Friday, July 09, 2004

Three blocks with Jeff

Wouldn't you know it. Just when I mention the rarity a certain occurance, namely, a random person approaching a fellow random person and initiating a conversation with,"So, tell me about yourself.", it sure enough happens to me! Well, I guess those EXACT words weren't said, but this still qualifies:

I am walking to my bus stop this morning and this guy (later I found out his name was Jeff), who happens to be walking in front of me turns around in response a startling noise which was behind both of us, and, for whatever reason, I catch his attention. Apparently he notices I am chewing gum.

"Hey man, you got anymore of that special gum?"
My natural (societal?) reaction was to be a bit startled.
Special gum? I hope he just wants a piece of gum, that won't be too hard. I'll give him a piece of gum and he'll be on his way.. As I had just opened a new pack of Wrigley's Doublemint, the answer was:
"Yeah, do you want a piece?"

"Sure man, anything to keep my lips from smackin'."

Hmmm...Not quite sure what that means...But I give him a piece, and we start walking together down Columbia St. To everyone else, we probably look like old pals.

Jeff, if you need a visual, is about 6'2'' or 6'3'', African-American man wearing sunglasses, probably in his late early to mid 40's. Before I know it we are in conversation.

"I've been looking for a job, today, my man."
Oh,Tight. I'm having one of those random meetings I wrote about the other day! Oh, ok...I should respond.

"Oh yeah, how's that going?"

"Well, the job market here in town is pretty slim. Its a struggle. Do you know how difficult it is to have to worry about finding a job and secure housing?"

No, I don't know how difficult it is at all, as I am a wealthy white kid who has been priveledged all his life and thinks he has it tough this summer because he is living "alone" and has a "boring" research internship.

So I answer, honestly, "Well, I can imagine."

"What's your name, my man? My name's Jeff."

"I'm Mike." Do I offer my hand to shake? Before I started college, I was one who would always wait to shake someone's hand until they initiated the handshake. A handshake is a big deal. Its the next step in a relationship after casual small talk...but its a rather large step. I've observed enough meetings, and been offered enough hands to shake to know what situations warrent a handshake. And this one most definitely did. So I put my hand out, accompanied by a confident, "Nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you too!"--Jeff replies enthusiastically. I am happy that I have shaken his hand.

He asks me where I was from, and I tell him, and I tell him that I am just here for the summer. Where am I headed, he asks. I'm walking to PSU, where I'll catch a bus up the hill to OHSU, I say, because I have a research internship up there.

"Oh really! Well thats great, young man. I only went to half a year of college myself...then I went into the Navy.

This guy has had a much harder life than I have, and he's still struggling. I want to know his story. I wish I could help him. Wait, I did help him. I gave him a piece of gum.

Suddenly, Jeff gets on his soapbox. I can appreciate the soapbox...I do that a lot too (you probably noticed this from my posts...but what is a blog if it isn't just an online soapbox?)

"You know, there is so much conflict in this world. I've had a lot of Christianity in my life (oh no, is he going to...I really hope he doesn't...) And in reading I've come across the word "ethnos" a lot, which is the Greek word for a different race. It's where we get the word ethnic group or ethnicity. There is too much ethnic conflict in the world, man. So many people in this world want to put down people that are different from them. They are afraid of difference. There's too much racism in the world, man."
Wow, this guy did a 180 from where I thought he was going...From his first few soapbox words, I thought he was going to start preaching. Instead, he has just reinforced something that I've been struggling with for a long time. How can some people call themselves Christian and at the same time be so intolerant of people who are different them? Wait...why is he telling me this? Why the racism bit? I'll have to ponder that on the bus on the way to work.

We apprached to the 10th Ave intersection, at which he had to go left, and I had to go right. I didn't necessarily want to leave Jeff's company, as I was confident that we could have had a very extended conversation about the problems with humanity, but sometimes time and space just don't agree for very long. How many times do you meet someone in one insant, make an connection in the next instant, and then part ways in the instant after that? Time and space sometimes only come together for an instant or two. You just have to take all you can from those instants, I guess. Maybe its easier to do this if you enter into every relationship as if it will only last an instant.

"Alright man, I have to make a turn here. It was nice to meet you, and have a good day, my man."

"You too."

Then I pondered our conversation on the bus...like I had decided. I was especially intrigued by Jeff's racism speech. What was the motivation?

Maybe its because he didn't expect me to be so forthcoming with my gum, and my conversation, and my handshake. Maybe he was impressed? Obviously he sees a major probablem in this world, in racism, and he's no doubt had personal experience. I could have just as easily have been someone who was startled by a big black man asking for a piece gum, and chosen to ignore him altogether. He's probably had multiple experiences along those lines. Why else would he feel so compelled to communicate his concerns to a young punk he just met on the street? Perhaps he knew that I saw the same problems that he did, and he recognized someone that he could recruit to his lifelong fight against it? I don't know. I won't ever know, as most likely I'll never see Jeff again. But he has become part of my memory(and this blog), and has thus impacted my life. And it was a positive impact.

In a recent post, I mentioned the importance of all relationships, even 10 minute relationships. Well, add three-block relationships to that list.





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