And I was one of them.
I did not want to draw attention to myself, but despite the fact that I have been to church most Sundays of my life, I had no idea what to do. When to sit, stand, pray or the lyrics to any of the songs. The rules here seemed so different than my own church, just a few miles away. Filled with people who mostly looked like me.
A few elderly African American women were seated next to me and were kind enough to attempt to make me feel welcome and tell me what to do. At some point Eunice, in a bright purple dress, slid her arthritic hand on top of mine, squeezed and tugged me to the front to pray.
I let her lead me, because I didn’t how else to respond, and because she seemed so genuinely glad that I was there, singing off key next to her.
It was not lost on me, that my slight discomfort was one of choice and ended just as quickly as I got in my car and drove home. That discomfort is one most people, in that same sanctuary, probably feel all the time. I wondered how often they were one of the few people of color in a white sea. I wondered if there was anyone kind enough to take their hand, welcome them and patiently show them what to do.
Some of my friends invited me to go to the Dallas Pride parade and join them giving out free mom hugs. Painting signs and making shirts of welcome and acceptance to a group that can often feel strained relationships with their own parents. We hoped to be stand-ins.
We pulled up in a minivan. I looked more like I belonged on a Target aisle, than in a pride parade. I had not ordered a mom hug shirt so I looked in my closet until I found some rainbow tie-dyed t-shirts in the back. We found a place along the parade route, right in front of a church that was doing it right-- giving away water and opening its doors and restrooms. The lawn was full of spectators dressed in all kinds of things and the fanciest of shoes. Music blared, drinks flowed and I quickly started to sweat through my tie-dye. Even with my long history with the Indigo girls, I still couldn’t help but feel out of place. Like I didn’t fit. And despite the fact that a guy behind me had on a blue wig, 3 inch heels and fishnets, that people were looking AT ME.
Yet, no one told me to leave, or questioned my morality, motives or even my footwear.
Two college age looking girls to my left, hesitantly asked if it was really ok to ask for a hug. Another obnoxious guest, who had overserved herself and yelled in our ears, saw the signs and said she was likely almost the same age as us, but could really use a mom hug.
There were plenty of hugs. Some shy. Some sweaty. More than a few with glitter. Some people literally ran to us with open arms and hearts.
Kind of like Eunice’s open hands.
I went to a black church to learn and because I believe in unity (and for the music, duh).
I went to the parade for many of the same reasons.
In both places I realized that I, in all my privilege, was suddenly the other. Even if it was only for a few hours.
I stood out. I was uncomfortable. I wondered what people would think. I worried if it was ok to be tagged on facebook.
And I was only treated with love. Hugged a hundred times. Dragged to the altar. Welcomed and asked back by people who were not always treated as kindly by people like me. The same as me.
That discomfort is not an easy outfit to put on. But it is an excellent teacher. And the best hugger and hand-holder I know.