He seemed like a nice enough young man, teenager, a little removed and grumpy but who isn’t at 6:30 in the morning and already at a boring job? His name is Jay, and he was there to help out our housekeeper, house sitter, friend, on a Friday morning. Our rude dogs were uncomfortable with him; Hops got a little snippy, and Pumpkin too barky, while Barley just avoided him.
I totally trust our friend to bring only good people into our home, and so I immediately trusted Jay but didn’t think he and I would ever have much interchange. Does it matter that we’re white and he’s African-American? Sort of…I could label him if I saw him on the street as surly or unfriendly or even a little frightening, but he’s just a young man who happens to come from a different background. I was cordial but distant. He was hard-working and reserved.
One morning a few weeks ago, as I sat at my desk while he and Wendy cleaned around me I saw him standing aside, looking at his hand and frowning. “Jay, what’s wrong?” “I have a splinter. Ugh.” I went to get the tweezers, and then held his hand to the light while we tried to get it out and he flinched, telling me he had had a foster mom who was too aggressive with the tweezers and they scared him a little bit.
Such a tiny encounter. Such a very brief moment. An intimate touch. A shared fear.
What about this experience made it so powerful for me? Is it simply that I look for chances to be a mom, to be needed, and here was one of those sudden opportunities? Almost. But as I took his hand I thought I heard a soft, short, pinging sound, that sound when there is an almost imperceptible break, a crack, or a tiny hole in the protective coating we present to the people around us. A breach that can let humanity in, even for a second, and resonate through a day, a week, or forever. Too poetic? And yet that moment of holding Jay’s hand, helping him deal for a minute or two, it changed me just like every one of those moments in my life has changed me, nudged me closer to being the person I want to be.