Saturday, February 19, 2005


Some friends and I attended a play last night -- Two Trains Running -- written by August Wilson and set in the 1960s in a small urban diner. I love his work and once again I was entertained and challenged. But the three of us agreed . . . we felt like we were eavesdropping.

All the characters are African-American. And almost all of them in almost every speech used the word "nigger." This is a word I can barely type. I have never used it in conversation . . . except to quote someone . . . and even then I probably said "the n-word."

As a result, I was reminded that I was an outsider looking in. The crowd was predominately African American as it usually is in this theater. The three of us are white. We were graciously received as we usually are. Yet when the performance got started and during the intermission, I definitely felt a different vibe. No anger. Nothing like that. In fact, it wasn't coming from the other patrons. It was radiating from us. We had a sense that while we were obviously allowed to be here, we didn't belong.

We were listening in to conversations held only in community, when you know you're surrounded by friends and you don't guard yourself. While this is true in any performance -- I'm in the audience, not on the stage -- the obvious racial distinctions were . . . well obvious.

Which got me to thinking about community. We all know that we have our own little communities. We've known it since junior high. We called them cliques back them and the liberals among us, while lamenting their existence and the barriers they instilled, were simultaneously shamed by them and glad to be in them. One aspect of community is a common language. Sometimes it's a common dress. Often it's a common way of thinking.

Communities are more about space than place. We know that churches are communities. That friends are communities. And I can't help thinking that there are plenty of people who stand on the outside of what feels like a vast space, looking in and they don't understand the language, the dress, the thinking. Even though they are allowed to be there, they have an incredible sense of eavesdropping where they don't belong.

As I said, I love August Wilson's plays. He makes me think. And today I thought about eavesdropping and how I truly can't make anyone feel accepted or a part of a group. But I can be aware. I can bridge that vast expanse of space. And I can speak clearly so that they too may hear.

No comments: