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Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016 12:18 am

What one apology can do

 On Saturday morning, Oct. 15, I decided to go to the Parkway 8 theater in Springfield to see the film The Birth of a Nation by Nate Parker. I didn’t know if I could handle being reminded of our centuries-long psychosocial torment, so I went by myself to avoid embarrassment if I couldn’t hold it together.

There were only three people in the theater – one black woman (me), one white man and one white woman. All of us sat in different sections. As the film was ending, I stood against the back wall near the exit to listen to the last song as the credits rolled, to give myself time to push down the rage. After several minutes, the man got out of his chair and slowly made his way up the aisle. His face was hidden below the bill of his cap and he was sniffing.

As he turned to exit, he looked up and our eyes met. He grabbed me in a bear hug and began sobbing and said, “I’m SORRY, I am sooo SORRY!” All I could say back was, “Thank you.”

As he held on to me, I felt the anger and loneliness drain out of my body like some kind of supernatural healing. Everything that had welled up in my soul one hour earlier, as I witnessed horror after horror, just melted. When he let go and turned to walk away, he stopped again and said to me, “I am so sorry.”

So many emotions engulfed me. I was shocked that I wanted to comfort him and say, “It wasn’t your fault.” But all I could get out was another, “Thank you.”

I thought about going after him in the lobby to hug him again, but I couldn’t move. I wanted to ask if this was the first time he had seen such a movie. I wanted to know what it was that made him capable of such empathy, but instead, I chose to remain still and allow the peace I felt to settle on my spirit. I felt grateful. Grateful that I got to experience proof that it is not whiteness or blackness that is the problem in America. It is ignorance, consciencelessness and gross misteachings.

I am so grateful to you… I’ll call you “Mr. Love.” You have no idea what that apology did for me (as a descendant of the enslaved), and what it could have done for all of black America. So I am writing this note to publicly thank you for that act of contrition. I will never, ever, forget your kindness toward me – for all of us. You will be in my heart forever.

C.C. Shears of Springfield is retired after a 31-year career as a state employee. A mother of five daughters, she writes short plays, poetry and children’s stories.

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