WAKING UP TO LOVE: A TRUE STORY OF LOVE, MIRACLES, & SECOND CHANCES, Scarlett Schwartz

WAKING UP TO LOVE:  A TRUE STORY OF LOVE,

MIRACLES, & SECOND CHANCES

        Scarlett Schwartz

 

NOTE:  Scarlett is presently writing her fascinating book.  It’s time is NOW, so I am editing while she writes.  With her permission, I would like to share an excerpt from Chapter 9—an example of one of the miracles in which this inspired woman has been instrumental.  It took place in September 2005, as she taught her class at a local university.  This is our 1st draft of writing/editing.

—Nancy Detweiler

AUTHOR’S NOTE: All names and some minor details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

—Scarlett Schwartz

*************************

Class today was about alternative lifestyles. I had a diverse mix of students from many countries with a variety of beliefs. In addition, one male student was openly gay.

During a previous class, a small cadre of conservative religious students had expressed disapproval of homosexuality. I had suggested we table the discussion until we reached that particular chapter in the text.  That way, everyone could read the chapter and be prepared for a more informed discussion.

Well, we were on track and today was the day to bring that lifestyle out in the open, so to speak. I expected the students to be open-minded in their discussion, based on the theories of different strokes for different folks and live and let live.

I was wrong. The class discussion immediately became contentious.

John, the openly gay student, confided, “I am tired of being judged for being gay.”  He then told the story of a recent hate crime committed against a woman because she was a lesbian.

The group of conservative students had a main ringleader, Devon, who was very vocal in his opinions.

“Well, the Bible says it’s a sin and you’re going to hell!” Devon declared emphatically.  He was joined by a chorus of “that’s right” from the small flock of young women who sat with him in each class.

“Well, intolerant people can go to hell too,” John snapped in his own defense.

In addition to the lifestyle issue, there was an undercurrent of racial tension.  John was short and white.  Devon was tall and black. I could see that things were quickly going to spin out of control and could even come to blows.  Devon started to rise from his seat, struggling to unfold his body from the desk/chair combo. The class noise level began to erupt.

“Whoa class!”  I shouted, to be heard over my arguing students.  “Devon, sit down!”

Devon looked at me, defiance on his face. He sat down resentfully. “It’s a sin,” he repeated. “It says so in the Bible.”

“The Bible says that slaves should obey their masters. Do you agree with that?” I asked.

Devon stared at me, sullen and sour.

“There are many things in the Bible that are open to interpretation.  But the Bible also teaches love and acceptance. Devon, have you ever been judged by the color of your skin?”

Still defiant, Devon stared at me.  He grudgingly nodded. “Well, that’s not the same thing. I was born this way. I didn’t choose to be black.”

“I want you all to think about this and think hard.” I paused to let my words sink in.

How does it feel to have someone judge you based on your skin color?  Not very good, does it?

How does it feel to have someone who doesn’t even know you decide at first glance they hate you because of the color of your skin?  Not good, right?

You’re a human being with people in your life who love you; and you, by your humanity, are worthy, just as you stand. You can’t help being born black, anymore than John can help being born gay. It’s in his genetic code.”

“I think it’s a choice,” Devon said.

“Yeah, right,” John snapped.  “Do you think a gay person chooses to be gay? Do you think I woke up one day and decided I wanted to be gay and have to either hide who I am or have people like you hate me and make my life a living hell or beat the shit out of me?  Do you think I would choose this?”

The class grew quiet. John was quivering, his eyes filled with tears. The pain in his voice tugged at my heart. I knew this was a teachable moment.

I addressed the class. “Does it seem to you that those who are gay are treated by some people the same way that black people historically were? Blacks were beaten, lynched and killed, just for being black. Gays are being beaten, raped and killed, just for being gay. What do you think about that?”

I paused, looking first at Devon, then at John. “I’m wondering if you have more in common than you think.”

My class mantra to my students was the exhortation: Think about it!   As an instructor, I felt the most meaningful contribution I could make was to guide my students to think seriously about life and its complexities.  That way, they could develop informed values as they prepared to take their place in the world.

Another mantra was, Be conscious out there! Because many of the class concepts were challenging to conventional thinking, our discussions held the potential to raise consciousness.

The next words to roll spontaneously from my mouth surprised me.   It turned out to be one of the best classes in my teaching career.

“Who is it ok to hate?” I asked the class. They were quiet now, reflecting. No one responded.

“People tend to hate those who are different from them. They hate them if their skin color is different, their sexual orientation is different, or their religion is different. Look at all the wars being fought about religion. And the problem is, each religion believes it is the only right one. So, if you believe that your religion is the only right one, everyone else, by default, has to be wrong. If they’re wrong, they’re different. People tend to hate what’s different.” I paused to take a breath. Then I continued.

“And when they hate those who are different, they want to kill them. Remember what happened to Jesus in the Bible? Think about the Holocaust. Hitler convinced the Germans that the Jews, the disabled, the homosexuals and any other people who weren’t part of his superior race should be rounded up like cattle and killed. The sad part is that he convinced a multitude of people to believe him. He whipped them into a hate-filled frenzy. Then because they felt superior, because they believed that they were the only people who were worthwhile, every other human being’s humanity was dismissed. They were viewed as a contemptible other, worth nothing but to be used, humiliated, tortured and killed. That’s what hate does. It destroys one’s sense of humanity.”

The room had the attentive hushed silence that happens in certain moments when you know you have totally engaged a group and they are listening intently.

“Hate kills, doesn’t it?”

“I am looking around this room right now and I see a mix of students who could be Christians, Jews, Hindus, atheist, agnostic, or whatever religion, who may be gay, straight, black, white, brown, yellow, and who are males, females and maybe transgender. Every one of you has, at some point, experienced prejudice and unwarranted hate, just for being who you are, for being who you were born to be.

“I want you to take a moment, look around at each other and see what I do. I see a group of human beings, who are very different, but still human. I see you all as smart, capable and worthwhile people who want what most humans desire: love and acceptance.

“This is a class about relationships. However tonight, this is a class about understanding that we have one major shared relationship.  We share a connection and a relationship with each other as human beings. We are united—in our differences—by our humanity.

“So look around the room. Perceive each other as human beings who are more than skin, bone and beliefs. And if you can, see yourselves as one human family.”

I paused, letting the words sink in. Class was almost over. It had been an intense experience for us all.

I noticed that the students were looking around.  John and Devon even made eye contact, albeit brief and furtive.  “Progress!” I thought.

“Now, tell me: Who is it ok to hate?”

I turned away to head back to the lectern.

“Your assignment this week is to write one page about an experience you may have personally had or witnessed about someone being scorned for no reason other than their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity or national origin. See you next class.”

I hastily packed my folder and notes, ready to head to the hospital. The class quickly cleared.  Except for John.  He appeared tense as he stood watching me, shifting from foot to foot.  I wasn’t sure what he wanted to say, but it was clear something was on his mind.

“Um, thank you for what you said today.”

“You’re welcome.  I hope it helped open some minds,” I replied.

His answer surprised me, “It helped me to open mine, too.  See you later.”

John scurried out. I paused for a moment, feeling the void of the empty classroom.

I had sat in these rooms off and on for more than twenty years, struggling along as a student. Now here I was, standing at the lectern, facing the students sitting in the same chairs I had used year after year.   Thoughts raced through my mind.

It was such an honor and responsibility to teach. Human beings are so fragile and everyone just stumbles along, trying to live their lives the best way they can. I hope that my students left the class today with a changed perspective. On the other hand, I know that people will truly hear only what they want or need.

The class had changed me, too, and reminded me of something important: opening hearts and minds would always be my passion. My class was teaching me to follow my heart. I was grateful to John for having the courage to be who he is; I felt compassion for the pain he was suffering, even now, just to be an authentic human being.

“Would we ever transcend our differences?” I wondered.

I sighed and headed out to the parking deck. It was a 15-minute drive to the hospital and I was eager to get there to see David.

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