I walked into the room noting the dissident sorrow and blatant agony saturating the atmosphere. The room itself was big, airy, not congruent to the sharing of intimate and devastating life stories, but it worked. I continued toward the sharing circle hearing a grown man weep like my toddler into a microphone. As I survey the room for a place to sit, I am haunted by the wails. It is not often I hear grown men weep. The chairs blanketing the sharing circle are black. People of all colours, shapes and sizes litter the audience. They are all captivatingly haunted by what they hear. I find a spot in the back. The man finishes his wail, sits down as broken a man as I have ever seen. People don’t clap. They let out airy and loud gasps. Some are weeping. Others are stoic and undoubtedly overwhelmed by the brutality of an evil many can only imagine, but has been experienced by this man.
I sit. I try to get comfortable and emotionally prepared for what I will be hearing as I sit in a black, plastic chair. I look up. A new guy, in his early 50’s is about to talk now. He slowly lifts the mic to his lips. Breathing heavily he almost inaudibly cries into the mic “I was raped when I was 5.”
The tears begin to well up in my eyes as the sound of those words hit my ears with a fury. That is only a year and a half older than my eldest son. I wipe my eyes before the tears make their way down my face. My eyes wander. Those listening are in shock. There may not be a dry eye in the place. My capacity for empathy is saturated by the pure evil this man experienced while at a Residential School. He continues his story. I hear most of it, still haunted by the first 7 words out of his mouth.
I was not sure what to expect leading up to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Vancouver. Lord knows the Vancouver traffic afforded me ample opportunity to reflect and ponder my curiosity. Yet, somehow, as if divine intervention I found my way to a black chair at that particular time, at that particular place. My journey to that chair was shaped by privilege afforded to me by my white European Settler ancestors. The journey of the Residential School survivor to his black chair was drastically different. It was brutal, defined by powerlessness, raped of his humanity.
But we found ourselves in the same room. Sitting in each our own black chair. Many others too, found their way, penned by their own histories, and sitting in black chairs.
Our skin colour didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was our common humanity. The point was to listen. Few shared their stories. It was our humanity that linked us amidst our differences. It is how I imagine Pentecost. A people bound together by our humanity, embracing our differences united by the loving God. But here, on this day, our humanity required us to listen. Listen to the pain of a people many of whom are trying to maintain their own humanity amidst the evil which shaped their lives. If there is any integrity in our humanity on this day, and everyday henceforth requires us to pursue Truth and pursue with great cost Reconciliation with our Indigenous brothers and sister.
I believe in a God of reconciliation. A God whose name was taken in vain in both word and deed by many of the Residential schools operating in Canada. But if I have any ounce of faith in me, in a God who reconciled a broken humanity to God’s self through the grace and shalom of Jesus I am compelled to pursue this same peace and shalom in the community of Creation with my Indigenous brothers and sisters. May I be damned if I don’t.
I sat in the black chair. Forever changed by that which I heard from the mouth of a man who had been to hell and was trying to find his humanity again. I got up off that black chair forever changed.