Damaging Joy

In light of the resurgence of racial tensions across the news and spreading like cancer in social media, I decided to make a special Throwback Thursday blog post.  I dug around some of my old files and found a paper I wrote in college about an experience I had that enlightened my perspective and showed how sheltered I was from racial strife.  I grew up in a family who rarely, if ever; mentioned color so it never occurred to me to feel one way or another about race. 

We are all human and that's the race I love.

**Here is my Throwback Thursday, 1993 piece called Damaging Joy**

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I sat alone in my car and gnawed on a bland piece of gray meat crammed in between two stale pieces of bread.  My lunch was unsatisfying on so many levels.  Not only was I eating in my car but the pickles on my hamburger looked like a smushed grasshopper didn't make a successful trip through a fan.

I looked around the college parking lot and studied groups of people who walked by.  I imagined they felt a tremendous amount of comfort because they were a crowd. I pondered how many groups often ignore the individual.  The loner.  Clusters of people with similar interests rarely seemed concerned about those who might be feeling isolated or misunderstood.

There is an African-American lady who regularly works the lunch shift McDonald's where I go to get my miserable hamburgers.  She drapes the top half of her body out of the drive-thru window, waving to people with so much energy.  Her skin is warm cocoa and her brown eyes are framed with the squint lines. Instead of making her look older, the creases give her sweet face, whimsy.  She has short hair, cut close to her face with a small side swept bang, that seems permanently pressed against her forehead.

She was great at spotting regulars and was accustomed to seeing me at the same time almost everyday.  Sometimes she would recognize my car as the bumper inched past the menu board.  I'd hear the crackling of the intercom and hear her cute giggle and then a voice said, "Finchy, you want the usual?"

When there was not a line of cars behind me, "Joy" and I would speak casually.  We would discuss the uncomfortable weather or my boredom with school or sometimes she would tease me and suggest I go to another fast food joint.  We'd laugh because both of us knew it was not just a place to grab lunch, it was somewhere to see a familiar face.  We became a bit more than acquaintances.  We were almost like friends even though we never saw each other except at McDonalds.

One day Joy was helping a customer ahead of me in a light blue truck.  It struck me as odd that the guy driving had positioned the vehicle so far away from Joy's window.  It seemed like it was going to be nearly impossible for him to give her the money and then reach for his food order.

I watched as Joy leaned as far out of the window as she could reach towards him.  He placed his money, a five dollar bill as I remember, in a soiled cap and leaned towards her.  She smiled uneasily and took the money from the cap.  She was gone from view for just a minute and I saw the driver throw the cap into the bed of his truck.  I almost didn't notice the faded, peeling White Pride sticker on the rusted bumper.  Joy leaned back out of the window to give him his change and I heard him say,  "Just put it in another bag."

Joy, visibly confused, did what he said and reached out to him again with the brown bag with his change and another bag with his food.  He was hesitant but awkwardly took both bags apparently being careful not to touch her hands.

She said, "Thank you and have a nice day."

He stomped on the gas, the truck's engine roared and he yelled "Damn Niggers" as he sped away.

As I moved my car towards Joy's window, I saw the look of bewilderment mixed with hurt in her warm, brown eyes.  She sighed and smiled at me, then offered a "Hi" with little enthusiasm.  I put my car in park and turned to look at her.  I told her how sorry I was and that I was embarrassed.

She said, "Until now, I never really felt different.  I've always heard about things like this, but it's never happened to me."

As I drove back to school that afternoon, I remember feeling so much incredible pain for Joy.  It seemed to me that the isolation I felt eating alone in the school's parking lot was insignificant compared to what she must have felt at that moment.  That man in the truck had damaged my Joy.  He outraged me.  He judged Joy on the color of her skin.  He made her feel isolated, different and less than.  He humiliated a gentle person.

I learned from that experience.  Never again will I feel lonely or isolated because Joy is with me all the time.  She is in my heart.  I will forever admire her courage and grace in the face of discrimination.

 

Seeds to Share

Proverbs 11:17 - Your kindness will reward you, but your cruelty will destroy you.