Monday, December 1, 2014

Our only hope.

Zachary took this photo. I don't like the wrinkles under my eyes, but I love that my eyes look kind.

"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible."

~ Dalai Lama

I was standing in the checkout line at Publix yesterday afternoon. In front of me was this older gentleman. He was tall--Abraham Lincoln tall--with very straight posture and long elegant fingers that I couldn't help but notice as he carefully placed his items on the conveyor belt. The fair skin of his hands was smattered with age spots and the thick, gold band he wore on his left ring finger was covered in tiny scratches. Every strand of his stick straight hair was a different shade of silvery grey and, even though it was cropped close and thinning on top, I marveled at the sight of it. Thousands and thousands of shades of grey all blending together into this one mane.

I think it's human instinct to feel it somewhere deep in your bones when someone is watching you. And so, this tall, tall man with his multifaceted silver hair turned his head in my direction. We immediately made eye contact, although neither of us spoke. The bottom half of his eyes squinted in a bit and his face burst into a gentle smile. I smiled back and offered him a tiny head dip of salutation. 

I placed the two t-bone steaks I planned to prepare that evening on the counter. Next to it, I lay the Graeter's ice cream and chocolate syrup. The elder gentleman raised his eyebrows whimsically, threw back his head and chuckled. "I'll be having supper with their family," he told the checkout lady with a wink. She surveyed my four to five savory items and giggled, too. 

"I'll be having supper with their family."

For some reason, I pondered his choice of words. First there was "supper" which, honestly, just confirmed what his greying hair had suggested. I thought of that as a word from another generation. That, or another part of the map. Either way, it made me smile. What really struck me though was the last part--"their family." 

Their family. Yes. That. 

You see, I do have a family. A husband and two sons who, I was sure, would be just as thrilled to see that juicy red meat coming out of my broiler as he was seeing it come out of my shopping cart. A family, a unit, at home awaiting my return. And, by many Americans' definitions, my family, though black, is the kind that they are comfortable imagining. But something about how this man was interacting with the world around him made me think his reference to me wasn't for that reason. Like, what "their family" meant could have been anything representing love and commitment. And that, however that was defined, like any family filled with love, suppers are special times for celebrating that love. So yeah, that's what I got from his eyes and also those words. They seemed to assume the best which I liked. 


Perhaps this is completely over thought and totally off base, right? Like maybe this man was really just waiting to drop a solid pick up line on me in the Publix parking lot. Or maybe, in his mind, I was just another "baby mama," part of the 47% that mooch-mooch-mooch due to lack of ambition (never because of circumstances) and a representation of all of the things he and his own family deplore. Maybe I would even come up over their own "supper" as some outlier and that, just maybe, every so often you'll find one of "them" that's okay.


But somehow, I doubt that. I had watched this man for nearly five minutes. His light was shining. He was kind to the sweet Ethiopian woman ringing up his groceries and patient with the seemingly transgender person who'd preceded him in line as she rummaged through her handbag for the right credit card. His smile was warm when she kept apologizing with her throaty voice and no part of his face even flinched at the sound of it or the not so inconspicuous 5 o'clock shadow her thick coating of foundation was trying to hide. That Abraham Lincoln man shrugged his bony shoulders and told that same lady to "go right on ahead" when she wanted to grab eggs because, after all, that was why she'd come in the first place. I liked that. And then, with me, he'd looked into my brown eyes with twinkling blue ones of his own that seemed to believe that humankind is more good than bad and that differences are okay. 

I mean it. It didn't seem like obligatory Southern kindness. It was more than that. His gestures were loving, accepting. I found myself wondering about the person connected to him, the other soul with a weathered golden band. Was it a dear older woman in overalls who was outside sweeping their porch? Was it a very chic grandmother with hair pulled into a tight chignon and a giant list of high end charity events to attend in December? Was it woman who looked like me, with brown skin and coarse hair, and a story of fighting for an interracial love in Jim Crow Georgia? Or maybe--just maybe--it wasn't even a woman at all. 

I don't know.

But each time that man reached down to grab another item from his buggy, he let his blue eyes rest on mine. And each time they would twinkle in acknowledgement of my existence without intruding upon it. All of it was lovely and worth placing on a post it note in my head for later.

There are some bad, bad things going on in America right now. People feeling alienated and like they don't matter. Folks doing things that come from desperate places and in response to proving that they aren't invisible. Unfair assumptions that unfortunately are so, so complicated that nobody even knows where to start in terms of making them better.


In those five minutes in the line at Publix I wondered. What if everyone looked at each other like that tall, tall man looked at me, the checkout woman, and the transgender woman yesterday? What if our words suggested wholeness and love instead of fractured elements of what someone else has deemed socially acceptable? What if just being human and here and a child of God was enough? And even if that man has no connection to things God-related and none of that was driving his actions, what if he and the whole world just decided that every single person deserved a twinkle from the eyes of those looking in their direction? What if?

I wonder that. Like, would we be so afraid of each other? Would police officers wield guns in the faces of teens much more slowly? Would those same teens feel that their worth is so great--from their whole lifetime of being looked at with trusting eyes of approval--that never, no not ever would they even find themselves in situations that could lead to violent outcomes? Would a misdemeanor seem not even worth it and a felony so foreign that no Michael Browns would even consider them? And eventually would seeing or hearing of any beautiful brown boy participating in one seem as outlandishly unbelievable as a flying saucer sighting? 


I do not think that man just started looking at the world with kind eyes. I think somewhere in his life it was modeled for him and that, despite how much tugs against us all to not be accepting of others, he'd made up his mind to see the best. This wasn't a white thing or a black thing. It was a human thing. And sure, I could write about some experiences I've had with unkind people in the majority who looked at me, my husband and my children like scum on the bottom of a work boot. I could. But today, I'm choosing to reflect on the times that obviously someone chose kindness. Someone who did not look like me and who has access to all of the current events and horrific 6 o'clock news stories that I do. 


So today, I guess I'm thinking about kindness. Not just in deeds but in subtleties.  Because something tells me that this--choosing kindness--is our only hope.


Happy Monday. And first day of wards.


  1. thats a kind way to begin the month Doc

  2. That is exactly what I believe. And it begins and ends in just these situations.

    1. You know what, Sister Moon? That man's eyes reminded me of how Mr. Moon's look when looking at his grandsons on your pictures. I imagined his better half as someone as wonderful as you.

  3. A great post. I especially liked the part near the end, because I think kindness, compassion and respect for other human beings is modeled, taught and reinforced in the family. I also think fear and ignorance are the true enemies, and the start of all the trouble.

    I'm so grateful for being raised by people who were kind, and I'm so glad to read your kind words here. You made me feel a little more hopeful. Also I've taken a small break from the news, and it's helped a little bit.

    Keep smiling. My kids think I'm a freak for smiling at anybody, especially strangers, because they are both so shy, but I like to think it might be contagious. I hope they come around.

    Have a great week. I'd really love to know more about the tall man in the store, and get stop wondering what his wife would be like. I imagine tiny, with sparkling eyes and a big smile too.

    1. I wondered about him, too. Funny how in such a short time he affected me that deeply.

  4. Nothing changes until we start seeing each other the way God sees us.

  5. That man's way of being in those few moments in the line in Publix ripples out to encircle a large swath of people in his kindness. Thanks to you. Who noticed.

  6. Kindness and compassion are key. I want to share a song I discovered last night and found so profound given our collective experience in this country right now. Melanie and Edwin Hawkins collaborated on the song, Lay Down, in or about 1969:

    In the following video, they are seen performing in Europe -
    (I was tickled by the audience, but they do appear to be trying to let themselves enjoy the music. The video of The Edwin Hawkins Singers and Melanie is awesome. How can anyone with a breath in their body not be touched by this performance?)

    Please view both videos when you get a chance. This collaboration was born during a time of strife in this country - it would be nice to see us return to that spirit of partnership.

    Grady Doctor, I wish we lived in a time where pleasant, heartfelt encounters such as yours with this elderly gentleman took place on a daily basis. I find the souls with kind eyes and gentle interactions with others affirm my belief in humans. They understand that everyone does count. :-)


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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