Conversations about the laws that govern chemistry might be one of the most spiritual things going on this week at my dining room table. Homeschooling chemistry involves revisiting the Periodic Table of Elements with its jagged line separating the metals and the non-metals and the tiny numbers that define and describe unseen properties of pure substances, and for me this is pure joy. Chemistry’s Law of Definite Proportions that I’ve been unknowingly applying to my pancake recipe all these years points to a God who is not only a Creator but also a Designer. The fact that a highly reactive metal and a poisonous gas, when combined in the correct proportions, can be sprinkled on my hamburger to heighten its flavor is a joyful lesson in the unexpected, but then, the laws of science serve to heighten our awareness of the exceptions to the rules and the unpredictability that leaves room for the unknown.
In All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way, Patrice Gopo declares herself to be a combination of elements, unique and unpredictable–more evidence that “elements that hold certain properties in isolation. . . together yield something perhaps less obvious.” (26) Her story points to the beauty that is inherent in unexpected combinations of geography, ethnicity, and culture. As a woman with a unique mingling of genes from the Asian and the African continents, as a black Jamaican American who grew up in Alaska, she struggled to land in a known space, and her writing is a travelogue in which Gopo finds peace in living with and learning to love her “unpredictable unknown.”
Through a collection of essays, the reader realizes that it is possible to find home in far off places, and that our differences actually lend us a point of commonality, a gift to celebrate, and a reason to come together. It is through loving our own people, through speaking the language of our heart, through cherishing the unique beauty that our genes produce, through embracing that heritage, and accepting our own way of being in the world that we begin to see our “differences” as an offering to the world–not a barrier from the world.
Speaking a Different Language
What is the “ideal” way to raise a child in a multi-lingual home? Patrice and her husband Nyasha both speak English, and his Zimbabwean Shona is more a cultural memory than a heart language. Even so, they have honored its presence in their family by dipping their brush into its palette to name their daughters. They are learning as a family to count to ten in Shona, and have resisted the Americanized pronunciation [plan-tayn’] of Patrice’s delicious Jamaican plantains [plan’-tins]. There is room in their home for the conflation of all the various cultures and practices that are part of their family’s heritage.
Cherishing a Different Beauty
Giving up her routine of hair relaxing chemicals and returning to her natural hair texture, Patrice discovered strength that came as a complete surprise. She weaves foundational wisdom behind her choice throughout a number of her essays, calling readers to attention regarding the prevailing views of beauty that idealize very specific white traits.
Learning to style and manage her daughters’ hair has heightened the importance of Patrice’s understanding of her own feelings about beauty, and you can read her essay on acquiring both skill and confidence over at SheLoves Magazine.
Embracing a Different Heritage
When Patrice arrived at Carnegie Mellon University to study engineering, she also received free and immersive tutoring in Black American culture with details that just were not part of her upbringing by two Jamaican immigrant parents with Indian ancestry. Her identity process has been one of claiming all the parts, living under the weight of all the varied stories, accepting the unknown chapters of the those stories, and living the sum total with congruence before her children.
As a black family worshiping in a mostly white congregation, Patrice offers thoughtful commentary on the tension between Paul’s declaration that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Gentile” and the Sunday morning tightrope walk of parsing her sentences, avoiding offense, and dodging sensitive topics. While reaching out to her white sisters one at a time, she shares that “sometimes only a person who looks like me can understand certain things about me. Like what it feels like to walk into a room and consistently be the only person of my race.” (191)
Selfless serving has become a counter-cultural pursuit, so when Patrice announced that she was “giving the year after college to God,” there were some raised eyebrows and concern among family and friends. She ended up in a far off land . . . washing silverware to the glory of God.
Returning to the United States to begin her career in engineering, she eventually moved on to community development, and she shares her conflicted journey of leaving a career that sorely lacks black female role models. Almost surprised to find herself a writer, her voice is raised in the pursuit of problem solving and justice.
Patrice Gopo joins Deidra Riggs in the choir of women who are singing “God Bless the Whole World” in a minor key. With writing that carries depth of emotion and clarity of expression, they remind white mothers like myself that our sons need not fear the fate of Philando Castile or Alton Sterling, and they offer words to bridge the empathy gap. Looking squarely at tragedy, Patrice acknowledges that we live in the space between what is and what will someday be while praying for God-initiated transformation leading to oneness in heart and in mind.
Even as a seasoned under-liner-of-sentences-in-preparation-for-a-thorough-book-review-to-be-written-very-soon, I found myself gulping down this collection of essays with my pen idle in my hand, forgetting to read like a reviewer, and just reading for the experience, because each of us is a collection of stories. We forget this at our peril, for the unfolding of a story implies hope and possibility at every stage of life:
“You press forth into the unknown,
and the other side, the reality of
the other side, pierces your heart in a way
that reminds you of your humanness,
of your possibilities, of your very life.”
Patrice Gopo, All the Colors We Will See
Many thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.
Thankful for the differences that just might bring us together after all,
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Patrice’s website is a rich resource with links to many places where her writing has appeared as well as her speaking schedule. Click here to visit for further information about her book and her career.
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