Over the past several weeks, Joe and I along with a couple of other people, have had to deal with a very, very, very difficult man. He has caused us more stress in the last few days than almost any other person has over the course of our lifetime. He has a bit of power and enjoys using it. He likes making people flinch. He stops just short of being criminally abusive. I, now, hate him. All that is just part of what it is to live life - your path happens to cross those who happen to cross yours. Some of them, most of them, are difficult to remember even weeks later, others leave a long lasting positive impact, but others give you a rash like when you mistake poison ivy for salad greens.
Here's the thing about him. Next to his nasty disposition, the most recognizable feature about him is his accent. He speaks English in such a way that his ancestry is immediately recognizable and evident. Hearing that voice, that accent on the answering machine is cause for both Joe and I to tense up wondering what hell he's going to inflict now. I didn't realize that something was happening inside me. It was happening silently, off in the corner of my mind. It was happening with great stealth, as if it didn't want my consciousness to catch it at its evil work. It was as if tiny little gremlins had used the fuel of my anxiety to begin work on something of huge magnitude. And their work, it seemed, was almost complete when we went to the airport to fly to San Fransisco.
We got to the airport and Joe dropped me off and I pushed myself while Joe pushed the luggage cart over to the area where Air Canada offers service for those who need special assistance. There was no one at the desk and another agent called over to say that there would be someone there in a moment. We were quite early so I turned the chair around to people watch while Joe went to return the car.
About five minutes later, a voice called to me, 'Sir, I can help you now.' That voice! That voice! It was a woman's voice, so it bore no resemblance to the man we'd been dealing with. But her accent was entirely the same. Exactly. I flinched inside. I turned to greet her and found that I was looking at her through eyes that were beginning to use bigotry as spectacles. Prejudice was lensing the right eye, hostility the left. Finely crafted these were too, lighter than any you could buy in a store, ever clean, never smudging, a bargain at any price. I approached her and we spoke for a moment about my flight as Joe arrived and we were able to check in.
During the check in she was lovely to deal with. She has a sister in San Fransisco and talked about her love of the city. She double checked everything to ensure that our seats were taken care of, that the right assistance would be in place for us. She was one of the few, at check in, to remember automatically to make a tag for my wheelchair. She respected that I wanted the tag put on only at the gate, not at the desk - it makes pushing difficult. Altogether a perfect transaction. All done using an accent that slowly moved from irritating to lilting.
I was brought up short by this.
I don't want my dealings with one person to ever be more than my dealings with one person. I don't want to be the kind of person who uses one experience to influence all future experiences. I don't want to live with racism, I don't want to become the kind of person I despise. Sure the mind likes to categorize. But the mind is not the master of the man. The whims of life are not the master of the woman. Something deep inside - the soul? - the "I" - makes those decisions.
And I have made a decision. To sweep out the work done by the secret society in my intellect. To disassemble the new structures in my belief system that would lead me to expect, from wonderful people like a kind agent at Air Canada, the worst in a people. I don't want that.
I don't want to be the guy who is comfortable with hating others.
I don't want to be, so, I won't be.
And that's that.