My friends in Kenya, we send love.
For this, I have few words, many tears.
Today I’m not in my usual coffee spot, but this scene is a passable substitute. All available: caffeine, a comfy chair and cool conversation. Good enough. Today’s crowd is more I’m-yuppie-but-think-I’m-hipster than eclectic, so I settle in, find my bubble and ignore most of my surroundings. Jerky movements catch my eye. I focus on the individual at the counter.
Let me digress one moment. We tell our children “everyone’s alike on the inside; if you cut us open (which, by the way, is not allowed), we all look the same.” Hubby describes my inattention to difference this way: “If a prostitute walked into church and sat alone, Casey would be the first one to go sit with her.” That’s why this next part really bothers me.
As aforementioned, I focus on the gawky guy waiting for his brew. Gawky really isn’t the right word. He obviously thinks he’s “gangsta.” Skinny, almost anorexic; his elbow bones poke through his pasty skin. He’s wearing a huge white basketball jersey and has tucked the back of his shirt into tighty-whiteys above his saggy jean shorts. His gauged earlobes hang down like wobbly playground swings. I feel an urge to “fix” his oversized black sideways-hat (while simultaneously pulling up his shorts). I can almost understand layering boxers. Briefs? No one wants to see that. And he’s wearing sandals with black socks. Really? Very gangsta.
He scans the room with something like disdain (or is it insecurity?) and leans against the counter, which is when I notice. He’s packing. Not “carry-on luggage” packing; this dude’s got a piece. Rather large. I am immediately concerned. He’s very jumpy. He keeps looking around the room, not quite making eye contact. I am in the corner farthest from an exit. I begin mapping a mental path to the door, to the bookshelf, to the table, anywhere I can take cover in an emergency.
In my pre-teen years, my favorite mental pastime was “what if,” disaster scenarios (myself always as the hero, of course). I could beat up the attacker, save the small child, put out the fire and ride the horse to safety. No problem. My imagination is still very, very active, but I’m slightly more grounded. If this dweeb decides robbery is on the menu, I’m not planning to be the hero. I’ve got two hyenas and a Hubby; they need me. I need to survive.
He turns. He sees me. He knows I know. We hold our breath. He decides. Out comes the handgun. “ON THE GROUND!” he shouts, gaze holding mine. I dive to the terra cotta tile under the table. “GIVE ME THE MONEY. ALL OF IT!” He shakes the gun at the dazed barista. “NOW!” The employee shoves money into a plastic bag. “Tip jar!” snarls the jerk. He may be a skinny little specimen, but he’s mean. And scary. He scatters chairs, flips the table, aims the gun at me, and says cheerily, “Here’s your coffee, James.”
Wait…what? I blink.
The barista is smiling at the skinny guy at the counter. “Extra cinnamon, just the way you like it. See you tomorrow!” Skinny guy–no, James–returns the grin. “Yep. Tomorrow. Have a good one.” He ambles toward the door as the last of my imagined scenario evaporates.
Here’s what bugs me. It’s probably not what you’d expect. I have no issue with law-abiding citizens carrying weapons. In general, we’re all safer in cities where guns are legal (check the crime stats on cities with gun bans. Feel free to argue the point if you like; you’re entitled to an opinion). Nope, what bothered me was my reaction to his persona and my assumption that he might tend toward violence. My bias was based solely on his outward appearance. We recently encountered a uniformed officer, who happened to be African-American, packing unconcealed heat. Our eight year old voiced concern about the gun. I told him we were safer with that guy nearby. We’re frequently around friends wearing guns. So why did skinnywhiteguy inspire overwhelming daydreams of destruction? This bothers me.
I want my children to grow up without fear of or prejudice toward others based on appearance (or other factors, for that matter). My kiddos had a tough life before we adopted them, and because of experiences with people who treated them badly, they make immediate visual assumptions about who might be horrid. We’ve had to undo much damage and teach them not to judge others, especially based on the way they look. We should react only to their actions. We’re all humans created by God and every single human individual deserves respect (unless they mistreat children; in which case, they should be in jail).
I’m still not really sure why my imagination went wild and turned James into psycho robber. Something to mull over. In the meantime, James, my deepest apologies. I’m sure you’re a very nice guy. But, please, pull up your shorts.