Anthony said, “You’re a breath of fresh air!” I smiled broadly because I felt exactly the same way about him. We were sitting in my kitchen while he, as a visiting occupational therapist, was assessing my ability to take care of myself after I fell from a bike and fractured my foot. He said that the moment he came in the door, he could tell I was getting along fine and was clearly independent. Nevertheless, he joined me at my kitchen table, where I had been chopping up fresh rosemary, to ask me a few questions that he was required to do. His job was to determine if I was safe in my home. I’m not sure what would have happened had he decided I wasn’t. I should have asked.
I don’t know why, but we seemed to connect instantly even though he was a black man in his thirties and I, a white woman in her eighties. We talked easily and laughed a lot. When I daringly declared my dislike of Trump, he high-fived me. I mentioned the Trump Baby Blimp, which, to my amazement, he had not seen, so he looked it up on his phone. We guffawed and changed the subject.
We shared our dismay about the devastations of addictions like smoking and drinking. He did neither, though, like me, he has the occasional glass of wine. We got around to racism in this country, and his attitude was stunning. He had learned somehow to brush it off. He told me that, once, as a high school student, he was walking into Walmart and a policeman asked him to stop. He had looked around and automatically asked, “What for?” The cop then shot him in the arm with a rubber bullet without warning. I was aghast, but Anthony shrugged and said that one of his best friends now is a policeman.
His story of unfairness reminded me of another Anthony being treated so wrongly: Anthony Ray Hinton, an Alabama black man, was picked up for a crime he did not commit. He ended up, after a contemptible trial, being convicted and spent nearly 30 years on death row while people in the outside world fought for his release. In the midst of such terrible injustice, that courageous man somehow managed to find peace and compassion for others. He was finally released ironically on April Fool’s Day, 2015.
Black men who withstand such cruelty and remain strong and peaceful, like Mandela and Martin Luther King and Hinton and this smiling man sitting across from me, are true heroes.
Anthony then spoke about loving France. In fact, he and his wife had gotten married in Paris. His face brightened as he talked about being able to walk down the streets there without people giving him that “look.” I didn’t need him to explain what he meant.
I asked him if he spoke French and was surprised when he said he didn’t. I told him about the many free programs online where he could learn it. I showed him the one I was using on my iPhone and turned to the first beginner lesson. He played with it for a few minutes and had such fun that he said he would definitely look into it.
Throughout the time we spent together, we laughed a lot. It was the kind of conversation, a meeting of souls, that left me feeling joyful. When he was gone, I reflected on what a sweet, kind, young man he was. How could anyone be nasty to such an open-hearted being?
I sprinkled the rosemary on my vegetables, put them in the oven, and prayed that in spite of the deep-rooted racism in this country, people will continue to awaken from that and all hateful prejudices that fester in old minds and fearful hearts.