Something happened the other day which brought together in shocking simplicity the events and protests going on across the world.
I stopped at the Aldis in Somosaugus on the walk home to buy a few groceries. There is a homeless man who stands by the door and carries people’s groceries to their cars. He has been there for a couple of years. He wears a mask these days and stands to one side. I often stop and ask how he is doing. Sometimes I buy him some groceries, sometimes give him money. People have told me not to. There are services for people like that, they say. I have always figured if there was an option he would do something else.
The Pozuelo police stop at Aldis often to buy their meals. A cop was ahead of me in the line. He paid and walked out. I watched him approach the homeless man. They spoke for a moment and then the cop handed him a three-pack of galletas and headed off for his motorcycle.
There was no clench of fear as the cop approached the homeless man, none that I could see, though the inner clench of fear is often so deeply hidden in any of us. Their exchange seemed genuine, easy, they knew each other. The cookies didn’t seem to be a random purchase. The cop seemed to know what would be appreciated.
I walked out and chatted with the homeless man. His English was better than my Spanish. I said there was such a difference between what was going on in the United States and what I had just seen. He said yes, it was a terrible thing for a man to die that way.
I thought about the difference connection makes; connection and being willing to see one another on human terms, regardless of circumstance or station. As simple as that. In the absence of connection, suspicion and fear grow, crowding out any opportunity for empathy, understanding, or common ground.
Respect is not tolerance, it is not enough to tolerate one another, we must lean in closer and really listen, connect. We must get past the initial discomfort to discover what we hold and are in common.
I don’t feel it is my job to comment on every current event but it is my job and responsibility to create a learning environment where character is nurtured as much as intellect. Some have said it is necessary to comment because it is an American value and we are an American school. I think it is a human value. Respect and equality, freedom and human rights, these have been fought for by Americans and South Africans, by Indians and Swedes. Men and women from many nations, many races, many religions have stood up and stood for the right to vote, to live in peace, for equality and justice. It is not a national characteristic, it is a human expression.
We are living through a troubled time. It is our job as a learning focused organization to provide both meaning and hope from events and situations that may seem overwhelming and beyond our control. In a New York Times editorial this week, Jamelle Bouie wrote that:
We should remember that the past, like the present, was contingent; that events that seem inevitable could have gone a different way; that those who lived through them were, like us, unable to see how things would unfold. We should be aware of the past — we should understand the processes that produced our world — but it shouldn’t be a substitute for thinking. We are not them, and now is not then.
This is a statement of hope to me, that though the scale and scope of events may be beyond us, it is our thinking and our actions that will define our times. More than this, how the children of today see us act and react will shape their perspective and attitudes, will mold their characters. This is our greatest job, to be done in partnership, to create the next generations of thinkers and doers who can extend the best of what we have done, address the issues we have overlooked, and redress the grievances of the past that we all may move forward together.
I close with some words from Michelle Obama
Like so many of you, I’m pained by these recent tragedies. And I’m exhausted by a heartbreak that never seems to stop. Right now it’s George, Breonna, and Ahmaud. Before that it was Eric, Sandra, and Michael. It just goes on, and on, and on. Race and racism is a reality that so many of us grow up learning to just deal with. But if we ever hope to move past it, it can’t just be on people of color to deal with it. It’s up to all of us — Black, white, everyone — no matter how well-meaning we think we might be, to do the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out. It starts with self-examination and listening to those whose lives are different from our own. It ends with justice, compassion, and empathy that manifests in our lives and on our streets. I pray we all have the strength for that journey, just as I pray for the souls and the families of those who were taken from us.