It’s 64º in Seattle with occasional stray raindrops. Not cold unless you’re outside all day.
This morning I was at my favorite 24-hour diner, the Square Knot in Georgetown. I was eating my 2 eggs over medium, and I heard the waitress at the register cheerfully say, “I know what you want! You want a little cup of coffee!” I looked over and there was a small woman, bundled up in a puffy jacket and knit cap, dressed for being outside all day, with the waitress at the register.
I was a little surprised that I hadn’t heard the woman walk behind me; nor did I hear her say hello to the waitress. The waitress served her some coffee in a small to-go cup, and the next thing I know, the waitress was saying, “No no, honey; that’s too much!” I looked over and the waitress was pushing the woman’s money back into her hand. There might have been $20 in small bills.
That’s when I connected the dots. The woman is dressed for being outside all day because she’s homeless. She doesn’t speak or know the price of a small cup of coffee because she lives with mental illness. The woman walked silently behind me, back out to the door and through the plate glass window I saw her cherishing that coffee, smiling as she looked into the cup. As she was leaving the waitress called back to her, “you come back anytime sweetie.”
It occurred to me later that the woman might have been deaf or hard of hearing. I’m used to Deaf people who vocalize, but of course many have learned to not vocalize around hearing people, who can be fragile and easily scared. It also occurs to me, now, that I could have bought the lady some breakfast. But as usual my mind wasn’t that fast in the moment. In any case, everyone seemed happy.
Life is hard and we all face challenges. I want to live in the America where we treat each other with kindness and dignity, where we don’t have to shit on others to prosper or feel like we’re prospering. Part of me wonders if that whole scene played out around me so that I could learn a lesson about kindness.
Minutes before seeing this scene play out around me, I was fighting mad about this article about the disgraceful injustices at the southern border. It’s not a particularly explosive article at this point; it’s actually par for the course nowadays.
The United States of America used to welcome refugees and asylum seekers; we used to have porous borders that allowed workers to come and go. Now we presume that refugees and asylum seekers are criminals, and we use their very lives to deter others from coming. Don’t come, it’s not worth it, we say, Americans are too cruel.
Our hardened borders means that people are forced to leave their countries and stay permanently, because living here with no legal status or rights is preferable to the violence and/or lack of economic opportunities in their home countries. They contribute to our economy, work hard, and pay sales taxes and often income taxes; and commit crimes against Americans at a lower rate than Americans do. They raise their kids here; their kids go to school and play on soccer teams with our kids. They sit next to us at church and on the bus; they enjoy three day weekends and Thanksgiving break. Some of them are guilty of wanting the American Dream for themselves and their children. Others are just here to build better lives for themselves so they can go back to the countries they love someday.
However, smugly comfortable Americans are panicked that new immigrants will bring poverty, crime, and brownness, and erase their smug comfort. They fight over a slice of the pie; they don’t see that immigrants are actually making the pie. So they harden the border, make asylum impossible, and betray the promise of this country.
The summer reading book was Stevenson’s Just Mercy, which I couldn’t finish because I the injustice turned my stomach. It’s a wonderful and insightful book, but it describes the injustice against poor African Americans that makes me angry. Slavery and its repercussions are the original sin of the United States of America. Then the other day, the school librarian checked out a copy of Takei’s They Called Us Enemy for me. It’s Takei’s story of the Japanese Internment, another time when Americans forgot who they were supposed to be. Both of these books are hard for me to read; it’s the America I want to leave behind.
I prefer the America of the kind waitress.
I feel like some Americans have to shit on others to feel prosperous and comfortable. I don’t know how to change their hearts.