The Water Is Wide: Past Regrets

Cover of "The Water Is Wide"

Cover photo via Amazon

I finished reading The Water Is Wide, my first Pat Conroy book. In this novel, Conroy chronicles his year of teaching on poverty-stricken Daufuskie Island (which he refers to as “Yamacraw Island”), located in Beaufort County.

Much of this book deals with helping the reader understand race relations in the late 1960’s. Though more progressive than many of his peers and elders, Conroy allows us to peer into how he learned and grew over the years.

Here’s an snapshot from his teenage years:

By some miracle of chance, I was playing a high school basketball game in Greensboro, North Carolina, on the day that blacks students entered a dime store for the first nationally significant sit-in demonstration. I was walking past the store on the way to my hotel when I heard the drone of the angry white crowd. Word spread along the street that the niggers were up to something, and a crowd started milling around the store.

With rolled-up sleeves and the Brylcreem look of the period, the mob soon became a ludicrous caricature of an entire society. The women had sharp aquiline noses. I remember that. Everyone was surprised and enraged by the usurpation of this inalienable Caucasian right to park one’s ass on a leather stool and drink a Coke.

I moved quickly out of the area, following a Conroy law of survival that says that restless mobs have a way of drawing trouble and cops – although the cops would not have bothered me on this day, I realized later. It would be nice to report that this event transformed me into a crusader for civil rights, but it did not. It did very little to me.

Did you catch that last line? Have you ever looked back on an event and wished you had reacted differently? I have, and I know you have, too.

We wish that we stood up for the “little guy.” We wish that our mindsets were changed in an instant. We wish that those experiences led to firm actions.

But I find that change (especially changes of the heart and mind) happens slowly. And we can only move forward from our past regrets and desires.

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”  Philippians 1:6

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