The idea first came to me at breakfast last Saturday.
As we prepared to leave our table at the restaurant, I thought about stopping at the table next to ours, where a black family had just sat down. I imagined myself extending my hand to one of the two teenage boys at the table and saying something like this: “You don’t know me, but I’m thinking if we did more of this – white people and black people shaking hands – we’d do less of what happened in Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas.”
But I didn’t do that, and I can rationalize why: I didn’t extend my hand in friendship because I’m introvert, because I stutter, because I thought the family would think, “Who is this crazy guy?”
I passed on another opportunity on Monday. At lunchtime, I went to the Johnston Medical Mall in Smithfield to walk. Lots of people were there, some walking like me, some sitting on benches or in chairs, perhaps waiting on family members to wrap up a doctor’s visit.
Some of those walkers and sitters were black, and I thought again about stopping to shake hands. I even singled out this woman, maybe my age, who was sitting in a chair near the entrance to HealthQuest, and I went so far as to remove my headphones as I approached her. But I wavered again, rationalizing that choice the way I had done at breakfast a few days before.
A Bible verse says, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” I guess I had the opposite problem. My body was fine – at least it was able to ramble around the Medical Mall – but the spirit was weak.
But no matter what excuse I make, I can’t dodge the fact that I missed an opportunity to help close the racial divide in this country.
The good news is that a lot of people are better at follow-through than me. Since the shootings, I have read a number of accounts of people doing their part to help this country heal and to help the races better understand one another.
In one such account, a young black woman enters a convenience store, where two white police officers are talking to the clerk.
Upon seeing the young woman, one of the officers takes the initiative. “How ya doing?” he asks her. “I’m fine,” she says, in the way that most of us say we’re fine when asked.
“No,” he says, “I mean, how are you really?”
“I’m so tired,” she says.
“Me too,” he says, and they hug.
I’m not naive; I know that no single handshake or hug or word of kindness is going to mend the racial rift in this country. But if you’re familiar with the phrase “death by a thousand cuts,” you can imagine its opposite: healing through a thousand hugs, or something akin to that.
I wish I had mustered the courage to follow through on my idea in the restaurant that morning and at the Medical Mall later, and I’m kind of mad at myself, disappointed too, that I didn’t. Fortunately, a lot of people, including white police officers and young black women, are braver than me, and I’m pretty sure we’re better off because they are.