We have moved to the beautiful city of Quarteira in Portugal, with its wonderful beaches and colorful houses and apartment buildings. We met our host’s parents, and it was one of the highlights of this visit. His mother could not speak any English, but she managed to show me all that I needed to know about the apartment. When I did not know how to respond to her, she hugged me and advised me with gestures that European women greet each other by kissing on both cheeks.
It was a new experience for me, this kissing cheeks, and I would not advise you try it in America, especially not in my old neighborhoods. But, it was wonderful to be so accepted, and before the tour of the apartment ended, she and I, neither of us able to talk to the other, were laughing and hugging like old friends. What love this woman displayed towards me! It made me so joyful, and I decided right then and there that I will not let the reactions to me from others here deplete my joy at just being alive and in a beautiful place.
I wrote recently that being black in Portimao made me a rarity, and it is no different in Quarteria. As I walk down the street with Douglas, I am gawped at constantly. It makes me uncomfortable to have everyone look up and stare as I walk by. I will not even hold Douglas’s hand, because I worry that it will cause much offense. Today, one woman actually stared at me until I passed her, and because I was so bothered by it, I wondered if she was staring after me. And sure enough, I turned around to find her walking backwards and still staring. Her actions embarrassed her walking companion so much. I just turned around and caught up to Douglas, who tells me to ignore the looks.
I cannot determine why I am an oddity for natives and tourists, but I think that in this vacation place, people are accustomed to only seeing white faces, so my strolling along with a white guy seems completely out of sync to them. The other possibility is that we are an interracial couple, and I have not seen but maybe one other interracial couple here, and they were white and Asian.
Whatever the cause, I have two options. One is that I can just stay close to the apartment, never leaving the apartment unless necessary. I just don’t want to cause people to be upset on their vacations, although the ones staring seem more surprised by my appearance than upset by it. No one has been nasty or said a word, but I feel as though I am ruining their favorite vacation spot.
But, I must tell you, that I am finally feeling good about being here, with sun-filled days sitting next to the ocean, walking many miles a day, and enjoying watching boats glide across the water. I do not want to give those things up. Also, I told Douglas that Portugal just might be a place to think of retiring, so somethings has to change, and that change begins with me.
So, the second option is to ignore them, like Douglas suggests, and just let them stare as much as they want, making it their problem, not mine. I thought about it today as I sat on a bench by the beach, soaking up the sun, while Douglas reclined next to a breakwater. I was reading my newest British mystery with the incomparable Detective Inspector Hillary Greene, fully engrossed in the murder in book 11 of the series. Sitting there feeling at peace as I also watched a young man with a kite seeming to float across the waves, I decided that the staring is just something that I cannot change, so I will simply go about my business, enjoying these sun-filled, albeit windy, days of relaxation and play.
I won’t allow whatever is causing this phenomenon to steal my joy. I am where I am meant to be at this moment in my life. So, I will strut my stuff all down the boardwalk in Portugal and in Spain, where we go next weekend for three days in Seville and Córdoba. I will be me, not changing my attitude or my style to accommodate someone else. I will hold my head high and not be ashamed of my skin color.
Also, I will look back at the people staring at me, not to shame them, but hopefully it will teach them how inhumane it is to do that to another human being. After all, we are of the same species, aren’t we? Maybe it will save someone else from the pain of being constantly gawped at later. But, I am determined to be as joyful as I can possibly be just sharing this place with them.
Joy is one of the by-products of the Holy Spirit, and it is a gift from the God who sees me (as Hagar says) and loves me as I am. In John 15:11, Jesus advised His disciples that all that He taught them was meant to ensure that His joy was in them and that their joy was full.
God’s children are meant to be joyful people and not to be sad or discouraged by the actions of others. The joy I felt with that incredible woman was so soul-affirming that I will not lose it because of a situation that I don’t understand or cannot alter. There is a wonderful old hymn that says, “This joy that I have, the world did not give it to me. The world did not give it, and the world cannot take it away!” Precisely! Jesus gave me this joy, and I will not let anyone deplete it!
So, whatever you are enduring today because of the actions of others, remember that you were created to be joyful, and that God ransomed His Son, so that you and I could have joy in this present age. You and I are a gifts to the world, so do not let the behaviors, attitudes, or thoughts of others steal the joy that your Hevenly Father has placed in your heart and soul. Instead, enjoy life to the fullest, for life is too short to be constantly worried or sad. Praise God from whom all blessing flow, including joy!