Speak out on behalf of the voiceless,
and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.
Speak out in order to judge with righteousness
and to defend the needy and the poor. – Proverbs 31:8-9
I wasn’t sure that I should share this story, but some of my friends seem to think it’s important.
First off, I’m not a confrontational kind of a guy. Typically, I’d just as soon not be noticed – especially if there is some kind of a disagreement. And, if there is, I would always prefer to set out my position in positive terms rather than in opposition.
However, sometimes it is important to speak up.
So I was in a local grocery store, in the middle of running my groceries through the self-service check-out. It was busy.
Suddenly, about three lanes over, I heard a loud, angry “HEEEEYYYY!!” Yes, ALL CAPS because it really was an angry, harsh sound. It was the kind of gut level yell that could be heard all over the store.
Then it repeated, long and violent, “HEEYYYYY!!!”
I looked – involuntarily – in the direction of the noise. That’s when I saw a woman with a squirrely, squirmy, noisy toddler in tow; she appeared frightened.
“HEEEYYYYYY!” the man yelled again, as she quickly walked away. “Why don’t you put that animal on a leash?!!”
The harsh noise of rage and bigotry echoed through the sudden complete silence of the grocery store. I paused for a moment, waiting for something to happen.
I looked toward the five or six store employees standing nearby, one a manager. They were all looking at the ground. The other shoppers, too, all stood silent. The man himself looked around proudly, looking for a smile, a high five, or a nod of assent; fortunately there were none to be had.
It was wrong, period; but it didn’t help – in this particular social moment – that he was an angry white man and the woman he was yelling at was a person of color.
I sighed. “Excuse me,” I said to the person behind me and left my half-processed grocery cart before walking three checkouts over to where the silence rang most densely. I approached the man.
“I cannot tell you how inappropriate that was!” I said, as firmly yet nicely as I could, making direct eye contact.
The man looked surprised, taken aback, then confused, then worried. He turned on his heels, abandoned his shopping, exited the store quickly, and jumped in his truck.
“Sorry,” I said to the closest of the store employees, “but something had to be said.”
“Sometimes it’s just best to keep your head down,” he replied.
“No,” I replied, carefully. “Not always; not this time.”
I completed my shopping. As I left one of the managers got my attention and said, “Thank you.” This time it wasn’t because I had spent so much money.
We are all on this ride through pandemic together, friends. How we respond to one another counts. Especially how we respond to those who are vulnerable.
Peace, and I mean that in every possible way – DEREK