- Strange Fruit, Billie Holiday
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
I want to squeeze him. I want to thank him for his role in having this kind of thing happen in our church. I want to talk about my own large catholic spirit layered notions of how faith intersects with story, and works to inspire us all. I hold back. I wonder if this appropriate? I wonder if my Congolese Catholic priest gleans the way words shared, performed, sung this evening, are not unlike the words we hear shared each Sunday morning at service? I consider the way I feel fed by this performance, in a similar way to how I feel fed each time I attend mass and receive the Eucharist. I wonder if I can even utter such things? I wonder how he perceives, what he gleans of this evening, what he gets from the history of African Americans? I wonder too, especially, what it's like when his own Congolese and French-speaking self has only been here a few short years? I wonder if he understands me? Ultimately, I wonder if I understand him?
"Fr. Jules, did you get the "Strange Fruit" reference I mentioned?"
He shakes his head, "no" and continues locking up. Fumbling with keys, he says, "What is this 'strange fruit'?"
Whew. And there's another conversation, right? Another 15 conversations! Here I am thinking all about catholicism and race and culture and history as it mixes itself up on the North side. Here I am trying to sort if this fellow and I have much in common and how we might ever really communicate, understand one another, be on the same page. And here, in this honest exchange, in this slowing down and stopping sort-of-exchange, my priest and friend takes me right out into the larger world. Into his home country, and into his experiences -- into spaces that I have no first hand knowledge of, but desire to understand deeply. He also takes me right into his own heart. I feel like I am present, lucky, so privileged to be standing here and part of something that feels so much larger.
These are questions I'm passionate about. These are questions that plague me. These are questions that seem to be at the heart of all my work and experiences of late. Whew. So I put them out here, in light of this recent encounter, and I invite you to hold this with me.