Early Monday evening I was about to enter a store in Kilmarnock that did not have an automatic door. As I reached for the handle, the door opened, and a black gentleman proceeded to come out. At that point I thought he still was holding the door expecting me to proceed inside, but in a second I realized his wife was following him, pushing a cart containing their purchases, and he was holding the door for her.
After she exited the store, I thanked him, explained that I had not seen her, and reached for the door that he now was holding for me. He replied, “You’re welcome, my brother.” We exchanged wishes for a nice evening, and they moved along to their car. The entire happening occurred in a space of well less than one minute. I do not know the couple’s names, but I remember vividly their appearance, and wish I could see them again.
This apparently insignificant incident in a small Virginia town half a continent away from Minneapolis is the polar opposite of what has been taking place in our country during these last days of protest and unrest over the horribly brutal murder of George Floyd. The brief passage at the door has made a lasting impression on my reflections on how we might achieve a relationship of harmony among peoples.
Later that evening I listened on television to an interview with Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jr. She spoke of her uncle’s assassination, her father’s mysterious death, and her grandmother’s murder. Through all her family has endured, she said her grandfather had advocated a response of nonviolence towards anyone who undertook committing evil deeds to them.
These two Monday experiences have caused me to ponder anew how we can arrive at a world inspired by peace and good will, devoid of all forms of animosity, and based on a true understanding of justice. The gentleman holding the door, in calling me “my brother,” manifested a basic fact of our existence, namely that we are all members of one race, the human race, articulated again that evening by Alveda King. In the eyes of the creator all peoples are of equal importance and merit, thus deserving of respect from each of us because of their human dignity.
A critically important question remains, how can we reach that ideal, which is the birthright of each of us? Since the Second World War court decisions and legislation have set in place precedents and procedures towards that desired end, but they do not change people’s minds and hearts. That process only can be realized by interpersonal, one-on-one connectivity.
Little acts of kindness and gestures of respect going in both directions are both the answers and the challenges that each person must find and confront. If the world is to be made better, the process must begin with every person, in short with you and me.
Moses viewed the Promised Land from Mount Pisgah, two terms to which I can relate, as our farm is known as “Mount Pisgah” and the farm below our hill is the “Promised Land,” but he did not get there himself. In this world we might not reach our own promised land where peace and justice flow like milk and honey, but we must not make excuses for not being on board for the effort.
The triumph of justice must be the goal of all of us, always realizing that every person has his or her part to play in the unfolding of a better world. Each of us, regardless of our backgrounds, is vital to the effort, and we all need to remember that our thoughts and actions indeed will make a difference.