by Anna G. Cristofaro
About 15 years ago, my cousin Marie got married. Harry is a wonderful African-American man from a huge — and huge-hearted — Southern family.
Marie’s mom and dad are my godparents. Lorraine and Arthur were very typical examples of their generation. They were raised to believe that black people are “different from us”. So when their daughter, who was over 40 years old at the time, announced that she was marrying a black man, they were mortified.
I remember sitting in my godmother’s kitchen as she tearfully spoke of how Marie was breaking their hearts with this marriage. She was sure my godfather wouldn’t be able to bear the disgrace of his daughter giving herself up to a black man.
I was struck dumb. I had already met Harry and some of his siblings. I knew them to be warm, funny, kind and generous people. I saw that my cousin was happy for the first time in a long time. It was so painful to see her family torn apart by blind bigotry and selfishness.
Marie’s parents refused to come to the wedding. For the first few years of their marriage, my godfather would not talk to Marie, and certainly not to Harry. Harry wasn’t even welcome in my godparents’ home. Nothing could change their minds — at least, not then.
Through all this, Harry was always an example of compassion. He told Marie she was not to give up on her Mom and Dad, that she should continue to visit and to show them respect. If they happened to run into Arthur and Lorraine at a family function, Harry was always cheerful and courteous to his in-laws. His thinking was that they just couldn’t help themselves — they were a product of their “Old Country” upbringing and generational bias.
I don’t know that there was any single defining event that changed the hearts of Arthur and Lorraine. I think finally it all came down to patience and grace. It took time, but eventually the color line was erased and my godparents simply saw Harry as the son they never had.
In the end, Marie’s parents couldn’t help falling in love with Harry. Love and respect replaced suspicion and fear. There came a time when my godfather loved nothing better than to visit Marie and Harry at their log cabin home in the mountains.
When my godfather died a few years ago, it was Harry who honored us with a Bible reading at Arthur’s funeral service. Harry and Marie continue providing my godmother (now 80) with plenty of TLC as she battles Alzheimer’s disease.
Harry showed us that love isn’t just blind. It’s color-blind, too.