Last December we were at dinner with Grammie, which means we were in Charlotte. Memory says that we were dishing fried zucchini and salad, dipping bread in olive oil. The boy went into a spiral that surprised us all, even him.
He started crying about how he knew that God didn’t love him and how God was going to be mad at him because he hated white people. “I hate white people,” cried my then four-year old son. I think we were all stumped for a moment, stumped the way people who talk to other people all the time get stumped when something even you didn’t see coming comes.
It was only so appropriate that two pastors were at the table. Given my boy’s confession, we were immediately put on the interior spot. “I don’t want God to mad,” he said in quick fashion as if to convince us so that we’d prevent trouble from coming. Perhaps it was God’s goodness that we were there together to hear Bryce’s comment and plea and intention.
Grammie took up the theological matter about God loving Bryce. She did it the way a pro would. Grammie’s been communicating about God’s love for more decades than I’ve been alive. She was a star even with a kid. Her explanation was simple and brief.
I looked at Dawn as if to ask without asking whether it was her or me who would pick up the rest. One of us had to deal with the part about hating white people. Now, me and Dawn have a way of teaching the boy. We share. We move toward our strengths. I was telling her the other day that she’s a better teacher to him than I am. She has more patience. But oddly, I’m better at explaining things. Where her explanations get complex for her attempts to tell him the whole story, mine are swift and simple.
She tends to answer the question, “How can I explain it all to Bryce?” I tend to think about how I can explain it to satisfy his specific question. So my wheels were turning as he made his claims about hatred. I called him over to me, telling him he wasn’t in trouble, something Dawn had already been saying. He doesn’t get in trouble for telling the truth. Of course, this is immediately tricky during moments where his truth-telling leads to a consequence for unacceptable behavior.
At dinner, he wasn’t in trouble at all. So he came to me. I told him that he didn’t hate white people. “You love Auntie Maggie and Uncle David, don’t you?” He seemed relieved but a little confused. He said he did. “Aren’t they white?” He knew they were, and he knew that they loved him too. And this simple love, this relationship between my son and a white couple became the bridge between Bryce and whatever moral crisis he was experiencing.
I wanted to keep it simple. I wanted to relieve him of his internal pain. It had to be enough to say that he didn’t, in fact, hate white people. He even loved a few of them. We were able to name several white people he loved. And it was an easy move from there to say something less major about how hating white people and saying that he hated them was okay. “Telling the truth about your feelings is good,” we said. And of course, my son doesn’t know any white people that he hates. That was great. He’s not experienced the mass of faceless sphere called “white people.” He knows particular people with specific stories and clear ties to him. And thankfully, he enjoys those relationships.
I thought about that dinner conversation last Sunday when Alan came up to me after church with tears in his eyes. Alan’s one of those people Bryce loves. He and Sheila were among the cloud of witnesses we named to remind Bryce of white people he cared for. And when me and Alan chatted about how hard it must be to talk through junk like Charleston, we were both glad that Bryce hadn’t seen the news or asked a question. Depending on his question, I may not have had a good answer, an easy or quick answer about his feelings.