Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Strange Fruit.

artwork by Diana Bryan - "Strange Fruit"

There's this thing about blogging that is very different than writing for any other venue. Like. . .book authors write and yes, all kinds of people read their work. And. A few of them even write so well that other folks write reviews or whatever on places like or somewhere sho nuff and bona fide like The New York Times or People Weekly. (Yes, People is bona fide.)

But see. . .before you can get to that point, you first have to write something. Then rewrite it. Then revise it. Then re-revise it. Then get somebody to represent you. Then get that person to get someone agree to publish it. That person will then tell you that, oh, you need to revise it. And then re-revise it. In case you haven't realized by now, all that takes some time.

But blogging is different. You think of something. You write about it. And with the click of a mouse (or tracking pad) you hit "publish." Then--BOOM--just like  that, your words are published and ready for the world to read.

Now besides the obvious things like immediate feedback through comments and stats. . . there's this other phenomenon that I have come to recognize as of late. See, with blogging you start to have these friends that read your words without fail. And though I bet that a lot of people don't necessarily read every blog every day, most will tell you that just about every blogger (bleccch, is there a better word for person-who-writes-a-blog than "blogger?") has a small number of people that they know for sure read nearly everything they write. So even if you have 772 public followers, somewhere in the back of your head, you realize that you have this little round table of knights gobbling up your words no matter what you happen to serve up.

Some are the type that immediately leave you a comment--which is awesome. But you know. . .over time. . I've learned that some of your main knights never, ever comment because that's just not their thing. In fact, two of my most faithful knights at my round table Lesley M. and Carol R. might just shoot me an email if the spirit so moves them, but comment in the comment box? No way.

And that's cool. Because I know they read and that's enough. It warms my heart just knowing that much. I've said it before and I will say it again--I deeply appreciate anybody reading what I write. Even one post per month.

Now. Here's the point of all this.  The point is that once you start knowing who your knights are, they become a consideration in the things you write. No, I don't change what I'm writing or censor things. . . .but I do find myself thinking, I wonder what my mother (Shugsie) will think about this post? or Aw, man! I can't wait to get Sister Moon's take on this one! Sometimes I write a slang word and think, Uh oh, will my New Zealand Lucy get this?

And ofttimes I open a comment or an email and find out the answers to those questions immediately. Other times, I just think about the people reading and wonder things. And sometimes thinking about my reader-friends and how they might be reacting to things makes me think of my posts differently. I go back and reread them and then imagine it from another person's perspective. Weird, I know.


Here's the thing that this process has brought me to today.

A couple of days ago, I revisited an encounter I'd had a while back with a patient who'd been previously incarcerated. As many of you already know, I was stunned to discover that he'd had swastikas tattooed all over his body from the penitentiary days.  He was embarrassed and remorseful about them, and even more ashamed of his prior involvement in a supremacist jail gang. I thought about his feelings and decided to do what I could to normalize the situation. Hearing on my mental iPod the Redemption Song the whole time.


I reread that and all the kind comments that followed and found myself thinking. I thought, As horrible and awful as swastikas are to see up close and personal. . . . the truth is. . . what they mean symbolically is not to ME what it might be to someone else. Specifically a few members of my round table.

So I thought of them this morning. I thought of Neil W. and Lesley M. who are of Jewish faith and who might immediately well up with tears when anyone anywhere mentions anything about the horrors of the Holocaust that, yes, sure did happen.

And so I asked myself. What would have been that symbol for me? Like. . .what if instead of a swastika on that man's back, I'd instead seen a black man hanging like some strange fruit from a highly detailed noose on a poplar tree? What if my own loved one somewhere a few generations back had been that strange fruit hanging in a summer breeze while people snarled and applauded below? What if? What if on that tattoo he'd had an intricate portrayal of African men and women stacked up in rows on slave ships from the middle passage? And what if underneath all of that in BIG BLOCK LETTERS he had the N-WORD written repeatedly next to the words "GO BACK TO AFRICA, COON!"

Would I. . . could I. . .have come back to shake his hand? Even if he didn't mean it anymore and even if I knew for certain that he'd been in that warped-ass world of the federal pen? Well? Would the Redemption song have still been playing for me on my mental iPod or would I have needed to run and open a window to get some air? The truth is that I don't know. I really don't.

I spoke to Neil W. about this today and asked what he thought. I knew he'd read the post because he sits squarely at my round table so I thought of his perspective. And I know for certain that he has a heart of pure platinum and the patience of Job.

"I would have taken care of him and that's it," Neil replied. "I don't think I would have been able to do much else."

And that was telling. Very telling.  So I closed my eyes and thought of those images of human beings being shoveled into mass graves. I saw Anne Frank with her quiet eyes and even more, imagined the real, life family members who literally lost lives and futures all at the hands of people represented by swastikas.


Let me be clear. I still don't know what I would have done if what I'd seen had been something as painful to me, an African American person, as the swastika might be to a Jewish person. I don't for sure. It's hard for me to say whether or not at this point in my life I would have simply stuck to business only or still done the same thing. And no, I don't sit around comparing horrors and persecutions to see whose people win because I know for certain that nobody wins when it comes to that. I guess I'm just glad that I have all kinds of people at my round table to getting me thinking about all kinds of things. Including how they feel.

So yeah.

This is a useful thing about this blog. I think the knights of my round table make me a better doctor because I think differently. And that's a really, really good thing.

So to each and every knight sitting at my round table, I say thank you. To those I know, to those I don't know, to those who comment, to those who never comment, to those who open this up in Google reader, to those who scroll through iPhones and iPads, and to those who sneak a peak at work or in class--thank you. Because thanks to you, this black woman with Southern ties from Los Angeles who goes to soccer games on Saturdays and church on Sundays gets to hold hands with you. . . who may have absolutely everything in common with me. . . or nothing at all.

But here? Here is where we meet and think and talk and hang out. We teach, we learn, we care and we grow. . . together. That's our common denominator.

And I 'preciate y'all. All of y'all.

Happy Tuesday-almost-Wednesday

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . .Lady Day sings "Strange Fruit". . .and hearing it, combined with the image above, made me cry. Hmmm.


  1. I remember the first time I ever heard that song, in history class last year. It was horrible, I just sat there and pinched my side so hard that my fingers were turning white, to stop myself from crying in the middle of class. I really couldn't stand it. It hurt me. I wondered to myself whether it was right for me to feel so much pain about it, as a white girl, a world and, I'd like to think, many decades away from all of that.

    But I think that yes, pain is the same, we're all relatives in our humanity. So maybe it doesn't feel as personal for me, in the way that mentions of the Holocaust might affect Jewish people, or certainly how the thought of your ancestors being lynched affects you. But it is most certainly personal to me on the level that we share a common humanity, and so I feel that pain deep in my heart, as well.

  2. I commented on your blog the other day on the very post you refer to in this post and I am Jewish. People engage in ignorant behavior all the time, especially young people. Peace can't exist if we all walk around wounded from past persecutions to our peoples and retaliate or hold grudges to the ignorant among us. I believe the best way to peace in the world is to treat everyone in our lives with love and peace in our hearts. I believe that is the cure for ignorance. You seem to practice medicine with peace and love in your heart and embody this peace I speak of. I imagine you would have done exactly the same thing had the images been more personal to your background. That is how you seem to live. Joanne

  3. Who is it who said, "an unexamined life is not worth living"? Well you, my dear Miss Manning, examine your life daily and it is WELL worth living. I agree with Lucy, we do share a common humanity and pain affects us all. Perhaps you were the one to take care of this young man because you COULD treat him with kindness. Someone whose heritage would make their reaction more personal, more hurtful was spared looking at those tatoos.

  4. It goes both ways. Honestly, I share much of your philosophy of life, your outlook and attitudes, your belief in the goodness of the human soul, etc. I suppose this is what drew me to your blog in the first place (and why I have read every single post you have written since I found you, without fail, and also read through almost all of the archives already, with just a few more pages left to savor) - this intense kinship of spirit. However, the paths that we have taken to this intellectual, emotional, spiritual (even if not religious) place are vastly different and informed by very different experiences. So reading your perspective, even when it is very similar to mine, still gives me new insight, because while we may arrive at the same answer to the same problem, tracing the steps of your elegant solution is often more valuable than the answer itself.

    Could I separate the repentant man from old stains on his skin? I want to believe I could. I want to believe I could have the strength and magnanimity to rise above my shock and anger, to be able to extend my hand and help him out of the black hole which had stained his soul and his skin for a time. I want to believe that we can all rise above anger, fear, hostility, etc. - otherwise we may all be doomed.

  5. The town where my parents settled twenty years ago still had an active KKK population. I had classmates whose grandfathers and fathers held positions of note within it. I was a mixed race child in a school where ethnic lines were well and clearly demarcated. The first year or two we lived there, I put up with a lot of racism from twelve year olds who had learned it from their parents. As they got older and realized that their narrow view of the world was just that, some of them came back and apologized for it and pretty much all of it stopped.

    I've had family members in prison (one was just released a few years ago after being in for 18 years) and your patient was right when he called it a different world. Those symbols of hate are a mark of belonging, a protection. He knew he was going to be in there for twenty years, and he must have been pretty young going in which makes twenty years seem like forever. So he got the gang tattoos because he was in for the long haul. He seems to have gotten a lot of them but as long as he was in, even getting just one a year adds up.

    At least now he has the decency to be ashamed of who he was, to know that it was wrong, to apologize for it. It would make it easier to stomach seeing them if I were having to treat him in some way to know that he no longer felt that way.

  6. For some people who wear the swastika, it symbolizes supremacy over anyone who is not white, as well as Jews.
    My husband teaches in a county near you and they learn about WWI and WWII. Our county is the most diverse in GA. He was reminded by his Hindu students that the symbol, when turned on its side, represents peace and harmony. In fact many Hindu homes place this symbol near their doors like a Jewish household has its mezuzah by the door. Same symbol of peace and harmony for the Native Americans and Norse and countless others of peace. Darn those Nazis.

  7. For me as a therapist, it is often important to set aside my feelings for one hour and sit with someone else's often strong feelings. To be neutral and listen and learn. It is often hard when the other person's distress or life pain is similar to my own, past or present. But when I am able to do it, I have received such tremendous gifts from people. I have grown up into a more human feeling person through the 25 years I have been listening and learning. Of course, my lessons are not over, and I do better in the office than in my off-hours.

    That is what I felt in your encounter with this man. You briefly experienced being in his tatted skin and his post-prison world. It is a wonderful gift, for both of you.

  8. I struggle with all of this know the "hate the sin not the sinner" approach to life because some days that distinction doesn't seem very clear to me.

    Your blog reminds me to sit with some of that discomfort and tension and learn from it...then, move past it as much as I can to doctor the human sitting in front of me...

    And...I believe strongly in grace and redemption in all manifestations of those words.

  9. Do better when you know better. Forgiveness is the path to lead a fulfilled life.

  10. I love thinking of it that way... the knights at my round table. It's so true too... I have caught myself many a times thinking of my readers when I am writing. Especially the ones who read faithfully but never comment.
    And I too am thankful that they make us think differently. I know I am a better nurse for it.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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