Art matters. This is why.
I went to the movies recently. By myself, which is how I prefer it. I sat in the very last row, which is also how I like it at this particular theater. I saw Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman”. I knew it would be emotional. I knew I had to mentally steel myself for it. I knew it would be a lot. And it was. Especially those last few minutes. I’m not giving anything away by telling you that. The entire audience sat in stunned silence. Barely breathing.
Speaking of the audience, when I walked in the theater, I looked around & it appeared to me that the audience was entirely composed of retired age white folks. Going to midday matinees, it’s usually like that. The over 65 part, that is.
As the credits rolled, and Prince sang (don’t ever leave a movie before all the credits roll; that’s a pet peeve of mine & you sometimes miss really significant moments – hint hint), a young woman was trying to exit my row.
“Excuse me”, she whispered, as I was sitting there, holding my face in my hands, my heart in my stomach. I looked up. She was young. Barely 23, if I had to guess. If I had a younger sister, which I don’t, I imagine this young lady is what she might look like. The similarities in our appearance were notable. I guess I didn’t see her when I made my initial once over of the audience earlier. So, make that two people of color in the audience. Two black women.
I smiled weakly, shifted my legs so she could get by & then continued to sit there for another few moments.
I knew that I would need to go to the restroom to compose myself. I might even have to lock myself in a stall & have a good cry. I had errands to run & didn’t think my flood of emotions would wait until I got home.
When I entered the restroom, there she was. The young woman from my row. Looking in the mirror, dabbing tears from her eyes. She looked at me. I looked at her. And then I promptly I burst out into tears.
“I’m sorry”, I blubbered. “I’m so sorry. I just…can’t…”
“I know”, she said. “I know”.
And then this young woman, this total stranger, barely half my age, reached out her arms to me. And we hugged. And not one of those demure “respect my space” hugs. It was a real hug. The heart to heart kind. The holding on for dear life kind. The sharing an understanding, a feeling, an awareness of a human experience kind. The best kind.
There we were, two strangers in a public restroom. Bonding over a movie.
I apologized again. “I’m so sorry”. I’m not sure why that was all that I could say. Maybe I felt embarrassed by my own vulnerability.
“It’s ok”, she said, warmly. “It’s a lot. I’m going to sit outside (referring to the little lounging area in the theater) & try to process it. I’ll be there”. The implication, it seemed, was, she’d be there, if I wanted to join her.
I nodded my head as I dried my tears. She left the restroom & I splashed some water on my face, reapplied my lipstick, put my purse on my shoulder & started to walk out of the restroom.
Then I paused. I looked at my watch. I had errands to run. Places to be. Things to do. I was torn. Was I just going to leave & never see her again? Would our moment begin & end in a public restroom? Or would I walk outside, sit next to her & connect?
I made my decision.
I found her sitting on the couch, looking down at her phone. I sat across from her, not wanting to interrupt. Not wanting to seem needy. Maybe she was just being polite when she told me she’d be sitting there. Maybe I had misinterpreted her words.
So, I just sort of sat there. Staring off into space. And then I sighed a little bit too loudly.
She looked up.
And then we started talking. Like old friends.
We talked about the movie & how there were moments where we thought, “My god, this could be today. The words they are saying.” And then how we realized that this IS today. The words they were saying, WORD FOR WORD. The exact same words uttered by the KKK & David Duke in the 70’s are now being uttered by the current occupant of the Oval Office.
We talked about Trump.
We talked about race.
We talked about politics.
We talked about our lives.
She told me she just moved here, several weeks ago. From the same town where my father was born in Minnesota.
She told me that she now lives in the neighborhood where I grew up. Just six blocks away from my childhood home.
She told that she’d been her for just a few weeks and that I was the first native San Franciscan she’d met. She was very excited about that.
She told me she was a nurse & she was looking for a job.
She was young & excited about her life; the way energetic 20-somethings often are. But she was also weary & worried about the state & future of our country.
I told her that I understood. That I was worried too. And that in the end we would all be ok; a life lesson we older dolls, who’ve been through life’s ups & downs, have come to understand.
There was just something so familiar to me about this young woman. Maybe she reminded me of myself. I don’t know. But something made me want to keep her in my tribe.
“I know this might seem weird. We just met but…”
“Yes!” she exclaimed, “Let’s exchange numbers”.
My girl. Didn’t leave me hanging.
I told her that if she had any questions, any questions about San Francisco or needed any advice on her job search or just anything in general, to please call me. “Anything. Anytime. I’m serious”, I said.
We exchanged numbers. We hugged. We were healed.
This is the power of art. It brings people together. It changes people. For the better.
The movie had left me feeling so sad, almost broken, realizing how far we, as a nation, as Black Americans, still have to go to reach full equality. But the kindness of a stranger, with an invitation to connect, the power of a hug, soul to soul, sister to sister, brought me back to hope, happiness & humanity.
It was art that healed us. That matters.