Toward the end of my mother’s life, I sat down with her for three days and taped interviews about her life experiences. One topic that emerged during our conversation was the issue of race relations. My mother grew up in the deep South during the 20s and 30s.
My grandfather left the family during the Depression to seek work and never came home. As a result, my grandmother was forced to live alone in the South as a divorced woman. The divorce created a stigma for my grandmother, mother, and her brother. My grandmother was forced to open a boarding house to survive. My mom grew up with one pair of shoes that she wore to church and school. The rest of the week, she ran barefoot with her black friends.
In the late 30s, my mom had become a local actress and dancer. As her career began to gain traction, she eventually traveled to Hollywood to seek a career in film. That career did not develop as she hoped, so she opened a restaurant in Los Angeles not far from Angelus Temple, where she would listen to Aimee Semple McPherson preach. Little did she know that someday in the distant future, one of her sons would become a Foursquare pastor.
On the train ride from Louisiana to California, my mother would learn a valuable life-lesson. About midway across the country, a black man boarded the train and sat in the same compartment as my mother. After a few moments, she got up and talked with the conductor. She noted, “Sir, a black man is sitting in our train car.” The conductor smiled at the unrealized ignorance of my mother and said, “Young lady. This is the West. Life is different here.”
When my mother shared that story with me, she said, “We were so ignorant then. We didn’t know better.” In all my growing up years, I never heard my parents use a racial epithet or slur. The correction of my mother’s worldview that began on a train ride many years ago would become a valuable gift that is still bearing fruit in our family.
Like my mother’s experience, we all live in insulated bubbles of a perceived reality until our bubble is popped. When our bubble pops, hopefully, we will be able to see the reality other people must face each day that we did not realize was there when our ignorance blinded our eyes. Ignorance uncovered is a blessing only if it helps us see others in a new light, and with that resurrected sight, return to our own lives and make needed adjustments in our perspective.
At some point in our life, all of us will come to realize we could have known better on a wide variety of topics. The lesson my mother learned that day on the train changed her life forever, and it became a life-lesson she passed on to her two sons. We can all be involved in a lifelong process of learning if we are willing to learn something new. Hopefully, in that process of learning, we will all come to know what is better.