I have a long-held desire to give a stranger a ride, it's been with me since I learned to drive. I don't even know if my husband knows this about me, that every time I am driving someplace I am looking at people and considering whether they would like a ride. I have never given a ride to a stranger, until last night when Khalil waved. The kids and I were driving to a little league game and a boy running and waving caught my eye. Ahead of us was the city bus and it was not slowing down. Somehow, through my rearview mirror, it seemed that the wave was for me. I pulled over and sat at the curb, so that if I was actually right, he could catch up. He walked right over. "I'm trying to get to Brookfield and I just missed my bus!" "I'm taking my son to his baseball game and then I can take you out there. Will that work?" He let out the animated sigh of a young teenager and said, "Yes, thank you!"
Khalil is black. Khalil had already taken a bus to get to where I met him. He is 16 years old. The very first thing he told me was that he is very close with his Great Grandma who is eager for him to complete drivers ed. so he can drive her on her errands. I looked at this sweet-natured, gangly, 16 year-old boy and thought of his Mom. I wondered what she experiences when her son makes a plan to travel at least an hour and a half each way on the city bus by himself. He told me that he's home-schooled. He told me that he doesn't know how his Mom manages to teach him and hold down everything else too, and look good doing it! I told him that he needs to make sure he says that where she can hear him.
I hope that the only thing on his mind was getting to the music store he was heading for, he told me he played multiple instruments and was interested in learning the guitar next. I wish for him the same immortality lens every young teenager sees through, because it's his developmental right as a human. I hope his Mom has talked to him about the particular awareness a black male needs in order to stay safe today, and I wish with all my being that it not be necessary at all. I weep for how fragile and feeble my wish seems. In my car, he was safe.
As twists in stories worth telling go, before driving to little league I had just read a facebook comment about the shooting of two more innocent black Americans this week. It was from my cousin who was bereft and asking the questions many of us are asking, how can we become allies to the black community in a way that actually affects positive change, how can we really do something. I wrote and said I'd be willing to be part of a kind of buddy system for anyone who feels unsafe and without an advocate, but I said that I didn't know where start or if it would be useful at all. Anyway, I told her, I'm going to try being present and open to what I can do to help in any moment. I think about the violence here in this country, and how there is such a disparity between the violence inflicted upon black Americans compared to the violence inflicted upon white Americans- the story is so vastly different for the races, and I think it's too much for me to figure out. And in a way I'm right: figuring out the problems of our entire US population is too much for me. I can find where these same problems live in me, and I can heal that. I can accept that I cannot fix everyone's problems, and then I can heal what is in me to be healed. That doesn't excuse me from engaging with the world and those conflicts, what I'm suggesting is that we do engage and use it to discover what is in us to heal. Back to the oxygen-masks-on-the-airplane metaphor again, we can't give from an empty well.
Reality only means what we make it mean, and giving Khalil a ride when he missed the bus might mean nothing. It doesn't mean we solved our country's race violence and inequality on the drive to the western 'burbs. Still, I do credit the Universe with setting before me an opportunity to be present and available to help. And Khalil did activate some healing in me, a little bit of the feeling of powerlessness was eased. I'm so grateful that he asked for help so that I knew I was being called to give it. I'm committed to peace and I'm willing to engage in the healing that takes.