Monday, August 5, 2019

Pause for reflection

By the time I sat on the patio chair under the umbrella at Starbuck's coffee shop in Bells Corners I had recovered my equilibrium.  Earlier my evenness had been seriously disrupted by a chance encounter with a vagrant on the Appleton Side Road.  The chap initially appeared in my panorama when he stood next to his car by the side of the road waving his arms for assistance.  I instinctively pulled over.  Because my car windows were already down the fellow had no trouble leaning into the passenger door and extending his right hand towards me with the intention of shaking my hand (a gesture I resisted). He then proceeded in what seemed to be Spanish - then broken English - to inform me that his credit card was temporarily malfunctioning.  My alert bells instantly went off!  I muttered, "Oh, geez!" and pushed off.

Apart from my own misguided reaction to this situation from the outset, what disturbed me with equal vigour was my precipitous visceral reaction to the social element of the event. The combination of darker skin, foreign language and accent and the apparent request for money had catapulted me into a Trumpian sphere of prejudice. Immediately I was sympathetic to what I imagined to be the knee-jerk reaction of many Americans to the unknown effect of interlopers - a metaphor clouded by ignorance, fear and the perceived threat of criminality. Shamefully I also felt singularly violated by the trespass of this person upon my property, spiriting me to examine what if anything he had done to contaminate the perfect veneer of my vehicle and hastening me at a minimum to pursue the purgation with a car wash. Suddenly the value of gated community could not have been more compelling.  At the same time it corrupted my erstwhile sense of humanity.  I was reacting with the passion of a parent whose progeny has been attacked. It was as speedy a reminder of how shallow one's Christianity is rooted.

Upon recovering from the momentary assault and imbalance I successfully argued within myself that the man was up to no good.  He was only within steps of the Ultramar gas station if he needed fuel or a telephone. His "story" about miscalculation of his credit card is not one I haven't heard before. His purported initial friendliness to me pointedly had omitted the more natural thanks for having stopped in the first place. I persisted in admonishing myself for not having contemplated calling 911 instead of stopping for a complete stranger on the side of the road.  Not to mention that old people are at risk in these matters.

Eventually I succeeded to calm my mind and to complete my agenda as planned - not the least of which was the ritual cleansing of the car to distance myself from the stench of vaunted mercifulness.  While I abhorred the collaterals of my confessed narrowness I nonetheless convinced myself of the legitimacy of my conduct - but not without a lingering sense of cruelty.  Such I suppose is the guilt of bleeding heart liberals!

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