Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ruby Bridges

Tuesday's whining post came courtesy of some sort of virus, but, as usual, it took me most of the day to realize I was sick. I typically run through a gamut of self-castigation--unproductive, lazy, whingeing, etc.--before I understand that I'm actually not feeling well, not because of any personal failures, but because I am sick.

I spent most all of yesterday on the couch, attempting to sleep despite workman landing jumbo jets in the bedroom above my head. (That's what it sounded like. I've no idea what they were actually doing.) The one time I did drift off, the phone rang: it was a man informing me that, "The government has randomly selected you to win a grant of eight thousand dollars--"

"Oh, bull--" I said, and slammed down the phone.

Today is the 13th anniversary of 9/11. My Super Secret Special Project, now defunct, didn't directly concern terrorism, but it had some indirect links. One thing I'd pointed out to my ex-collaborator is that no high school student in America today can clearly remember the attacks of that day. My daughter, a junior in high school now, was a 3-year-old in preschool--we managed to keep her pretty much oblivious of the whole thing. My son, now a college sophomore, was in first grade--he caught on to a lot of the story, and the fear and tension upset him for awhile, but I don't know now how much he actually remembers from his own experience, and how much he remembers from hearing stories of the day retold. (When I was a little girl, I was astonished to learn that President Kennedy had been shot before I was born. I'd heard so much about that day that it seemed I could remember it.) My point being, to the upcoming generation 9/11/01 is history, not current events.

Yesterday was the 60th birthday of Ruby Bridges, who, on November 14, 1960, entered a formerly all-white public school in New Orleans under the guard of four federal marshals.  When you look at photos of that day you can't believe how small she was, how vulnerable, how beautiful. She's wearing a pretty dress and white ankle socks and little patent-leather shoes. I imagine her Momma carefully dressing her, arranging her hair, thinking that nobody was going to say her little girl was dirty or trashy or unkempt. Ruby's mother accompanied her to school the first few days, but after that Ruby and her marshals went alone. She was the only first-grader at the school--all her white classmates had been withdrawn.

Every day a vicious crowd protested outside the school. They shouted insults. One held up a black doll inside a coffin.

Little Ruby's response was to pray for them. Her mother had told her to remember that if she was worried she could always pray, that God would always hear her, and Ruby also remembered that Jesus had prayed for people who hated him. So she prayed for her protesters.

The following year the school opened without protests to integrated classrooms. Ruby Bridges grew up, married, raised four children, and eventually volunteered in the very school she helped to integrate.

Ruby's story reminds me that, though we still have a long way to go, our society can change for the better. We can live less out of fear and more out of love for each other. If Ruby Bridges could pray for her enemies at the age of six, maybe the rest of us can, too.