Monday, September 26, 2011

haunted

I haven't written about Troy Davis. Yet. Part of that was purposeful.

I didn't want to write about Troy Davis the day after it happened, because I knew everyone would do that. It makes sense, of course--as a writer or journalist type, you write in the midst of things. You write while it's on your mind (and everyone else's mind). You write while it's pertinent. And let's be honest: with the rapid fire turnaround of news information in this country of instant gratification, pertinent news stories don't stay such for very long. Events happen, travesties occur, and then we all move on, it seems. Even my Twitter timeline, which was ablaze not so many days ago with people calling out for justice to be served, has now calmed to the usual Tweets about football, mundane occurrences, and random trending topics like #SomeWhereInTheHood. (Really?*)

It's only just, I imagine. Though an event may stay with someone for days, at some point, the world continues turning just the way it was before said event. Things always go back to normal, as people always say.
Well, though I didn't write about Troy Davis right after his execution, it doesn't mean the experience didn't stick with me. It's been on my mind. And today it was brought to the forefront again, by an experience that seemingly has nothing to do with Troy Davis at all.


I'm in my hometown, enjoying a nice break from the mean streets of Miami. I've been running around all day, taking care of some various errands, and the last of my errands involved a stop at my local Publix. (The best one in the world, as it has a Chinese kitchen AND a liquor store. Nope, no Publix can be better than mine.) As I walked up, I saw an older looking Black woman sitting on one of the electric carts outside of the store. When I started to pass her, she timidly asked me if I was active in the church. I stopped, and said that I'm not, hoping that if this had anything to do with a religious speech, me saying I'm not church-active would spare me.** She then simply asked if she could speak to me. Usually never rude, and usually never one to deny someone the opportunity to speak to me, I stayed in place and removed my sunglasses.

She introduced herself as Stephanie, and told me earnestly, it seemed, that I looked nice in the outfit I had on. I thanked her and smiled, and she asked me if she could tell me her story.

Before continuing, I must express my often perplexed feelings when I find myself in situations like the one I will continue describing in a minute. I have encountered many, many people who have asked me for money, as I knew that was where her story was going. I have encountered people with myriad stories, in many places, and always, it leaves me feeling a tad helpless, as well as frustrated, and on some level, guilty. Helpless when I sincerely would have given that person something, but I only had my card, and no physical cash, not even change. Frustrated when people get mad at me, or have an attitude with me simply because I cannot or will not give them anything. Guilty when I want to help, but think about my financial situation and how I'm struggling too. It's often quite the struggle. How do I know whether this person is telling me the truth? Am I wrong for automatically questioning whether this person is telling me the truth?

I'm a giving person, and I enjoy helping others, but I'm also a cautious person, and I, like many people, try to erect guards around myself so I'm not taken advantage of. So, whenever this situation arises, therein rises the epic battle between my logic and my compassion. Can they both exist simultaneously?


Stephanie looked up at me, and she told me that she was a dialysis patient, and that her and her family had just moved to a street not too far from where we were. She told me she had twin teenage girls, and that they were honor students, and she told me that their church had offered to get them a meal the other day, but she'd tried to convince the church to instead take them to the store, because a meal would only last for one day. She told me she had public assistance benefits, but being that she'd moved from a different state, her benefits weren't set to kick in for a couple more days.

As she was explaining herself, she did something that people I've talked to usually don't do: she started to cry.

Right outside of the store, she began to cry, and as she cried, I didn't feel sorry for her.

I didn't feel sorry for her, because I know that my least favorite emotion is pity. I don't want people to ever feel sorry for me, because it automatically puts them on a different level than me.

I didn't feel sorry for her, but instead, I imagined how much it took for her to stop me, ask me if she could talk to me, and then ask me if I could help her. I know that I have trouble asking people to do anything for me. Especially when it comes to finances. I imagined that if that were me in her shoes, I'd probably cry too. I know I would cry because I would feel ashamed.

As she was explaining to me that she was sorry that she had to ask people for money, and as she continued to wipe the steadily streaming tears from her eyes, I'd already decided that I would help. I told her that on my way back out of the store, I would make sure I gave her something.

And as I walked around the store, that was all I thought about. My groceries suddenly became of lesser importance, and all I thought about was that I needed to hurry up, get my cash back, and make sure I helped Stephanie. I didn't want her to think that I didn't mean what I said.

When I left, I walked out the same door I'd entered through, and there was Stephanie, still sitting there. I folded the ten-dollar bill in my hand, and I told her it was for her. It's not much, I said, and then trailed off as her tears started to flow from her eyes again. She thanked me multiple times over, and told God to bless me. She then leaned up for a hug, and I hugged her and told her I know times are rough, and she asked me to pray for her. Even as I put my sunglasses back on, told her to take care, and turned to walk away, she was still giving her thanks, as I bit my lip and walked away, starting to feel the tears welling in my eyes as they are again now.


Do I know whether Stephanie's story was true? Do I know what she'll do with that ten dollars I gave her? No, I sure don't, and it doesn't matter. I know what I was planning on doing with that ten dollars before I'd arrived at the store. I'd planned on wasting it on a sub, chips, and a drink, knowing that I didn't have to, because I had leftovers at home. Before I'd pulled into that parking spot, I'd decided that I wasn't going to spend that money on that sub, chips, and drink, no matter how good they would taste, because that wasn't financially sound. Good thing I made that decision. 

As my mother always says, you never know where your blessings will come from, and I wholeheartedly believe that. I've been hustled for quarters by a crackhead before; I've been talked to death by seemingly delusional homeless people before, and I've even been criticized and called out of my name by panhandlers before. But my actions remain the same: I will not deny somebody the opportunity to talk to me. 

I know that if it were me, and the shoe was on the other foot, I'd pray that someone would stop and listen to me. I'd pray that someone would believe me. And I'd pray that someone would be able to help me, just a little bit.

As I walked away from Stephanie, I knew her tears would stay with me, the same way I knew the thought of Troy Davis would stay with me as time moved on. The same way the man with a sign touched me so much, I wrote about him. The same way I think about Derrion Albert, and wonder if anyone still thinks about him.

The point of all this is to say: I worry about our collective humanity, sometimes. I know who I am, and how I am--I am the type of person who worries about strangers. I am the type of person who will pray for someone I see who looks like they are having a tough time. I am the type of person who sat on my boyfriend's couch, my head against his arm, and cried for the injustice I witnessed the night Troy Davis was made to wait four extra hours before he was murdered by the state of Georgia, a state that runs in my own bloodline. I am the type of person who spent the days leading up to his execution frustrated, and on edge with the society I live in. I am the type of person who believes in the possibility of Nineteen Eighty-Four (so much that I told my boyfriend to read it), but still hopes it will not come to pass.

I know that this is me. I know that I will stop and listen to strangers tell me their stories. (Because what greater power is there than being able to voice your own personal truth?) I know that I cannot witness a grown woman cry in front of me, a woman who looked like she had many years on me, and not try and do something. I know that I'm the type of person who doesn't believe in the death penalty, the type of person who would have given Troy Davis another shot at justice. I know that's me. Call me a fool, hyper-sensitive, whatever you want, but I know that's me.

But what about humanity? We live in a time when children are killing adults and adults are behaving like children. A time when the latest singing reality tv show is more important than what's actually happening in the real world. A time when injustices come, and then they go. Where's our outrage? Where are our movements? Where are our Black leaders***, and any leaders, for that matter? It seems like no one cares. Like Sonny said in A Bronx Tale, "nobody cares."

And maybe after reading this, you could step to me and ask me where my outrage is, and why I'm not out there trying to start a movement, or become a Black leader. Maybe you could ask me if I think just writing about everything is good enough. Sometimes, I may wonder that myself.

But I don't claim to have the answers, only a number of questions. And the image of Stephanie's tears, and the haunting remnants of her embrace.

-------------------------------------------------
 *--this is more evidence that though Black people probably still make up about 13% of the population, we must make up a hefty percentage of the population of Twitter. My first piece of legit evidence? The fact that as The Preacher's Wife was playing last night on BET, it was also trending on Twitter. You know damn well ain't nobody watching that movie on BET, at that, but some Black, Twitter using folks.
**--spiritual, not religious.
***--sure, we have figureheads like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, but are they leaders? Whom are they leading? I have yet to hear anything from them that swayed me and moved me like some of the voices I've heard from back during the Civil Rights Movement, and even before that.

2 comments:

julochka said...

i got tears in my eyes reading this story. and thinking about your questions afterwards...and i don't think it's just Black leaders that are lacking...it's ANY leaders. look at the clowns in the US congress, more interested in obstructing than being constructive - in standing in the way than offering any solutions. i don't even see any public intellectuals anymore, what happened to them? i could go on...

but, what's most amazing about this is that stephanie reached out to you to tell you her story. all we have are our stories. and people have both a great need to tell them and to be heard. i'll bet she will long remember you as well. i'll bet the fact that you listened to her will stick with her.

i don't know if there's a god, but if there is, s/he undoubtedly really does bless such actions.

Miss Malorie said...

I've been neglecting my Blogger (no internet for a month plus), and I just saw your comment. Thank you for reading, and being moved by the story. And you bring up an excellent point about there being a lack of leaders in general--every day, watching the news, seeing the ridiculous things that are going on and being brought to light, it makes me question where the true leaders are. Does anyone have morals anymore? Any tact? Anything?

And yes, that exchange that day is something that will stick with me. Like I said, if I was in a similar position, I would hope that someone would listen to me, even if that's all they do.

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