I was visiting NYC with my seven year old daughter, approaching a breakfast buffet at our hotel, and my eyes spotted a man with biceps the size of Rhode Island and New Hampshire, respectively.
He was covered in tattoos, and his skin was black. Huge and scary. Mean too, I assumed. Wanting to protect my daughter, I sized him up as someone to steer clear of. That pre-judging (pre-judice) was instant, no hesitation or self-examination.
But fate would have it he wound up behind us in the buffet line, and I had a chance to either stay feeling threatened or try something out of my protection plan. Being around my daughter often inspires me to try new things, to choose adventure over the status quo.
I turned around and smiled, asking: “So how many hours a week do you work out? He broke out into his own friendly smile. “Four to six hours, seven days a week. The gym is my second home”, he said.
His eyes sparkled with pride, and I could see a gentle, even playful boy peering out through his Mt. Everest frame.
Now that my mind was open, I could also see discipline instead of potential violence when I looked at him. Suddenly I was all curiosity, no holding back, battering him with questions, friendly firing away while he piled on the protein for breakfast.
It turned out that he was in NY for some kind of body building contest. I asked him what his hopes and goals were and he got even more enthusiastic and childlike.
“If I win here I get to go to Vegas and compete in the nationals.” “And then what?” I asked. “The prize for that one is ten thousand dollars.” “And then what?” I continued to ask.
He was loving the attention, and revealed that his bigger dream was financially helping out his family in Jamaica, moving his kin to the United States, and starting a foundation for underprivileged kids.
It seemed that the biggest muscle in this young man’s body was his heart.
And to think, I almost didn’t strike up a conversation. I was so close to letting fear and prejudice stifle my curiosity, content to build walls instead of bridges.
So glad I chose differently. So glad my daughter was there, looking over my shoulder, taking it all in.
Over the years since that experience, a number of innocent people, students in schools, civilians and policemen have been shot and killed because of fear. Call it racism, prejudice, hate, ignorance, mental illness, apathy…whatever the words used, its all different variations and flavors of the same stuff: Fear, in all its disguises.
It’s very tempting to feel powerless about it all.
But I like to think that every day you and I make a multitude of little decisions that contribute either to more prejudice on this planet, or to it’s eventual demise. Fear or love. Walls or curiosity. Every moment. Always at choice. Never powerless.
The children, whether biologically yours or not, are looking over your shoulder, waiting to see what your choice is.
We are all creating their future.