The intent of this post is to show how we can bring the gift of restoration into potentially volatile situations and see really awesome outcomes. This isn’t a story of some heroic act on public transportation – but of how responding out of our humanity and not our fear can ease tension and restore people in small ways.
Last night I was headed home on the train. I was standing although there were many empty seats around. In one corner there was an elderly lady with a beautiful scarf covering her white curls, slumped in the corner in a deep sleep. In another corner a young black kid took up two seats as he curled up for a nap. The elderly lady concerned me as I wondered who’s grandma she was and if I should wake her to find out if she had missed her stop. The young kid – I honestly didn’t even notice him.
That is, until an older gentleman started to yell at him.
“They didn’t make those seats for sleepin! Look at you takin up two seats! Maybe someone else wants to sit down!” *mumble mumble mumble*
The young boy woke up and started to look around, understanding that he was the target of the attack (not the elderly lady asleep across the isle from him).
“I know, I know” he said with genuine humility as if pleading “Don’t stereotype me as an inconsiderate and worthless thug” he continued “I’m on my way to work.”
With genuine thoughtfulness he asked me and another guy standing “Do you want to sit down?”
I smiled and uncomfortable smile; “No, I’m good.”
Not to be proven wrong, the older man retorted “They just said no because you’re black!”
I acted instantly – moving toward the boy, he moved his feet from the bench and I sat down. Poor kid, I apologized for making him sit up – but I couldn’t keep standing after that.
The older man wouldn’t stop; “She just sat because I said that!”
So, I struck up a conversation… “Where do you work?” thinking, if he and I can have a conversation, the man will know he is no longer the center of attention.
“I used to live right by that Target. In fact, it opened just weeks after I moved in.”
“I’m thinking about moving to that area soon.”
“You should! It’s a great neighborhood!”
We continued to talk about how fun working nights at a store like Target must be – yet how hard it is when you want to actually do stuff during the day. Eventually it was his stop and he got off.
Meanwhile, the elderly lady woke up and began chatting about fastfood (I may have been holding a Chick-Fil-A bag with a number 1 on Wheat…). We had a great conversation about Wendy’s baked potaotes and chili and the new Sonic that’s coming to town this summer. Eventually the grumpy man joined the conversation identifying that he was from the south just like me. Although I did not want to be friendly to this man – it was partly my mission to shame him for his outburst towards the kid, I knew I had to welcome him with the same hospitality I had shown the kid and the elderly lady.
The whole time he and I are chatting about life in the south I’m thinking in my head “I hope you understand sir, you are just as valuable as the young man you belittled. I hope you know we aren’t just talking about life in the south – but I’m trying to model a better way to live for you. I hope you are taking this in sir! You can live a better life!”
People who mistreat people still desperately want to be treated with respect and hospitality. In fact, I’d say the meanest among us are the ones begging to be welcomed with open arms the most.
It is not easy to fight injustice without making people our enemies – but they aren’t. Our enemy is the deception that has us locked into dehumanizing people. Our enemy is the lie that value is earned. Our enemy is not seen – and yet our enemy’s greatest tactic is to project on other people. It’s the greatest deception. And so often we are suckers for it.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.