my Facebook friend told me she would do. After spending a good forty-five minutes or so filling the cart, I couldn’t see myself leaving the store without my carefully selected goods. Don’t let anyone tell you the registers are programmed to be intuitive for all things. Everything I removed from the cart had a barcode on it except the produce. I needed some assistance from the friendly attendant, standing by with the produce. After showing me how to look up cabbage, bananas, apples, and few other things without barcodes, I think I can do it next time.
I have a confession to make. I didn’t feel good paying more for groceries this morning than this time last year, while receiving less service. I mentioned to the lady behind me that it was shameful we’re paying more but getting less service. She smiled and said that’s true, but we shouldn’t be upset with the employees, because it’s not their fault. I wouldn’t dare mistreat the employees. Most of them at Walmart are very pleasant no matter the level of service they’ve been charged with providing customers. Sooner or later more changes will come, leaving products in the cart, and walking out of the store isn’t a nice option. Some nice employee, who might be high teched out of a job soon will have to put your stuff back on the shelves.
I know we’ve all heard the saying: Time flies when you’re having fun. Time flies whether you’re having fun or not. The past year has been strange, scary, devastating, historic. I can probably think of a few other adjectives to add color to it, but I’ll leave that up to you.
Our church recently did a virtual celebration of our pastor’s 43rd anniversary. The program was shown on YouTube, Facebook, and the church’s website. As I watched with gratitude the tributes given to C. Dennis Edwards for all he’s done as leader of a grateful flock, my thought process was triggered by something his wife, Corley Edwards said as they shared a few words of gratitude. She said things have really changed during the time we’ve not been meeting in the church building. (That’s not a direct quote.) She referred to the growth some babies had experienced. We had our last physical worship service for the entire congregation on March 15, 2020. Any child born around that time was a walking toddler by the time of our pastor’s anniversary May 15, 2021. Being sequestered in our homes for the most part for the past year, we couldn’t see changes in newborns as they grew. Now we see what seems to be a young stranger in our congregation. A year always passes after our little blue ball circles around its star 365 times, but that complete revolution seems quicker when we’re not able to physically witness markers on our journey.
Our congregation is a bit old. If I were to guess an average age, it would be about 45 to 50. It’s always a traumatic experience when someone in our church passes on to meet the creator face to face; however, it’s not unusual. We all know older people have many more years behind them than in front. It gives one a sense of being detached from a family dynamic when word of church members passing is shared in email, text, and phone calls, and you’re not able to participate in the rituals surrounding the passing of someone you know. Many have passed on in our congregation during the year 2020, as well as these first few months of 2021.
When we do begin meeting together physically, we won’t be doing things the same anymore. There will be measures in place to provide a safer worship experience, even though the viral grim reaper will not be as prolific as before. Many of us will probably catch ourselves looking to the front, either side and behind for that member who is no longer there. Their absence will lessen our fellowship experience. It will take some time to make an adjustment to the imbalance.
A lot can happen in about a year and half, and it seems to happen faster, because time takes wings given a set of certain circumstances. My church, my city, my country is minus almost 600,000 souls over the last, roughly year and a half. Times flies whether you’re having fun or not.