"It's been a long. . .a long time coming. .
but I know. . .a change is gonna come. . "
~ Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come"
Walking on the side of Grady yesterday, next to the McDonald's entrance:
A Grady elder smiles at me near the steps as I enter the hospital. A tall man--at least 6 foot 3--wearing a newsboy cap, a plaid shirt and a pair of weathered chinos. His salt and pepper hair is neatly cropped around a gleaming strip of scalp that hadn't seen hair for some time.
He has The Atlanta Journal Constitution tucked neatly below his right armpit, and manages to keep it secure as he tips his hat to me with his right hand. Picking up his pace to share my brisk footing, he catches up with me.
"Didn't I see you on TV last night? On CNN?"
"Yes, sir, you did."
Looks at me and smiles wide and proud. I like the twinkle in his eye. "I thought that was you! You know what? You did very well, young lady. You really did."
"Thank you. I really appreciate hearing that, sir. I really do." I decide to stop walking and face him. I want him to know that I mean that. I was nervous and scared, and hearing that feedback from someone other than my parents means a lot. He looks back at me with an expression that I struggle to explain so won't even attempt to explain. His face becomes serious.
"Do you have any idea what it mean to somebody like me to see you talking on that news show last night? Do you?" He pats his chest for emphasis.
Silence. I don't know how to answer that.
"It mean the world, young lady. The world. I wanted to cry when I saw you. I said to my wife, 'Come here! She work at Grady! I see her all the time right there at Grady. Right there at Grady Hospital!'"
I think for a moment and try to see if I can get my mind around what it was that he was feeling. I estimate his age--at least seventy-five--and note the Southern twang in his voice that gives away that he was brought up in these parts. I ponder the headlines in The Atlanta Journal Constitution that he has seen and lived in his lifetime and feel a wave of indebtedness.
I clasp my hands together and nod to him in deference. It's all I can think to do.
The tall Grady elder looks me in my eyes, tenderly and carefully. His telling eyes are glassy, almost pleading.
"We so proud of you, Miss Manning . . .so proud. And we rooting for you, okay? We rooting for you."
Rooting? For me?
Now, I want to cry, too.