Grace And The Forgotten Man

Grace is a noun that defines simple elegance or God's love for us. Grace is also a verb that means to do honor. I am going to start with the proper noun and finish by gracing the forgotten man with our understanding.

For those of you who haven't known me for long, there was a time when I had hair, and it was red. One evening during that historical epoch I got a phone call from Grace. That is not her real name, but I call her that because that is what she showed under pressure. She told me her son had cut himself and she took him to the emergency room at the local hospital.

Grace left her son to be treated and walked down a hallway to find a bathroom. She approached another room where a police officer was posted. As she came near, the officer drew his sidearm. Startled, she asked, "What's wrong?"

He responded “a young black man who is a murder suspect is in that room”.

Grace, who is black, answered, "Do you think I'm his Momma coming to spring him out?" The policeman's rejoinder was, "That's all I have to go on." She went on to tell me that negative reactions to one's color is something most black people have to live with.

I was deeply sympathetic of her experience, but wished to share my perspective. I asked her what she might have expected if a red-haired man was a murder suspect and I had walked by. She replied, "Your hair color would have been something else a cop had to go on. But let me ask you, have you been shadowed by a clerk when browsing in a store?".

"Yes" said I.

"I guess I'm not surprised" countered Grace, "that's because you look funky, that can be fixed in a few minutes with a razor and scissors. I never look funky and I still get followed."

For much of my life I have believed that bias and prejudice are deeply embedded in human nature. To deny that is to be unrealistic. To counter such a devil of our lesser nature takes fearless self-inventory and some personal work.

My family got our first television in 1965, during the period of the Civil Rights Movement. I can recall the first time we turned it on. We saw the hate-filled, spite-twisted faces of white southerners as they cheered for white police offices beating and hosing civil rights demonstrators. Consequently I had to work at being tolerant of white people with southern accents, but I did work at it and managed to leave my initial prejudice behind.

I tell myself to remember that God's grace is applied to all of us equally and it is the duty of each of us to reflect that grace to anyone we meet. Let grace be given to all and let grace be ours to lose.

Not too long ago, I wrote an article which I read to friends. I'm going to emphasize a section of that article which prompted the largest number of comments:

My wife and I were on a light rail traveling from Washington D.C. to Baltimore. We had a lot of luggage and were exhausted and brain-numbed from flying all night from Alaska. Soon four black teen males boarded and sat near us, across the aisle. One pointed both hands at us, forefingers extended and thumbs up in a gesture that suggested pointing and cocking guns. We felt intimidated and wary. They spoke to each other in a gangsta dialect and the only words we understood were ones we didn't want to hear.

An adult black passenger at the back of the car spoke directly to them. He said, "I have kids your age and they show respect." They glowered and muttered, the conversation lowered in volume but remained profane and slang-ridden.

When we reached our stop and rose to leave one of the teenagers stood up, stepped to the intercom and in perfect English said, "These people are getting off and have a lot of luggage, please give them some extra time." The other three helped us off with our luggage and we were happy to have the assistance.

The comments made by listeners at this reading seemed to focus on the teenagers and their rude behavior. I noted that little if any attention was paid to the man at the back of the car who held the young men to the better angels of their nature. This was the man who made a difference, and I couldn't help but note that he might have put himself in some jeopardy to do that.

He is the forgotten man in this story, and he acted with grace.

This concludes the articles titled under the umbrella of "Knee-jerk Chronicles" as published in the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman in 2014.