What is it that would make a Black person think their lives are so much busier than the next person when it comes to voting? I couldn’t believe it when I heard a Black man say in the grocery store, “Well, I’m just gonna send my vote in early. I don’t wanna wait in that long line.” Seriously? As I recall, your ancestors and others that probably aren’t that much older than you are today had to stand in lines to be told they couldn’t come in to a certain place or that they had to enter from the back of the house or building. Now mind you, I saw no debilitating ailment that this man possessed, just the ignorance that was placed upon his chest and forehead by someone who told him it was probably better that way. Whenever I tried to look him in his eyes, he more than shied away from me. It was almost as if he tried to run without moving. He shrugged. He averted. He diverted. He cussed under his breath. He cussed out loud as he spoke about the mistake he made in the last election, anyway. I refused to move. I acknowledged him the only way I could, for that moment, until his breath ran out. And, when I heard those most hateful and despicable words that could comprise a phrase, “What difference does it make anyway?,” I pounced.
It was pretty easy, I must say, getting this gentleman to talk to me. He seemed very proud to be the first of seven children to send his only child to college on a janitor’s salary assisted by a criminal justice degree from a reputable four-year college. His devotion and loyalty to a childhood friend who died at the hand of a law official is how he attributes his abandoning his dream position in law enforcement. As a janitor, he felt safe. There, he did not pose a threat to anyone nor would anyone threaten him as long as he relied on tunnel vision. He was well past retirement age and didn’t find it hard to understand how compromises were made for him to be able to make the choice to become a janitor; though there are those who consider themselves custodial engineers (without a legitimate four-year college degree). The pride he had for his only daughter showed proudly on his face as the clouds could nearly touch his chest. Letters were written by him to the news stations and local newspapers about issues that concerned not only himself, but members of his church and study group; he started a book club that has been in session for five years. While we stood there talking in the poultry section, I became engrossed in the presence of a rock star. Everybody knew this guy and he knew them. The crowd could associate the name with the face. The letters he wrote couldn’t do that. Come to find out, the gentleman never forwarded a letter under his real name. He said he just didn’t want the attention. Suddenly, I felt like I needed medication. Here it is, a well-educated, most literate (articulate sounds so insulting for a man of color who has graduated even from high school) man did not want to be acknowledged for his own efforts. Was this cowardice or arrogance? Just because he was Black, I came to understand that he could also have an air of arrogance. After all, he was human.
Although he probably wasn’t in the hunt for a new position anywhere, I suggested that he must have a pretty remarkable resume. Alright, so there was a little sarcasm in there only because of his expressed phobia. Yes, he did have a phobia that he hadn’t allowed a therapist the privilege of knowing. He allowed another person’s demise stifle him. The man had become complacent and had convinced himself that he deserved to be behind the scenes. And there he stayed for years, but popular for just his presence. “Do you know what an employer does with a résumé that has too many errors?” I asked. “Why, I have heard it goes in the garbage can,” he replied demandingly. “Then, why can’t you see the possibility of the same thing happening to your vote whether it’s electronic or absentee?” I said. It took him a minute, but he got it. The man understood that his presence was needed in order to make sure his vote really counted. The many possibilities of errors occurring never occurred to him. And, in the way he would write letters, he said that he didn’t want his friends to think differently of him. I was floored! This brilliant man before me – this rock star personality was afraid to show that he played an integral part in the universe. Not only was he content with being behind the scenes, he was content with being someone turned something else. When I asked him how his daughter felt about what he does, I could see the river start to flow. Yet, he was talking to me in a grocery store as if I could have been his best friend. She didn’t know he was the anonymous local celebrity who was relevant. He was so pleased to have discussions about the writer’s topics. She was amazed at how much knowledge he had on each subject. He looked forward to their continued talks once she got settled into college. The hug I received from this man was one I will never forget. I don’t know if he’d ever say that he had a therapy session with me, but I can say I had one with him. There is a reason for everything. Every single person on this planet has feelings. And one person’s phobia may seem so small to the rest of us. The thought of trying to remain anonymous is one thing. But, when we do it for the wrong reason really cripples us and those who care about us. When messages of positivity are sent out into the universe, I think the universe wants to reward that energy with positive energy. We all know what happens when hate is cast into the air…there is but despair.
To be sure his vote counts, he will get in line instead of trying to vote early or by absentee ballot. By being present, he could see the confirmation for himself. He will make sure this potential cycle is broken with his daughter. I will continue to see people as people and know that they all have a story to tell. But why I chose him to accost and talk to him didn’t make sense to me until I thought we were about to part. Looking at my watch, it was now 3:30 in the afternoon. I arrived at 3:00. I felt like at least a couple of hours had gone by. Then suddenly, I got my answer. “You know, you look just like my buddy that passed away years ago. Would you like to see his picture?” he said smiling. “Sure.” I was speechless! The resemblance was uncanny. Everything made sense. I guess we both did exactly what we were supposed to do that day. How could we not be friends after that? I didn’t need a copy of that picture because I felt like it was me looking back at myself. Talk about timing. While he was sending his only child off to learn a new lesson, we both learned one in just that short time.