“Conversation with Theresa and Ed — Chapter 7”

“Conversation with Theresa and Ed — Chapter 7”

Picture representing ‘Connecting, Reconnecting, Interconnectedness’

Background: To reiterate from my other recent blog posts, Theresa and Ed Wynne are my deceased parents. My father died in 1966 at the young age of fifty-six and my mother forty years later in 2006 at eighty-eight years of age.

I came up with the idea of having imaginary exchanges with them about my memoir as a unique literary technique to help illuminate the foundational aspects of my life’s journey in “understanding racism” as well as other discoveries since publication.

So, I have developed these conversations in ways that we may have talked with each other as if they were still alive… and perhaps they are actually whispering in my ear right now! I have also attempted to frame the dialogue in a way that provides some insight on who I think they were as people of the times they lived in, as well as the significant influences they were as my parents.

Similar blog posts have been written for each chapter and after completing that cycle, I am considering continuing them in this conversational style. Chapter 7 of my memoir is titled ‘2010-2019: Connecting, Reconnecting, Interconnectedness’.

Theresa: “It sure appears that Chapter 7 shapes the discussion as to how your previous life experiences have somehow miraculously joined together and formed the platform for personal transformation. Is that an overstatement or a somewhat accurate description?”

Me: “Well, that’s a great observation, Mom, and I would say it’s pretty much on the mark. This really hits the essence of why I wrote the memoir in the style I did in order to portray the somewhat tedious, incremental, slog through the decades of my life towards understanding racism and then attempting to combat it. There was no overall roadmap where, with intentionality, a path was chartered out to where I landed in the 2010s. It was obviously not an exercise of trying to get from Point A to Point B in the most direct and efficient manner, especially since I wasn’t even aware of what Points A and B were!!

That’s why in the last conversation we had about my Camino experience walking the Camino turned out to become such a wonderful life metaphor. If I had been really intent on moving from the Pyrenees in Northeastern Spain 500 miles to the Atlantic Ocean in the quickest possible way, I could have driven it in a day or two! But that wasn’t the point, was it? …. And neither is one life’s journey.

The discovery of obstacles and overcoming them, getting lost on the path, being on your own and much more all enriched the overall experience with the greatest benefit being the creation and renewing of relationships, or to use the metaphor of this chapter, the “dots”! The true miracle is that these “dots” or relationships then propagated new ones which propelled me forward towards my antiracism journey.”

Ed: “You get into it a bit in the book, but further explain how these new connections directly impacted your personal outlook? Also, beyond the ones you mention in this chapter, there no doubt are many more people that you have met since publication almost a year ago now.”

Me: “I have been tremendously uplifted, heartened, and fortified by the diversity and number of new acquaintances I have met because of writing the book. They have provided much encouragement and positive energy which is very important in what can be very challenging work with hard conversations.

It means the world to me when people have said, new friends as well as old, how much they got out of the book and my experience. My prayer and hope are that it moves people to explore their own life’s path a little differently than previously and that they develop their own confidence to take some small action steps towards understanding their own racism and moving to antiracism.”

Theresa: “Let’s try and dig a little deeper on this. In some of our earlier conversations, we have discussed some of the less than positive sides of a few of your encounters. How do you try to overcome not being offended and getting distracted from what you are trying to accomplish?”

Me: “As you suggest, thankfully those types of experiences have been very rare and the overwhelming exception to the norm. Apart from these few less than positive book conversations themselves, “being offended” in general can be a form of self-righteousness in many instances. A good friend of mine recently wrote an article on this subject and I am trying to build some of the principles he outlined into my own life.

For example, attempting to simply(?) refuse to be offended and being curious as to what really may be going on with the alleged “offender”. There’s also the issue of the magnitude of the offense; let’s face it, much of the time these are probably pretty trivial matters. Lastly, sometimes we might move too quickly to feeling and possibly expressing the need for some form of an apology which then becomes an expectation and assumed right.

So, it really comes down to what triggers us to be offended in the first place and a better understanding of others. As my friend concluded: “Being offended is sometimes justified and sometimes exaggerated. Honest self-reflection helps us tell the difference”. I am trying to build these concepts into my own response mechanisms as situations warrant and when in doubt, take a deep breath and count to ten!!”

Ed: “Those are some great thoughts and suggestions. I’d appreciate knowing more about the situations where taking offense might have been justified in your experience with the book.”

Me: “As I said those have been very rare so far and I can only think of two people, and it’s interesting that they both have the same first name. But the first happened shortly after the book was published when an old neighbor friend literally came out of the blue via an email and requested me to never be in contact again.

 I thought that was pretty severe and felt the explanation provided was very hazy and weak; nevertheless, I came up with the idea to just send this person a copy of the book anyway to possibly encourage a dialogue. But that didn’t work either. I’ll leave it at that other than to say this very ‘early-on’ situation helped my understanding that the book would not be appreciated by everybody.

The second was “Z” who I referenced two conversations ago with you in a previous blog. This struck closer to home since this person is a relative and there is no need to rehash the background there since you know it already and it’s available on my website.

I will reveal though that they both are older, white males, so somewhat with my tongue in my cheek and with a touch of humor, I’ve come up with the term “Fragile Old White Guys” or what I call ‘FOWG-ies’ to describe them! So, instead of being offended, I have used these situations to shine a light on an overall discovery that, at least in my experience, virtually 100% of any negativity about the book has been from white guys, and thankfully only two … so far!

And in terms of the demographics involved with the hundreds of contacts I have had about the book, it does not surprise me either that the basis of these more negative experiences originates from two white guys. Though I have to be honest that there may be more out there who have chosen to be silent, which in my view is even worse but that gets into a whole other conversation which I’ve talked about before.”

Theresa: “I appreciate the steps you took (and continue to take with ‘Z’) in attempting to reconcile both of these challenging situations in the way you did. Taking the higher road is definitely the best route to maintaining a positive outlook when inevitable adversity interrupts in surprising ways. However, my feeling is that you are still at the early stages of your post publication work and newer and more complex challenges may arise. What are you doing to prepare yourself?”

Me: “Thanks for that question since it is something I have been thinking about and in fact I am in the process of taking some initial steps. But first I would like to reference some important background that brings me back to the concluding pages of Chapter 7.

The ‘Moving to Action’ section beginning on pg. 132 is important in that I wrote the book and am writing these blog posts to spark more interest based on my experiences, both for readers and presentation participants, to get beyond being frozen (or silent) in thinking things like “but one can one person do about racism?”

As I demonstrate over several pages in this chapter, it is really not that difficult to take a step and the rewards are many. However, at least for me it can be mentally exhausting work and I am at a point almost a year since publication where I need to take a timeout and refresh my outlook on the possible next legs of my journey.

So, to get back to your question, in the last paragraph of this chapter I say “The path I am on continues within a complex mix of blessings, risks, and personal costs”. I wrote that over a year ago and now this “mix’’ has deepened even more with new discoveries such that for the rest of this year I’m going to “go” on an internal/at home, “Camino’-type retreat. Until recently this was going to start out essentially uncharted within quiet reflection, reading, meditating, and journaling.

But while listening to the renowned Jesuit priest, Fr. Greg Boyle (the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles) speak at St. Bonaventure in a recent Zoom presentation, he referenced the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. I thought I had a book on that well-known spiritual program from my days at McQuaid and I relatively quickly put my hands on it since the book was right on one of my bookshelves! I am taking this as not a mere coincidence and plan on starting with the Exercises as my entree into even more self-discovery.”

Ed: “How will you do this with all the other things going on in your life and the book? As you know from our ‘perspective’ we know quite a lot about what’s going on in your life!”

Me: “That’s pretty funny, Dad … your Irish wit is showing!

As one example related to your question, I recently wrote to my ‘Rohr’ Group of (composed of older white guys, but definitely not fragile!) that I would be taking a hiatus from our regularly scheduled meetings. That’s a relatively modest step in terms of a time saver but it does help me forge my commitment by letting go of some things that are important to me. Even telling you about it in this conversation strengthens my commitment, but it doesn’t come without a little apprehension. There will be some other technical adjustments necessary but that’s what change is all about and I do have my Camino experience to fall back on when challenges and obstacles come my way.

I’d like to further add that I’m approaching this period of my life as somewhat of an invitation to a “quest”. Recently Fr. Rohr’s weekly meditations focused on the mythical quest for the ‘Holy Grail’, a metaphor for the soul or our ‘True Selves’.

As he states, “The Grail offers the capacity for renewal, forgiveness, and transformation. By asking ‘whom does my soul serve’ we learn to turn our attention to the deeper purposes of what we do. After the Grail experience, the ordinary forever becomes extraordinary. God is both perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed in EVERYTHING (my emphasis).” If I get close to this type of experience, I couldn’t ask for more.

See for the weekly summary of these Grail meditations.”

Theresa: “You will definitely be in our prayers and if you want to forgo for the time being having these conversations, we more than understand.”

Me: “Well I don’t plan on that being necessary … in fact I feel just the opposite in that ‘talking’ with the both of you will assist me in assessing where I am on my quest. After all, you both were the ones who shaped my spiritual path in the first place as my initial guides and counselors. So, you are definitely ‘with me’ as this journey continues and I will continue to need your support.

There are many things to discern, unravel, and discover and one of these is my current unaffiliated status with any particular church or parish. To be quite honest, I have not felt it necessary to be bound to mere “bricks and mortar” in my spiritual life for some time now, and I’m growing increasingly comfortable in that feeling. But I am hopeful that this quest will open up new windows of discovery on the path or paths I should be on since I am definitely attracted to diversity of thought and practice.”

I’d like to share with you some other related, and perhaps unusual if not humorous, things that have contributed to my state of mind in taking this step. The first example was just a few days before receiving Rohr’s Grail meditations when Sandy I saw the movie ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’, yet another “coincidence”!

One of the lines in the movie was attributed to God as follows: “Every time I (God) try to talk to someone it’s ‘sorry this’ and ‘forgive me that’ and ‘I’m not worthy.’”!! … this sounds a little like ‘Rohrian’ humor as well which hopefully will help sustain me on this new “Camino” in my attempts to converse with God.

Another is a line from the “Hallelujah” documentary we also saw recently about the famous songwriter, singer, Leonard Cohen and his famous song. He said as follows toward the end of the movie: “You look around and see a world that can’t be made sense of. You either raise your fist or say Hallelujah.” The situational duality offered in that quote speaks volumes regarding my post-publication work.

Both of these quotes really resonate with me and provide in a small way some additional perspective as to not only where I am in my own journey right now but also what I want to dig deeper on during this ‘at home’, self-directed retreat.”

Ed: “We will be looking forward to learning how that is actually going for you in our next conversation. Before we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to say about this particular chapter?”

Me: “Very briefly since I’ve mentioned this before in previous conversations with you; that is, towards the end of this chapter I state my “appreciation for Black Christian spirituality and all its resonate richness.” I recently attended the unveiling of Harriet Tubman’s “Journey To Freedom” sculpture temporarily here in Rochester as part of a national tour. At the associated event, there was a singing of the old Black spiritual song ‘Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning’. This is exactly what I plan to do as I continue on my journey and I’m heartened by the fact that this is supported by Black spirituality as represented by this song.  

Until next time and from another recent Rohr meditation, I offer ‘Ndicela uxolo’ …. an Xhosa African term meaning ‘I ask for peace.’ As Rohr suggests, these words demonstrate our interconnectivity as people which I attempted to portray in this chapter within my own life.”

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Comments ( 2 )

  • Terry Strauss

    Hi Bill, Reading your latest conversation with your parents, I feel a deeper meaning then combating racism. Not only race, but people with there emotional and spiritual journey. My experiences differ greatly from yours. I myself, feel a great need to talk to someone like yourself. I feel a better understanding reading your words. I look forward to seeing you soon. Terry

  • W.E.Wynne

    Thanks again, Terry … and a great observation on your part pulling together the racism conversation and its relationship to sprituality. In my view, this is very important on several different levels and we can discuss more when we meet. But there are two things I will mention. First, the book would never had happened if it hadn’t been for the influence and direction provided by a very spiritual Black, female friend of mine. I reference her in the book so you may want to see what I said about how she called me out to take a deeper dive into my inner self. Secondly, both Sandy and I have been quite moved whever we’ve had the opportunity to attend Black churches … their faith is deeply Christian, passionate, and moving. I recommend that more whites take the time to attend a Black church on a Sunday. Talk more when we meet .. Bill

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