It was “An experiment”, Marianne said, asking African Americans who were willing to participate to stand. The woman whose comment caused the undertaking of this experiment (we’ll call her Kai) raised her hand, saying from her seated position, “I’m standing!” Kai was physically unable to rise from her chair, her wheelchair tucked in an unused aisle. Not all African Americans in the audience stood. I didn’t count how many, maybe 20? And the audience was perhaps 300 strong? Then Marianne asked for Caucasian volunteers to stand. So many stood, but it was only one that was needed for every African American, so the rest sat back down.
This was at Marianne Williamson’s workshop today in University City, Missouri. Just before the experiment, Marianne had had us each write three issues on a piece of paper. She then led us through a prayer that surrender these issues to God (insert your higher power of choice.) Upon completion of the prayer, she asked, “Can’t you already feel the difference? Is there anyone who doesn’t?” A lone voice from a few rows behind me said “I don’t.” So, after finishing her thoughts for those who did feel a change, Marianne walked off stage to ask more questions of Kai. “What was the issue?” Marianne asked. “Racism,” said Kai, explaining she had already given this to God and it had not changed the problem. “Just one question”, Marianne asked, “do you believe we have made progress over the years?” Kai confirmed she did. Back up onto the stage, Marianne spoke about the many atrocities towards man that have been carried out over time and transitioned to the power of the apology. That brought us to the experiment.
The pairs were instructed to face each other and hold hands; the White participants were to repeat after Marianne. Feeling the electric in the air, I scootched to the edge of my chair and swiveled about trying to take it all in. Marianne began crafting an apology covering all forms of sin committed by White Americans over decades of time; the apology to be delivered to the Black Americans now standing in the room, their ancestors, children, and children’s children. As the words began to sink-in, my tears flowed, my heart shriveled and my throat was constricted. I wasn’t SAYING anything to anyone. I personally had not done anything I thought damaging to any African American that I could recall. Yet, I was feeling the emotions of both perpetrator and victim, having a difficult time controlling my reaction. I watched Kai’s partner drop down to the floor so they could be physically closer. I saw a short white woman looking up at the tall husky African American man towering over her as she offered the apology. I heard the muffled sound of twenty apologies floating in the air throughout the room. I saw the faces and caught the expressions of other non-participants and noticed how many were tearful – somber – moved.
During the discussion that took place afterwards Marianne was thanked for the exercise, but transferred the credit to Father Ralph Diorio. At an event of his that Marianne had attended years ago, Father asked any non-Roman Catholics (a handful) to stand. He then had the Catholics say to the non-Catholics “Please forgive me and please forgive us.” Marianne and her friend received these apologies one after another and were quickly moved to tears. Marianne explained how she had felt she was funneling these apologies upward to her ancestors who were not present. It was a powerful experience for Marianne.
At lunch, with newfound friends Candy and Sara, we concluded there was not a dry eye in the house during the experiment. I was trying to understand my personal reaction and wondered out-loud if it had anything to do with my father’s intense racism. Maybe through me, with my genetic connection to my father, the apology and forgiveness circle grew wide enough to include him. Though our relationship was not good (he has passed), it’s nice to think I was able to pass this onto him. Maybe that is my learning to feel, not just think about, forgiveness for him. And, I knew my emotions were about more. We had created a circle where love vanquished hate, allowing healing to enter. I was a part of that. I had helped this beautiful experience come into existence, I had jumped into a vat filled with the stench, sickness, emotions and pain involved, and wound up being touched by the hand of love.
Funny thing is that before today I did not give much thought to the need for nations to express regret in order for its people, and the people of other nations, to move on. I would have said a public apology for something that happened long ago, from people who were not directly involved would make no difference. I was wrong.