One day, back in the old neighborhood (one of them, anyway) I caught up with a childhood friend. He’s of color, whereas I’m your typical southern gal. We’re walking around, when three boys on bikes ride by. They probably weren’t even 10. They begin hurling racial epithets, of the kind that would shock some people coming from boys that young. The word beginning with “N” which I hardly like to even repeat is in there, plus some suggestions that my friend “go back to [some slang connotation for some obscure inner-city neighborhood somewhere, I assume.]” He ignores them. I can be hotheaded and I’m seriously considering firing back, but am feeling awkward because I’m not sure it’s in my “place” if he’s not saying anything.
They go around the block and come back for another “pass.” Being bolder this time. Friend still ignores them. I glance at him and can’t even read his expression. One of the kids yells a parting shot then turns forward to pedal away — and his bike chain comes off the sprocket, bringing him to a stop by the curb. The other two heroes look at their “friend” and high-tail it out of there without even looking back.
The kid is by the curb, now too petrified to move or make any attempt to fix his bike. I’m lying if I say I don’t feel a touch of satisfaction at this point. He watches us come toward him, drops his bike and backs away but just a few steps, not wanting to abandon his bike but also getting ready to run.
My friend walks right up to the bike and takes a look at the sprocket. He comments aloud that a few of the “teeth” on the sprocket are bent, as if he’s discussing the weather. This can happen if the bike “wipes out,” he further remarks, and asks if the kid wiped out on the bike recently.
“Yes” the kid says, still terrified beyond belief. My friend has one of those “Leatherman” tools in a pouch, takes it out and bends the sprocket back into place. He leans down to peer at it from front to back, then starts feeding the chain back onto the teeth and turns the pedal with his other hand, guiding the chain back onto the sprocket. It’s good as new. He holds the bike out for the kid, telling him it should be good to go, but advising him to try not to wipe out anymore. No mention whatsoever of the racist filth from earlier, and the kid certainly isn’t repeating any of it. Warily he takes the bike, hops on and gets out of there.
As he speeds away, I can’t help myself anymore. “You’re welcome,” I holler sarcastically after him. My friend turns a disdainful glare — at me.
When I ask about it, my friend explains to me. Life sends us negativity and hate, not to push us down but perhaps to give us an opportunity. This kid, he explains, didn’t just wake up that morning saying “I’m going to hate black people today.” Nope, he learned it from somewhere. Maybe from those other kids, but more likely at home. In other words, he had a bad teacher. My friend could have scared the hell out of the kid, laughed at him for getting karma that was pretty well-deserved, could have reacted in any of a hundred ways which would have further enforced whatever he’s been told or led to believe. Instead, he saw an opportunity to be a teacher himself, and teach a positive lesson. Hate doesn’t always have to be answered with more hate.
Although his hand is covered with grime and grease from the dirty bike chain, I’m proud to hold it in mine as we finish our walk.