Thursday, November 5, 2009

Offer Compassion to Bitterness, If You Can

Several years ago, my adult daughter and I had just left a Philly restaurant where we'd had lunch, and were taking a stroll to continue our enjoyment. As we talked, I caught a glimpse of a dark skinned, mildly disheveled Black man approaching from the other direction, amidst some pairs of folks coming and going ahead, nothing particularly noteworthy. But at the moment that we intersected, I caught the brother's eyes, wild with rage, just as he hurled his seething into one word, at me, BITCH!

Though stunned momentarily, my daughter and I did not break our stride, but I was amazed. I had no feeling of being pricked or defamed, not a drop of distress. It was as though the energy he'd spewed towards me had floated elsewhere, and dissipated in the air. I'd never felt so immune to ugliness thrown my way. I think it had to do with how weighed down his male privilege seemed by a poor state of mind and wallet, and the fact that we shared a similar racial position. I felt empathy for this bitter man. Keep everything the same except race, and I’m not sure I would have gotten away so clean…maybe if the mental health issue was off the charts. Leave him Black, and make him a friend or boyfriend in the midst of a heated argument with me, and well, separation would be urgent in the moment, and a question for the long term.

How we respond to bitterness depends a lot on the context, and on the way that bitterness gets voiced. But as I suggested in my last blog, we may sometimes be able to offer something soft, like a magnolia flower or the poem I spoke about -- an expression of compassion. I located the brother and he has given me permission to share his poem here. His name is Segun ( and this is his poem.

The Broken Hearted

Your body you offer
a sacrifice to carnal pleasure.
Your heart you guard
a weighty nugget of pure gold
your lifeline.
I wonder who had hurt you so
my dear.
Claw your anguish onto my face
beat your wild rage onto my chest
wet my neck with your salty sorrow
let my tranquility be a haven for your troubled spirit.
your august scapegoat
noble offering to
absolve you
of this perennial grief
plaguing you so.

By Ségun Ògúntólá, from the collection, In Celebration of All that Burdens Us (Seaburn Publishing Group, New York, 2006)

A magnolia, a tiger lily, a poem, a look of compassion -- gifts to place at the feet of grief, hurt, and anger grown hard and bitter.

Photo by thandiwe.


  1. I have experienced this a few times--a random stranger and black man referring to me as a "bitch" for no seemingly logical reason. I admire the way you chose to handle your experience. One cannot eliminate darkness with darkness, only with light. I also love Brother Segun's poem. Incidentally, also published some poems of his.

  2. Ebele,
    I wish I could claim it as a choice. But it wasn't. It's just the way I experienced it. Re darkness, I have chosen to opt out of making it synonymous with evil, death etc. There's plenty good, and even sight, in darkness, so I prefer to share your sentiment in other terms, hate love, evil with evil. Thank you for the website where I can find more of Segun's poems.