The Courage To Be Kind

In an homage to his mother, Cord Jefferson considers the relationship between caring and bravery:

The world at large was frequently as resentful as my grandfather had been at my mother’s decision to marry a person with skin different from her own. There were the confused looks my family received in public, and, if my mother and I were alone, the strangers asking if I was her “real” son. There was the time an entire restaurant of white people in Mississippi gave us dagger stares for daring to eat breakfast around them. There was the time, after my mom and dad had divorced, that a potential suitor abruptly ended a date with my mother after seeing a picture of me, her brown son.

“You didn’t tell me your ex was black,” said the man.

“I didn’t know that mattered,” said my mom.

“Well, it does,” he said, and he left. …

When I think of my mother’s life up to this point, what I find most revealing is how much of the abuse hurled at her throughout the years came about solely because she showed care and love to the wrong kinds of people. Time and again, it was her openness to others that found her shut off from her friends, her church, her colleagues, even her own family. We seem to reserve a special rage in this world for those whose ability to be unafraid in pursuit of something new extends beyond our own. We begrudge them their strange friends and strange experiences under the guise that we find those things to be dangerous or unclean. But really we resent those people because their courage reminds us of how common and terrified we feel inside. Bravery is a virtue people revere in dead soldiers and then turn to disparage in someone extending her hand to a weirdo.