by Amy Wardana
It’s an early summer day in East Tennessee. I’ve found that wonderful little slice of down time in my day. I sit in a crossed legged position on the carpeted floor of my living room. My eyes are closed. The room is silent. I observe my breaths as they come, one by one, slow inhale, even slower exhale. I begin to drink my breath. I’m meditating. All is going well. That is, until I hear a voice ask, “Why didn’t you put their names on their Christmas stockings?” Hello? Excuse me. Is that you God? The question comes again. It’s soft, not harsh, not accusatory. It seems to swim up from somewhere down deep. Ok, God, in case you didn’t notice I’m trying to meditate here. The question stays lodged in the front of my consciousness.
It’s a simple question really, but I know exactly where this is going. My mind travels back to Christmas 2010. I was working as a hostess at a restaurant. I had made lots of yummy Christmas candy, bought cute little Christmas stockings, and had written the names of all the employees on the stockings—except for the Hispanics working in the back of the restaurant. Oh geez, God, are you implying that I am a racist? I mean, my daughter is biracial. My marriage is inter-racial. I love Thomas Wolfe’s Child by Tiger, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I am captivated by all the twentieth century black poets: Claude McKay, Mari Evans, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen. I can name them all, God! I love Martin Luther King Jr. I’ve tried to learn to speak Spanish. I read about the Immokalee Workers. I have a veracious disdain for European colonialism. I listen to Rage Against the Machine and Tracey Chapman. I read Howard Zinn for crying out loud. Is all this not enough to prove to You that I am not a racist?
The question floated in the front of my consciousness like a humpback whale that has ascended for air. Why didn’t I put their names on their Christmas stockings? I knew their names. And to be sure, I was the only white worker in the restaurant. Some of the other hostesses were Hispanic. All the servers were Asian. The owner was Chinese. It didn’t appear to be a racial issue. Was it classism? Did I see the men in the back as less than the ones in the front? They did do all the crap jobs. They certainly seemed to work the hardest. Their toffee colored hands spent 72 hours a week preparing food for the happy faced tourists. They had no widows in the kitchen, no break room, no where to sit. Many of them had acne covered faces from standing over the grill all day. Their clothes were usually food covered and ill-fitting. When the toilets overflowed or some customer made a mess in the restroom, they were the ones who faithfully cleaned the crap up. They all lived in one apartment and drove one rickety old Cavalier to work. Did I take this all to mean that their value was lower than mine? I knew all the other employees and had spent time at many of their homes. Their names were on my Facebook account. Why didn’t I know the ones in the back? What prevented my hand from forming the letters of their names across the top of the candy filled stockings? Why would God interrupt my lovely meditation practice to point out something so heinous about myself?
I believe the answers to all these questions are two-fold. First, there is the part of myself that maintains the position that I have an understanding of social justice and that I work toward this ideal of what is just. This is the part of myself that has Mother Teresa-ish fantasies of holding the hand of a man dying from AIDS in India. This part of myself dreams of cradling an African orphan and ceaselessly prays for the day that human beings will never be sold into slavery. This part of myself believes that the idea of a hierarchy of human worth does not exist at all. It believes that the person getting their meal from a dumpster has the exact same intrinsic value as the person who is served a gourmet meal by their servants in a multi-million dollar home. Of course, this is the part of myself I want the world to see. But there other parts lurking in the crevices that would rather remain hidden, which brings me to the second part of the two-fold explanation.
There is a place inside myself that has been conditioned to believe that beauty, success, and financial status symbolize superiority, which was precisely the part of me that dominated the decision to not know the precious men working in the back of the restaurant. My little meditation session pulled pieces of my subconscious into the conscious, exposing those hidden pieces of impurity living down deep in my heart. I put my hands on these pieces of myself and began to pull them apart. I didn’t deny them, condemn them, or push them away. I simply recognized that they were there. Once these beliefs were made clear, I could see again. I was awakened. It felt like a wrinkle on the inside of me was being ironed out. Recently, one of my yoga instructors mentioned that if our awareness is brought to a specific area, anything that is incorrect will almost certainly correct itself.
I believe she’s right.
I also believe this Christmas, all my stockings will have names.
About Amy: “I stay home to raise my two year-old daughter. (She’s center stage right now.) I am Appalachian born and raised. I grew up “Baptecostal” (Pentecostal and Baptist). I graduated from Johnson University. I love learning how to use my life to blend cultures and things that seem “unblendable”. I am a yoga enthusiast. Hiking is my Heaven on Earth. I adore my husband of three years. Most importantly, I am learning how to love.”