Tuesday, February 2, 2010

In the mornings to come

I waited all of sixty seconds on the Metro platform this chilly and dark morning before a Shrewbury train arrived.  As I was noting my good fortune and boarding the train, the conductor operatically bellowed in hyperbolic tones the direction we were heading (west), the rules of the train (no eating, no drinking, etc), and the next stop (Central West End).  He finished his customary greeting with a hearty "and have a blessed day."  Initially, I was briefly startled to hear a government employee officially speak in such an overtly religious manner over the loud speaker, but then I (little atheist, agnostic me) got over it.  Why?  Because he was black.

Well, sort of.  More specifically, because of the distinctive quality with which "urban" (impoverished or working class) African Americans say, "Have a blessed day."  They say it differently than any white person I've ever known.  In a multitude of respects.  They are not condescending; as in,"Have a blessed day, [you infernal heathens]" - forced smile in tow.  Or holier than thou; the way some white people sanctimoniously state: "May God bless you; [See how kind and close to God I am?  I'm even putting a good word in for you]."  Or coldly robotic and empty-eyed, "God-bless-you" and they're off to the next thing they have planned to do. 

In fact, working class black people are the opposite of divisive in their greeting.  A warmth pervades their voices.  A sweetness of community and comradery is communicated.  When I was younger, I noticed that brown people commonly said this to each other, but rarely to me.  As I grew older and had more opportunity to live and work closely with people of African descent, they extended this blessing to me more often.  Although I am the most militant of agnostics/atheists, this "Have a blessed day" expression invariably felt like the most positive affirmation of our world and my place in it. 

In a peculiar way, I appreciated that proletariat African Americans routinely omitted God from the phrase, "Have a blessed day." I wanted black people to be empowered to bless of their own volition.  Especially with reference to the history of Christianity and black worship.  It always sickened me to think that Christians had systematically infiltrated black people's heritage (often robbing them of their ancestor's spirituality) and replaced their long worshiped and dearly held God(s) with the Christian God.

So it seemed to me that these people of color were taking something back when they told me, "Have a blessed day."  As though, they personally recognized the brilliance of their own being.  As if they embraced their own is-ness.  Yes, they are in the "lower" class; yes, white people have exploited them for centuries, but regardless, they can bless the hell out of you and they celebrate it.  It is a refreshing thing to recognize one's own Godliness.  One's own inherent worth.  One's own holiness. This morning, that Metro conductor communicated his blessings at countless stops and will hopefully continue to do so in the mornings to come.  What a joyful way to begin the day.

Om shanti.