Last night my choir, the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, performed a benefit concert for the Ruby Bridges School in Alameda, California. Weâve done that for the past few years and itâs always great. I love our service concerts; prisons, schools, homeless shelters, nursing homes. I sound altruistic, but really, I admit, itâs a little selfish. It feels good when the music touches people down deep and thatâs always true when we give it as a pure gift!
Anyway, I was up there in the alto section, robed and ready. The curtain opened and suddenly my heart put two and two together. This âbunch of misfitsâ (as the director Terrance Kelly likes to call us) would not have been possible, let alone flourishing, without people like Ruby Bridges, Martin Luther King Jr., my dad (he would be so embarrassed to be in the same sentence that way). People showed up, they risked, they walked into enemy territory with no weapon, they went to jail or school or lunch counters and the main point was that we humans needed to be together, not separate.
Thatâs what Ruby Bridges said last night. Some day, when we are in trouble (and we will be) we will not care what the person looks like who helps us.
That made me think back a few years. My mother was in the intensive care unit for a bleeding ulcer when she hemorrhaged. Blood coming out of everywhere and, through the tiny window in the hall, my wife and I saw person after person rush to her bed. It seemed like the whole staff of the ICU was crowded around that tiny bed (that was very close to the truth, as it turned out). I had just arrived at the hospital and before my wife spoke, I knew things werenât good. âItâs bad, honey,â she said and moments later, they rushed her out, literally running to the OR. Her nurse, the one we liked the best, came out and gave us the details, betraying his lack of confidence in her chances for survival.
Itâs funny what you do at a time like that. I called the section leader from the choir to let her know I wouldnât be at rehearsal (!) She said, âI canât believe youâre calling me,â or something like that, and I said, almost as an afterthought, âask people to pray, please.â
I pray, but in a pretty âequal opportunityâ way. âGod, whatever you are, whatever is true, please walk with me to the best outcome. Please support me (or whoever Iâm praying for) for the greater good.â Stuff like that. Having tried on Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Native American practices, and many others ways of looking at the Mystery, I find they all lead to the same place in me, so I donât discriminate. I knew already that when you ask an interfaith gospel choir to pray, well, you are going to get nearly every kind of prayer known to humankind and thatâs part of what I love about the choir. I was immediately glad I had thought to ask.
The days passed and somehow, she lived. Medical personnel found it hard to believe and dropped by her room just to confirm she was still kicking (that was definitely a figure of speech at that point). One told her that he didnât expect to ever see again in his career someone who lived through what she did. The doctor told us right after surgery that things were a mess and he didnât even know exactly whether he had succeeded but then, several days in, told her, âwell, I guess youâre going to make it.â
All of this was coming back to me up on that stage. I was looking across at Ruby Bridges, who walked, alone, into a river of white kids, the first child, at six, to integrate that southern school and she was surrounded by a sea of at least 50 children, every color, clamoring around the stage and high-fiving our director as they looked up at us, every religion and spiritual tradition, every color too, and a diversity of sexual orientations, reflecting what Ruby Bridgeâs courage had helped create.
âPray for my mom.â
I called the section leader back a few days later to tell her it looked like my mom was going to make it. I told her it was a miracle (I could think of no other word). Then out of my mouth came, âIt looks like when we all pray for the same thing, God says, âAll my people are together; I guess we should give them what they want.”
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