Thursday, May 6, 2010

Crossing Paths - Wake up call

Everyone has prejudices. Colors, skin tones, religious opinions, ethnic background, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, age. Some are blatant and extend only at the surface; some are deeply rooted; some are casually passed as an insensitive remark and some are passed along from mouth to ear, from one generation to the next.

There is no big or little prejudice; they are all assuming and discriminatory. I never fail to be amused when I hear brothers of African-American descent STILL complain how a white woman clutches her purse closer to her side if they enter an elevator, or sit next to her on a bus or train.

Have they ever been robbed by a black man? What is the reasoning behind this slight but obvious and insecure movement?

But I digress. I discovered my 'prejudice' a few days ago. It was short-lived; but none the less I was ashamed and I thank God for the wake up call.

While I was standing on the platform waiting for my commuter train, I overheard a woman's voice asking a man if the next train due to arrive was going east or west. Her question was not clear; it was apparent she had a speech impediment, perhaps due to a stroke, childhood disease or maybe she was deaf. Her words were so warbled and difficult to understand that finally after her nth attempt at getting her question answered, she gave up. I didn't turn around. I could hear her voice farther away, asking someone else, but apparently they couldn't understand either, and she walked back towards where I was standing and very softly and politely tapped me on the shoulder.

I turned around and told her the next train was traveling east and would arrive in about five minutes. I turned away, and immediately I was ashamed of myself. My mother taught me better than this. Selfishly, I didn't want to start a conversation for several reasons. I was in the middle of reading a really good book, and I didn't want to take the time to ask her over and over again to repeat her questions or comments just because I couldn't understand her.

When the train car pulled up I momentarily forgot about her and searched for a seat. Lucky me - I found one and plopped down, speaking briefly to my seat mates and burrowing my nose into the book. At the very next train station, the woman sitting next to me got up and exited the train. The next person who sat down, out of at least 200 people riding on the metrolink, was the woman from the train station whose speech I could not understand.

She smiled at me, and I looked into her eyes. She was probably in her 60's, and had the kindest face. She said, 'thank you for helping me. this is my first time catching the train. I was visiting my cousin, and her neighbor dropped me off here so I wouldn't have to catch the bus all the way home.'

Her speech was still difficult to understand, but her words were now clear to me because not only did I open my eyes, I opened my ears. I closed my book and smiled back. We talked about our children and grandchilden, one of my favorite subjects. I shared my pictures of the little ones with her and she brought out pictures of her grandchildren. It was one of the most pleasant conversations I've ever had on the train. There was not one comment that she made in which I did not understand her. She never brought up the reason for her slow speech and distorted words, but to my ears they no longer were, I discovered. When she disembarked, I said a silent prayer for her, and also asked for God to forgive me for being so selfish.

Just as I take a daily journey on a train, our ears and eyes should journey to listen and see the differences in people, accept them and keep on moving. We learn so much from people we meet, and God, in his infinite wisdom, always seems to allow different paths to interconnect for a variety of reasons. We may not ever discover what the reason is, but I'm so very glad he is God. And He has a reason and a purpose for everything.

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