“To go fast, go alone. To go far, walk together.” –Rwanda Proverb
It’s been ten days. I’m living amongst 13 other students in Northern Philly. I’m living in a room with three other girls, sleeping on the floor on an air mattress. The first night it deflated and my hip was numb from the hardwood. I was sticky from the city’s summer air.
I was uncertain how I’d eat amongst a communal meal style as a gluten-free health nut seeking to cleanse my sick kidneys. I wondered how I’d fare without my barbell of weights I throw above my head, rest behind my neck, making my muscles strong.
We talk of shalom. It tastes of the beginning, when men didn’t go to war to break the bones of other men. Women were not only helpers, but necessary equals. All ate from the greens of the land. All breathed the very breath of God. Shalom smells like wholeness. Fresh bread baked in the morning that fills. There’s Italian loaves and seeded buns, sourdough and pumpernickel, even gluten-free for me. Separate, different, but good. This is the shalom of the Bible. The shalom of the beginning, of Genesis.
We look for shalom on the streets. My friend and I meet a man who sings a song of our beauty. Not to flatter, not to disrespect. To build, to affirm, to say to us we are unique, we are individuals. We talk for over an hour. Well, actually, he talks. We nod, we listen. And there’s beauty there, in the listening. In the time taken to look him in the eyes. I inhale this piece of shalom.
And it’s nice, to look for these glimpses of love breaking through. It’s good, it’s renewing. But there’s something almost pretentious in only looking for rainbows. Because the fact of the matter is there’s garbage on the streets, there’s a dead puppy on the side. There are college students that loudly blast music, get drunk until dawn, without ever saying hello to the mother of three next door.
But why should I even go outside to find litter choking the earth? All I need is a mirror. Being here, pressing in, I’ve felt hatred deeper than I’ve yet known. The litter, it’s right here. It’s my skin.
I felt the whiteness strapped upon my soul. All week those I’ve been living with have been sharing their family roots—where they are from, their backgrounds and upbringings. For a group of mainly college-aged women, we have wonderful strands of diversity amongst us. I, however, couldn’t share.
Not when I saw my reflection. I couldn’t bare to be the one with the money, the family that stuck together, the father that made his way up, the ancestors that came over on the boats and hurt the Natives, hurt the Blacks, hurt those that weren’t white. I look and see my skin, I look and see my privilege in the system passed down to us, and feel as if it’s me that stabbed them. I bare the mark of their wounds. Shame, guilt, caught me wet and soggy and deep inside.
There were moments I wanted to rip of my skin off and try on another. Take on blackness, tan-ness, redness, yellowness. Any color but colorless. I’ll take the pain, let it seep into all I’ve reaped from the ghosts’ of my past greedy hands. I’m not them, I’m not them, I scream and scream. But I look in the mirror and I am. White.
I’m convinced this sloshy grossness developing inside is good. I’m convinced from the ashes comes new life. I’m convinced, I’m exhausted, I’m uncertain and I’m holding on, pressing in.
There’s something about being amongst 13 others, sharing how dirty my snow-white flesh feels, that feels like a step forward. There’s something incredible about the silence of 13 eyes on mine as I say these things, about the silence that sits when I close my lips. Something healing in the hugs that come afterwards.
There’s shalom there. In the honesty. In the holding out of the shards of broken hearts caught in systems that seem unbreakable. It’s slow moving. It’s hard moving. But it’s breaking through, bit by bit, person by person.