Last night, about 11:30 p.m., housemate Dan was driving through downtown with his childhood friend (and former Green Acres Village podmate) Logan. Suddenly, on busy 3rd Street, they noticed a huddled figure crumpled in the median. In both directions, cars whizzing by. Dan rolled down his window and asked if he needed help. “Please help me,” the man cried out. So they pulled over, got out, and dodged between cars to the median. Obviously not a homeless person, he was dressed in a pea coat, slacks, scarf, good shoes. More like a university professor of some sort. And black. In fact, he would tell them, African, from East Africa. But when the man saw them approach, he looked scared, cried, “What are you doing? Are you going to rape me?”
This threw them for a loop, as you can imagine. “No, no, they reassured him, we are here to help you.”
“But why? I’m black!”
This went on for awhile, the man, obviously drunk, very very weak, and with his face bashed in, one eye swollen. Someone had bashed it in. The man kept wondering why they were there, couldn’t believe that two young white men wanted to help a black man. “But why do you want to help me?” He kept asking. Dan kept assuring him that they just wanted to help him. “But why?”
“Because you’re a human being, and I care for you.”
In between the man’s questions, Dan asked where he lived, could they take him home.
Finally, the man — he refused to give his name — was persuaded to let them help him to the car, where Dan suddenly remembered the axe on the back seat (he had taken it from here to help a friend chop wood and had put it back in the car to return) and, not to scare him further, quickly steered him away from the back seat. “No, don’t get in the back seat. Logan will sit there. Get in the front seat.” So the man did, and didn’t see the axe, but continued to pepper Dan with questions as they began to drive. “Who are you? Why do you want to help me? Where do you come from? How do you two know each other? Are you brothers?” And so on. Still scared. Among other things, he told them he spoke seven languages, and that his face was bashed in by someone in his department with whom he was enamoured. With their continued reassurance, the man finally settled down and told them where he lived.
As they approached his place — was it really his place? he kept saying no, it’s not that one, it’s this one; he was drunk, remember — and they finally parked, got out of the car, and began to usher him up the sidewalk towards the door — Dan was concerned what would happen to him once he was inside his apartment and they were gone — when the man suddenly fell backwards, hard, cracked his head on the concrete, and passed out.
Okay, time to call the ambulance. Which arrived with six police cars flashing in from every direction.
So that’s the story. Of two white men helping a black man who couldn’t believe, simply couldn’t believe, that they would do that. And even, that they wouldn’t rape him!
What sort of world do we live in that his paranoia should be possible, indeed, that it should be common? Why didn’t other people in passing cars offer to help? What’s going on in this beloved country of ours?
Clearly, our culture’s shadow looms large during these long winter months when everything and everyone seems, on the outside, frozen, and on the inside, is longing, even begging, for connection.
Will the East African man remember the young white Americans who rescued him last night? Will Dan and Logan remember the black man who spoke seven languages and feared that they would rape him?
I sense the answer to both these questions is yes. And I pray for an early spring thaw in human relations upon this good Earth.
This morning, daffodils! — peeking up from their leafy nest in the front yard.