Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Sticks and stones

You know how it goes:
"Sticks and stones may break my bones,
But words will never hurt me."

Not true, my friend. Not true.

I remember my mother (and father, and aunts, and teachers, and, and, and...) repeating this to me/us when I was little. Whenever my brother would call me poo-poo-face, or whenever I ended up at the business end of some new fat joke at school. I know it was always said with the best of intentions, but it just ended up making me feel like I shouldn't be as upset as I was. And frankly, I'm pretty sure that at least most of the time, I had every reason to be upset!

So why bring this up now?

An anniversary looms on the horizon. Not the happy kind, either. Francis and I got engaged on Christmas Eve of 2005. In the spring of 2006, right after Francis got his acceptance to the B.Ed. program, my parents (well, Mom really) put an engagement announcement in the local newspaper.

This is the photo that ran with the announcement. Weren't we cute?

Not long after it was published, I received a card in my mailbox at work. The announcement had included the name of the parish where I worked in Orleans. The envelope was addressed to:
Jaclyn Gannon
c/o Divine Infant Parish
Orleans, ON

That's it. No address, no postal code and no return address. I thought it was a little odd, so I checked the postmark, and saw that it had come through the post office not too far from my parents' neighbourhood.

I opened the envelope, and took out a pretty flowered note card. Inside held a message written in lovely, somewhat old-fashioned penmanship. The note began by congratulating me on getting engaged. How sweet! I thought. Yeah, right...

It went on to say that the sender (who signed the note only as "A Grandmother"), was sure that my decision to marry "outside my race" must be a huge disappointment to my parents and my grandmother, because she was certain that they had "raised me better than that". She went on to tell me that such unions never last, and I should go find a "nice white boy" to marry instead. She insisted I should spare myself the future divorce, by getting out while I still could.

Reading this, standing in the parish office, my jaw was dropping lower and lower. The secretary and another staff member (both ladies I was very close with) were watching me with some concern. They could tell something was wrong. But it wasn't until I read the next part - the part that reduced me instantly to tears - that they swooped in and took the card away. (After reading it themselves, it went instantly into the shredder.)

The "grandmother" told me I was being selfish. She said I obviously hadn't considered the future of my poor children, who would "bear the mark of my sin" because they'd be bi-racial (except she said "mixed").

My sin? My sin? Marrying a good, honest, loving, faith-filled man is a sin? Just because he happens to be Chinese? For some reason, this woman was raised to believe that God has a problem with people marrying someone of a different ethnic background. Even though she seemed to be somewhat familiar with my family (identifying my grandmother), she clearly doesn't actually know my family. If she did, she'd know my parents and grandmother would never have a problem with my choice of spouse based on race. Not just because they're not racist, but because my father himself is the son of a bi-racial man. My dad is one quarter black - his paternal grandfather was a black man who married a white woman.

I've had many (and I do mean many!) strangers stop me on the street, in stores, in church, just to tell me how beautiful they think Norah is. In fact, it happened 3 times in 2 days last week. Nobody has ever stopped me to tell me that they could see the "mark of my sin" in her.

I still feel the sting of those words in that card. Not because I believe a word of it, but because it saddens me that racism still exists. It upsets me to think that Norah may someday personally encounter someone who thinks that way. Growing up white in a predominantly white area, I'd never experienced racism like that on a personal level before this. It changed me. It made me aware of the need to continue to pray for people's views to be changed - for hearts to be changed. I can't hate the woman who sent that note, because I'm sure she honestly believed she was doing the right thing. And, more importantly, because intolerance can never be healed with more hatred.


The Comeau Family said...

This post hits home like nothing else and reminds me of a painful part of my own life.

Can you even imagine the terrible things that were said and written to my husband and I over a period of years before we married because of our age difference? We were torn to shreds about EVERYTHING by almost everyone we knew, with the exception of priests, especially the priest who married us. Yes, these people even tried to wreck our engagement behind our backs, trying to divide us by writing to us separately and in other ways. I got so many cruel letters. We certainly had a lot to forgive. To this day, a lot of my family rejects us both, though they can see for themselves how happy and devoted we are. I've never suffered any emotional pain like I did during that time; I didn't feel human anymore after everything that had been said. I always thought that if people had said that meaning well, they would not have torn us to pieces in such a personal way. We've forgiven them because God has forgiven us, not because there was ever an apology--there wasn't.

I know just how you feel; I know how it is to get a letter like that and think, "How COULD someone say something like that?" However, our husbands are wonderful men--we know them, they know us, and we've answered God's call to love, and that is all that matters. And you DO have a beautiful girl! God is good.

Jaclyn said...

Wow. I cannot even imagine the hurt I'd feel if I'd gotten such hurtful and hateful comments from people who were actually in my life! I just don't understand what goes on in some people's hearts and minds...

Praise God that you two were able to persevere through all of that. I'm glad that you're able to take comfort in each other's presence, and the knowledge that your marriage is a BEAUTIFUL thing - and so is little Damien!!

Elena said...

I wonder if it was the same woman who referred to Fr. Gregory (while he said mass) as "that monkey". I wanted to belt her over the head with my handbag but my mother stopped me.

Helen E.M. Wright said...

Oh my goodness Jaclyn!! That's insane!!! I'm so sorry!!
I remember seeing that photo and thinking "good job Jaclyn!!". I wish now that I would have written to you too!!

It's sad how much racism is out there. We were definitely sheltered. Moving down here opened our eyes, big time. Callum deals with a lot of nationality type rascism at work where I deal with more religious.
Just this morning I wanted to throw a piece a paper at a 'friend'. I'm on the steering team for the local MOPS group and we were discussing people that might be willing to take on a role next year. Someone said one name and the coordinator whispered to my friend next to me and I overheard, "no, she's Jewish". I said, "seriously?!?" while laughing to take the sting away, "I think she should definitely be on the team then!" To which she said to the incoming coordinator(with a smile)something about making sure you have only Christians on the team, clearly pointing out that I'm not Christian!! My mouth dropped (although not even a quarter much as it did by reading this post). I said, "I'm Catholic, I'm Christian!". I was so shocked!! I have come across many people down here who do not think that Catholic is a Christian religion, but I thought my 'friends' weren't like that!

I know that, that's not even close to what you went through, and I'm sorry you had to go through it!! Norah, as well as Francis are both adorable!!! They totally have the "west si-ed approval!"