This is the problem of history. We cannot know that which we were not there to see and hear and experience for ourselves. We must rely upon the words of others. Those who were there in the olden days, they told stories to the children so that the children would know, so that the children could tell stories to their children. And so on, and so on.” — Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing
When we first met at a friend’s wedding, he eyed me more than suspiciously. I was one of a small handful of white people in the room. I arrived late and looked for a space to sit. The first place I found was with some wedding “insiders,” folks who were more than happy to greet and include me, but clearly into the event, dress, food, venue, speeches more than I could ever be. When our table was called for the buffet, I excused myself and joined a larger table, asked if the seat was empty, introduced myself and sat across from his stare.
Despite my best efforts, no thaw seemed to be forthcoming. Then, when we were called and made our way to the buffet, he stole a glance at my shoes. Instantly I was in. The key he needed to find space with me was those shoes, blue faux alligator sneakers.
Since then we have grown close. Mere months later, I was invited to a Christmas brunch and advised “not to come on time because that would be early.” Now there have been two Chanukah gatherings, an Easter, a New Years Day, some lunches, movies, texts, calls, and Facebook commentaries. And another wedding — his.
My friend has shown himself to be adept at marketing, planning, and event management. He is a comedian, leader, and organizer. He is a committed athlete, sports enthusiast, and fraternity brother. He is an advocate for children that are not his own; no one can fool with them. Though he will repeatedly insist that he makes groceries but his husband cooks, he periodically shows off his kitchen skills as well. He shows himself most unguarded when he describes his daughters. Though they are 1,000 miles away or more, he selects their event outfits, ensures that they have big plans and dreams, and monitors their well-being.
His own church might bar him if he were to say so, but he is certainly a preacher. Whether presiding at brunch or delivering a lovingly hilarious wedding speech, he brings a unique perspective of hope and joy. Though he rarely talks about his near death experience, he has suggested more than once that some of his energy traces to it.
Because he emerges in my mind week after week in the 16 months of our friendship, It is hard to know how much I understand of this man. But I know that when the book of Black History in America is written, I want mention of Gatlin so the children can read about him and tell stories to their children, and so on.
The family is like the forest: if you are outside it is dense; if you are inside you see that each tree has its own position.” ― Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing