("Lessons Learned from Strangers" is a series of everyday interactions with strangers that have taught me something about life. Hopefully these interactions will help guide you on your own personal path. The following interaction happened in September of 2011 in New York City.)
I was leaving a lunch with a friend and we were waiting on the platform for the next train. As the train approached we spotted an empty train car with a handful of people in it. Our enthusiasm grew because we were guaranteed a seat.
Empty car in NYC usually means that there is either no air conditioning, someone used the car as their own personal bathroom, or there was a homeless person in the car, and on this particular day we soon found out this train car had a homeless person napping in it. My heart always breaks when I see a homeless person, because I too spent a brief period of my life homeless but was very fortunate to always find a place to lay my head. This time we were not bothered by the smell and decided to take a seat in the car with the homeless man.
A few stops into our journey the homeless man awoke from his nap. After spending a few seconds adjusting himself, he sat up. He looked at my best friend and I for a second. My natural response was to smile and nod. Within seconds, he shouted out, "Nigger faggot smiling at me." I immediately broke eye contact and my best friend and I began talking and ignoring the man's presence. A group of young frat boys begin chuckling at his comments. As he realized he had an audience he decided to up the ante. A minute passed and he blurted out something more vulgar. My friend and I continued to ignore him.
The frat boys reached their stop, and on their way out they gave the man a few bucks. I became enraged. Not only did they choose not to condemn his behavior but they literally "tipped" him for his hatred. With the boys gone the man no longer had an audience so he stopped the comments.
I am no stranger to racism. It was also far from my first time being called a nigger or faggot, but something about the boys giving him money pushed me over the edge. I took a few deep breaths and tried to clear my head.. It wasn't until two years later while thinking about what had happened that I had a true awakening. I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
Martin Luther King Jr.
I should have given that man money. Not only would it have shut him up, but it probably would have changed the way he interacted with the next group of people he saw. I have changed the way I interact with anyone that attacks me. Whether it is in the world of my career, my personal relationships, or day-to-day interactions. I have decided to choose love.