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Day 17, Lent

Last Sunday we were delighted to have Anita Friday speak at adult education. A local woman of deep faith, she spoke about racism on the Main Line, the way it affects her family, and how people of faith can respond.  Lent is a time when we look not only at ourselves and the ways we've fallen short, but also at the ways the world is broken and in need of redemption.  A church member shared this reflection with me as she continues to think about Anita's words and the complex problem of racism.

It was a Sunday afternoon $20 grocery store run, the kind I make when I’ve run out of milk (but end up with more than milk), or have forgotten something, or need a couple ingredients to complete a recipe – quite honestly, the kind I don’t think twice about.  But a scene from that day’s trip gave me pause. 

As I waited my turn in the express checkout line, an older African-American gentleman in front of me set his order on the conveyer belt: two packages of drumsticks (buy one/get one free), a bottle of cooking oil, and a container of black pepper, among other things.  When to the man’s obvious surprise, the chicken rang up full-price, the young cashier called back to the meat department to check.  In the meantime, he asked her to weigh the two heads of cabbage in his order, one larger than the other.  He debated about these momentarily and ultimately said no to both, that he’d put them back.  After a couple minutes, the meat clerk came back on the phone and told the cashier that in fact, it was the chicken breasts, not the drumsticks, that were buy one/get one.  The man glanced anxiously at the line snaking out behind him, the other customers shifting impatiently and taking exasperated breaths.  He got out his wallet, pulled out two twenties, and said, “I only got $40.”  I imagined his mental calculations: if I go back and get the sale chicken, maybe I can buy the cabbage.  But what about all these people waiting in line?  I reached for my wallet, instinctive and reticent at the same time.  “I’d be glad to help...” I said.  “Naw, it’s ok,” he said kindly.  “Thanks.”  The cashier bagged the man’s full-price chicken, set the cabbage aside, and handed him a couple dollars in change.  He thanked her and said, “I’m sorry for putting you through all that.”  “No problem,” she answered breezily, as she began to scan my order.

For the next few days, my mind replayed this scene and tried to unpack it.  The African-American man who didn’t have enough money to purchase everything in his modest grocery order and was forced to choose.  (Maybe he just didn’t have the cash on him). The vegetables that were left behind because they cost too much.  (Maybe he really wanted the ice cream instead.) The looks of irritation shot in the man’s direction by those he had “inconvenienced” at an overwhelmingly white, privileged, suburban grocery store. (Maybe I was just imagining).  How the man must have felt in that transaction, and his need to apologize to the cashier.  (Maybe I am overthinking this).  In short, I reflected on the complicated problem of racism and the countless advantages I enjoy because I am white, and on the deceptively simple question of how we are called to love one another as human beings.  I wondered all week about that man and felt deeply sad.  I prayed that he would not be hungry.

May God pour out blessings upon us and upon our world.
Peace,
Laurie

Posted by Laurie Weicher at 6:00 AM
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