Posted by: MC | February 7, 2012

CO, MN, MO Primaries – Meh – Listening to Sherman, TX

Yesterday, well south of the GOP caucus hubbub, I had one of those two-hour conversations you want to remember for the rest of your days.  Not so much the words, although the stories were as precious as sunshine…really, but the feeling of it.  Sara Bernice Moseley has been an inspiration to countless women and men across the 94 and ½ years of her life.  She is and always has been grace in human form.

No kidding.  This is a woman raised in west Texas who developed as a musician, as a deep thinker and, by extension a practical theologian.  She married a young lawyer who became the president of a small liberal arts school in Sherman, TX – Austin College.  While he was quite creatively ushering the college from the brink of financial ruin to the pinnacle of liberal arts reputation, Sara Bernice was raising children and nurturing her heart and mind such that she ultimately led the Presbyterian Church as the first woman to be its elected Moderator in 1978.

I knew this about her, even back then, but what I remember more from that time is what I have with me now, the feeling of Sara B.  Her shining eyes and the total validation of her being – as if even her breath were saying – “Isn’t it something that we both exist to have this time being simply magnificent with one another.”

Sara Bernice Moseley has lived across the street from Austin College, my alma mater, for almost 60 years.  Without any effort, she is this place – she is north and west and central Texas – she is the deep soul of Presbyterianism.  I can’t say in any definitive way what any of that reduces to – not to sky or sage brush, not to bricks or hymnals or phi-beta-kappa certificates.  I do know the feeling, though.  I carried it with me into the talk I got to do on 100 VOICES – AMERICANS TALK ABOUT CHANGE at the college yesterday.  There I was 35 years later (or so) with four dozen citizens of 2012’s Austin College community.  The ever-inspiring spirits of the 100 Voices were most certainly in attendance.  So was the grace of Sara Bernice Moseley.

Then this morning, I went for a walk toward the town square of Sherman.  I remembered my way there from the one time I reported (and was turned down…) for jury duty some thirty years ago.  I was newly married to a German Lit. professor @ AC and was just beginning my own doctoral study at Texas Woman’s University in Denton (one of those 1.5 hour TX commutes – i.e. pretty much nothing).  Something about my ideas on the social situation of human behavior…even way back then…didn’t play well with the District Attorney.

The striking thing today was that I found myself in neighborhoods I didn’t even know existed.  Sherman is pretty small, so this novelty was weird to me since I spent 13 years of my life here – got two degrees, married, had a baby, watched her take her first steps…stuff like that.  How could I not have known of neighbors so near?

As I made my way down a street toward downtown, several people (white people) stopped to silently gesture through their windshields in offer of a ride.  I smiled and declined, wave back.  After the second person moved on, then turned on the very next street I wondered why they would offer since they weren’t going to town anyway.  I can’t know for sure since I didn’t get to talk with either of them, but I can’t help but wonder if they were concerned for my safety – and I can’t help but wonder if it had to do with demographics – income, ethnicity.

I know that most of the white people – most of the professionals in town, live on the other side of the highway.  That’s the way it was decades ago and that’s the way it is now.  Back then, I didn’t give it much thought.  Today it’s been striking.

I walked south of downtown, then a bit farther east.  When I came back, I found myself in a small industrial district – one that’s been around more than 80 years – grain processing, mostly.  That’s the way it looks and that’s what was verified by the guys who caught me taking photos.

At first the burly African American man in the knee-length purple coat, work boots and hard hat called out to me suspicious of my motives – something about a woman who was coming around taking pictures to cause his company some trouble.  I told him a little about what I was up to and he and I walked together back to the small wooden room off a loading deck where an older African American gentleman and a white man around my age were sitting.  There was a folding table with papers strewn around the table that looked to have things to do with storage organization and inventory.  The older man was holding a newspaper.

We chatted about my history in Sherman and my presence on the streets of the town today.  They warmed to the story of 100 VOICES the way almost everyone does.  I asked about a man who was as kind and dear to me as Mrs. Moseley – Orange M. Hughes.  The man in the purple canvass coat said, “He’s family.  He’s not alive anymore, but he’s family.”  The older man smiled and said Orange Jr. is still alive.  He told me his address.  I think I’ll go by.

As I walked down the steps of the loading dock and back onto the crumbling sidewalks on Houston St., I got to wondering again.  I wondered how the important work and thought and innovation nourished at the small liberal arts school just blocks away could be of more immediate application for the three gentlemen in the tumble-down wooden room next to the decaying structures of an industrial economy that will never likely revive.  Industry of that kind is no longer needed, but the people of Sherman, TX are here and they all have lives and skills and interests and concerns – they have wisdom and ideas.

There’s a conversation that is not happening.  I keep wondering if and how it can.

The years and, these fortunate days, the miles keep teaching me.

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Responses

  1. We thirst for a conversation whose topic is fugitive, so diluted by a half-century’s retreat from discerning truth that we are scarcely able to savor our essential human nature. We drown, thrashing in a sea of noise, barely aware of the terrors, pleasures, and triumphs of the human spirit all about us. Listening silences noise; our learning must teach quiet; so the conversation begins.


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