Saturday October 28th 2017, 9:13 pm
Filed under: Life

This happened yesterday but it took me awhile to be able to put it to words.

She was elderly, about 4’10”, just a tiny old woman with a cheerful smile and a lot of energy and spunk. And she was African-American. We crossed paths a couple of times in the aisles at Costco and struck up a brief conversation the second time and shared a laugh. The kind of person you instantly wish you could get to know better: the stories and the wisdom that must be inside her after all her years!

I wasn’t surprised when she chose my line to stand in. Right behind me. I felt quite honored.

In the next line over was a tall, middle-aged white woman, also with a ready smile, and a man who was clearly her dad. He was about 6’6″, tall and broad–and seemed a little unsure of himself at times. Early Alzheimer’s, I wondered? Or just distracted, trying to take in a place that was new to him?


He decided he wanted to stand in a line, too, I’m guessing so that he could motion his daughter over should his prove to be faster, even though both of us actually only had one person ahead of us.

He was going to stand behind me.

I smiled and explained the obvious, with a nod in the first woman’s direction, “She’s behind me.”

His head shifted a little but he saw no one.

He tried again, taking a step my way. I smiled, “That lady’s behind me in the line.”

He looked around a bit again but he did not see her and she simply did not exist to his eyes. I did; but then I’m white, I’m of average height, I fit into an archetype he’s known all his life. Again he stepped my way to try to cut in front of her.

I could tell he was elderly and confused but it still didn’t make it okay to do that to her. This time, still smiling, I took a small step into his path to stop him and to quietly stand up for a woman old enough to have known Jim Crow and a black woman’s place in it all too well, but before I could say more, his daughter spoke up and asked him to come back to her line with her.

A look of understanding passed between us:

A silent, You’re doing your best, and thank you.

You’re not judging us, and thank you.

I could see he was not someone who intended to do wrong or bully in any way, he simply couldn’t take in all the information around him. Costco can be sensory overload for all of us, one could only imagine.

Through all of this, the tiny old black woman looked the other way and pretended she wasn’t being dismissed as not even existing by the white man from her generation who could not comprehend that she was present in this space and had every right to it. It wasn’t maliciousness on his part. It was simply a blindness.

I could only guess how many times in her life she has gone through little daily slights, how many things much worse than this. No harm had been meant. But it had to echo a lifetime of experiences.

And it broke my heart.

4 Comments so far
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Thank you for doing what you can do. We can’t change minds, but we can change actions.

Comment by Pegi 10.29.17 @ 3:31 am

Your compassion and understanding can be a lesson to all of us. Thank you! ~chris

Comment by chris 10.29.17 @ 7:04 am

You write beautifuly!

Your compassion is indeed a lesson to us all. I hope to be find that kind of understanding and kindness in my life.

Comment by Suzanne in Montreal 10.30.17 @ 5:51 am

Heart-breaking, and heart-mending. She also saw you seeing her.

Comment by twinsetellen 10.31.17 @ 4:03 pm

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