It is 4:27 pm on Sunday afternoon. The small convenience store at the corner of Hwy 17 and Ocean Boulevard is packed with customers two lines deep waiting on a single cashier to ring them up and send them on their way. She is a sweet black woman near my age that I chat with every time I visit the store.
I am third in line behind an older white man wearing a scraggly beard and walking with a slight bent limp, and a Hispanic father with two teenage girls wearing shorts, smiles, and sunburns. A young black man and his friend are behind me. The line on the other side of the store has an older white couple, a Hispanic woman talking on her cell phone, an older black lady wearing jeans, a God Saves T-shirt and a ball-cap, and a well-dressed younger couple speaking quietly in Russian.
Two miles away, in the center of downtown Myrtle Beach, SC a protest ends without major violence or rioting after arrests and releases, a few hours of tense stand-off and news reports, and a slow push forward by a police line that encourages dispersion. I watch the local Facebook news feed for hours. Then, make this quick run to the nearest convenience store for cigarettes before the 6 pm curfew takes effect.
I am in line. We are all in line. Each of us trying to observe social-distancing rules and patiently wait our turn in the tiny overcrowded store. My mind is trying to sort the images and realities of the day. I’m looking for a way to make sense of the deep emotions of anger and pain I’ve seen and heard. The questions of meaning and how to address these issues and help heal them in my community float across my consciousness.
How it is possible that we are still battling these issues of race, prejudice, and inequality in the year 2020 my mind asks. I cannot fathom an answer. The sad pain over the reality of these deep, ingrained wounds and behavior our nation and its’ people are suffering is too overwhelming. I am floating between rational thought and simple prayer as I stand in the line, waiting my turn.
A young black man in his 30’s walks in the store and steps in front of everyone, seemingly oblivious to the lines of people standing there. He asks the cashier a question:
I’m lost. Can you help me find my way?
My breath catches in my throat as I feel everyone tense around me. From behind him, the older white man with the limp and scraggly beard, reaches and puts his hand on the mans shoulder. In a deep Southern accent he says, “I’ve lived here all my life son. Maybe I can help. Where are you trying to get to?”
The whole store seems to breathe one long sigh of relief as they talk and the man is soon on his way to his destination. Both men show nothing but respect and kindness to one another during the interaction. I am almost in tears at the gift of this moment. Hope comes back into my heart. I believe we can somehow find our way through this … one person-to-person interaction at a time.
I think about the question, “I’m lost. Can you help me find my way?” It sums up the surreal place the people, our nation, and the world seems to be at in this moment. We are all lost and needing a little help to find our way. It starts within each of us and moves outward. It is the simple truth of Gandhi’s words, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”