Did you ever – out of nowhere – have a heart opening moment with a stranger? I did this week in the elevator at Mariano’s grocery.
As a young man held the door open for me I thanked him and asked, “How are you doing today?”
His reply was quick, “I’m alive.”
My first response was neutral; then it registered that he was a young black man. And then, tears welled up. I was stunned that I had such a visceral reaction to this seemingly normal interchange.
He was taken aback too. And apologized for making me cry; I reassured him he had nothing to apologize for. All this happened in the time between floor three to four!
Then it dawned on me. Infinitely more important is the time between Trayvon Martin and Orlando; between Laquan McDonald and Dallas. What is the state of heart as we live our days in the everyday routine of working at the office, having a conversation at the dinner table, watching television and enjoying the company of friends?
I’m not holier than thou. Like most of us, I’m self-absorbed in my own struggles and pleasures, letting in the miseries of the world only if I’m still up when the ten-o’clock news comes on, but otherwise disengaged.
But I don’t think I can live my life like that any longer. I have to do more. It’s incumbent on me to take a stand, if not for me, for my granddaughter and every daughter and son born into this world as an innocent, angelic baby unsullied by the venomous lessons of racism and bigotry.
It’s not enough to be touched by a heart opening moment! The occasional angry reaction to a barbaric act of violence is not sufficient because the ‘occasional’ has become all too frequent! But what can I do about it! What can any of us do?
I’m going to start with the most unlikely of paradoxes: I’m going to be less tolerant!
The next time a friend offers up an excuse for some college student who didn’t listen when his date said no; the next time a business associate complains about raising the minimum wage to a livable wage; the next time a so-called political discussion concludes with a code word that takes the place of an ugly prejudicial slur; I am going to take issue. No more timid “Yes, I can understand your position;” no more “Yes, I can see the economic reasoning;” no more “Yes, I guess the protest that blocked the streets was disruptive”… I am going to take issue!
My dear readers, all of you have touched me one way or another; we have shared both the heartbreak and the triumphant release from the consequence of childhood wounds. We have experienced the dimming of our childhood innocence by sometimes unwitting, sometimes malevolent parental influence.
Now it is our turn to set the example that younger generations will follow. We must stop the racism and intolerance that has driven love from the playground. A benign tsk tsk in response to the ignorant remarks of politicians and neighbors and yes, even our dear friends and families, is not enough.
We are making progress. But there is more to be done. It’s time to raise our voices. We must be heard. Our children are listening. The world is watching.