Watermarked Pt. 1
Well, like most adolescents at the age of 13, I was trying to understand who I was and the world that I was in. The examples I had around me of adults inspired me. I think most of us model ourselves after people we admire or after something that is a voice within us that tells us this is what perhaps you should strive for. And I met these young monks, these Christian brothers, who taught me at a Catholic school, Mater Dolorosa in New Orleans. And their joy and their generosity, their conviviality, vitality for life was inspiring to me.
As a young man, I grew up in a very interesting city, where early on I realized as, I guess, as a child you would say, very young, that there was — I witnessed what I would have to call evil or ordinary, and it was all very ordinary, that was quite shocking to me. And what I’m referring to is the relationship between White people and Black people in the city. It’s a very racist culture in which I was watermarked.1 When I became aware that it was not just separation, but it was something that was totally inhuman for me, I felt it wasn’t something I articulated, it’s something I felt, and that it was ordinary. By that I mean it was in my family, it was in my church, it was in the civic society I lived in. It was in kind of the breaths of the people that I was surrounded with.
And it shocked me, because I realized that this was the way it was. It wasn’t perceived in the world that I was in as anything other than the way it should be, and I felt it very wrong. Something was deeply wrong. So, that watermarked me, and to meet these brothers who had a completely different view of all of that, and such joy that emanated from them, that was not peculiar to the color of your skin or anything like that. It’s a real motivation.
So, I wanted to become like them so, I asked to leave home. I left home at 14, not having any idea really what I was getting into, thank goodness, and I went into the equivalent of the Middle Ages.2 My family had a military background, and so this would make the Marine Corps look like the Cub Scouts in terms of the intensity that was asked. It was mind and body and heavy discipline and focus and attention and quiet, and manual labor, and times when you could speak, and times when you couldn’t, and being away from home for all but three weeks out of the year. So, it was very intense as a young person, but extremely good. I mean it puts me into an entirely different universe.