A Tribute to Lucille Bridges, aka “Ruby Bridges’ Mom”

Two nights ago, I opened my eyes to the peaceful face of my nine-year-old son. It was the early hours of his birthday and, being the old-soul that he is, he asked to sleep in my bed so we could “be together when he was born.” He’s a special kid that way. Tender. Bright. Easily moved to tears by big problems and others’ pain. I just watched him for a while and thought about his future and how it excites me. But also, how it terrifies me. It was a little much to consider so I rolled away and picked up my phone.

Squinting against the glow of the screen, I saw “Lucille Bridges” trending on Twitter. Lucille Bridges? Huh. I know the name Ruby Bridges. She’s the little girl who broke the segregation barrier in New Orleans. Lucille Bridges. Lucille Bridges. I clicked on the screen. Ah, yes. Lucille Bridges. She was “Ruby Bridges’ Mom”, and she had passed away at the age of 86.

Ruby Bridges, six-years-old, escorted from William Frantz Elementary School by U.S. Deputy Marshals, New Orleans, November 1960 (AP Photo/File)

There in the dark on my son’s birthday, I read Lucille’s story for the first time. Of course, the picture of her daughter on the schoolhouse steps is iconic. And, the Norman Rockwell painting, “The Problem We All Live With” has recently flooded media feeds with Kamala Harris added walking beside her. But, in spite of all these images, I had never considered Lucille. The Mom who, on the night before her daughter would break school segregation in front of the whole nation, may have also watched her child sleep and considered her future. It broke me.

Tears at the ready, it was one of those moments where my own privilege and perspective hit like a one-two punch. At six-years-old, Ruby likely did not fully understand the gravity of what she was walking into, but Lucille did. That morning as her child ate breakfast, as she put a bow in her hair, and as they climbed in the car with armed federal marshals, Lucille knew the painful truth Ruby was about to face. When they arrived, the crowd hurled eggs, tomatoes, and verbal racial filth. And then, in the middle of that vicious environment, Lucille had to let Ruby go.

It was at this point that I soberly set my phone aside and reflected on something I know, but have to learn over and over again through precious souls like Lucille and Ruby. Our children are not our own. They never were. They are on loan. As influential as our role is in their lives, in the end, they each have their own purpose. At some point, they will all encounter the jagged edges of this world. And, for some, it will be sooner rather than later because of the broken, systemically unjust, messed-up-ness of it all. To that end we cannot, maybe even should not, attempt to protect them forever.

As we were to our parents, so our children are to us. Part of the ongoing story. Part of the unfurling of God’s bigger plan. Part of the work that has to get done. Some of our children will live quiet lives, simple stories, hopefully serving and loving the small circle of people around them. But others? Others are Rubys. Rubys who will need Lucilles. No matter the child or the story, all motherhood requires great bravery. May God grant each of us what we need for the children we’ve been given — and the paths they will follow.

Thank you, Lucille Bridges.

Thank you, “Ruby Bridges’ Mom.”

May we all live as bravely in the title of our children’s names as you did.

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