He looked like any other kind, elderly black man: rocking gently on the cinderblock front porch of his subsidized home, tired after years of living— having survived a few wars, the lynching of a few relatives, integration. His slight, wrinkled body, dark and weathered by the sun and the years, seemed one with his chair. Each morning during the fall semester, I walked past the government-housing complex just a block off campus, and thought about the unfairness of life and the tragedy of a man who was forced to navigate life as a black man in a white world. “Good morning!” I’d call and wave to him, thankful for the opportunity to share the love of God with a lonely old man.
One particular morning, before the sun had fully risen and the haze of the dawn was still making the world seem wobbly, I was walking sleepily to class when I caught his eye. I didn’t want to wave this morning, I was tired from staying up too late the night before watching a 90210 marathon on cable. He blinked his black eyes slowly and they reminded me of a horse’s eyes, red and watery, but with the depth of soul and the wisdom of experience. I stretched my lips into a half smile and raised my hand in an attempt at being friendly. He smiled a big, toothless grin and waved his one hand back at me. Oh, did I mention he only had one arm? I immediately felt guilty. Here I was, this able bodied, young white girl, given every opportunity and I was too tired to say hello.
I was never really a fan of the acronym WWJD, promoted by the more commercial brand of my faith, but, this morning, I knew what Jesus would do. So, I stopped, my smile working its way to a full grin and asked warmly, “How is your day going?” The old man called something back to me, though I imagine his being toothless made clear articulation hard work. I walked up on the sidewalk, as I had been walking in the street, and faced him.
“What’s that?” I asked, my bright smile shining the light of Jesus directly at him.
“I need some love,” he said.
Not sure I understood him correctly, I asked for clarification again.
I didn’t want this man to feel foolish for not being intelligible. After all, it really wasn’t his fault. Lack of education and lack of dental care had taken its toll. I thought it was particularly heroic that here he was, a handicapped man, every morning, fully-dressed at 6:45, in his baggy, plaid button down shirt, brown suspenders and blue Dickies.
“I need some love!” he called louder and more clearly this time. “Twenty dollars. I’ll give you twenty dollars to come on up on this porch and give me some love.”
Shocked, I said what every self-respecting, independent college woman would say: “No, sir!”