Racism Versus Kindness, With Waffles
It seems like it was a lot longer than just over a year ago when Dylann Roof walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and shot nine people in cold blood because he didn't like the color of their skin. But it was just over a year ago, on June 17, 2015. Later that day, he was taken into custody, alive and unharmed. The police even bought him a snack from Burger King.
Fast forward a little over a year later, and we see the stark video of Terence Crutcher being fatally shot by a police officer after his car broke down. I'm not going to speculate on what happened, but the videos are pretty clear. I've written my thoughts about police shootings and what's going on in the country today over here, if you want to read them. But this article isn't about that.
This is about what happened to me, late in the evening the day after I'd heard the news of the church shooting. The nation was still reeling from the tragedy, and I couldn't understand how we could live in a world where we put a man on the moon almost 50 years ago, but we're still fighting over something as stupid as skin color. And I didn't want to think about it anymore.
Which is when something amazing happened.
At around 10:30 that night, I had a sudden craving for waffles and grease as usually happens to me on days ending in -y, and it was my stepson's last night home before heading to his dad's for the next two weeks of summer, so I let him stay up late and the two of us hopped in the car and drove to Waffle House. We were living in Texas at the time, and our favorite Waffle House wasn't far from our home.
When we got there, we walked in and sat down in our usual booth, next to the bar where lonely people sip coffee. And there was a lonely person there, sipping coffee. He smiled and raised his cup to us as we sat down. I smiled back and nodded as I sat down. Trey, my stepson, smiled, then gave the man a little wave and said, "How are you?"
The man's name was Pete. He was a weathered soul, with a thick face and a loud voice. He rode a duct-taped old bicycle and was, as he described, "basically homeless" and living "in a cubby" somewhere nearby. He smiled a lot and wore a cowboy hat.
He and Trey talked back and forth between bar and booth, the old man getting louder and smiling more as Trey got louder and kept smiling back. I don't remember everything they talked about, but the events of the day were lightly touched upon in a vague way. I hadn't told Trey about them, and neither did Pete. But they did talk about what makes people different, and why people who get mad about our differences are stupid.
Eventually, the conversation slowed and we turned our attention to our waffles and our grease. When Pete stood to leave, he came by our table and reached out his hand to shake Trey's. I can't remember what he said to the boy, but I'll always remember what Trey said back to him, because it's a value I've worked really hard to instill in him, and I was proud.
He said, "People like all different things, and it's nobody's business what I like or you like. And it's not our business to bother about what they like, if nobody's hurting anybody."
At that, Pete smiled and exclaimed to the universe at large that Trey had a grown head on a kid's body. Then, he shook my hand and told me I was doing a good job. And then he paid for our meal. I tried to protest, but sometimes you can tell when an act of kindness is just as important to the giver as to the receiver and this was one of those times. He insisted.
Old cowboy Pete. Sipping coffee alone at the Waffle House, virtually homeless and riding a duct-taped bicycle paid for our meal.
We all walked out together, where we shook hands again and smiled, and it was all one of those Perfect Moments you read about that happen sometimes, but that never happen to you.
This one happened. And I can't think of a better end to a horrible day than that.