The Water Is Wide: Lessons about Charity, Racism, and the Shackles of Slavery

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More from The Water Is Wide (Pat Conroy) . . .

Conroy and his friend Bernie — a principal at a nearby school — planned a Halloween field trip for Conroy’s class, the first time those middle school students had ever been trick-or-treating. For years, these men dreamed of making a difference in the world, and those thoughts carried over to their educational endeavors.

“We wanted to do so much, wanted to be small catalysts in the transformation of the disfigured sacramental body of the South, which had sired us. I was a cynic who needed desperately to believe in the salvation of mankind or at least in the potential salvation. Bernie was an optimist who need proof that his philosophy of joy and the resurrection of the spirit was not the delusion of a grinning Pollyanna.”

Of course, many others want to “help.” Here’s how Conroy sarcastically remembers those “good deeds” done with an air of superiority (and I know exactly what he means):

“Good intentions flourish on Yamacraw Island. The projects of concerned white folks are evident everywhere. Supply books and by a miraculous process of osmosis, the oyster-pickers will become Shakespearean scholars. All dem nigras need is books and a little tad of education.”

And in reference to those church-goers who donate resources to, but look down on, the black community  . . .

“Christ must do a lot of puking when he reflects upon the good works done in his name.”

Conroy, and many others, were driven to make things better.

“If I let my students leave me without altering the conditions of their existence substantially, I knew a concrete sightless ghetto of some city without hope would devour them quickly, irretrievably, and hopelessly.”

But he realized he was not strong enough to shatter the weight of the past.

“Slowly, the awareness came to me that no matter what happened, my struggles and efforts could not eradicate the weight and inalienable supremacy of two hundred years: the children of slaves could not converse or compete with the offspring of planters, the descendants of London barristers, the progeny of sprawling, upward-climbing white America.

And slavery was still a reality, considering that none of my students grew up in homes where books flourished, where ideas fluttered, and theories dwelt comfortably in dinner-table discussions. . . .

These children before me did not have a goddam chance of sharing in the incredible wealth and affluence of the country that claimed them, a country that failed them, a country that needed but did not deserve deliverance.”

I have more to share. But if you haven’t read The Water Is Wide, I encourage you to buy a copy today.

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**image courtesy of GiniMiniGi via sxc.hu

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