I spent many October days in the hospital, confined to my room. I watched a swarm of doctors, specialists, nurses, aides, “needle jabbers” and others buzz in and out.
It was the cleaning crew that caught my attention one day, and especially one woman whose bronze face was especially lovely.
I asked, as I often do, where she was from. Honduras. As she swished her wet mop across the floor, she told me she had come to Arizona as a young woman, married, and now was the proud mother of two young boys. Spontaneously, I said to her, “You are very beautiful.” She paused for a moment and said softly, “Thank you.”
Ten minutes later she and her cleaning colleagues were about to leave. She lingered a moment, stepped to the foot of my bed and said with tender intensity, “Thank you for telling me I’m beautiful.” It was an unforgettable moment. Then in a quick turn she was off to join her partners. I never saw her again.
I had time in my confinement to think. What is it like, I pondered, to have a black, brown, bronze face in our predominantly white culture? What is it like to look into the mirror and wish that lovely face were white? Might it have secured that job she coveted that would bring better income to her family?
What is it like to stand in a crowded store among all white faces and wonder if any of those others wished she would shop elsewhere?
How often did she wonder what it would be like to travel as a family to any corner of this fascinating country and never wonder if that motel clerk was wishing they had checked into anther place?
Then I got to thinking about the five units of life-saving blood I received while in the hospital. Suppose I had been told the identity of those five donors before I agreed to accept their gift? Suppose one was primarily Russian, another Chinese, another Mexican, another South African, and another, like me, a Minnesota Swede? Suppose I had insisted that all five donors must be Minnesota Swedes?
Ludicrous, you say. Peel away a few layers of skin and what do we discover? All blood types are found in every race. The blood of these five gave me life. That’s all that mattered.
Isn’t it sad, yes, beyond sadness, that we should judge some to be inferior in some way simply because of those skin layers? Yes, isn’t that ludicrous, too? And isn’t it a shame that some should be told to “go home” because, though born in this country, they have roots in places other than Europe?
Shame on us if we allow this intolerance to persist in this land where we claim that all are created equal.
Herb Chilstrom lives in Sahuarita.