What we don’t know

“Becky, we think you don’t know what’s been happening in your home when you aren’t there.”

Sharon, my neighbor, told me this story with deep sadness and after apologizing for not having told me sooner, while also apologizing for “stepping in where maybe I don’t belong–maybe this is none of my business…

…The other day the boys came in the house from your house and went into Jon’s (her son) room. It was Jon and Jake (another middle-school kid who hung around our neighborhood once in a while) and Adam (my son).” She said, “I was putting away laundry out in the hall and Jon’s door was open a little. I heard Adam say, “My Dad hates me!” and the way he said it was just heart-breaking. And then Jake said, “I know, man. My dad hates me, too.” And Jon said, “Shut-up Jake! You don’t know what you’re talking about. Your dad doesn’t hate you, he’s just being a dad. Adam’s dad really does hate him.”

Sharon, wagging her head and looking at me with sorrow in her eyes said, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner.”

Sharon was right. I didn’t know what was happening in my home when I wasn’t there. That day, once I knew, I knew I needed to act. I needed to change things. I needed to protect my sons. I needed to stop thinking I was able to hold everything together and I was the only one being harmed by my husband’s anger. Once I knew his anger wasn’t being directed only at me but at the kids too, my responsibility to the kids was clear.

I don’t beat myself up about not knowing. None of us know what we don’t know until we know it.

Sometimes we think we know because we know something else. But seriously, we can’t know what we don’t know until we know it.

I have a friend who didn’t know her husband was sexually abusing their daughter. She didn’t know until she did know. I have a friend who didn’t know his wife had been carrying on an affair for years. He didn’t know until he did know. I have a pastor friend who didn’t know the administrative assistant was embezzling money. She didn’t know until she did know.

I didn’t know what was happening in my home when I wasn’t there because what was happening when I was there was different than what was happening when I wasn’t, and because my boys didn’t tell me  and because I didn’t even think to ask (even though maybe I should have).

Jake thought he knew what Adam was going through because he thought it was the same thing he was experiencing at home. But then Jon set him straight with the charming candor of fourteen year old boys, “Shut-up, Jake! You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Today I’ve been thinking most of us who are white people need someone with Jon’s candor right about now. “Shut-up! You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Before we weigh-in against athletes taking a knee in prayerful protest we might be wise to acknowledge we don’t know what we don’t know about being dark-skinned in this country because we don’t have dark skin. The only way we can possibly begin to know what we don’t know is by paying attention, listening, and turning off our preconceived notions about how much we think we know. We need to be humble enough to listen when our neighbors tell us what they’ve seen and experienced even if what they tell us makes us uncomfortable and means that we need to change things because now we do know.

Maybe there are a whole lot of us who don’t know what’s happening to our neighbors here in the home of the brave and the land of the free. Maybe it’s time to hold off on knee-jerk reactions and to be very quiet instead to listen well to those who, with sorrow in their eyes and truth on their tongues, tell us what they know, so we can begin to know it, too.

Maybe, when we really listen, we’ll be moved to bend our knees in contrition, to say, I didn’t know until I knew but now I do. And then, arm in arm we can stand up and begin to do what’s right together.

 

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