I got a new coworker many months ago. We went through a dating period for awhile as we got to know each other and we were on our best behavior. I don't know when the good manners slipped away and we started acting normal, but eventually we did and now we are work buddies.
She is smart. So smart. I couldn't even tell you how much I've learned from her.
I am in and out of her office all day. She peeks over my cube wall. We're snarky. We're irreverent. Every Thursday afternoon she says, "Please work tomorrow. It's so boring when you're not here."
On Friday she texts me.
Wednesday morning I sat down dejectedly in her office. My flaming liberal self was completely shot down by the election returns of Tuesday night.
"Can you even believe that last night," I said to M. I mean, geez, we had a senator reelected that hasn't lived in this state for years. How can that happen? I never even knew he was married until his acceptance speech last night. Shouldn't you know something like that about the guy who has been representing you for years? What is wrong with people? Why did they vote for all these idiots?"
I boo-hooed in my coffee. "I never talk politics at work," she said, "but you are down-to-earth and I feel like I can say this to you. I look at this president and think of all the possibilities and then I think back to those men standing there saying they would do anything to defeat him. As soon as he started the job they said that. We will defeat you. We will make sure that you are not successful at anything. And in many ways he has been successful despite them. But oh how things could have been if only they had changed their mission. It all seems very racist to me and I hope you are not offended by me saying that."
"Well, that would be hard since I agree with everything you said," I told her. "And now the most vocal one of those men is getting promoted to Boss of the Senate. It's not right, M."
We talked about the thing everybody avoids talking about. Race.
She told me about going to Memphis and seeing a museum exhibit on the slave trade. "So many of those men brought from Africa died on the ship because the conditions were so brutal. They'd unchain the shackles and throw them overboard. One after the other like they didn't even matter. It changed me when we went down there. It wasn't that long ago and you know what else happened when we were in the South? Little white kids stopped and stared at me like they'd never seen a black woman in their life before."
I told her about going to the civil war battlefields. "Not even the width of your office, M. That's how close the North and South were when they were shooting each other. And you know what, M,, I felt them. The spirit of those Union soldiers fighting for the freedom of slaves seeped into every part of me and I have never forgotten it."
"Yes, I know what you mean. That's exactly how it was when we were in Memphis. I felt those slaves."
I told her about the time we were driving to my Grandma's house a few weeks after Martin Luther King died and the street was lined with protesters. Mom's fear filled the car but Dad said, "Now, Ger, nobody's out to hurt us. They're upset and they have every right to be. We're all going to be just fine so relax."
"The Underground Railroad couldn't have happened without white people," M. said. "Did you know that? White people were instrumental in helping slaves escape. I bet your Dad would have been that kind of white person. An Underground Railroad kind of person."
I don't know.
I know that every single day when I feel overwhelmed M. comes along with a lantern to light the way. I think she would say the same of me.
One a descendant of slaves. The other a descendant of slave owners.
Each helping the other get to the railroad.