(Sharon Randall is taking the day off. The following column is from 2004.)
They were wrong about me on the bus that day. I didn't see it then. But looking back, I can see it so clearly it makes me laugh.
Truth is often like a reflection on a pond. It's there right in front of you. But to see it, you need to stop splashing around and wait for the water to clear.
In January 2000, while in Los Angeles, for the Rose Bowl game, I attended church at Bethel Unspeakable Joy Fellowship in Watts.
On that first Sunday of the new year, Pastor Carol Houston preached a sermon from her heart about her ambitious, but not impossible, dream to take 35 children from that church — kids ages 8-16, who had never been out of Watts — on a bus trip around the country.
I felt incredibly moved by her passion. I could hear it in her voice, see it in her eyes and feel it in my soul. I could dream that dream with her. But I was not about to get on that bus.
My late husband coached basketball for 30 years, before losing a battle with cancer two years earlier. I had spent a lot of time on buses packed with kids. I missed the kids and going to their games. Actually, I missed a lot of things. But I did not miss sitting for hours on a bus.
That Sunday, hearing Pastor Carol talk about her dream, I thought, "That woman is crazy." And I tried not to snicker.
Beware of what you try not to snicker about in church. Six months later, I found myself on a bus with Youth Tour 2000, waiting outside the White House while Pastor Carol made it clear what she'd do to us if we didn't behave ourselves inside.
Round trip from L.A., the tour lasted three weeks. I signed on for six days (from D.C. to Ohio) and the experience of a lifetime.
I could tell you a lot of stories about that trip and how it felt for me — a middle-aged widow who grew up in the '60s in the segregated South — to be treated like family by a preacher from Watts and her funny little flock.
For now, I'll just tell you this: (1) I've never met anyone who shined with more courage and grace than Carol Houston; (2) I've never known any children who were more polite or better behaved than the children on that trip; and (3) I've never in my life been so exhausted.
It's not easy to behave oneself, especially to Pastor Carol's standards. I usually try to avoid sleeping in public, but at times I found it hard to stay awake.
Late one rainy afternoon, somewhere between the "Great Blacks in Wax Museum" in Baltimore and Independence Hall in Philadelphia, I closed my eyes for a moment — with my head leaning back on the seat and my mouth gaping open — when I heard what sounded like the twittering of birds. I looked up to see a half dozen young faces snickering down at me.
"What's so funny!" I said, bolting upright. They roared with laughter and ran back to their seats. Then 10-year-old Tanika explained.
"We never saw a white woman sleeping before," she said.
They were right about me in most of their comments, at least, the ones that I heard:
"You're going to write about us in a newspaper, aren't you?"
"You look sad sometimes. Do you miss your husband?"
"I bet you wish you could stay with us all the way back to California."
Excellent observations, spot on. Children often see important things that adults tend to miss.
But they were wrong that day to assume that I was sleeping.
Sometimes what you think you see, looking at someone on the outside, can be a lot different from what you'd clearly see if you could look beyond her skin.
Her eyes may be closed. Her mouth could be drooling. She might even be snoring louder than Pastor Carol. But that doesn't mean she's sleeping.
Maybe she is just waking up.
Sharon Randall is the author of "The World and Then Some." She can be reached at P.O. Box 922, Carmel Valley CA 93924 or by email at email@example.com.