After our story circle in Brighton we asked the folks who were there if anyone wanted to write up their reflections. Two people very kindly obliged us and we are long overdue in posting them. Here is the first, by Naama Goldstein:
Three weeks later, my 7-year-old son remembers, foremost, two testimonies: “the one about the ice cream shop and about not being served,” and, “somebody there was actually a bus driver—from busing!” I, his mother, remember worrying beforehand that to bring a child to the circle would be seen as a disruption. I wrote and asked. We were kindly welcomed, both by message and, later, in person. It was the first time that my son and I had entered the old church in Allston-Brighton; we are Jewish and secular. But our experience in this warm building on that frigid night was surely sacred to all people, of any religion and none.
What do I remember? The potluck table, at first sparse, and then laden. We brought fruit salad, as did someone else, but the salads were made of different fruit. Eating together, then drifting to the round formation of chairs. The circle filling gradually. The facilitator’s melodious voice.
The first contributor’s fervent blue eyes and wiry frame, which make it easy to imagine him before his hair had grayed, to picture him negotiating, as a boy, the routine violence that he describes, the swift calculations, the juggling of loyalties. The eloquent young woman, once a bused city child, whose suburban teachers slowed their speech for her, a daughter of parents with advanced degrees, immigrants working hard to begin again in a country where their erudition stood for much less than the brown of their skin. The young man pausing often to collect himself as he channels his father’s hurt, pausing the longest to search for a word—then finding it, “conniving”—to describe how the systemic abuse inflicted on his parents persists, underhandedly, now. The bus driver, a bubbly raconteur, searching as desperately, though in a steady rush of words, trying to analyze the clash of cultures that just happened to converge in absolutely the worst way on exactly the sort of vehicle she drove on the job she loved performing in service of all children, all sorts. My son shifting with fatigue on his adult-sized chair, and listening, watching, demanding to stay.
But before these recollections I remember something else. As promptly as the images of ice-cream and a school-bus driver return to my son, to his mother the circle means, first of all, this: a woman, not far from my age, deep-voiced and soft-spoken, one of the earliest arrivals at the potluck and, I think, a parishioner here, projecting equal parts propriety and warmth, and working actively and well to make two strangers feel like dinner friends. At the story circle she is the same toward the whole room, both decorous and forthright, but anguished now, as she, too, searches for words, venturing to distinguish between her sort of Boston Irish, and the sort that she feels has tarnished the name. And I remember her later, long after her turn, demanding, graciously insisting that the circle come around to her again, so that she can say one more thing, which does not come easy, but that she is determined to say. This is no longer a searching but, rather, an effort, and once it is managed the message is plain: She is sorry. From her posture it appears that she is extending her apology to someone in particular, to the young man who sought and found the word “conniving,” and he is meeting her eyes. But she does not mean the message only for him, nor is she the only bearer. We are all taking equal part right now, even a little boy who will be able to recount more vividly some other moments, and certainly his mother, though I was nowhere near Boston in those pivotal times. I was a child growing up in Israel amidst other tensions that I must still work to confront. Well, here we are, now, in a church in Boston, where we live, feeling along with all those present the rare tension in the room, the sort of tension you invite, and hold communally, suspend together, all of us feeling and treasuring it for its brevity, in which we cannot clarify to whom apologies are owed, by whom, and for what, and it may be that apologies aren’t exactly owed, but they are needed, they are a start.
Naama Goldstein is a writer living in Allston