Thursday, October 6, 2011

Out of Africa

My son got in the car today and said, "Mom, what's an African boy's name?"  Now being from the Roots era and loving Alex Haley's story and its cultural significance in the 1970's, I shouted, "Kunta Kinte" with great enthusiasm and pride in my knowledge. My son, on the other hand, being from the millineum era looked at me like I was nuts (what else is new?) and said, "What are you talking about?  That's not a name."  Of course, my need to prove that I'm right at the forefront, I responded, "Just because the name isn't 'Joe' doesn't mean it's not a name.  African names sound different to us because we speak different languages.  Why do you need an African name anyway?"

So he proceeded to tell me that he was required to write a story for his English class to submit to the National PTA Reflections program, the topic being diversity.  He had decided to write about five boys, each from a different country, who went to one school.  They were from  Japan, The United States, Africa, the Caribbean and somewhere in Europe.  The plot of his story, my little Stephen Sondheim in the making, was vaguely reminiscent of West Side Story:  The boys fight in the streets because of their differences, then "they get sad" so they repair their relationships, and then, in true 11 year old boy fashion, the school closes down because "otherwise it would be boring."

"Okay, Braden, why don't you take my Iphone and Google 'African boys names' and see what you come up with?"  For the next ten minutes he regaled me with lists of names, their meanings, their spellings, cultural significances, etc.  But then he stopped at a name which seemed to tickle him, "Baako," he chuckled.  Again laughing harder, "Baako."  Soon he was practically rolling in the backseat of the car, "Baako!!!" he howled.

To that I replied, "You know, I bet there's a kid named Baako in Africa who's got his mother's Iphone, Googling American boys' names and he's stopped at 'Braden' and is laughing hysterically."  Braden looked up and said, "Mom!" but cracked up the next minute.  Then he proceeded to tell me that no one in Africa has an Iphone, the majority of the people there don't have any technology and definitely wouldn't be looking up American boys' names if they did.  How did he know?  He "saw a video at school once."  (I shudder to think of what he isn't learning daily.)

Of course, that got me thinking about how we may take one piece of information we've learned about a country, a region, a continent and condense it down to one succinct assumption that we think applies to every person, every situation, every incident that occurs there.  And then that got me to thinking further about how we may take what we know of each other - friends, family, spouses, children included - and condense down again to one succinct assumption about that person...without really knowing someone's heart or motive or fear or insecurity.  And it made me think of the many times I'm sure I've done this over my lifetime, wittingly or unwittingly, but in my haste to be right or look superior, I didn't take the time to find out the truth.

Luckily there is Someone who knows our hearts wholly, completely, lovingly, and dare I say, patiently.  Someone who will not overlook the fear, the insecurity, the need, the baggage we pack (and I don't pack light!) in our lives.  Someone who will not laugh at us but beside us as we try and sometimes fail; start then sometimes quit; live but sometimes hide from life.  And luckily that Someone is there to prod us, poke us, move us forward to our true objective, our true life, our true world purpose.  How awesome that that Someone knows, not only every single name in every single country, but every life...connecting us all together, brothers and sisters, doing Someone's bidding.

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