Marius and I bumped into each other in the house kitchen, where we popped open a bottle of red wine and began snacking on dates, almonds, cheese, crackers, and chocolate. “I was in the sixth grade,” Marius told me, grabbing a cracker, “and the teacher asked me why I was late for school. I gave a smart-aleck answer because I was drunk.”
Travel inwardly and outwardly until you hear something, a distant and unfamiliar melody, sung in a foreign tongue around a strange fire. Break bread with those you find there, the “others.” Listen to their stories. Pay tribute to their gods and warriors. Honor their ancestors. Feel their hearts.
It’s easy for us now, in the 21st century and with the benefit of hindsight, to see the mistakes made by so-called “strong men” like António de Oliveira Salazar, some of them horrific. It’s equally easy to overlook the good they did. They are, like most of us, a mixed bag of good and evil, light and shadow, right and wrong. In other words, they were human.
Who among us does not want to be seen, to be fully understood and appreciated, to be respected and honored for whom we are? Who does not want to be wrapped in that warm blanket we call “unconditional love,” where we feel we can do no wrong, and where our shadow side is just as celebrated as our light? For are we not a mixed bag of light and dark, health and injury, joy and sorrow, a flawed and fallen creature who longs to be accepted “as is”?
I doubt I will ever fully eradicate my racism. Unfortunately, I suspect some vestige of it will always be with me. But what I can do, and what I do do, is expose myself to experiences that lessen my racism, those being travel, kind and honest conversation, and breaking bread with “the others” whenever I can. These experiences, like wind and rain, smooth rock and, over time, lay low even the highest mountains.
Knowledge alone does not bring about change in the core of a person. Only honest observation, steady practice, and repetition will do that, driving knowledge into the “muscle memory” of the soul.