What I am about to write is true, and it really happened.
On a rainy night this week, I drove downtown to pick up Jim after work. I drove around the block in order to position myself on the side of the street closest to where I meet him. Traffic was typically congested and chaotic. I stopped so as to not block an interesection–which I admit is probably an unusual behavior in Cincinnati. What happened next is bothering me a great deal.
A blue-grey CRV type car pulled to the apron of the PNC garage, paused, saw the opportunity to get out of the garage…and hit a man. His arm and upper body pounded over the top of hood, hitting hard enough for me to hear. The driver of the car paused. I saw him roll off the hood, touch the ground with a hand to steady himself, and when he got up. In an instant, the driver of the car accelerated, hitting him again on his hip and leg. He pushed off the car as it drove past and away from him. My hands flew to my mouth. I rolled down my window, and asked if I could call for help for him. He was shaking, but insisted that he did not want any police involved and that he would be okay. He walked away in the opposite direction from me. The light changed. Traffic moved on.
As you read that story–not only true, but it really happened–did you see pictures in your head? What did you see? Hear? What was the color of the person driving the car? What was the gender? What was the race of the man who was hit? How was he dressed? Why did he refuse assistance?
How do you hear the story if I tell you the man who was hit was carrying a briefcase, hurrying through the rain because he was wearing an expensive suit? That he was headed into the same PNC garage from which the car came?
How do you hear the story if I tell you that the person driving the car was a middle aged woman, dressed in executive style?
What changes if I tell you the truth–in addition to what really happened?
What really happened was that a woman who was white emerged from the PNC garage, struck a black man in street clothes, and drove away. That really happened.
But the truth is, and what is bothering me, is that through her eyes a black man stumbled into her path. She saw him as he hit the hood of her car, and she was afraid. She was afraid because she passed street people and panhandlers whenever she had to walk outside of her office building. She was frightened at first when she passed them, bumped into them, or when they approached her. She was greatly relieved when she finally won the lottery with the right to purchase employee parking in the secure parking garage. Now she just put on her no-nonsense game face when she left the building. She was afraid of the man who stumbled into her path because he was black, and in her eyes he was menacing as he crashed into the hood of her car. Is that what really happened? You tell me.
There is another truth to be spoken here. I only know the outlines of this truth because others have told it to me. That man was terrified when that white lady hit him. He had white women cross to the other side of the sidewalk and turn their eyes to avoid seeing him–all day, every day. I think he really was hurt, but I don’t think the hurt began when the car hit him. He had been hurt his whole life as adults saw him as a young punk and assumed he was up to no good, and when white women saw him and assumed he would threaten them if they acknowledged his presence, his humanity. The woman was terrified, and he saw the look in her face. He heard the offer for help coming from another white woman, but her help would bring police for sure. His truth his whole life was that when police came, so did trouble. He learned to keep his head down. His truth was that he heard the same news as all the rest of us have, only for him there was nothing new about it. Is that what really happened? You tell me.
Finally, there is the truth, and I’m not really sure it happened–but I know it is true. I stopped to avoid blocking traffic. I’m Midwest Nice that way. My Midwest Niceness created the opening that made the woman in that car believe she could get out of the garage quickly. She took the opening I created.
I haven’t commented publicly about the events in Ferguson, or in New York, or in hundreds of other places. It’s not because I’m a coward. Well, it’s not JUST because I’m a coward. This happened this week, and I can’t stop thinking about it. This story tells us. Do you know what I mean by that?
This story tells us because whatever truth you allow yourself to hear in it is more about you than it is about what happened. The story tells you, just as it was telling to me when I realized the part that I played without ever giving my permission.
I know what happened. I saw it with my own eyes. The truth of it….I’m not so sure of what my eyes saw. I know that even if I can be sure of the sense my mind made of it…I’m not so sure of what my heart and soul believe happened. That’s the part of the story that tells me.
Getting to the bottom of what eyes saw, videos recorded, laws that were broken or not–this is not going to fix Ferguson, New York or us. Until we can see how the story tells us, we won’t get to the truth that is bigger than all of us. We won’t get to the truth that can offer healing, open eyes and ears, and restore all our souls. Getting to that truth could change everything, but not because we have it all figured out. That truth isn’t a thing, it’s a relationship. It’s a person, one who said that He was the Truth and the way to Life. Relationship with this Truth changes all relationships, beginning with the one we have with ourselves–our own eyes and ears and hearts and minds, and the truths we choose to believe.